Message of the Holy Father Francis for Lent 2018, 06.02.2018

 

The following is the Message of the Holy Father for Lent 2018 on the theme: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24: 12).

 

Message of the Holy Father

“Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24: 12)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Once again, the Pasch of the Lord draws near! In our preparation for Easter, God in His providence offers us each year the season of Lent as a “sacramental sign of our conversion”.[1] Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.

With this message, I would like again this year to help the entire Church experience this time of grace anew, with joy and in truth. I will take my cue from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12).

These words appear in Christ’s preaching about the end of time. They were spoken in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s passion would begin. In reply to a question of the disciples, Jesus foretells a great tribulation and describes a situation in which the community of believers might well find itself: amid great trials, false prophets would lead people astray and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many.

False prophets

Let us listen to the Gospel passage and try to understand the guise such false prophets can assume.

They can appear as “snake charmers”, who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go. How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!

False prophets can also be “charlatans”, who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless. How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many more are ensnared in a thoroughly “virtual” existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless! These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us. Nor should we be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth. That is why each of us is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit.

A cold heart

In his description of hell, Dante Alighieri pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice,[2] in frozen and loveless isolation. We might well ask ourselves how it happens that charity can turn cold within us. What are the signs that indicate that our love is beginning to cool?

More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, “the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; we prefer our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments.[3] All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own “certainties”: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbour who does not live up to our expectations.

Creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration. The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing His praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.

Love can also grow cold in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.[4]

What are we to do?

Perhaps we see, deep within ourselves and all about us, the signs I have just described. But the Church, our Mother and Teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception,[5] and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.

Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church! For this reason, I echo Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to take up a collection for the community of Jerusalem as something from which they themselves would benefit (cf. 2 Cor 8:10). This is all the more fitting during the Lenten season, when many groups take up collections to assist Churches and peoples in need. Yet I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God Himself. When we give alms, we share in God’s providential care for each of His children. If through me God helps someone today, will He not tomorrow provide for my own needs? For no one is more generous than God.[6]

Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.

I would also like my invitation to extend beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church, and to reach all of you, men and women of good will, who are open to hearing God’s voice. Perhaps, like ourselves, you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions, and you see a weakening in our sense of being members of the one human family. Join us, then, in raising our plea to God, in fasting, and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need!

The fire of Easter

Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.

One such moment of grace will be, again this year, the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which invites the entire Church community to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic adoration. In 2018, inspired by the words of Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness”, this will take place from Friday, 9 March to Saturday, 10 March. In each diocese, at least one church will remain open for twenty-four consecutive hours, offering an opportunity for both Eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession.

During the Easter Vigil, we will celebrate once more the moving rite of the lighting of the Easter candle. Drawn from the “new fire”, this light will slowly overcome the darkness and illuminate the liturgical assembly. “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds”,[7] and enable all of us to relive the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. By listening to God’s word and drawing nourishment from the table of the Eucharist, may our hearts be ever more ardent in faith, hope and love.

With affection and the promise of my prayers for all of you, I send you my blessing. Please do not forget to pray for me.

http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2018/02/06/180206c.html

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE
FRANCIS
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE
51st WORLD DAY OF PEACE

1 JANUARY 2018

 

Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace

 

1. Heartfelt good wishes for peace

Peace to all people and to all nations on earth! Peace, which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Christmas night,[1] is a profound aspiration for everyone, for each individual and all peoples, and especially for those who most keenly suffer its absence. Among these whom I constantly keep in my thoughts and prayers, I would once again mention the over 250 million migrants worldwide, of whom 22.5 million are refugees. Pope Benedict XVI, my beloved predecessor, spoke of them as “men and women, children, young and elderly people, who are searching for somewhere to live in peace.”[2] In order to find that peace, they are willing to risk their lives on a journey that is often long and perilous, to endure hardships and suffering, and to encounter fences and walls built to keep them far from their goal.

In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.

We know that it is not enough to open our hearts to the suffering of others. Much more remains to be done before our brothers and sisters can once again live peacefully in a safe home. Welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and goodwill, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, to say nothing of resources, which are always limited. By practising the virtue of prudence, government leaders should take practical measures to welcome, promote, protect, integrate and, “within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good, to permit [them] to become part of a new society.”[3] Leaders have a clear responsibility towards their own communities, whose legitimate rights and harmonious development they must ensure, lest they become like the rash builder who miscalculated and failed to complete the tower he had begun to construct.[4]-  

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‘Share the journey,’ embrace migrants, refugees, pope says

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christ calls believers to welcome migrants and refugees “with arms wide open, ready to give a sincere, affectionate, enveloping embrace,” Pope Francis said, launching the “Share the Journey” campaign of Catholic charities around the world.

Christians’ embrace of people fleeing war or poverty should be “a bit like the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, which represents the mother church who embraces all in sharing a common journey,” the pope said at the end of his weekly general audience Sept. 27.

With hundreds of refugees and migrants present in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said the Catholic charities’ staff and volunteers who assist them are “a sign of a church that seeks to be open, inclusive and welcoming.”

“Share the Journey” is a two-year campaign sponsored by Caritas Internationalis, the global network of national Catholic charities — including the U.S. Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA — to promote encounters between people on the move and people living in the countries they are leaving, passing through or arriving in.

Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of Caritas Internationalis, told Catholic News Service, “‘Share the Journey’ is not just a title or a label for a program — it is that, but more than that, it is a lifestyle,” an affirmation that everyone wants and needs someone to share his or her journey through life.

“There are specific moments in the life of a person, a family or the whole human family when we need to be reminded of this fundamental truth that we have been given each other so that we would have someone to share our journeys with,” he said, the day before the campaign launched.

“A small gesture like extending one’s arm to somebody else — it means a lot,” he said. “I reach out and if a person feels alone and isolated, my reaching out is a gesture of solidarity. If I reach out and that person is wounded, it could be a sign of healing. If I reach out and the person is lost, it could mean an offer of guidance. If I reach out and person feels like nobody cares, then it will be a sign of welcome.”

In his ministry in the Philippines and traveling around the world for Caritas, Cardinal Tagle said he has come to realize that “we don’t need to do great, extraordinary, extravagant things to make a difference in the lives of people.”

Rather, he said, “small gestures, ordinary gestures, when done with sincerity, with the light of human understanding, with the fire of love can do extraordinary things.”

The cardinal said it is important for himself and for all Christians to look not only at the gestures of care and love they extend to others, but to recognize how “I have been assured and encouraged by little gestures that people have extended to me with sincerity and love.”

Those gestures, he said, “wow, they make my day, they make my journeys more pleasant and bearable.”

One key point of the “Share the Journey” campaign, Cardinal Tagle said, is to help Catholics and others take positive steps to get to know the truth about the current refugee crisis and to actually meet a migrant or refugee in person.

“Fear comes first from the unknown,” he said. “Many people who are against migration or receiving migrants have not even met a real migrant or a real refugee, have not even touched the hand of someone forced to flee a war, have not even smelled the misery of these people. So we wonder, ‘What are you afraid of? Where is this fear coming from?'”

Cardinal Tagle said his hope is that when Catholics meet a migrant or refugee, they can say, “‘She’s a sister.’ ‘She could be my mother.’ ‘She could be my neighbor.'”

Lasting impressions can come from the experience of meeting, talking to and sharing even a moment of the journey with a migrant or refugee, the cardinal said.

For him, the refugee who stays in his mind, heart and prayers is “a teenager, a young boy who we encountered in the refugee camp in Idomeni, in Greece,” in late 2015. He was from Syria and he was alone after his parents urged him to escape the country.

“You know, whenever I think of this boy, I feel anxious, but I pray for him,” the cardinal said. “And you just hope there are men and women of good will who will see in him a son, a brother, a neighbor and will share his journey.”

Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, joined Cardinal Tagle for the audience with Pope Francis.

“‘Share the Journey’ is the opportunity for all of us as church, as the people of God, to walk with and be part of that journey that the immigrants are going through,” she told CNS. It is an opportunity to tell migrants and refugees they are not alone. “We are saying, ‘We are with you and we want you to know that we will always be with you and care for you.'”

The experience of sharing the journey of migrants and refugees can build up both the church and the local community, she said, speaking especially from the experience of running a center for migrants and refugees at Sacred Heart parish in McAllen, Texas, on the border with Mexico.

Families who “had gone through so much pain and suffering through all their journey” suddenly come to a place where they are welcomed and the expressions on their faces change, she said. The encounter enables them to “experience the presence of God among us just by, at that moment in their journey, finding somebody who cares.”  https://cnstopstories.com/2017/09/27/share-the-journey-embrace-migrants-refugees-pope-says/

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A Message from the Pope

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catholicnewsagencyThis sweet woman got a special blessing from Pope Francis during today's general audience!

In his Aug. 23 speech he continued his reflection on Christian hope, saying "it is not Christian to walk with your gaze turned down, without raising your eyes to the horizon. As if our entire path expires here, in the palm of a few meters of the journey." To live "as if in our lives there was not destination and no landing, place, and we were forced to an eternal wandering, without any reason for our many labors; this is not Christian," he said. 
Rather, as Christians "we believe and we know that death and hatred are not the final words pronounced in the parable of human existence," he said, adding that to be a Christian "means a new perspective: a gaze full of hope." Credit: Alessio di Cinto/ #catholicnewsagency #catholic#PopeFrancis #pope #hope #vatican

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR LENT 2017

 

"The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift"

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lent is a favourable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply. I would now like to consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.

1. The other person is a gift

The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.

The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means God helps. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.

2. Sin blinds us

The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).

The Apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). It is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.

The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. ibid., 62).

The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.

Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” (Mt 6:24).

3. The Word is a gift

The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7).

We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls “father” (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.

The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony” (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evils are balanced by good.

The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” (v. 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31).

The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.

Dear friends, Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favour the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.

 

From the Vatican, 18 October 2016

FRANCIS

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE WORLD DAY OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES 2017
[15 January 2017]

“Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mk 9:37; cf. Mt 18:5; Lk 9:48; Jn 13:20). With these words, the Evangelists remind the Christian community of Jesus’ teaching, which both inspires and challenges. This phrase traces the sure path which leads to God; it begins with the smallest and, through the grace of our Saviour, it grows into the practice of welcoming others. To be welcoming is a necessary condition for making this journey a concrete reality: God made himself one of us. In Jesus God became a child, and the openness of faith to God, which nourishes hope, is expressed in loving proximity to the smallest and the weakest. Charity, faith and hope are all actively present in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, as we have rediscovered during the recent Extraordinary Jubilee.

STEWARDSHIP:  CARING FOR GOD’S CREATION! Prepared by:  Joann Torpey

In 2015 Pope Francis issued his encyclical on ecology, laying out the definitive moral case for climate action.  Pope Francis told us:  “On climate change there is clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act.”ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’

Rapid climate change, as the result of human activity is recognized by the global scientific community as a reality.  People around the world are experiencing the impacts of increasing land temperatures, rising sea levels, and a change in the frequency of extreme climate events.  The chemical composition of the atmosphere cloaking our Earth is being changed by pollution caused by human activity.  The resultant chemical substances strengthen what is called the greenhouse effect.  As a result, Earth’s climatic patterns are being altered at a pace not experienced in at least 10,000 years.

Catholic Climate Change Justice and Health Initiative

As Catholics, we have a rich heritage of faith, tradition, and social teaching to draw upon as we seek to live the Gospel faithfully in our own time and situation.  As a community of faith, we seek to protect the dignity of every person and promote the common good of the human family, particularly the most vulnerable among us.  The Church champions the rights of the unborn, seeks to bring dignity to the poor, works to overcome the scourge of racism and welcomes the stranger among us.

I have been asked to explore and inform our community about what we can do in response to our Holy Father’s Call to Action on the Environment.

As a long-time Cocoa Beach resident, when thinking about Stewardship of our environment, the first thing that comes to my mind is the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon.  These are the lifeblood of our local communities.  And, as we all know, our lagoon is in trouble.

What are the Issues?  There are many issues affecting the Indian River Lagoon.  The Homeowners Guide to the Indian River Lagoon by the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program provides a good overview of the most pressing issues impacting the Indian River Lagoon.  But the most damaging pollutant that is impacting the Indian River Lagoon and all of the estuaries of the world is excess nitrogen.  Issue # 1:  Nitrogen.  Issue # 2:  Exotic Invasive Species.  Issue # 3:  Muck

Directly or indirectly, we are all responsible for maintaining the health of the Indian River Lagoon.  Even if you live several miles away from the lagoon and never visit its shores, fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn can reach the estuary in the form of stormwater runoff when it rains.  As residents, as government leaders, as visitors and as responsible individuals, we can each do our part to effect positive changes within the lagoon.

Over the coming months, I will make an effort to explore the issues facing our waterways and address the actions that each of can take to help in the cleanup and work toward reducing the causes contributing to the decline of this precious waterway. 

References:   

[1] Global Catholic Climate Movement

[2] Catholic Earthcare Australia, Climate Change:  Our Responsibiliyt to Sustain God’s Earth

[3] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

[4] Marine Resources Council (MRC), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose purpose is to maintain & enhance the quality of marine systems for the economic, recreational, aesthetic, and environmental use for the people of Florida

From Pope Francis

January 2016

Year of Mercy

Pope Francis began his Holy Year of Mercy by driving into a Muslim neighborhood in Bangui, Central African Republic, so racked by sectarian violence that armed U.N. troops feared to enter it. 

In an open-air popemobile, Francis drove into that neighborhood and proclaimed at its central mosque:  “Christmas and Muslims are brothers and sisters.”

Later that day, Francis threw open the holy door in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Bangui.  The first time in history a jubilee year opened outside of Rome, this goes beyond a symbolic action, showing that the Vatican isn’t the center of Catholicism. 

On the plane with journalists returning to Rome after his Africa trip, Francis was asked if the church would consider changing its teaching on birth control, particularly, will the church allow the use of condoms given the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa?

His response: “The question seems too small to me.  It seems to me also like a partial question.”

“Malnutrition, exploitation of persons, slave work, lack of drinking water.  These are the problems,” he said.  The question the journalist asked, Francis said, “makes me think of what they asked Jesus one time: “Tell me, master, is it licit to heal on the Sabbath? 

“I do not like to descend into reflections that are so casuistic when people are dying,’ he continued.  “I would say to not think if it is licit or not licit to heal on the Sabbath.  I say to humanity:  Make justice, and when all are healed, when there is not injustice in this world, we can speak of the Sabbath.”

He then went on to speak of fundamentalism, calling it a sickness and idolatry.

“Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions.  We Catholics have some — and not some, many — who believe in the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil. … I say this because it is my church.  We have to combat it.  Religious fundamentalism is not religious, because it lacks God.”

This year may be known officially as a jubilee year and the Year of Mercy, but it could as well be called the year of big questions or the year to ask questions.

Catholics haven’t been allowed to ask questions for the last 35 years.  For decades, we’ve watched as the big questions have been sidelined while enduring endless exercises in casuistry.  All answers, we’ve been told, can be found in the unyielding lines from the Code of Canon Law or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as if these are the holy grails.

There is a reason that not a single entry on mercy can be found in the index of the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, the authoritative work commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America.  Mercy cannot be codified, legislated or judged in a tribunal.

The fear inspired by legalism dominated the community’s life for decades, but we’ve learned that fear stifles and kills: it does not nourish or transform.  Mercy is an encounter with the other, and ultimately an experience of God.  Mercy is transformation.  That is Francis’ message this holy year.

Francis reminds us that we are like the lawyers who asked Jesusabout the limits of love and got the parable of the good Samaritan in return, or like teachers of the law who brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus and he turned them away.  Jesus has replaced the law with love, and when we hear that, we are like the elder brother of the prodigal son, dumbfounded by the unimaginable extravagance of God’s love and got the parable of the good Samaritan in return, or like the teachers of the law who brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus and he turned them away.  Jesus has replaced the law with love, and when we hear that, we are like the elder brother of the prodigal son, dumbfounded by the unimaginable extravagance of God’s love.

Don’t be mistaken or put off by the quaintness of some holy year exercises, and don’t think this will be an easy year.  The mercy Francis invites us to isn’t a feel-good notion of “Everything’s all right, do what you want.”  He offers no free passes. 

We have a pope who is inviting — challenging — us to ask the most pressing questions of the day.  The answers lie, Francis tells us, in the encounters at the peripheries of the church and society.  That’s why Francis has ordered the opening of holy doors throughout all the dioceses of world, and it was not by chance that he began his holy year in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, and at a mosque in the forgotten capital of a war-torn African country.

Speaking at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 8, Francis said: “We have to put mercy before judgement, and in every case God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy.  Let us abandon all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved.  Instead, let us live the joy of encounter with the grace that transforms all.”

 Editorial from National Catholic Reporter