A Message from the Pope
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
“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.
 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
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