Q. I am very confused about the apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) issued by Pope Francis. I’ve been reading a lot of articles online that say that the Pope is changing Church teaching on marriage. Is this true?
A. In a word, no. The Pope did not (and cannot) change Church teaching on faith (what we believe) and morals (how we live). In fact, Pope Francis makes it very clear in Amoris Laetitia (hereafter abbreviated as AL) that he is not speaking infallibly. Nor is the exhortation even to be regarded as an official document of the Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church). He is merely offering his own personal opinion and reflection on the work of the recent Synods of bishops on the family (AL 3).
In fact, AL upholds Church teaching on marriage, and condemns many societal evils, such as abortion, euthanasia, and “gender ideologies” that are cancers in the culture.
Q. Fair enough. But there are some who believe that the document calls for a change – not in the Church’s teaching, but in “pastoral practice” – specifically, that civilly divorced and remarried Catholics ought to be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was a participant in the Synods on the family, has written an article in response to this idea. What did he say?
A. The article, which is well worth reading, can be found on the website of the National Catholic Register. Cardinal Burke notes that one can never validly “divorce” Catholic teaching from its application in pastoral practice.
He writes, “I remember the discussion which surrounded the publication of the conversations between Blessed Pope Paul VI and Jean Guitton in 1967. The concern was the danger that the faithful would confuse the Pope’s personal reflections with official Church teaching. While the Roman Pontiff has personal reflections which are interesting and can be inspiring, the Church must be ever attentive to point out that their publication is a personal act and not an exercise of the Papal Magisterium. Otherwise, those who do not understand the distinction, or do not want to understand it, will present such reflections and even anecdotal remarks of the Pope as declarations of a change in the Church’s teaching, to the great confusion of the faithful. Such confusion is harmful to the faithful and weakens the witness of the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.”
Cardinal Burke goes on to say:
“Over more than 40 years of priestly life and ministry, during 21 of which I have served as a bishop, I have known numerous other couples in an irregular union for whom I or my brother priests have had pastoral care. Even though their suffering would be clear to any compassionate soul, I have seen ever more clearly over the years that the first sign of respect and love for them is to speak the truth to them with love. In that way, the Church’s teaching is not something which further wounds them but, in truth, frees them for the love of God and their neighbor.
“It may be helpful to illustrate one example of the need to interpret the text of Amoris Laetitia with the key of the magisterium. There is frequent reference in the document to the ‘ideal’ of marriage. Such a description of marriage can be misleading. It could lead the reader to think of marriage as an eternal idea to which, in the changing historical circumstances, man and woman more or less conform. But Christian marriage is not an idea; it is a sacrament which confers the grace upon a man and woman to live in faithful, permanent and procreative love of each other. Every Christian couple who validly marry receive, from the moment of their consent, the grace to live the love which they pledge to each other.
“Because we all suffer the effects of original sin and because the world in which we live advocates a completely different understanding of marriage, the married suffer temptations to betray the objective reality of their love. But Christ always gives the grace for them to remain faithful to that love until death. The only thing that can limit them in their faithful response is their failure to respond to the grace given them in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In other words, their struggle is not with some idea imposed upon them by the Church. Their struggle is with the forces which would lead them to betray the reality of Christ’s life within them.”
“Faith is not only knowledge committed to memory, but truth lived in love” – Pope Francis
The saints are all total Christians. That is, they practice both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This is what all Christians are called to do, as we strive to live up to our baptismal call to be saints. And this is a theme that Pope Francis has been hammering away at during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
It was no different today, as he spoke to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (or CDF). This is, of course, the office in the Vatican that’s responsible for maintaining doctrinal integrity within the Church. The great Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was for many years the head of the CDF before his election as Pope Benedict XVI.
Many Christians tend to emphasize either the corporal (looking after people’s bodily needs, such as feeding the hungry, etc.) or spiritual (instructing the ignorant about the Faith, etc.) works of mercy, while often utterly neglecting the other group of works. But the truth is, we can’t neglect either set. Just as the human person was created as a body-soul unity, we must look after people’s bodies and souls. We must be willing to feed people physical and spiritual food (in the Eucharist, we have both). We must have, as Peter Kreeft says, “liberal hearts and conservative heads”. We must hurt for the physically suffering, and also for those who are thirsty for the Truth.
The Pope knows this – hence, his speech today. Here are some of the most relevant snippets below (I’ve highlighted some of what I feel are the most important aspects in bold):
Vatican City, 29 January 2016 (VIS) – “Mercy is the foundation of the life of the Church: the first truth of the Church, indeed, is Christ’s love”, were the opening words of the Holy Father’s discourse to the participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whom he received in audience this morning in the Clementine Hall. The Pope went on to urge all the Christian people, both pastors and the faithful, to rediscover during this Jubilee the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as when, in the twilight of life, we are asked if we have given food to the hungry and given the thirsty water to drink, we will also be asked “if we have helped people to set their doubts aside, if we have committed ourselves to welcoming sinners, admonishing them and correcting them, if we have been able to combat ignorance, especially in relation to the Christian faith and the righteous life”.
“In faith and in charity a cognitive and unifying relationship is established with the mystery of Love, which is God Himself. The effective mercy of God became, in Jesus, affective mercy, as He made Himself man for the salvation of mankind. The task entrusted to your Dicastery here finds its ultimate foundation and and adequate justification. Christian faith, indeed, is not only knowledge to be committed to memory, but also truth to live in love. Therefore, along with the doctrine of the faith, it is also necessary to safeguard the integrity of customs, particularly in the most delicate areas of life. Adhering to faith in the person of Christ implies both an act of reason and a moral response to His gift.”
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Q. Today, Pope Francis released his message for Lent for 2016. It seems hard to believe, but Lent is just around the corner! Ash Wednesday is February 10, and Easter Sunday is on March 27.
A. Yes, this year, Lent is relatively early. It feels as if we’ve just caught our breath after celebrating Christmas, but here we go again! It’s important for us to start thinking about how we can get the most out of Lent, making it a spiritually fruitful time. And Pope Francis is eager to help us do that – hence, his letter.
Q. What are some of the highlights? Is there anything in particular that jumped out at you?
A. As with all of Pope Francis’ writing, there is a lot of spiritual food for thought, served up with many arresting images and scriptural references. I really encourage everyone to read it for themselves. What really grabbed me upon first reading it was the quote from the Gospel of Matthew that prefaces the letter: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). In Lent, we traditionally think of making sacrifices – for example, fasting and abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We also think of good things that we “give up” for Lent for a greater, spiritual purpose, like chocolate or dessert.
But Pope Francis, in this jubilee Year of Mercy, wants us to focus not simply on what we give up, but what we can do this Lent – we can practice the works of mercy, helping others experience the love and forgiveness of God.
Q. How does Pope Francis suggest we go about this?
A. The Holy Father calls us to rediscover what the Church has traditionally called “the corporal and spiritual works of mercy”. Here’s how he puts it in the letter: “These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged.”
Pope Francis also reminds us that these “corporal and spiritual works of mercy can never be separated”, and we must practice both if we are to avoid Hell and attain Heaven, which is God’s desire for us:
“In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.
Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion!”
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The official English translation of the entire letter is below:
MESSAGE OF POPE FRANCIS
“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee
1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized
In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.
After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.
2. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy
The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.
This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by the Shema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.
This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelii Gaudium, 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (ibid., 164). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.
3. The works of mercy
God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.
In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.
For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.
Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).
From the Vatican, 4 October 2015
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi
Pope Francis’ “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and to the World) Address
Easter Sunday – April 5, 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy Easter! Jesus Christ is risen!
Love has triumphed over hatred, life has conquered death, light has dispelled the darkness!
Out of love for us, Jesus Christ stripped himself of his divine glory, emptied himself, took on the form of a slave and humbled himself even to death, death on a cross. For this reason God exalted him and made him Lord of the universe. Jesus is Lord!
By his death and resurrection, Jesus shows everyone the way to life and happiness: this way is humility, which involves humiliation. This is the path which leads to glory. Only those who humble themselves can go towards the “things that are above”, towards God (cf. Col 3:1-4). The proud look “down from above”; the humble look “up from below”.
On Easter morning, alerted by the women, Peter and John ran to the tomb. They found it open and empty. Then they drew near and “bent down” in order to enter it. To enter into the mystery, we need to “bend down”, to abase ourselves. Only those who abase themselves understand the glorification of Jesus and are able to follow him on his way.
The world proposes that we put ourselves forward at all costs, that we compete, that we prevail… But Christians, by the grace of Christ, dead and risen, are the seeds of another humanity, in which we seek to live in service to one another, not to be arrogant, but rather respectful and ready to help.
This is not weakness, but true strength! Those who bear within them God’s power, his love and his justice, do not need to employ violence; they speak and act with the power of truth, beauty and love.
From the risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace. We ask Jesus, the Victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.
We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries. May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.
We pray for peace for all the peoples of the Holy Land. May the culture of encounter grow between Israelis and Palestinians and the peace process be resumed, in order to end years of suffering and division.
We implore peace for Libya, that the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence may cease, and that all concerned for the future of the country may work to favour reconciliation and to build a fraternal society respectful of the dignity of the person. For Yemen too we express our hope for the growth of a common desire for peace, for the good of the entire people.
At the same time, in hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.
We ask the risen Lord for the gift of peace for Nigeria, South Sudan and for the various areas of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives – I think in particular of the young people who were killed last Thursday at Garissa University College in Kenya –, for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.
May the Lord’s resurrection bring light to beloved Ukraine, especially to those who have endured the violence of the conflict of recent months. May the country rediscover peace and hope thanks to the commitment of all interested parties.
We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups. Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family. And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers.
May the marginalized, the imprisoned, the poor and the migrants who are so often rejected, maltreated and discarded, the sick and the suffering, children, especially those who are victims of violence; all who today are in mourning, and all men and women of goodwill, hear the consoling voice of the Lord Jesus: “Peace to you!” (Lk 24:36). “Fear not, for I am risen and I shall always be with you” (cf. Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon for Easter Day).
Here is the English translation of Pope Francis’ homily from tonight’s Easter vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Happy Easter, everyone! Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Tonight is a night of vigil. The Lord is not sleeping; the Watchman is watching over his people (cf. Ps 121:4), to bring them out of slavery and to open before them the way to freedom.
The Lord is keeping watch and, by the power of his love, he is bringing his people through the Red Sea. He is also bringing Jesus through the abyss of death and the netherworld.
This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus, a night of sadness and fear. The men remained locked in the Upper Room. Yet, the women went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body. Their hearts were overwhelmed and they were asking themselves: “How will we enter? Who will roll back the stone of the tomb?…” But here was the first sign of the great event: the large stone was already rolled back and the tomb was open!
“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe…” (Mk 16:5). The women were the first to see this great sign, the empty tomb; and they were the first to enter…
“Entering the tomb”. It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us. For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.
We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about… It is more, much more!
“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).
To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions…
To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love. It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.
To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness. To enter into the mystery we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols… in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.
The women who were Jesus’ disciples teach us all of this. They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope. As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love. They went forth and found the tomb open. And they went in. They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery. May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life.
Note: this is the homily of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household, which was just delivered at the Good Friday Serivice for the Passion of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
We have just heard the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. There is one point in particular in that account on which we need to pause.
“Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and clothed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, ‘Hail King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. . . . So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ [Ecce Homo!] (Jn 19:1-3, 5)
Among the innumerable paintings that have the Ecce Homo as their subject, there is one that has always impressed me. It is by the sixteenth-century Flemish painter, Jan Mostaert. Let me try to describe it. It will help imprint the episode better in our minds, since the artist only transcribes faithfully in paint the facts of the gospel account, especially that of Mark (see Mk 15:16-20).
Jesus has a crown of thorns on his head. A sheaf of thorny branches found in the courtyard, perhaps to light a fire, furnished the soldiers an opportunity for this parody of his royalty. Drops of blood run down his face. His mouth is half open, like someone who is having trouble breathing. On his shoulders there is heavy and worn-out mantle, more similar to tinplate than to cloth. His shoulders have cuts from recent blows during his flogging. His wrists are bound together by a coarse rope looped around twice. They have put a reed in one of his hands as a kind of scepter and a bundle of branches in the other, symbols mocking his royalty. Jesus cannot move even a finger; this is a man reduced to total powerlessness, the prototype of all the people in history with their hands bound.
Meditating on the passion, the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote these words one day: “Christ will be in agony until the end of the world; we must not sleep during this time.” There is a sense in which these words apply to the person of Christ himself, that is, to the head of the mystical body, and not just to its members. Not despite being risen and alive now but precisely because he is risen and alive. But let us leave aside this meaning that is too enigmatic and talk instead about the most obvious meaning of these words. Jesus is in agony until the end of the world in every man or woman who is subjected to his same torments. “You did it to me!” (Matt 25:40). He said these words not only about believers in him; he also said it about every man or woman who is hungry, naked, mistreated, or incarcerated.
For once let us not think about social evils collectively: hunger, poverty, injustice, the exploitation of the weak. These evils are spoken about often (even if it is never enough), but there is the risk that they become abstractions—categories rather than persons. Let us think instead of the suffering of individuals, people with names and specific identities; of the tortures that are decided upon in cold blood and voluntarily inflicted at this very moment by human beings on other human beings, even on babies.
How many instances of “Ecce homo” (“Behold the man!”) there are in the world! How many prisoners who find themselves in the same situation as Jesus in Pilate’s praetorium: alone, hand-cuffed, tortured, at the mercy of rough soldiers full of hate who engage in every kind of physical and psychological cruelty and who enjoy watching people suffer. “We must not sleep; we must not leave them alone!”
The exclamation “Ecce homo!” applies not only to victims but also to the torturers. It means, “Behold what man is capable of!” With fear and trembling, let us also say, “Behold what we human beings are capable of!” How far we are from the unstoppable march forward, from the homo sapiens sapiens (the enlightened modern human being), from the kind of man who, according to someone, was to be born from the death of God and replace him!
* * *
Christians are of course not the only victims of homicidal violence in the world, but we cannot ignore the fact that in many countries they are the most frequently intended victims. Jesus said to his disciples one day, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (Jn 16:2). Perhaps never before have these words found such precise fulfillment as they do today.
A third-century bishop, Dionysius of Alexandria, has left us a testimony of an Easter celebrated by Christians during the fierce persecutions by the Roman emperor Decius:
First we were set on and surrounded by persecutors and murderers, yet we were the only ones to keep festival even then. Every spot where we were attacked became for us a place for celebrations whether field, desert, ship, inn, or prison. The most brilliant festival of all was kept by the fulfilled martyrs, who were feasted in heaven.
This is the way Easter will be for many Christians this year, 2015 after Christ.
There was someone who, in the secular press, had the courage to denounce the disturbing indifference of world institutions and public opinion in the face of all this killing of Christians, recalling what such indifference has sometimes brought about in the past. All of us and all our institutions in the West risk being Pilates who wash our hands.
However, we are not allowed to make any denunciations today. We would be betraying the mystery we are celebrating. Jesus died, crying out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). This prayer was not simply murmured under his breath; it was cried out so that people could hear it well. Neither is it even a prayer; it is a peremptory request made with the authority that comes from being the Son: ”Father, forgive them!” And since he himself had said that the Father heard all his prayers (see Jn 11:42), we have to believe that he heard this last prayer from the cross and consequently that the crucifiers of Christ were then forgiven by God (not of course without in some way being repentant) and are with him in paradise, to testify for all eternity to what extremes the love of God is capable of going.
Ignorance, per se, existed exclusively among the soldiers. But Jesus’ prayer is not limited to them. The divine grandeur of his forgiveness consists in the fact that it was also offered to his most relentless enemies. The excuse of ignorance is brought forward precisely for them. Even though they acted with cunning and malice, in reality they did not know what they were doing; they did not think they were nailing to the cross a man who was actually the Messiah and the Son of God! Instead of accusing his adversaries, or of forgiving them and entrusting the task of vengeance to his heavenly Father, he defended them.
He presents his disciples with an example of infinite generosity. To forgive with his same greatness of soul does not entail just a negative attitude through which one renounces wishing evil on those who do evil; it has to be transformed instead into a positive will to do good to them, even if it is only by means of a prayer to God on their behalf. “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). This kind of forgiveness cannot seek recompense in the hope of divine punishment. It must be inspired by a charity that excuses one’s neighbor without, however, closing one’s eyes to the truth but, on the contrary, seeing to stop evildoers in such a way that they will do no more harm to others and to themselves.
We might want to say, “Lord, you are asking us to do the impossible!” He would answer, “I know, but I died to give you what I am asking of you. I not only gave you the command to forgive and not only an heroic example of forgiveness, but through my death I also obtained for you the grace that enables you to forgive. I did not give the world just a teaching on mercy as so many others have. I am also God and I have poured out for you rivers of mercy through my death. From them you can draw as much mercy as you want during the coming jubilee year of Mercy.”
Someone could say, “So then, does following Christ always mean surrendering oneself passively to defeat and to death?” On the contrary! He says to his disciples, “Be of good cheer” before entering into his passion: “I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Christ has overcome the world by overcoming the evil of the world. The definitive victory of good over evil that will be manifested at the end of time has already come to pass, legally and de facto, on the cross of Christ. “Now,” he said, “is the judgment of this world” (Jn 12:31). From that day forth, evil is losing, and it is losing that much more when it seems to be triumphing more. It has already been judged and condemned in its ultimate expression with a sentence that cannot be appealed.
Jesus overcame violence not by opposing it with a greater violence but by enduring it and exposing all its injustice and futility. He inaugurated a new kind of victory that St. Augustine summed up in three words: “Victor quia victima: “Victor because victim.” It was seeing him die this way that caused the Roman centurion to exclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). Others asked themselves what the “loud cry” emitted by the dying Jesus could mean (see Mk 15:37). The centurion, who was an expert in combatants and battles, recognized at once that it was a cry of victory.
The problem of violence disturbs us, shocks us, and it has invented new and horrendous forms of cruelty and barbarism today. We Christians are horrified at the idea that people can kill in God’s name. Someone, however, could object, “But isn’t the Bible also full of stories of violence? Isn’t God called ‘the Lord of hosts’? Isn’t the order to condemn whole cities to extermination attributed to him? Isn’t he the one who prescribes numerous cases for the death penalty in the Mosaic Law?”
If they had addressed those same objections to Jesus during his life, he would surely have responded with what he said regarding divorce: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). The same is true for violence: “at the beginning it was not so.” The first chapter of Genesis presents a world where violence is not even thinkable, neither among human beings themselves nor between people and animals. Not even to avenge the death of Abel, and therefore punish a murderer, is it permissible to kill (see Gen 4:15).
God’s true intention is expressed by the commandment “You shall not kill” more than by the exceptions to that command in the law, which are concessions to the “hardness of heart” and to people’s practices. Violence, along with sin, is unfortunately part of life, and the Old Testament, which reflects life and must be useful for life as it is, seeks through its legislation and the penalty of death at least to channel and curb violence so that it does not degenerate into personal discretion and people then tear each other apart.
Paul speaks about a period of time that is characterized by the “forbearance” of God (see Rom 3:25). God forbears violence the way he forbears polygamy, divorce, and other things, but he is preparing people for a time in which his original plan will be “recapitulated” and restored in honor, as though through a new creation. That time arrived with Jesus, who proclaims on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right check, turn to him the other also. . . . You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:38-39, 43-44).
The true “Sermon on the Mount” that changed history is not, however, the one spoken on a hill in Galilee but the one now proclaimed, silently, from the cross. On Calvary Christ delivers a definitive “no” to violence, setting in opposition to it not just non-violence but, even more, forgiveness, meekness, and love. Although violence will still continue to exist, it will no longer—not even remotely—be able to link itself to God and cloak itself in his authority. To do so would make the concept of God regress to primitive and crude stages in history that have been surpassed by the religious and civilized conscience of humanity.
True martyrs for Christ do not die with clenched fists but with their hands joined in prayer. We have had many recent examples of this. Christ is the one who gave the twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya by ISIS this past February 22 the strength to die whispering the name of Jesus.
Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith and for all the Ecce Homo human beings who are on the face of the earth at this moment, Christian and non-Christian. Mary, at the foot of the cross you united yourself to your Son, and you whispered, after him, “Father, forgive them!” Help us overcome evil with good, not only on the world scene but also in our daily lives, within the walls of our homes. You “shared his sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a very special way you cooperated by your obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior.” May you inspire the men and women of our time with thoughts of peace and mercy. And of forgiveness. Amen.
At 9:30 Roman time this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis presided at the Mass of Chrism, which takes places in all the Cathedrals of the world this week. During the Eucharistic celebration, the priests renewed the promises they made at the moment of their ordination. Holy Oils were then blessed: the oil of the sick, the oil of catechumens, and the sacred chrism. Below is the homily delivered by Pope Francis after the proclamation of the Gospel, on the theme of overcoming weariness and obtaining the Lord’s strength.
“My hand shall ever abide with him, my arms also shall strengthen him” (Ps 89:21). This is what the Lord means when he says: “I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him” (v. 20). It is also what our Father thinks whenever he “encounters” a priest. And he goes on to say: “My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him… He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God and the rock of my salvation”’ (vv. 24, 26).
It is good to enter with the Psalmist into this monologue of our God. He is talking about us, his priests, his pastors. But it is not really a monologue, since he is not the only one speaking. The Father says to Jesus: “Your friends, those who love you, can say to me in a particular way: ‘You are my Father’” (cf. Jn 14:21). If the Lord is so concerned about helping us, it is because he knows that the task of anointing his faithful people is demanding; it can tire us. We experience this in so many ways: from the ordinary fatigue brought on by our daily apostolate to the weariness of sickness, death and even martyrdom. The tiredness of priests! Do you know how often I think about this weariness which all of you experience? I think about it and I pray about it, often, especially when I am tired myself. I pray for you as you labour amid the people of God entrusted to your care, many of you in lonely and dangerous places. Our weariness, dear priests, is like incense which silently rises up to heaven (cf. Ps 141:2; Rev 8:3-4). Our weariness goes straight to the heart of the Father.
Know that the Blessed Virgin Mary is well aware of this tiredness and she brings it straight to the Lord. As our Mother, she knows when her children are weary, and this is her greatest concern. “Welcome! Rest, my child. We will speak afterwards…”. “Whenever we draw near to her, she says to us: “Am I not here with you, I who am your Mother?” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 286). And to her Son she will say, as she did at Cana, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3).
It can also happen that, whenever we feel weighed down by pastoral work, we can be tempted to rest however we please, as if rest were not itself a gift of God. We must not fall into this temptation. Our weariness is precious in the eyes of Jesus who embraces us and lifts us up. “Come to me, all who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Whenever a priest feels dead tired, yet is able to bow down in adoration and say: “Enough for today Lord”, and entrust himself to the Father, he knows that he will not fall but be renewed. The one who anoints God’s faithful people with oil is also himself anointed by the Lord: “He gives you a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (cf. Is 61:3).
Let us never forget that a key to fruitful priestly ministry lies in how we rest and in how we look at the way the Lord deals with our weariness. How difficult it is to learn how to rest! This says much about our trust and our ability to realize that that we too are sheep. A few questions can help us in this regard. Do I know how to rest by accepting the love, gratitude and affection which I receive from God’s faithful people? Or, once my pastoral work is done, do I seek more refined relaxations, not those of the poor but those provided by a consumerist society? Is the Holy Spirit truly “rest in times of weariness” for me, or is he just someone who keeps me busy? Do I know how to seek help from a wise priest? Do I know how to take a break from myself, from the demands I make on myself, from my self-seeking and from my self-absorption? Do I know how to spend time with Jesus, with the Father, with the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, with my patron saints, and to find rest in their demands, which are easy and light, and in their pleasures, for they delight to be in my company, and in their concerns and standards, which have only to do with the greater glory of God? Do I know how to rest from my enemies under the Lord’s protection? Am I preoccupied with how I should speak and act, or do I entrust myself to the Holy Spirit, who will teach me what I need to say in every situation? Do I worry needlessly, or, like Paul, do I find repose by saying: “I know him in whom I have placed my trust” (2 Tim 1:12)?
Let us return for a moment to what today’s liturgy describes as the work of the priest: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to prisoners and healing to the blind, to offer liberation to the downtrodden and to announce the year of the Lord’s favour. Isaiah also mentions consoling the broken-hearted and comforting the afflicted. These are not easy or purely mechanical jobs, like running an office, building a parish hall or laying out a soccer field for the young of the parish… The tasks of which Jesus speaks call for the ability to show compassion; our hearts are to be “moved” and fully engaged in carrying them out. We are to rejoice with couples who marry; we are to laugh with the children brought to the baptismal font; we are to accompany young fiancés and families; we are to suffer with those who receive the anointing of the sick in their hospital beds; we are to mourn with those burying a loved one… All these emotions can exhaust the heart of a pastor. For us priests, what happens in the lives of our people is not like a news bulletin: we know our people, we sense what is going on in their hearts. Our own heart, sharing in their suffering, feels “com-passion”, is exhausted, broken into a thousand pieces, moved and even “consumed” by the people. Take this, eat this… These are the words the priest of Jesus whispers repeatedly while caring for his faithful people: Take this, eat this; take this, drink this… In this way our priestly life is given over in service, in closeness to the People of God… and this always leaves us weary.
I wish to share with you some forms of weariness on which I have meditated. There is what we can call “the weariness of people, the weariness of the crowd”. For the Lord, and for us, this can be exhausting – so the Gospel tells us – yet it is a good weariness, a fruitful and joyful exhaustion. The people who followed Jesus, the families which brought their children to him to be blessed, those who had been cured, those who came with their friends, the young people who were so excited about the Master… they did not even leave him time to eat. But the Lord never tired of being with people. On the contrary, he seemed renewed by their presence (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 11). This weariness in the midst of activity is a grace on which all priests can draw (cf. ibid., 279). And how beautiful it is! People love their priests, they want and need their shepherds! The faithful never leave us without something to do, unless we hide in our offices or go out in our cars wearing sun glasses. There is a good and healthy tiredness. It is the exhaustion of the priest who wears the smell of the sheep… but also smiles the smile of a father rejoicing in his children or grandchildren. It has nothing to do with those who wear expensive cologne and who look at others from afar and from above (cf. ibid., 97). We are the friends of the Bridegroom: this is our joy. If Jesus is shepherding the flock in our midst, we cannot be shepherds who are glum, plaintive or, even worse, bored. The smell of the sheep and the smile of a father…. Weary, yes, but with the joy of those who hear the Lord saying: “Come, O blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34).
There is also the kind of weariness which we can call “the weariness of enemies”. The devil and his minions never sleep and, since their ears cannot bear to hear the word of God, they work tirelessly to silence that word and to distort it. Confronting them is more wearying. It involves not only doing good, with all the exertion this entails, but also defending the flock and oneself from evil (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 83). The evil one is far more astute than we are, and he is able to demolish in a moment what it took us years of patience to build up. Here we need to implore the grace to learn how to “offset”: to thwart evil without pulling up the good wheat, or presuming to protect like supermen what the Lord alone can protect. All this helps us not to let our guard down before the depths of iniquity, before the mockery of the wicked. In these situations of weariness, the Lord says to us: “Have courage! I have overcome the world!” (Jn 16:33).
And finally – lest you be wearied by this homily itself! – there is also “weariness of ourselves” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 277). This may be the most dangerous weariness of all. That is because the other two kinds come from being exposed, from going out of ourselves to anoint and to do battle (for our job is to care for others). But this third kind of weariness is more “self-referential”: it is dissatisfaction with oneself, but not the dissatisfaction of someone who directly confronts himself and serenely acknowledges his sinfulness and his need for God’s mercy; such people ask for help and then move forward. Here we are speaking of a weariness associated with “wanting yet not wanting”, having given up everything but continuing to yearn for the fleshpots of Egypt, toying with the illusion of being something different. I like to call this kind of weariness “flirting with spiritual worldliness”. When we are alone, we realize how many areas of our life are steeped in this worldliness, so much so that we may feel that it can never be completely washed away. This can be a dangerous kind of weariness. The Book of Revelation shows us the reason for this weariness: “You have borne up for my sake and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:3-4). Only love gives true rest. What is not loved becomes tiresome, and in time, brings about a harmful weariness.
The most profound and mysterious image of how the Lord deals with our pastoral tiredness is that, “having loved his own, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1): the scene of his washing the feet of his disciples. I like to think of this as the cleansing of discipleship. The Lord purifies the path of discipleship itself. He “gets involved” with us (Evangelii Gaudium, 24), becomes personally responsible for removing every stain, all that grimy, worldly smog which clings to us from the journey we make in his name.
From our feet, we can tell how the rest of our body is doing. The way we follow the Lord reveals how our heart is faring. The wounds on our feet, our sprains and our weariness, are signs of how we have followed him, of the paths we have taken in seeking the lost sheep and in leading the flock to green pastures and still waters (cf. ibid., 270). The Lord washes us and cleanses us of all the dirt our feet have accumulated in following him. This is something holy. Do not let your feet remain dirty. Like battle wounds, the Lord kisses them and washes away the grime of our labours.
Our discipleship itself is cleansed by Jesus, so that we can rightly feel “joyful”, “fulfilled”, “free of fear and guilt”, and impelled to go out “even to the ends of the earth, to every periphery”. In this way we can bring the good news to the most abandoned, knowing that “he is with us always, even to the end of the world”. Let us learn how to be weary, but weary in the best of ways!
Hat tip to Fr Rosica and the Vatican Press office for the translation – ed.
In the previous post, we talked about the Holy Father’s Message for Lent this year – specifically, the section aimed at local Catholic parishes. There was an intriguing phrase Pope Francis used in the letter, and it’s becoming one of the themes of his pontificate: namely, what he calls the “globalization of indifference”. This is one of the Pope’s great concerns on the global level, but what exactly does he mean by this? The problem, as he notes, begins with individuals. Let us carefully read his own words on this subject (again, from his Lenten Message):
Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us. Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure…our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.
When the people of God are converted to his love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises. One of the most urgent challenges which I would like to address in this Message is precisely the globalization of indifference. Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience. God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all. The Church is like the hand holding open this gate, thanks to her proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the sacraments and her witness of the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). But the world tends to withdraw into itself and shut that door through which God comes into the world and the world comes to him. Hence the hand, which is the Church, must never be surprised if it is rejected, crushed and wounded. God’s people, then, need this interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves.
Pope Francis writes in a very clear, immediate style, so it is not at all difficult to understand his emphasis here. May we take his words to heart this Lent, and firmly reject the selfishness that makes us so indifferent to God and others. Let us allow God to renew us as we begin our joyful journey towards Easter!
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