Saturday, September 26, 2015

Francis OUR Pope!

HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, September 27, 2015:

A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

We all have been attuned to the famous visitor who graced our beautiful city this week. Our city was fully focused for two days – in fact our country and the world – on the visit of our Holy Father Pope Francis on Thursday and Friday as part of his first-ever visit to the United States. As you know, he was in Washington first, and now he is in Philadelphia.

It is hard to really assess the impact of this extraordinary visit of our Holy Father to us this week – a week that included a speech before the U.S. Congress, the first-ever canonization of saint on our soil, a speech before the United Nations, a visit to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, visits to schools and shelters and churches, cathedrals, basilicas and yes, Madison Square Garden. We prayed, we sang, we listened. And, hopefully, we have grown closer God, closer to our Church, closer to our Pope and closer to one another.

I was lucky enough to be present at both the Evening Prayer Service at St. Patrick’s on Thursday night and the Mass at Madison Square Garden on Friday night and one of my favorite quotes of the week came from our own Cardinal Dolan who said something very simple, but something that captured the excitement of this week. He said, “At each and every Mass we pray the words, ‘For Francis OUR Pope. And here you are!’”

This week was a time of visitation for us and one that was very touching and moving. Here in New York, the city felt different this week. I know for all of us friars even the journey back and forth from these events was wonderful. Instead of the usual isolated and indifferent way that we can be to one another on our city streets and in the subway, we could hardly walk a few steps without people encountering us and wanting to know if we were going to see the Pope and asking questions and wanting to know more. There were smiles and conversations and a whole lot of selfies.

We know that this papacy of Francis has been a papacy of gestures. He has not been a Pope of mere theological or doctrinal teaching. He has been someone who walks the walk. He doesn’t merely speak. He acts. The little Fiat he has been driven in through the U.S. speaks volumes of this. We have a humble and simple Holy Father who comes to us. And, as powerful as his words are, his actions touch the very depths of our hearts.

What is Pope Francis trying to tell us, trying to teach us? I think it is as simple as this – the Gospel can be lived. The Gospel must be lived. For those of us who come to Church each week, who were baptized in the waters of new life, who name ourselves believers and followers of Jesus – all of that must be made evident in the way we live, in the way we act. This is what we see in our Pope. This is what he hopes we will imitate in our world.

On Friday at Mass he said, “Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty ‘connections’, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”

My friends, Jesus still walks our streets. What a powerful thought. What a powerful hope. Our world, our reality can be profoundly different if we choose to be the same presence of Christ that we see radiated in the person of Pope Francis. It is what each of us is called to. It is what the Holy Father came to our city to say to us – to you and to me. To be the Jesus that walks these streets. He came to say, as in my corny joke, "You be Jesus!"

He said, “Jesus keeps telling his disciples to go, to go out. He urges them to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people. No one or anything can separate us from his Love. Go out and proclaim, go out and show that God is in your midst as a merciful Father who himself goes out, morning and evening, to see if his son has returned home and, as soon as he sees him coming, runs out to embrace him. Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side. He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters. God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities, and she wants to be like yeast in the dough. She wants to relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side, as she proclaims the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.”

My brothers and sisters, Francis OUR Pope was here. Let us have the courage to live the Christian lives that he calls forth from us. Let us be the Church that is alive in our city! Let us be the Jesus that is walking in our streets! You be Jesus!

May the Lord give you peace!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dialogue fearlessly! | Pope Francis to U.S. Bishops

FULL TEXT OF POPE FRANCIS ADDRESS TO U.S. BISHOPS, September 23, 2015:

Dear Brother Bishops,

I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay.

As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land.

The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”

Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.

My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey.

I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.

I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”.

I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country.

It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.

We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).

The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).

Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.

It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27).

Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock.

Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45).

Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).

We all know the anguish felt bythe first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.

I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.

And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).

The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.

We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise.

We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”.

The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.

Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.

May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14).

This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion.

This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society.

To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.
Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).

Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).

My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.

May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!

(from Vatican Radio)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Who do you say that I am?

HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, September 13, 2015:

One day the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?” Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”

A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Mark’s Gospel is 16 chapters long and today we have reached the middle of it. Mark has carefully recorded what people have been saying about Jesus up to this point. They have said in confusion, “What is this?” They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “He is possessed.” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” or “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.”

Up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. And, now, Jesus turns the question on them. “Who do you say that I am?” Everything in the first half of Mark’s Gospel has lead up to this question, and everything in the second half will answer it. So, when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” all of heaven is silent, listening intently to how they will answer. And when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” the angels are dancing and the heavenly choir is resounding, the saints in glory are cheering and the confetti is flying. They get it! They see Him “as He is.” “You are the Christ.”

But answering that question isn’t getting an “A” on the theology exam. Understanding who Jesus is, tells us who we are. Jesus asks “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – Once you know who I am, who are we? What are we about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?

And, we all reflected on this earlier this week – whether we knew it or not. It was perhaps that moment when we first saw the heart-wrenching photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his lifeless body in a red t-shirt and shorts washed up on a Turkish beach, just one of 6.5 million Syrians displaced by the violent conflict in their homeland. We reflected on who we say Jesus is and who we are because of it when we thought about how that photo, how that story affects us. Whether or not their problem is our problem. Whether or not their suffering moved us to compassion; whether or not we see them as our brother and sister. This is how seeing Jesus as the Christ changes who we are too. Just look around the world. In Hungary, the treatment of these refugees has been questionable, at best. England will take 22,000 refugees; France and Germany 55,000; Ireland has set no limit. The U.S. will take 10,000. Pope Francis has called on every parish and religious house in Europe to take in a family. The Vatican itself will take two families. Who do you say that I am?

The point of this one example is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. With that recognition, everything in our lives flows from that moment, from that answer and what it means to recognize and follow Jesus. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy and compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to do not just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in Christ! The answer to that simple question will make all the difference in our lives and in the life of the world.

Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city with a shrines dedicated Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. And it was in this setting – a venue marked by devotion to a variety of false gods – that Jesus asks His most important question. He didn’t ask the question in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah that points to the Messiah. He asks it in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there, that He says essentially, now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods; these competing idols that surround you – who will you say – here – that I am? And who will you choose be because of Me?

My friends, we know that we, too, live in a world that honors too many false gods; too many false idols; each of them demanding our worship; our very lives. There are far too many voices that encourage us to worry only about ourselves; that name the other as foreign and dangerous and illegal and evil and not our problem. There are too many today who answer Jesus question not by saying, “You are the Christ,” but by saying, “You’re interesting. I like what I read, but I really don’t have time for you” or saying, “The way you want me to live is just too difficult” or by simply saying nothing at all and instead of choosing Christ, choosing the easier route.

Let me leave you with the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict from a few years ago, “Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits hearts like your own. Say to him: ‘Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me.’”

Who do you say that I am? May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God's mercy is bigger than our sins | Pope Francis & forgiveness for abortion

Like many, I was so excited by the news that came out today from Rome that Pope Francis has extended the faculty to absolve someone from the sin of abortion without the interim step of having to contact your local bishop.

As always, the media seems to have not fully understood what the Pope did and so there are some confusing or misstated notions out there. I wanted to write a brief post to clear up a few things:

ABORTION COULD ALWAYS BE FORGIVEN. I was watching ABC News tonight and the broadcaster said, the Pope's decree means that "abortion can now be forgiven." This gives the impression that somehow the Church held a prior position that abortion was unforgivable. The impression is that if you found yourself in the impossible situation of procuring an abortion, that was it, no more hope for a life with God. One strike, you're out.

This could not be further from the truth. Many women, or their spouses or partners, have often come to the Church to seek God's forgiveness for their actions. But, according to Canon Law, since an abortion also brought with it latae sententiae (= automatic) excommunication, the priest needed to consult with their Bishop to lift that excommunication. Another option would be in dioceses were certain priests have been given the faculty for this. Either way, it was a more complicated process and took a bit more time, but forgiveness was always available. 

Also, if you happened to know a Franciscan priest, the Order has had the privilege of absolving this sin directly for a very, very long time.

In fact, St. Pope John Paul II said this in his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, "The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision (to have an abortion), and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed...But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope...Give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation."

So, what is the meaning of Pope Francis' action? My opinion is that the Pope wants to encourage people to seek out God's mercy. In my own personal experience with this, I have encountered many women who feel as though their actions have permanently separated them from God; that their sin is too great; that they are beyond forgiveness. To hear the words that God offers them forgiveness bring about a healing that is powerful, that is lasting and that is transformative in people's lives.

I believe the Holy Father is taking this moment to make that transforming forgiveness more easily available to encourage the kind of healing that it brings about. In his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, the Pope said, “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”

I think as we head into this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis hopes that we will all take that message to heart and be reconciled, forgiven, renewed, restored and transformed by this Sacrament of Mercy. God's mercy is always bigger than our sins. We are never outside of God's desire to unite us with Him once again.

- FT