Sunday, February 28, 2016

God is waiting for you!


Pope Francis repeatedly tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. When he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and thinking of proposing to a girlfriend at the picnic. As he passed by the local church, he decided to pop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In the encounter he experienced unmistakably and powerfully the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that experience that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, He felt called and he discovered a special vocation of mercy. He did not go to the train or the picnic that day. He did not propose to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that moment. And, he tells us that because of that experience more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto as archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which he translates “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”

This is a powerful and poignant moment in the life of our Holy Father and it is a story that came to mind as I was reflecting on our first reading today from the Book of Exodus. We heard, “God called out to Moses from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ God said, ‘Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’” With this incredible moment, Moses’ life would be changed forever. He would go from being a privileged member of the Egyptian royal family to become a prophet and leader of a slave people on their way to freedom – all because of this encounter with our living and loving God.

We probably know this story in the life of Moses well, and I think many people hear stories like this, or the remarkable stories of healing and miracles from the Gospels, with a sense of wonder and awe, but also with a sense that these stories are Biblical, but don’t perhaps happen anymore. Such miraculous Godly encounters are a thing of the past and not something that will ever occur in our lifetime.

But, as this simple story from the young life of Pope Francis reminds us, God still desires to reach out and touch our lives and change them forever. On Ash Wednesday, as we began this season of Lent, I shared a quote of Pope Francis from about a year ago. Reflecting on God’s gift of mercy he said, “‘Feeling mercy changes everything’. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world.” The Pope knows this to be a true statement in his own life and we are reminded today that it can and should be true in ours.

So, as we gather once again today as God’s people, where do we need to have a real experience of God in our lives? What pains or troubles do we need to ask God to help us carry? Are we in need of a clearer idea of the direction He has set for us? Or do we simply have a deep desire to feel God’s presence, to know in the depths of our being that God is real and right here by our side?

In this Exodus encounter, we see that God was very present to Moses and was ready to rescue His people with infinite mercy, love and patience. This is what Moses learned on that day; and it this is what God wants to teach us here today. Like Moses, God has a desire to reach out and encounter us in our lives. And this encounter can change everything in our lives if we are open to it.

In just a few moments, God will reveal Himself to us just as powerfully as He did to Moses; this time not in a burning bush, but in the Blessed Sacrament – His true and real presence among us. But we have to take the first step and believe. We have to open our eyes to see beyond the bread and wine on the altar and to see that it is our God who is present to us. We have to open our lives to receive that mercy that God wants to show us; we have to open our hearts receive this encounter in order to be changed by it.

My friends, once again, God is waiting for each one of us. God is calling out to us like He did to Moses, like He did to Pope Francis. He wants to have a real encounter with us so that we will know that He is real, and that this encounter might make all the difference in our lives. Feeling mercy changes everything. Feeling God changes everything.

Let God today encounter your joy, your sorrow; your triumphs and your failures; your victories and your losses – let God encounter you and go forth from here renewed by the time spent truly with our living and loving God.

May the Lord give you peace.

Against Liturgy Shaming | William Bornhoft

NOTE: I read this over at The author makes some excellent points. - FT

Is endangering your soul by promoting ridicule and viral hate campaigns really the best way to push liturgical reform?

By William Bornhoft
Last month on Facebook a Catholic humor site shared a public photo album uploaded by a Catholic parish in Seattle. The photos were of their liturgy, which featured liturgical dancers, ribbons, streamers — you name it and they probably had it. Many, myself included, considered the photos cringe-worthy and saw a liturgy more focused on modern art and individual expression than celebrating the Eucharist. The humor site undoubtedly shared the photos as an act of ridicule, and dozens of its thousands of fans followed suit.

Comments on the parish’s photo album quickly piled up, ranging from the relatively mild accusations that those in charge of the parish possessed bad taste, to particularly nasty allegations of heresy and satanic worship. Other commenters made jabs at the dramatic facial expressions of the liturgical dancers.

Whoever administered that parish’s Facebook page must have been horrified to learn they had been the target of public derision. Not only is the photo album gone, the parish felt it necessary to delete its Facebook page entirely.

I suspect many Catholics who saw the photo album believed the parish deserved the negative publicity, and that maybe it would do the parish some good. If we shine a bright light on the irreverent liturgy, the thinking goes, perhaps someone in the hierarchy will discipline the pastor involved and put this madness to an end.

This instance of online liturgy shaming wasn’t unique in its viciousness. I followed a handful of groups on Facebook that frequently engage in this practice, including the amusingly named “SLAP” or “Survivors of Liturgical Abuse in Parishes.” The group exists in part to curate the names of renegade parishes and liturgical horror stories. The posts are often accompanied with photographic evidence, usually something shocking or cringe-worthy.

I sympathize with the Catholics sharing these stories. The liturgy should be sacred and glorify God, and sometimes it feels like it’s doing anything but. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat once wrote that he “is regularly appalled by the state of the liturgy in the American Church.” I often find myself in agreement with this sentiment.

However bad it might be, though, if we step back, reflect and pray, it should become obvious that Catholics must avoid using the brute force of the Internet to “expose” liturgical problems and shame the offending parishes. It is both uncharitable and impractical — uncharitable because we often wrongly assume the worst rather than the best intentions of the parish (“they’re heretics”; “this isn’t allowed in the Church”; “they must not care for God or the Eucharist”) without knowing anything about it. It is impractical because viral shaming campaigns are not a realistic method of reform or correction in the Catholic Church. Shaming people does not encourage them to listen; it usually urges them to hide, as this parish did by closing down its Facebook page.

Parish problems should be dealt with on the parish level, when possible. If that fails, they should be dealt with on the diocesan level, and so on. This is entirely in keeping with our teaching of subsidiarity. Rather than behaving like prideful whistleblowers appealing to the online masses when we are offended, we should properly communicate our grievances through the Church’s hierarchy, starting with the first person in authority. This is usually the pastor of the parish itself, who could be sympathetic to your concerns. Pastors aren’t mind readers, and they’re not perfect. We should not assume that any negligence — liturgical or otherwise — was their intention. Of course, the pastor might not be the best person to hear your concerns. Depending on the circumstances, someone lower, such as a parish administrator, or higher, such as someone at the diocesan level, may then be in a better position to handle your complaint.

In any situation a good deal of prayer and discernment should go into how conflicts are handled in the Church. When we feel the urge to make a nasty comment or post a scandalous photo of liturgical abuse online, we should ask ourselves whether it’s love of the Church that is guiding our hearts, or a sense of entitled judgement. I’m willing to bet that more often than not, hubris influences how we respond.

As Catholics we’re still learning how to navigate the tides of the Internet effectively without falling into worldly and often sinful habits. We will all make mistakes, I’m sure, but we must continue to examine our behavior, promote what is working and throw out what is not.

William Bornhoft is a freelance Catholic writer based in St. Paul, Minnesota. You may contact him at or follow him on Twitter @WilliamStPaul.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Do you believe in a God who loves you?


“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them? Pope Francis has been teaching us, through his example, that God looks beyond our faults and failings and loves us just as we are. Can we trust in that love?” These are the opening words of a pastoral letter issued on Ash Wednesday by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, and they are words that have been resonating in my heart since I first read them.

Bishop Rozanski used the occasion of this Ash Wednesday letter to mark the Jubilee of Mercy by doing something rare for a church official – apologizing to and seeking reconciliation with those who have ever felt unwelcome in Church because of their gender, their race, or their sexual orientation.

He says, “There are [those] who have distanced themselves because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary, but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation. Others have been treated unkindly, impatiently, or rudely by clergy, religious, ministers, and staff of parishes — all which is unacceptable. I ask your forgiveness.” He said parishes “must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life,” and urged Catholics to “to evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us. We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective.”

“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” I was moved by the bishop’s words because they are words that I know many Catholics have been longing to hear. But, I was also moved by these words because they also struck me at the start of this Lent as not only powerful words addressing a specific need, but also the kind of words that should define the very attitude of every Christian; perhaps a sort of mission statement for us all. Pope Francis said very early in his papacy, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

Our Gospel today presents us with the temptation of Jesus in the desert. In this moment, the Devil tempts Jesus with very earthly, very worldly things – he tempts Him with all the power and glory, wealth and fame, that the world can muster. Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He knows that the things being offered to Him are weak and pitiful in the light of what is real and true in God’s sight. He knows that all of the money or power in the world can’t bring about the change that mercy, love, reconciliation, compassion, healing, forgiveness, and joy can. He knows this with certainty in the depths of His heart and so these temptations, in the end, are no temptation at all.

My friends, as we stand at the start of this Lenten journey once again – especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy – I ask you: “Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” Because these are the things that matter. These are the things that have the power – true power – to change your life and the lives of those around you. I also believe this is where too many of us struggle. We are perhaps uncertain of God’s love for us, or perhaps have never truly felt it. Maybe we have not sought out God’s forgiveness in far too long, or no longer believe we need it; or worse, no longer believe we are deserving of it. We, too often, fear to break the ice with the person from whom we need to simply say, “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” But, these are the words that change lives. These are the words that change the world. Perhaps this Lent you will speak them yourself. Do you believe? God never tires of forgiving us. God’s mercy has no limits. God is love itself and invites us to dwell in that love. Do you believe?

So, what do you want your Lent to be about this year? Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven. But, YOU are the Church – not this stone and mortar, stained-glass and marble – you are the church. May you be a place of mercy, may I be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed loved and forgiven. This is what our Lent should truly be about.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Catholic bishop to women, gays: I’m sorry | Crux

NOTE: More of this please! Such a hopeful story and message. So glad this is a bishop in my home state of Massachusetts. Perhaps more will follow. - FT

If you’ve ever felt unwelcome at Church because of your gender, race, or sexual orientation, a Massachusetts bishop has a message for you: I’m sorry.
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield used the occasion of Ash Wednesday to mark Pope Francis’ Jubilee of Mercy by apologizing to and seeking reconciliation with Catholics in Western Massachusetts.
Rozanski, sent from Baltimore to lead the 217,000-member diocese in 2014, said that ongoing fallout from the clergy sexual abuse scandal, shuttered and merged churches, and less than welcoming parishes have caused a rupture between the Church and some of the faithful.
He says he is seeking forgiveness.
“There are many people hurting in our Catholic community from the pain caused by our past failings as a diocese, as well as the grievous actions of some who ministered in our church,” he wrote in a pastoral letter on evangelization. “The reality of this pain is that it still echoes many years later, as was given witness in our recent diocesan survey.”
Through that survey, completed by 3,000 local Catholics, Rozanski said he learned that some Catholics don’t feel welcome in churches and thus stop participating in the faith.
“Still there are others who have distanced themselves because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary, but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation,” he wrote. “Others have been treated unkindly, impatiently, or rudely by clergy, religious, ministers, and staff of parishes — all which is unacceptable.”
“I ask your forgiveness,” he continued.
He said parishes “must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life,” and urged local Catholics to “to evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us.”
“We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective,” he wrote.
He quoted one of the people who took part in the diocesan survey, who wrote, “The gay community feels that they aren’t welcome. They don’t want to espouse another religion; therefore, they don’t attend church at all. Hopefully, a special outreach could be done to them.”
Rozanski said that revitalizing the diocese through evangelization would be a “daunting task,” but urged Catholics “to walk beyond our parish boundaries, without fear, to demonstrate the faith we celebrate in liturgy takes form in the reality of the world around us.”
Rozanski opened the letter by asking several questions about love and forgiveness, urging Catholics to look to Pope Francis as an example of how to love like God, who “looks beyond our faults and failings and loves us just as we are.”
Pope Francis launched the Jubilee of Mercy in December, opening a special holy year during which Catholics are encouraged to go to confession and walk through designated holy doors in churches in order to have their sins forgiven. The pope has made mercy and forgiveness the hallmarks of his papacy.
“Do you believe in a God who loves you?” Rozanski asked. “Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?”
Michael O'Loughlin is the national reporter for Crux and author of "The Tweetable Pope," the first book to examine the Francis papacy through social media. MORE 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics | Vox

On Monday, Donald Trump held a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he merrily repeated a woman in the crowd who called Ted Cruz a pu***y. Twenty-four hours later, Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide.

I'm not here to clutch my pearls over Trump's vulgarity; what was telling, rather, was the immaturity of the moment, the glee Trump took in his "she said it, I didn't" game. The media, which has grown used to covering Trump as a sideshow, delighted in the moment along with him — it was funny, and it meant clicks, takes, traffic. But it was more than that. It was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president showing off the demagogue's instinct for amplifying the angriest voice in the mob.

It is undeniably enjoyable to watch Trump. He's red-faced, discursive, funny, angry, strange, unpredictable, and real. He speaks without filter and tweets with reckless abandon. The Donald Trump phenomenon is a riotous union of candidate ego and voter id. America's most skilled political entertainer is putting on the greatest show we've ever seen.

It's so fun to watch that it's easy to lose sight of how terrifying it really is.
Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he's a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he's also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it's hard to know if he even realizes he's lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.
Trump answers America's rage with more rage. As the journalist Molly Ball observed, "All the other candidates say 'Americans are angry, and I understand.' Trump says, 'I’M angry.'" Trump doesn't offer solutions so much as he offers villains. His message isn't so much that he'll help you as he'll hurt them.

Trump is in serious contention to win the Republican presidential nomination. His triumph in a general election is unlikely, but it is far from impossible. He's not a joke and he's not a clown. He's a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.

Trump's path to power has been unnerving. His business is licensing out his own name as a symbol of opulence. He has endured bankruptcies and scandal by bragging his way out of them. He rose to prominence in the Republican Party as a leader of the birther movement. He climbed to the top of the polls in this election by calling Mexicans rapists and killers. He defended a poor debate performance by accusing Megyn Kelly of being on her period. He responded to rival Ted Cruz's surge by calling for a travel ban on Muslims. When two of his supporters attacked a homeless man and said they did it because "Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported," he brushed off complaints that he's inspiring violence by saying his supporters are "very passionate."

Behind Trump's success is an unerring instinct for harnessing anger, resentment, and fear. His view of the economy is entirely zero-sum — for Americans to win, others must lose. "We're going to make America great again," he said in his New Hampshire victory speech, "but we're going to do it the old-fashioned way. We're going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade. We're going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It's not going to happen anymore."

Trump's other gift — the one that gets less attention but is perhaps more important — is his complete lack of shame. It's easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they're exposed as liars, when they're seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.

Trump doesn't. He has the reality television star's ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won't, to say what others can't, to do what others wouldn't.

Trump lives by the reality television trope that he's not here to make friends. But the reason reality television villains always say they're not there to make friends is because it sets them apart, makes them unpredictable and fun to watch. "I'm not here to make friends" is another way of saying, "I'm not bound by the social conventions of normal people." The rest of us are here to make friends, and it makes us boring, gentle, kind.

This, more than his ideology, is why Trump genuinely scares me. There are places where I think his instincts are an improvement on the Republican field. He seems more dovish than neoconservatives like Marco Rubio, and less dismissive of the social safety net than libertarians like Rand Paul. But those candidates are checked by institutions and incentives that hold no sway over Trump; his temperament is so immature, his narcissism so clear, his political base so unique, his reactions so strange, that I honestly have no idea what he would do — or what he wouldn't do.

When MSNBC's Joe Scarborough asked Trump about his affection for Vladimir Putin, who "kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries," Trump replied, "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country." Later, he clarified that he doesn't actually condone killing journalists, but, he warned the crowd, "I do hate them."

It's a lie that if you put a frog into a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat the frog will simply boil, but it's a fact that if you put the American political system in a room with Trump for long enough we slowly lose track of how noxious he is, or we at least run out of ways to keep repeating it.

But tonight is a night to repeat it. There is something scary in Donald Trump. We should fear his rise.

Feeling mercy changes everything!

HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 10, 2016:

I conducted a very informal poll on Facebook today asking my friends there what they were giving up for Lent. They responded well, more than 50 of them. Some of the answers were very tangible. For example, more than one are giving up Coke, Pepsi or other soft drinks; some are giving up chocolates or sweets in general; some are giving up meat or Dunkin’ Donuts; some said alcohol or eating out at restaurants; one plans to fast every Wednesday and Friday. Others named things that were more changes in habit or activity. For example, one said, they were giving up background music in the car, office or house to embrace more silence; another was going to give up swearing at rude drivers in the car; another said outward displays of anger and resentment; one was going to give up the need to be in control; one said they would bite their tongue so they would gossip less; another said he would turn off the computer at 8 p.m. to limit the amount of time staring at screens; one said they would give up over-commitment to have more quiet time. And, then there were those who were going to try and do more with their Lent. Among those were people who were pledging to pray a rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet every day; or to commit themselves more deeply to forgiveness, love, mercy and joy; those who will spend more time in service of others, doing good deeds; some were going to spend more time especially with people who need that extra attention another said they’d be giving up some morning sleep so they can get to Mass every day. And, last but not least, one said that they had given up giving anything up.

These are all great – well maybe not that last one – but most of these are the kind of practices that are hoping to be effective in our Lent and in our lives to help us become the kind of people that Jesus calls us to be. Our typical approach to Lent, I think, is to look at Lent as a 40 day spiritual boot camp. It is our time to get our spiritual act together, to engage in some rigorous practices that can once again reign in and drive out all of the laxity that has snuck into our lives since last year. It is perhaps best summed up by the statement as ashes are applied, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” And, there is certainly ample reason for us to think of Lent in this way.

But, I want to invite us to think about the next 40 days in a very different way this year – not as the boot camp, but how about as the luxury spa; not as the place where we punish our sinfulness into submission, but the place where we allow our gracious and loving God to pamper us with His mercy.

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” We sang this together in our response tonight and these words will accompany us all through Lent as a common refrain in the hopes that they will truly settle deep in our hearts. “Be merciful, O Lord.” This is certainly appropriate as we enter into our 40 day journey of Lent. It is all the more appropriate as we are in this great Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. From virtually the first day of his papacy, Pope Francis has been speaking to us about this great gift and grace of God’s mercy – about our need to accept it and our need to extend it; about how it is the cure to what ails our world today.

Just a year ago, for example, he said, “In the past few days I have been reading a book that said that ‘feeling mercy changes everything’. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. This mercy is beautiful.” Be merciful, O Lord, because feeling mercy changes everything, and we want to be changed by Your mercy. This is what our Lent can be about – letting God treat us, spoil us, overwhelm us, cover us with His mercy. He doesn’t hold it back. He doesn’t try and keep it from us. He wants nothing more than for us to be awash in the healing waters of His mercy. Let God’s mercy spoil you. It is beautiful. It is the best thing you can feel. It will change you and the world.

Last month beginning a year-long exploration of what he termed “the mystery of divine mercy” the pope said, “God defines himself as the God of mercy. In words which echo throughout the Old Testament, he tells Moses that he is ‘the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. The Hebrew word for mercy evokes the tender and visceral love of a mother for her child…God waits for us.” God waits for you and me with the tender love of a mother; whose love can heal us.

My friends, as we begin our Lenten journey tonight, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for us; God waits for you. Now, this doesn’t mean we’re off the hook – bring on the cookies and ice cream!! But, it means that we should be conscious that these things that we “give up” are practices that should be tilling the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the loving gift of mercy there; so that he can spoil us with this mercy; so that we might in turn become that presence of mercy in our world. These practices should lead us to beg as we did in our psalm tonight, “Be merciful, O Lord.” Please, shower Your mercy upon us. Because feeling Your mercy changes everything. Our God waits for us so that we can feel His mercy. He waits for us to become His mercy. He hopes that we will extend that mercy to the world.

May the Lord give you His mercy!

Pope to Missionaries of Mercy: "Show the maternal face of the Church"

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – Showing the maternal face of the Church, being aware of the need for forgiveness and the sense of shame of those who confess, and not applying a harsh form of justice were the main features of the advice Pope Francis gave yesterday afternoon to the Missionaries of Mercy from all continents, whom he received in audience in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. Today, during the Ash Wednesday Mass, he will confer to them their mandate as "missionaries" of mercy in the context of the Jubilee.

"I meet with you with great pleasure, before giving you the mandate of being Missionaries of Mercy. This is a sign of special relevance because it characterises the Jubilee, and enables the unfathomable mystery of the mercy of the Father to be lived in all the local Churches", said the Holy Father. "Being a missionary of mercy is a responsibility I have entrusted to you because it requires that you be witnesses in the first person of God's closeness and his way of loving. It is not our way, always limited and at times contradictory, but His way of loving, His way of forgiving, that is indeed mercy".

Francis went on to remind the new missionaries that in their ministry they are called upon to express the maternity of the Church. "The Church is a mother because she always generates new sons and daughters in faith; the Church is a mother also because she nurtures faith; and the Church is a mother also because she offers God's forgiveness, regenerating new life, the fruit of conversion. We cannot run the risk that a penitent does not perceive the maternal presence of the Church who welcomes and loves him. If this perception were to be made less evident as a result of our rigidity, it would constitute a grave damage first and foremost to faith itself, as it would prevent the penitent from seeing himself as integrated within the Body of Christ. Furthermore, it would greatly limit his sense of being part of a community. We are instead called upon to be a living expression of the Church who, as a mother, welcomes anyone who approaches her, knowing that through her they are integrated with Christ. Entering into the confessional let us always remember that it is Christ Who welcomes, Christ Who listens, Christ Who forgives, and Christ Who gives peace. We are His ministers, and we are the first who are in need of His forgiveness. Therefore, whatever may be the sin to be confessed – or that the person does not dare to say, but alludes to, which is enough – each missionary is called upon to remember their own existence as a sinner and to humbly place himself as a 'channel' of God's mercy".

Another important aspect is to know how to "look at the desire for forgiveness in the penitent's heart. It is the fruit of grace and its action in the life of people, which enables us to feel nostalgia for God, for His love and His home. Let us not forget that it is precisely this desire that is at the beginning of conversion. The heart turns to God, recognising the in committed, but with the hope of obtaining forgiveness. And this desire is strengthened when one decides in one's heart to change life and to sin no more. It is the moment at which one entrusts oneself to God's mercy, trusting fully in being understood, forgiven and supported by Him. Let us allow ample space to this desire for God and for His forgiveness; may we let it emerge as a true expression of the grace of the Spirit that inspires the conversion of the heart".

Finally, the Holy Father spoke about a crucial, often neglected aspect: shame. "It is not easy to place oneself in front of another man, knowing that he represents God, and confess to sin. One is ashamed not only of the sin committed, but also of having to confess it to another", said the Pope, emphasising that the Bible from its very first pages tells us about how Adam and Eve, after they had sinned, felt shame and hid themselves from God. Noah too, considered a righteous man, was not free from sin. His intemperance is a sign of his weakness, to the extent that he loses his dignity, expressed in the Scripture by his nakedness. Two of his sons, Shem and Japheth take his cloak and cover him to restore his dignity.

"This passage suggests to me the importance of our role as confessor", said Francis. "Before us there is a 'naked' person, and also a person who does not know how to speak and does not know what to say … with the shame of being a sinner, and very often unable to say so. Let us not forget: before us there is not the sin, but the repentant sinner. … A person who wishes to be accepted and forgiven. Therefore, we are not called upon to judge, with an attitude of superiority, as if we were immune to sin. On the contrary, we are called upon to act like Shem and Japheth, who took a cover to spare their father from shame. Being a confessor in accordance with Christ's heart means covering the sinner with a cloak of mercy, so that he is no longer ashamed and is able to recover the joy of his filial dignity, and may also know where to find it".

"However, it is not the club of judgement that we succeed in returning the lost sheep to the flock, but rather with the holiness of life that is the starting point of renewal and reform in the Church. Holiness is nurtured with love and knows how to bear the burden of the weak. A missionary of mercy carries the sinner on his shoulders, and consoles him with the power of compassion. … It is possible to do great damage, great damage to a soul if one does not listen with the heart of a father, with the heart of the Mother Church". "Some months ago I spoke with a wise cardinal of the Roman Curia about the questions that some priests ask in confession, and he said to me, 'When a person starts and I see that they want to say something, and I realise and understand, I say, I understand, don't worry. … This is a father".

"I accompany you on this missionary adventure", concluded the bishop of Rome, "offering you as examples two saints, ministers of God's forgiveness: St. Leopold and St. Pio … along with many other priests who during their life have borne witness to God's mercy. They will help you. When you feel the burden of the sins confessed to you, and the limits of your person and your words, trust in the power of mercy that reaches out to everyone as love and knows no bounds. And say, like many saintly confessors, 'Lord, I forgive you', and go ahead".

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Be merciful this Lent | 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” (Dt6:4-5). 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).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tippecanoe and Jesus too!!


As we are now in full swing of the presidential primary, as we listen to all of the rhetoric of the candidates, it is interesting to look at what their campaign slogans are. If you’re curious, there were no presidential campaign slogans until the election of 1840 and William Henry Harrison. The first slogan ever, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” Very inspiring stuff! They’ve gotten a bit better since then. Here are a sampling of just a few this year’s slogans. Some are very basic and descriptive like, “Hillary for America” or perhaps the shortest slogan ever, “Jeb!” Some are a little bit scary like Rand Paul’s, “Defeat the Washington Machine” or Bernie Sander’s “A revolution is coming!” Some I personally ind funny, like Chris Christies, “Telling it like it is!” But, then there are the ones that hope to be inspirational and aspirational like Ben Carson’s, “Heal. Inspire. Revive,” or Carly Fiorina’s, “New Possibilities,” or the famous, or infamous, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, which by the way was also Ronald Reagan’s slogan in 1980, so no points for originality there.

Of course, perhaps the greatest frustration with slogans is that they hardly ever prove to be true. The most often promise something that they fail to deliver. Just look at these inspirational words and compare them to the negative and hateful rhetoric that we have heard on the campaign trail thus far in the 2016 race.

These remind me of a scene from the great Steven Speilberg movie, Amistad which tells the story of a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom with the help of John Quincy Adams in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. There is a poignant scene when the main character is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. However, he speaks no English and had never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what the book is. But, it has pictures in it; and the illustrations fascinated him. At one point, two of the slaves are alone in their jail cell. One thinks that the other carries the book simply to impress people and he says to the one looking at the Bible, “No one is watching you here, you can put the book down.” But the other responds, “No, I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”

This changes everything. It sounds almost like a political slogan, but the key difference is that, unlike politicians, this one is true. When we choose to let Jesus rule our hearts and our lives, it really does change everything.

Our Scriptures today place before us three people - Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Each of them have an experience of God that changes everything. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. God’s presence shakes the door of his house. His reaction, “Woe is me! My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” Paul recounts his own unworthiness at having been called to be an apostle, despite his own persecution of the church. Paul’s reaction? “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective.” And then Peter, at Jesus’ command catches a miraculous amount of fish. His reaction? “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

You see, this changes everything. You couldn’t ask for three people more different than Isaiah, Paul and Peter, and yet despite their very different lives, they each have a similarly life-changing encounter with God. In so many ways, that’s the story of the Bible itself over and over, the story of how God calls people to Himself and calls them to be more like His Son in the world. We see over and over again that that being in the presence of God changes everything; it changes the one who encounters God – it changes us. And that is change we can believe in!

As we come to Mass today, and every time we come, we have the opportunity to truly encounter God in so many ways. He is truly present in one another – “where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” – so, when you look at the person on your right and left, in front and in back, God is truly here as we gather in His name. God is truly present to us today in His Word which was proclaimed in the readings which always end with the moving proclamation, “The Word of the Lord.” We mean it! Did you hear God speak to you today? God will be truly present in bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Jesus before our very eyes in the Eucharist today. And we will take that presence into our own bodies in the hopes that, as St. Augustine famously said, we will “become what we receive.” God hopes to change us by this encounter.

Hopefully, we encounter Him in many other places in our lives too – in our loving relationships, in our encounters with the poor and the marginalized, the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the needy. We encounter God in the beauty of nature, and words and music and art. He is all around us waiting to engage us in the hopes that we will be daily changed into more loving, kind, compassionate, caring, merciful, forgiving and gentle people.

Our readings and our celebration today are asking each of us – how do I react to God’s presence? Are we blind to God, not even aware that He is there? Do we shy away from God because we know our sinfulness? Yet it is precisely because we are sinners that God comes to us; to transform us by His Grace. Just think of the powerful prayer we say just before receiving Communion – “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” – the power of that prayer is in our trust that through God’s word we are healed and saved. Even in the moments when we feel the greatest distance from God; He is always present waiting to transform us in His love and Grace.

Let us pray to have eyes and hearts open to see our God who is present all around us, and to respond with humility. As Jesus appears on our altar, let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and transform us to become what we receive – that same presence of God, the Body of Christ, in the world.

This changes everything. “Only say the word, and we shall be healed.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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