To fast during Lent is not just an external observance, "rather it is a fast that comes from the heart." This was the reflection offered by Pope Francis during his morning homily at Casa Santa Marta. The Holy Father began by speaking on today's first reading, in which the prophet Isaiah, conveying a message from God, questions the manner of fasting.
"Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bows his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes?" the prophet asks.
"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own."
Reflecting on these words, the Pope stressed the need to distinguish between a "formal and a real" fast. For this reason, he explained, "Jesus condemned the Pharisees for making so many exterior observances, but without the truth of the heart."
The true fasting mentioned in the first reading, he continued, is what truly "comes from the heart" that fulfills the commandment of love towards God and neighbor.
"They are united: the love of God and the love of neighbor are united and if you want to do penance, real and not formal, you must do it in front of God and also with your brother, your neighbor," he said.
The Pope also stressed the importance of living this true fast in one's daily life, especially with employees and family members.
"How many, how many men and women of faith, have faith yet divide the tablets of the law: 'Yes, yes I do this' – "But do you give alms?' – Yes, yes, I always send a check to the Church' – Ah, well, that's good," he said.
"But to the Church, your home, with those who depend on you – be it children, grandparents, those who are dependents – are you generous, are you just?' You cannot make an offering to the Church on the shoulders of the injustice that you do to your dependents. This is a grave sin: it is using God to cover injustice."
The 78 year old Pontiff went on to say that the Lenten season encompasses this love for both God and neighbor and not just the physical act of fasting. "It isn't only about not eating meat on Fridays, to do some little thing and then make selfishness grow, the exploitation of others, and the ignorance of the poor," he said.
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that lent is a time to think about others, especially those who are forgotten. "In this Lent," he asked, "is there a place in your heart for those who have not fulfilled the commandments? Who made a mistake and are in prison."
"Do those imprisoned have a place [in your heart]?" he continued. "Do you pray for them, so that the Lord help them to change their life?' Accompany, Lord, on our Lenten path so that the exterior observance corresponds to a profound renewal in Spirit."
Christians are faced with one choice: to choose the path that leads either to life or death. This was Pope Francis' reflection today during his morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. The Holy Father drew his homily from the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses tells the people of Israel: "Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today […] you will live and grow numerous."
The Pope said that Christians are faced with that same choice in their daily lives. However, this choice is not easy for many. Some, he said, find it easier to "become servants of 'other gods.'"
"To choose between God and other gods: those who do not have the power to give us anything, only little things that passes," he said. "And it is not easy to choose, we always have this habit of going a bit where the people go, a bit like everyone else. Like everyone."
"Today the Church tells us: 'But, stop! Stop and choose.' It is good advice. And today it would do us well to stop and during the day to think a bit: what is my lifestyle like? Which path am I walking on?"
'Gaining the World'
In today's Gospel from St. Luke, Christ says to his disciples that "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”
The 78 year old Pontiff reiterated Jesus' words, stressing that the wrong path is that of always looking for one's own success without thinking of others, even family.
"One can gain everything, but in the end becomes a failure," he said.
"'But no, they made a monument to him, they painted a portrait of him..." But he has failed: he didn't know how to choose between life and death."
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis said that today's responsorial psalm was the answer for mankind's fear in making a decision: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord."
"Today, in the moment in which we stop to think of these things and make decisions, to choose something, we know that the Lord is with us, next to us, to help us. He never lets us go out alone, never! He is always with us. He is with us even in the moments when we make a choice," he concluded.
"The Lord never tires of having mercy on us and he wants to offers us once again his forgiveness, inviting us to turn to Him with a new heart, purified of evil, to take part in his joy." Pope Francis said these words at the Basilica of St. Sabina All'Aventino this evening.
The Holy Father began the Ash Wednesday celebrations at the Church of Saint Anselm all'Aventino. There he took part in a moment of prayer, followed by a penitential procession to the Basilica of Saint Sabina. Several cardinals, archbishops, bishops, Benedictine monks of Saint Anselm, Dominican Fathers of Saint Sabina and some faithful took part.
At the end of the procession, Pope Francis presided over Mass in the Basilica of Saint Sabina, with the rite of the blessing and imposition of ashes.
In his homily, the Holy Father reminded the faithful how God calls his people to penance and conversion. Because only the Lord can save us, he stressed, we must beg him with prayers, fasting, and confessing our sin.
Francis said the prophet Joel insisted on interior conversion: 'Return to me with all your heart.'
To return to the Lord “with all your heart,” Francis said, means to "undertake the journey of a conversion that is not superficial and transitory, but a spiritual itinerary that concerns the most intimate place of our person."
The heart, he said, is the seat of our feelings, from where we develop our attitudes and make our choices. To “return to me with all your heart,” he added, does not involve individuals only, but is extended to the whole community.
At the beginning of this Lent, the Pope said, "it will do us good to ask for the gift of tears, so as to render our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more genuine and free of hypocrisy."
Reflecting on today's Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus rereads the three works of mercy foreseen in the Mosaic Law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Francis said that we are to do this, but not to be hypocritical when we do.
"When we do something good, almost instinctively a desire is born in us to be esteemed and admired for that good action, to get some satisfaction. Jesus invites us to do these good works without any ostentation, and to trust only in the Father’s reward 'who sees in secret.'”
"The Lord never tires of having mercy on us and he wants to offers us once again his forgiveness, inviting us to turn to Him with a new heart, purified of evil, to take part in his joy," he said.
Given this, he asked: How are we to receive this invitation?" This effort of conversion, the Pope said, is not only a human work, but happens through God's grace. “In him we can become just, in Him we can change, if we receive God’s grace and do not let the favorable moment pass in vain."
With this awareness, Francis said we should begin our Lenten itinerary confident and joyful. He prayed that Mary Immaculate support our spiritual battle against sin.
We are dust
The Holy Father then spoke on the gesture of the imposition of ashes on the head and when the celebrant pronounces: 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return'' or repeats Jesus’ exhortation: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel.'
Both formulas, the Pope went on to say, constitute a call to the truth of human existence: "We are limited creatures, sinners always in need of penance and conversion."
“How important it is to listen and to accept such a call in this our time!" Pope Francis concluded. "Therefore, the invitation to conversion is a spur to return, as the son did in the parable, to the arms of God, tender and merciful Father, to trust in Him and to entrust oneself to Him.”
Without brothers and sisters, "freedom and equality can be filled with individualism and conformity." This was the reflection given by Pope Francis during his weekly General Audience today in St. Peter's Square. Continuing his catechetical series on the family, the Holy Father reflected on the important role that siblings play within family life. The fraternal bond, he said, has a special place in the history of God's people and is brought into its fullness in Jesus Christ. However, that when that bond is broken, "it opens the way to painful experiences of conflict, betrayal and hatred."
Citing the biblical account of Cain and Abel, the Pope said that the question God made to Cain regarding the whereabouts of his brother is repeated to every generation.
"Unfortunately, in every generation the tragic answer of Cain also does not cease to be repeated: "I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?" the Pope said. "But when the fraternal bond between brothers is broken, it becomes something awful and also evil for humanity. And in families also, how many brothers have argued over little things or for an inheritance, and then they do not speak to one another anymore, they do not greet each other anymore. This is awful!"
Regarding the role of brothers and sisters, the 78 year old Pontiff stressed that the relationship they share within the family is a school of freedom and peace. Peaceful coexistence within society is first learned in the context of brotherhood within the family.
"Beginning from this first experience of brotherhood, nourished by affections and family education, the style of brotherhood is radiated as a promise over the whole society and its relations between peoples," he said.
"The blessing that God, in Jesus Christ, pours down on this bond of brotherhood,expands it in an unimaginable way, rendering it capable of going beyond every difference of nation, language, culture and even of religion."
The Pope noted the beauty of brotherhood that goes beyond family life, when one shows care for another person as a brother or sister. History, he said, "has shown us sufficiently, however, that, without fraternity, freedom and equality can also be filled with individualism and conformity."
Another aspect is that of an older sibling caring for a younger brother and sister, especially if they are sick or handicapped.
"There are very many brothers and sisters in the whole world who do this, and perhaps we do no appreciate their generosity enough," he said. "And when there are many brothers in a family – today I greeted a family there that has nine --, the greatest help to the father, to the mother is to take care of the little ones. And this work of help between brothers is beautiful!"
Prior to concluding his address, Pope Francis led the faithful present in silent prayer, asking them to remember their brothers and sisters. "With this prayer, we have brought all our brothers and sisters with our thought and with our heart here, to the Square, to receive the blessing. Thank you!" he said.
Christians have a duty and a responsibility to care for the Earth. This was the theme of the Holy Father's homily today at Casa Santa Marta. The Holy Father reflected on today's first reading, which recalled the story of Creation from the Book of Genesis, and the Gospel which recounted Jesus' ministry of preaching and healing. Jesus, he said, is a 'second creation' who comes "to re-create that which was ruined by sin."
As reported by Vatican Radio, the Pope explained that this second creation is even more wonderful than the first, and reveals the work of persevering in the faith. The first creation, which was born from the love of God, also reveals our work in caring for the Earth.
"To the 'first creation' we should respond with the responsibility that the Lord gives us: 'The Earth is yours, bring it forward; subdue it; make grow'. Even for us there is the responsibility to make the Earth grow, to make Creation grow, to take care of it and make it grow according to its laws. We are lords of Creation, not masters."
The Jesuit Pope went on to say that caring for creation is not just the concern of environmentalists, but of Christians.
"It is our response to the 'first creation' of God. It is our responsibility!" he exclaimed. "A Christian that does not care for creation, that does not make it grow, is a Christian who doesn't care about the work of God; that work born from the love of God for us. And this is the first answer to the first creation: to care for Creation, to make it grow."
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis stressed the importance of not grieving the Holy Spirit, who is "within us and works in us" as well as heeding the call of the Holy Trinity in maintaining and preserving Creation.
"To all three we respond: to care and make Creation grow, to let ourselves be reconciled with Jesus, with God in Jesus, in Christ, every day, and to not sadden the Holy Spirit, do not drive it away: it is the guest of our hearts, who accompanies us, who makes it grow."
Pope Francis says Christian martyrs are not limited to those in history, but exist today as Christians are being killed "under the authority of corrupt people who hate Jesus Christ."
The Pope stated, "The martyrdom of Christians is not a thing of the past, but many of them are victims even today," during his daily morning mass at Casa Santa Marta today.
After meditating on the life and death of John the Baptist, which was recounted in today's Gospel of St. Mark, Francis stressed how John never betrayed his vocation and was intent, even if it cost him his life, to proclaim the closeness of the Messiah.
Saying he gets 'emotional' when he reads this passage, the Holy Father denounced how John was killed by a corrupt king and how today many are slaughtered for their love of Christ.
The Pontiff lamented how John's life ended under the authority of "this mediocre, drunk and corrupt king, at the whim of a dancer and the vindictive hatred of an adulteress."
When reading this passage, the Pope said he thinks of "two things": our martyrs and how no one can buy their lives.
"I think of our martyrs, the martyrs of our times, men, women, children who are being persecuted, hated, driven out of their homes, tortured, massacred," he said, noting, "And this is not a thing of the past: this is happening right now."
The Pope said, "It would do us good to think of our martyrs. Today, we remember Paolo Miki, but that happened in 1600," he said, urging those present to, "Think of our present-day ones! Of 2015."
He went on to reflect on how no one's life can be bought. He said, “This abasement of John the Great, this ongoing slide into nothingness makes me think that all of us are on this road and we are travelling towards the land, where we will all end up."
"This makes me think of myself: I too will meet my end," Francis said, adding, "We all will."
"All of us, willingly or unwillingly, are travelling on the road of the existential annihilation of life, and this," the Holy Father concluded, "makes me pray that this annihilation is as similar as possible to that of Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis says there are many “wounded” waiting in the aisles of the Church for a minister of Christ to heal them from their pains and sorrows and liberate them from the demons that plague them.
According to Vatican Radio, the Holy Father described the Church as a field hospital and explained what is proper service to those in need during his morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.
“I sometimes describe the Church as a field hospital," Francis reaffirmed, saying, "There are many wounded, how many wounded! How many people who need their wounds to be healed!”
To heal and care for its people, the Pope said, is the mission of the Church. This requires, he said, “healing the wounded hearts, opening doors, freeing [people], and saying that God is good, forgives all, is our Father, is tender, and is always waiting for us ... "
Reflecting on today’s Gospel, in which Jesus sends his disciples out to the villages to preach, heal the sick and drive out "unclean spirits," the Pope stressed the disciples needed a certain attitude. The Gospel, Jesus said, must be proclaimed in poverty, and must be done for no reason other to bring the good news of liberty to the oppressed.
Although the Apostles preached with no food, sack, or money in their belts, the Pope stressed that the purity and simplicity of how they wished to help others made them happy and satisfied.
Francis added that Christ’s ministers must always remember, however, that they are simple “servants of the Kingdom.”
These proclaiming 'servants,' he stressed, must have alleviating the miseries of the poor as their sole aim and must never forget their service is not done through human hands, but through the Holy Spirit.
The Pope reminded those gathered that the nature of proclaiming the good news and bringing Christ to the poor, blind, and imprisoned must not take on the wrong form.
"It’s true, we have to help and create organizations that help in this: yes, because the Lord gives us the gifts for this. But when we forget this mission, forget poverty, forget the apostolic zeal and instead, place our hope in these [human] means, the Church slowly slips into becoming an NGO, it becomes a beautiful organization.”
This organization, the Pope concluded, is “powerful,” but not “evangelical,” because “it lacks that spirit, that poverty, that power to heal."
A good father teaches his children by giving an example of love and integrity. This was the reflection given by Pope Francis during his General Audience today.
The Holy Father entered the Paul VI Hall today, greeted by thousands of pilgrims and with live music from a musical group here in Rome for the IV International Congress of Scholas Occurrentes, an educational initiative supported by the Holy Father.
In his address, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the role of the father saying that he wanted to reflect on its positive aspects. Every family, he said, needs a father in order to transmit "what truly counts in life, namely a wise heart."
"A father knows wells how much it costs to transmit this heritage: how much closeness, how much sweetness and how much firmness," he said. "But, what a consolation and what a reward you receive, when children honor this heritage! It is a joy that redeems all labor, which surpasses all misunderstanding and heals every wound."
The Holy Father went on to stress the importance of the father's presence within the family, especially in sharing both joy and pain, hardships and hopes with his wife and in being close to their children.
Recalling the Gospel of the Prodigal Son, the Pope said that God, "the only who can truly be called 'the Good Father'" is the example that one should follow.
"How much dignity and how much dignity can be found in that father who awaits at the door of the house, waiting for his son to return," he said. "Fathers must be patient; many times there is nothing else that can be done but to wait. Pray and wait with patience, sweetness, magnanimity and mercy."
"A good father knows how to wait and knows how to forgive, from the depths of his heart. Certainly, he knows how to correct with firmness: he is not a weak father, complacent, sentimental. A father who knows how to correct without degrading is the same as one who knows how to protect tirelessly.
The Jesuit Pope went on to recall a father he met who said that although he corrected his child with a slight spank, he never dared to strike his child in the face to not "degrade" him. "How beautiful!" the Pope said. "He has a sense of dignity. If he must correct, he does it justly and goes forward."
Concluding his address, the Holy Father highlighted the importance of fathers who await their children, especially after they make mistakes. The Church, he said, is committed to help fathers "so that they become for new generations guardians and irreplaceable mediators of faith in goodness, justice and in the protection of God, like St. Joseph."
This is a modest effort at a "blog" my attempt to offer some brief reflections each day that come from various sources that I find interesting - primarily the daily reflections of Pope Francis as found on Zenit and Rome Reports. Fr. John