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.
Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Monday morning – the morning of their first full day of sessions. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s full English translation of the Holy Father’s remarks.
Dear Beatitudes, Eminences, Excellencies, brothers and sisters,
The Church today takes up once again the dialogue begun with the announcement of the extraordinary Synod on the family, and certainly even long before that, to evaluate and reflect on the text of the Working Document (Lt.Instrumentum laboris), elaborated on the basis of the [Extraordinary Assembly’s] final report (Relatio Synodi) and the responses of the Bishops’ Conferences and from the other organizations with the right to contribute.
The Synod, as we know, is a journey undertaken together in the spirit of collegiality and synodality, on which participants bravely adopt parrhesia, pastoral zeal and doctrinal wisdom, frankness, and always keep before our eyes the good of the Church, of families and the suprema lex, the Salus animarum.
I should mention that the Synod is neither a convention, nor a parlor, nor a parliament or senate, where people make deals and reach compromises. The Synod is rather an Ecclesial expression, i.e., the Church that journeys together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church that interrogates herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life.
The Synod moves necessarily within the bosom of the Church and of the holy people of God, to which we belong in the quality of shepherds – which is to say, as servants. The Synod also is a protected space in which the Church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit. In the Synod, the Spirit speaks by means of every person’s tongue, who let themselves be guided by the God who always surprises, the God who reveals himself to little ones, who hides from the knowing and intelligent; the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa; by the God, who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep; the God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.
Let us remember, however, that the Synod will be a space for the action of the Holy Spirit only if we participants vest ourselves with apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trusting prayer: with that apostolic courage, which refuses to be intimidated in the face of the temptations of the world – temptations that tend to extinguish the light of truth in the hearts of men, replacing it with small and temporary lights; nor even before the petrification of some hearts, which, despite good intentions, drive people away from God; apostolic courage to bring life and not to make of our Christian life a museum of memories; evangelical humility that knows how to empty itself of conventions and prejudices in order to listen to brother bishops and be filled with God – humility that leads neither to finger-pointing nor to judging others, but to hands outstretched to help people up without ever feeling oneself superior to them.
Confident prayer that trusts in God is the action of the heart when it opens to God, when our humors are silenced in order to listen to the gentle voice of God, which speaks in silence. Without listening to God, all our words are only words that are meet no need and serve no end. Without letting ourselves be guided the Spirit, all our decisions will be but decorations that, instead of exalting the Gospel, cover it and hide it.
Dear brothers, as I have said, the Synod is not a parliament in which to reach a consensus or a common accord there is recourse to negotiation, to deal-making, or to compromise: indeed, the only method of the Synod is to open up to the Holy Spirit with apostolic courage, with evangelical humility and confident, trusting prayer, that it might be He, who guides us, enlightens us and makes us put before our eyes, with our personal opinions, but with faith in God, fidelity to the Magisterium, the good of the Church and the Salus animarum.
In fine, I would like to thank: His Eminence Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod; His Excellency, Archbishop Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary; and with them I thank the Rapporteur, His Eminence Cardinal Peter Erd? and the Special Secretary, His Excellency Archbishop Bruno Forte; the Presidents-delegate, writers, consultors, translators and all those who worked with true fidelity and total dedication to the Church. Thank you so much!
I also thank all of you, dear Synod Fathers, fraternal delegates, auditors and assessors, for your active and fruitful participation.
I want to address a special thanks to the journalists present at this time and to those who follow us from afar. Thank you for your enthusiastic participation and for your admirable attention.
We begin our journey by invoking the help of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Thank you.
Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
Opening of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
“If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12).
This Sunday’s Scripture readings seem to have been chosen precisely for this moment of grace which the Church is experiencing: the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which begins with this Eucharistic celebration. The readings centre on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family.
Adam, as we heard in the first reading, was living in the Garden of Eden. He named all the other creatures as a sign of his dominion, his clear and undisputed power, over all of them. Nonetheless, he felt alone, because “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20). He was lonely.
The drama of solitude is experienced by countless men and women in our own day. I think of the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture.
Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom… The number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.
Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability. The image of this is the family. People are less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, in good times and in bad. Love which is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past. It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.
Love between man and woman
In the first reading we also hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness. He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone. These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as today’s Psalm says (cf. Ps 128).
This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).
To a rhetorical question – probably asked as a trap to make him unpopular with the crowd, which practiced divorce as an established and inviolable fact – Jesus responds in a straightforward and unexpected way. He brings everything back to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility. This shows us that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life! In this way Jesus re-establishes the order which was present from the beginning.
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9). This is an exhortation to believers to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan.
Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense. For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.
Paradoxically, people today – who often ridicule this plan – continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love. We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.
“Now that we have fully tasted the promises of unlimited freedom, we begin to appreciate once again the old phrase: “world-weariness”. Forbidden pleasures lost their attraction at the very moment they stopped being forbidden. Even if they are pushed to the extreme and endlessly renewed, they prove dull, for they are finite realities, whereas we thirst for the infinite” (JOSEPH RATZINGER, Auf Christus schauen. Einübung in Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, Freiburg, 1989, p. 73).
In this extremely difficult social and marital context, the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love. To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.
To carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).
To carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.
A Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk2:27); and that Jesus also said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.
I remember when Saint John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11).
In this spirit we ask the Lord to accompany us during the Synod and to guide his Church, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
On Saturday evening, October 3, 2015, Pope Francis led a prayer vigil prior to the opening of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World. Below you will find the full text of the Holy Father’s prepared homily.
Good evening! What good is it to light a little candle in the darkness? Isn’t there a better way to dispel the darkness? Can the darkness even be overcome?
At some points in life – this life so full of amazing resources – such questions have to be asked. When life proves difficult and demanding, we can be tempted to step back, turn away and withdraw, perhaps even in the name of prudence and realism, and thus flee the responsibility of doing our part as best we can.
Do you remember what happened to Elijah? From a human point of view, the prophet was afraid and tried to run away. “Elijah was afraid; he got up and fled for his life… He walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kg 19:3,8-9). On Horeb, he would get his answer not in the great wind which shatters the rocks, nor in the earthquake nor even in the fire. God’s grace does not shout out; it is a whisper which reaches all those who are ready to hear its still, small voice. It urges them to go forth, to return to the world, to be witnesses to God’s love for mankind, so that the world may believe…
In this vein, just a year ago, in this same Square, we invoked the Holy Spirit and asked that – in discussing the theme of the family – the Synod Fathers might listen attentively to one another, with their gaze fixed on Jesus, the definitive Word of the Father and the criterion by which everything is to be measured.
This evening, our prayer cannot be otherwise. For as Patriarch Athenagoras reminded us, without the Holy Spirit God is far off, Christ remains in the past, the Church becomes a mere organization, authority becomes domination, mission becomes propaganda, worship becomes mystique, Christian life the morality of slaves.
So let us pray that the Synod which opens tomorrow will show how the experience of marriage and family is rich and humanly fulfilling. May the Synod acknowledge, esteem, and proclaim all that is beautiful, good and holy about that experience. May it embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship: war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness, which create distress, resentment and separation. May it remind these families, and every family, that the Gospel is always “good news” which enables us to start over. From the treasury of the Church’s living tradition may the Fathers draw words of comfort and hope for families called in our own day to build the future of the ecclesial community and the city of man.
* * *
Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world.
Jesus’ own human experience took shape in the heart of a family, where he lived for thirty years. His family was like any number of others, living in an obscure village on the outskirts of the Empire.
Charles de Foucauld, perhaps like few others, grasped the import of the spirituality which radiates from Nazareth. This great explorer hastily abandoned his military career, attracted by the mystery of the Holy Family, the mystery of Jesus’ daily relationship with his parents and neighbours, his quiet labour, his humble prayer. Contemplating the Family of Nazareth, Brother Charles realized how empty the desire for wealth and power really is. Through his apostolate of charity, he became everything to everyone. Attracted by the life of a hermit, he came to understand that we do not grow in the love of God by avoiding the entanglement of human relations. For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbour, we are lifted up to God. Through his fraternal closeness and his solidarity with the poor and the abandoned, he came to understand that it is they who evangelize us, they who help us to grow in humanity.
To understand the family today, we too need to enter – like Charles de Foucauld – into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.
The family is a place where evangelical holiness is lived out in the most ordinary conditions. There we are formed by the memory of past generations and we put down roots which enable us to go far. The family is a place of discernment, where we learn to recognize God’s plan for our lives and to embrace it with trust. It is a place of gratuitousness. of discreet fraternal presence and solidarity, a place where we learn to step out of ourselves and accept others, to forgive and to be forgiven.
* * *
Let us set out once more from Nazareth for a Synod which, more than speaking about the family, can learn from the family, readily acknowledging its dignity, its strength and its value, despite all its problems and difficulties.
In the “Galilee of the nations” of our own time, we will rediscover the richness and strength of a Church which is a mother, ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength. For unless we can unite compassion with justice, we will end up being needlessly severe and deeply unjust.
A Church which is family is also able to show the closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation.
Above all, a Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other persons are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths.
The Church is an open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts.
This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women. She can credibly point them towards the goal and walk at their side, precisely because she herself first experienced what it is to be endlessly reborn in the merciful heart of the Father.
CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters
(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?
This week brings two big new items: the analysis of Pope Francis trip to Cuba and the United States, and the upcoming opening of the Synod of Bishops on the family. Below are links to some articles well worth reading for a well rounded picture of both.
The Cuba – US trip was by all accounts well received, despite a lingering issue over the Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis (the US County Clerk jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licences). Here’s some take away on both the trip and that brief encounter:
Here’s a good summary:
and some analysis from a veteran Vatican watcher:
- Vatican distances Pope Francis from Kentucky clerk Kim Davis
- The Vatican must speak on conscientious objection
Here is a more wide-ranging look back on the visit as a whole by New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan:
and another from the Boston Globe’s Crux website:
Turning to the upcoming Synod, it will follow more or less the same process as last year’s Extraordinary Synod:
- Each synod participant will have 3 minutes to speak in the synod hall.
- The first session will begin with a Witness given by one of the married couples participating in the Synod.
- More time will be given for meeting in small working groups. Those groups will then present their discussion to the whole synod.
- Written texts of each participant’s intervention will be given only to the Synod participants, not to the media. Instead there will be daily, expanded briefings including the participation of Synod members.
- A commission of nine Synod participants has been formed for the elaboration of the final texts. Members are:
- Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest
- Bishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto
- Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay
- Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C.
- Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand
- Bishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina
- Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan of Gabon
- Bishop Marcelo Semeraro of Albano, Italy
- Father Adolfo Nicholas, Superior General of the Jesuits.
CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters
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As a student, teacher and university lecturer in New Testament, I have always been moved by a story told in the Acts of the Apostles 5:15 where we read that the shadow of Peter passing over the sick and disabled who had gathered in Solomon’s portico of Jerusalem’s Temple healed many people. The passage speaks of the Spirit-filled apostles who were doing many signs and wonders among the people, in a section of the Temple in Jerusalem called Solomon’s Portico. The leader in this exciting work was none other than Peter, once so afraid that he even denied knowing Christ. But now, people “carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.”
In reality, it was not Peter’s shadow but God’s power working through Peter. We also learn from that New Testament Acts story that religious authorities witnessing Jesus’ power at work in Peter became jealous of that power and authority and viewed the Apostles as a continued threat and demanded respect for themselves. We know that the Apostles weren’t demanding respect for themselves. Their goal was to bring respect and reverence to God. The Apostles had acquired the respect of the people, not because they demanded it, but because they deserved it.
An ancient Latin expression, first used by St. Ambrose in the fourth century, came to my mind over the last two weeks, as I had the privilege of commentating on Francis’ historic papal visit to Cuba and the USA: Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, which translated means: Wherever Peter is, there is the Church. Peter was in Cuba and the United States over the past two weeks, and his gentle smile and obvious humanity and serenity ignited two nations that had previously been at enmity with one another. Peter (a.k.a. Francis) ignited a roaring blaze and filled the Cuban Church, the American Church and the universal Church with hope in the midst of cynicism, despair and many who would like to hasten death for a Church that is alive and young. Only time, reflection, prayer and decisive action will reveal whether Francis’ tour de force will bear fruit for Cuba, America and the world.
One thing is certain in my mind: the shadow of Peter fell on millions of people in Cuba and America in September 2015 and continues to fall on millions around the world to this day, especially upon those who are wounded and hurting from poverty, injustice, homelessness, hunger, religious persecution and the evil actions of sexual abuse of children. In Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome, Peter is still among us.
Pope Francis’ first trip to the United States had many people concerned about the impact this elderly, Argentine pontiff would have on a rather beleaguered church in a very divided land: divided by political, social and religious, tribal lines. Many asked if Francis would be able to “connect” with people given that he had never set foot on American soil. After all, Francis arrived in America at age 78 while John Paul was a mere 59 when he visited for the first time in 1979. Francis did more than connect. He bonded. He moved multitudes. He showed remarkable courage, wisdom and compassion, humanity and normalcy. He proved that he knew much more about us than we know about ourselves. He invited America once again to embrace a consistent ethic of life, from womb to tomb, and he asked us to rethink our stance on the death penalty and the silent death penalty of life imprisonment without any chance of rehabilitation or a new beginning.
Up until last week many people both within and outside the church in North America simply didn’t know Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and some didn’t want to know him. Some knew him through the distorted images of so called “magisterially faithful,” traditional, blogs and websites that do nothing but selectively choose and distort his words without reading his texts in depth. Others had him all figured him out through the impoverished North American lenses of political categories which do nothing but pigeonhole people and silence them. They knew only half truths about a man wrongly labeled as a “leftist,” “socialist,” “revolutionary,” “non-intellectual,” “country pastor,” etc. etc. etc.
Then the Pope came to America
The visit included a royal White House welcome, a magnificent, historic address to a special session of the United States Congress, the opening address to the General Assembly of the United Nations and many more stops along the way. There was the profound, heart-wrenching visit to Ground Zero in New York City where the sound of the flowing cascades of water in the striking memorial to September 11 was only rivaled by rivers of tears flowing from the eyes of millions of people who watched that ceremony.
With the backdrop of Independence Hall, the Argentine Pope who knew first-hand about dirty wars, injustice and religious persecution reminded us of our own story of freedom and called us to work hard for religious liberty in our own land and in every land. When he had the pilot fly low over the Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor, we can only imagine what was going through his mind. Emma Lazarus’ words engraved at the foot of the statue: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” resounded in Francis’ own plea to the American people and the American Church as he invited us to open again our hearts and homes to so many displaced persons wandering across the face of the earth.
There were parades, cheers, throngs of people, masses, prayers and praise rightly heaped upon women religious of the United States of America. The media did not miss the deep significance of the Holy Father’s private, moving meeting with victims of sex abuse at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, a city and a Church that bear the scars of the abuse scandal and long for healing and reconciliation. Francis reminded us that love is always having to say we are deeply sorry for what happened. He let people know he listened and understood and he will continue to act so such a disaster would never repeat itself. Justice will be done.
The grandfatherly Pope delivered one of the best, unscripted teachings on marriage and family life before over a million people on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia while millions more watched on television. His talk at the World Meeting of Families evoked deeply in my mind and heart the words of his saintly predecessor John Paul II: “The future of humanity passes through the family.”
The New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles tells us “that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.” Francis reached out as a gentle, grandfatherly shepherd and blessed disabled, suffering, homeless, hungry and incarcerated people along the way while their loved ones, caregivers and guards wept nearby.
Pope Francis came to America – to Washington, New York and Philadelphia – last week to bring healing, hope and mercy. Only time, reflection and prayer will reveal if the healing of Americans and especially of U.S. Catholics begun last week, will bear fruit for the church in America.
One thing is certain: last week the shadow of Peter fell on millions of people in America and far beyond. And one more thing happened last week: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of immigrants, came into his own. Though elected and installed as Pope nearly three years ago, his Papacy really began in the minds and hearts of North Americans last week when “Peter was among us.” We have all been touched by his shadow. And many of us, including this writer and priest, have been healed.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and serves as English language attaché to the Holy See Press Office.
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – October 4, 2015
Rather than commenting in detail on each of the readings for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), I would like to offer some general reflections on marriage and family life that flow from today’s readings. In today’s Gospel (Mark 10:2-16) the Pharisees once again confront Jesus with the divisive issue of divorce and its legitimacy: “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” Jesus asked. They replied that Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss the wife. Jesus declares that the law of Moses permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) only because of the hardness of hearts (Mark 10:4-5). In citing Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, Jesus proclaims permanence to be the divine intent from the beginning concerning human marriage (Mark 10:6-8). He reaffirms this with the declaration that what God has joined together, no human being must separate (verse 9).
Jesus wisely and prudently responds to the loaded question by appealing to God’s plan of complete unity and equality in drawing men and women together in marriage. He affirms that husband and wife are united so intimately that they actually become one and indivisible. In answering a direct question that was deliberately designed to entrap him, Jesus was speaking of the nature of marriage and of that only. His emphasis is on its holiness and covenant fidelity and not on the illegitimacy of divorce. The goal of marriage is not divorce and annulment!
Divorce, annulment and remarriage
Jesus did not condemn people who did their best and ended up divorced. He was not judging such people, throwing them out of the community of the Church, or assigning them places in hell. He was only affirming the outlook taken by couples themselves when they stand before the Church’s minister and pronounce their wedding vows.
Today Catholic annulments look to many like a simple Catholic divorce. Divorce says that the reality of marriage was there in the beginning and that now the reality is broken. Annulment is a declaration that the reality was never there. The Church declares many marriages invalid because of some impediment present at the time of the marriage.
Over the years of my pastoral ministry, I have met many divorced people who feel very alienated from the Church. For many, divorce was the last thing they ever dreamed of or wanted. In many instances, it hit them unexpectedly, forcefully and tragically. No one I met ever told me that they looked forward to a divorce. They simply didn’t see any other alternative.
Some divorced men and women have erroneously been told by well-meaning people that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church, which is certainly not true. Their pain is often enormous; their need for understanding and acceptance is great. They need unambiguous Catholic teaching to enlighten them and lead them to Christ. They need friends, people to pray for and with them, and they need God in their lives in the midst of rupture and brokenness. They deserve our understanding and our prayerful care.
A positive teaching on annulments should be offered in every parish community. Though it may be a tedious and painful process for some people, an annulment can be an instrument of grace, healing, closure, and peace of mind and heart.
The future of humanity passes through marriage and the family
In the papal encyclicals from “Humanae Vitae” (1968) to “Evangelium Vitae” (1995) and especially the apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” (1981) and the magnificent “Letter to Families” (1994), Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have dedicated much attention to marriage and the family in today’s culture. From the first year of his pontificate, John Paul II constantly emphasized: “the family is the way of the Church.” The family is a school of communion, based on the values of the Gospel.
In 2008, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” the bishops of Canada released a very important document in which they wrote (#19):
“In short, Pope Paul Vl’s encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ and the subsequent ‘theology of the body’ developed by Pope John Paul II issue an immense challenge to a world that is too often occupied with protecting itself against the extraordinary life potential of sexuality. In the wake of these two prophetic Popes, the Church, ‘expert in humanity,’ issues an unexpected message: Sexuality is a friend, a gift of God. It is revealed to us by the Trinitarian God who asks us to reveal it in turn in all its grandeur and dignity to our contemporaries at this start of the third millennium. The theology of the body has been compared to a revolution that would have positive effects throughout the 21st century of Christianity. We invite the faithful to be the first to experience its liberating potential.”
Signs of hope for marriage, family life and vocations
To accept Jesus’ teaching on marriage requires the openness of children and a sense of dependence on God’s strength matching the child’s sense of dependence on parents. When love is authentic, strong, sincere and firm, it is accompanied by vision, joy and creativity, new life and a desire for holiness. When married couples allow Christ to be at the center of their project, they experience deeply the peace outpoured by God — a peace that flows forth to their children and grandchildren.
The crisis of vocations in the Western world requires that we rethink not only our manner of promoting vocations, but the terrain where seeds of vocations are sown. This fertile soil for vocations is the family, the domestic Church. This reality is brought about by the presence of Christ in the home, from the graces of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and from fidelity to the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.
There are some voices in our society and Church that don’t have much hope for the sacrament of marriage and for family life. I beg to differ with such voices of doom and despair. Each of us is responsible for fostering a true culture of marriage and family life as well as a culture of vocations to the priesthood and religious or consecrated life.
In recent years, I have witnessed some very hopeful signs for marriage and family life among young adults in various parts of the world. Several years ago I had the privilege of leading two retreats for university students — one for the John Paul II Catholic Chaplaincy of Sheffield’s Hallam University in England and the other for the Catholic Students’ Association of Victoria University in British Colombia in Canada.
The wise, ecclesial leadership of university chaplains — Sister Anne Lee, NDS in Hallam and Father Dean Henderson in Victoria — gathered together some remarkable young adults from many countries of the world. They are the young men and women of the generations of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, freed from the ideological strangleholds and liberated from the barren, spiritual wastelands of my generation. Their eyes are fixed on Christ and they love the Church with all of her shadows and light.
I never had more open conversations about marriage and family life than I did with those students in Hallam and Victoria these past months. Many spoke openly about their parents who were divorced and alienated or simply absent from the Church. The students said that they learned from the mistakes and losses of their parents, and wanted to pursue the path of a holy marriage and family life. They desire to have Christ, the sacramental life, and the teachings of the Church at the center of their lives.
I have also been very moved and edified by the young men and women who form the staff of the Salt and Light Television Network in Canada. Their simple and clear faith, deep joy, sterling commitment, visible love of Christ and the Church and ardent desire for evangelization is inspiring. Over the past thirteen years, I have been privileged to witness the religious professions and ordinations of several Salt and Light colleagues, and to celebrate seven marriages of my staff — several who worked with me in preparing World Youth Day 2002. And now we are into the season of baptisms! It is from this generation of children that will come forth vocations for the Church. How could there not be vocations when the terrain was so fertile and the parents so open to the Gospel and to the Church?
For reflection, discussion and prayer
We must never forget that other bonds of love and interdependency, of commitment and mutual responsibility exist in society. They may be good; they may even be recognized in law. They are clearly not the same as marriage; they are something else. No extension of terminology for legal purposes will change the observable reality that only the committed union of a man and a woman carries, not only the bond of interdependency between the two adults, but the capacity to bring forth children.
This week, let us recommit ourselves to building up the human family, to strengthening marriage, to blessing and nurturing children, and to making our homes, families and parish communities holy, welcoming places for women and men of every race, language, orientation and way of life.
In our pastoral strategies, programs and preaching, how do we welcome the sanctifying role of Jesus Christ in the marriage of a man and woman? Are we ready to offer Jesus’ teaching on marriage with the openness to children? What are some of the weaknesses and painful situations that afflict marriages today? Can these marriages be saved and the brokenness in the husband-wife relationships be healed? What is the role of faith in all of this?
Let us pray today for married people, that they may grow in this awareness of the sacramentality of marriage and its capacity to reflect the love of God to our world. Let us continue to help one another to bear the blessings, burdens and crosses that the Lord has given to us. And let us never forget those who have loved and lost, and those who have suffered the pain of separation, divorce and alienation. May they find healing in the community of the Church, and welcome from those whose marriages have borne much fruit.
(Image: Holy Trinity and Holy Family by Murillo)
“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