Thursday, August 2, 2007

Our Lady of the Angels

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Porziuncola. It is a major feast day of the Franciscan calendar. There is also a plenary indulgence related to this feast. To obtain the indulgence you must visit a Franciscan Church and say a prayer for the pope's intentions, you must also receive Holy Communion and go to confession within seven days before or after the feast. Below if the Homily of the General Minister of the Franciscan Order, Fr. José Rodríguez Carballo, ofm for this Feast day:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel, which we have just heard on this day of festivities for the whole Church, repeats the greeting of the angel to Mary to each one of us, “do not be afraid, you have won God’s favour”. It is a word which gives us courage and instils trust in us. The Lord, today as always during the history of salvation, manifests Himself as He who is close to His children, as He who is with His people in order to share their fate. Our God is not a distant god, a god who descends from his heaven on high to fill humanity with terror and to chastise it, but a God who, in the course of time, has revealed Himself as He who is at the side of men and women (cf. Ex 3, 14). This closeness of God, His love for our life, is manifested in a very practical way through His wonderful works, creation being the first among them, which speaks continuously of the Creator, but also through His Word, through which He guided and taught the people of Israel until He formed them into the chosen people, a people chosen from among peoples, to be with Him. But this closeness reached its perfection in Jesus, in Him God Himself took on our nature, walked our paths, lived our small and great joys, experienced our frailty and our suffering. In Jesus we passed from being servants to being definitive friends of God: “I shall not call you servants any more, because a servant does not know his master’s business, I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (Jn 15, 15). Yes, we are friends of God, no longer servants, or, as St. Paul said in the second reading, if “before we came of age we were as good as slaves to the elemental principles of this world”, now, thanks to Jesus Christ, we have found a Father in God and we have become His children. We are no longer servants, then, but friends, no longer slaves, but children.

Let us allow joy to fill our hearts today, therefore, because we also, like Mary, have won God’s favour, because we also have been asked not to fear Him. Indeed, as one is not afraid of a friend or of one’s father, so also we must not fear God.

This is the Good News today, the Gospel has been announced to us. The God in whom we believe is, as St. Clare loved to call Him, the Father of mercies, He who leans over us with a heart overflowing with love for us, over our poverty, over our wounds, those which are seen and those which are unseen, in order to offer us healing and salvation. He does it only for love, He wants nothing in return, He does it because He loves us as a father. We have simply to open our heart and accept this gift, to receive His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness. It is God Himself, as we heard in the first reading, who invites us: “Approach me, you who desire me, and take your fill of my fruits, for memories of me are sweeter than honey, inheriting me is sweeter than the honeycomb”.

But whoever has tasted the sweetness of this Word of salvation, whoever has allowed himself to be touched by the mercy of God, cannot stay the same as before. His very life is transformed and converted into an announcement of mercy, as happened to St. Francis who, in his Testament recalls: “When I was in sin it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body”.

Whoever has allowed himself to be touched by the love of God lives on and gives witness to it throughout his life, making his life into a great act of love, as Benedict XVI reminded us during his visit to Assisi: “What was, my dear brothers and sisters, the life of the converted Francis if it wasn’t a great act of love? His enflamed prayers, rich in contemplation and praise, his gentle embrace of the divine child in Greccio, his contemplation of the passion at La Verna, his ‘living according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel’ (Test 14), his choice of poverty and his seeking Christ in the faces of the poor”. Everything in Francis speaks to us of God, because God had become, for him, the meaning of life, that meaning which seems to be lost or never found today. We know that mankind can never give meaning to life on its own, but can only be donated it, and that in Christ it has been offered to it once and for all.

The feast today is an invitation to all to return to Christ, to drink as the fountain of living water in order to enjoy once again the embrace of the Father of mercies, to rediscover a life which is rich in significance, even if it is made up of the little and banal things of every day. But the feast today is, at the same time, an invitation to allow yourselves to be lead by Jesus among the “lepers” of our times in order to show mercy to them, to embrace those looked upon with suspicion and disdain and, perhaps, live and work beside us, in order to accept and forgive as we, in our turn, were accepted and forgiven.

While we, with all Franciscans, prepare ourselves to celebrate the VIII Centenary of the approval of the form of life of St. Francis by the Church, we also wish, just as the saint of Assisi did, to have ourselves reached by the Gospel of forgiveness and love; we wish to be reached by Jesus Christ in order for Him to transform our life into a song of mercy, to sing, with Mary, “the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is His name, and His mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear Him”.

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