“Are we ashamed to touch the flesh of our wounded or suffering brothers and sisters?” This was one of the key questions posed by Pope Francis during his homily at the morning Mass on Friday at the Santa Marta residence. The Pope stressed that a life of faith is closely linked to a life of charity, and Christians who do not practice the latter are hypocrites. He reflected on the essential role of charity in the life of every Christian. Christianity, the Pope said, is not a repository of formal observances for people who put on a hypocritical good appearance to conceal their hearts empty of any charity. Rather, Christianity is showing the flesh of Jesus who bends down without shame in front of whoever is suffering. This contrasts with the Pharisees who criticized Jesus and the disciples for not practicing the commandment to fast and who as, Doctors of the Law, transformed the observance of these commandments into a formality and transformed religious life into an ethic. “Receiving from our Lord the love of a Father, receiving from our Lord the identity of a people and then transforming it into an ethic means we are refusing that gift of love,” the Pope explained. “These hypocritical people are good persons. They do all they should do. They seem good. But they are ethicists without goodness because they have lost the sense of belonging to a people! Our Lord gives us salvation through belonging to a people.” True charity or fasting, the Pope added, means breaking the chains of evil, freeing the oppressed, sharing our bread with the hungry, opening our houses to the homeless and clothing the naked. “This is the charity or fasting that our Lord wants! Fasting that is concerned about the life of our brother, that is not ashamed – Isaiah said it himself – of the flesh of our brother,” Francis explained. “Our perfection, our holiness is linked with our people where we are chosen and become part. Our greatest act of holiness relates to the flesh of our brother and the flesh of Jesus Christ. Our act of holiness today, here at the altar, is not a hypocritical fasting: instead it means not being ashamed of the flesh of Christ which comes here today! “This is the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ,” the Pope said. “It means going to share our bread with the hungry, taking care of the sick, the elderly, those who can’t give us anything in return: this is not being ashamed of the flesh!” He said the most difficult charity (or fasting) is the sacrifice of goodness such as that practiced by the Good Samaritan who bent over the wounded man unlike the priest who hurried past, maybe out of fear of becoming infected. And this, the Pope said, is the question posed by the Church today: “Am I ashamed of the flesh of my brother and sister?" “When I give alms, do I drop the coin without touching the hand (of the poor person, beggar)? And if by chance I do touch it, do I immediately withdraw it? When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister? When I know a person is ill, do I go and visit that person? Do I greet him or her with affection? There’s a sign that possibly may help us, it’s a question: Am I capable of giving a caress or a hug to the sick, the elderly, the children, or have I lost sight of the meaning of a caress? These hypocrites were unable to give a caress. They had forgotten how to do it.” “Don’t be ashamed of the flesh of our brother,” the Pope implored. “It’s our flesh! We will be judged by the way we behave towards this brother, this sister.”
“Lent is a ‘strong’ time, a turning point that can encourage in each one of us a change, a conversion to come out from tiring habits and from the lazy addiction of evil that deceives us.” These are the words of Pope Francis during today’s General Audience during which he reflected on the Lenten season that begins today with Ash Wednesday. The Holy Father told the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square that Lent brings two important invitations: a keener awareness of the redemptive work of Christ and a greater commitment to our Baptism. This awareness, he noted, makes us grateful to God for our salvation. “From here, comes our conversation: it is the grateful response to the wonderful mystery of God’s love.” Regarding the commitment to Baptism, the Holy Father said that such an attitude helps us avoid the habit of “degrading situations” that we may find in our lives. “There is the risk to passively accept certain behaviors and to not marvel at the sad realities that surround us,” he said. “We become accustomed to violence, as if it were obvious daily news. We become accustomed to brothers and sisters who sleep on the streets, who do not have a roof [over their heads] for shelter.” “We become accustomed to refugees who are searching for freedom and dignity, who are not accepted as they should. We become accustomed to live in a society that claims to do without God, in which parents do not teach their children to pray anymore nor to make the sign of the cross.” The Pope went on to say that the Lenten season allows all of us to recover the ability to confront the reality of evil in our lives. Lent is a time of conversion and personal renewal that allows us to look at others in a different light. Concluding his address, Pope Francis reminded the faithful of several essential elements to live the Lenten season: to give thanks to God for the mystery of his crucified love, authentic faith, conversion and openness of heart to all. "On this path," he concluded, "let us invoke with particular faithfulness, the protection and help of the Virgin Mary. May She, the first believer in Christ, accompany us in the days of intense prayer and penance, to be able to celebrate, purified and renewed in the Spirit, the great mystery of the Passover of her Son."
In his homily on Tuesday morning in the Santa Marta residence, Pope Francis warned that the Cross is always on the road of a Christian, and that there are more Christian martyrs today than during the early days of the Church. The Pope took as his cue the biblical account of where Peter asked Jesus what the disciples would receive in return for following him. He said Peter probably thought that following Jesus would be a great commercial activity because Jesus is generous but, as Christ warned, whatever they would gain would always be accompanied by persecutions. “It’s as if Jesus said: Yes, you have left everything and you will receive here on earth many things, but with persecutions!,” the Pope said. “Like a salad with the oil of persecution: always! This is what the Christian gains and this is the road for the person who wants to follow Jesus, because it’s the road that He himself trod. He was persecuted! It’s the road of humbling yourself. That’s what Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: ‘Jesus emptied himself and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross’. This is the reality of Christian life.” Pope Francis went on to warn that the Cross is always present on the road of a Christian. “We will have many brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers in the Church, in the Christian community, but we also will have persecutions,” the Pope said. “This is because the world does not tolerate the divinity of Christ. It doesn’t tolerate the proclamation of the Gospel. It does not tolerate the Beatitudes. And so we have persecutions with words, with insults, the things that they said about Christians in the early centuries, the condemnations, imprisonment. “But we easily forget,” the Pope continued. “We think of the many Christians, 60 years ago, in the labour camps, in the camps of the Nazis, of the communists: So many of them! For being Christians! And even today. But [people say]: ‘today we are better educated and these things no longer exist’. Yes they do! And I tell you that today there are more martyrs than during the early times of the Church.” Pope Francis pointed out that there are many brothers and sister nowadays who bear witness to Jesus and are persecuted. Some cannot even carry around a Bible. “They are condemned for having a Bible,” he said. “They can’t wear a crucifix. And this is the road of Jesus. But it is a joyful road because our Lord never tests us beyond what we can bear.” The Pope added: “Christian life is not a commercial advantage, it’s not making a career. It’s simply following Jesus! But when we follow, Jesus this happens. Let’s think about if we have within us the desire to be courageous in bearing witness to Jesus. And let’s spare a thought -- it will do us good – for the many brothers and sisters who today – today! – cannot pray together because they are persecuted. They cannot have the book of the Gospel or a Bible because they are persecuted.” “Let’s think,” the Pope continued, “about those brothers who cannot go to Mass because it is forbidden and let’s ask ourselves if we are prepared to carry the Cross and suffer persecutions like Jesus did? It’s good for all of us to think about this,” the Pope concluded.
Pope Francis reflected on what he described as “one of the most comforting truths: divine providence.” The Holy Father addressed thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address. Reflecting on the first reading from Isaiah, the Pope remarked on the beauty of God’s love. “God does not forget us, each one of us! He does not forget about each of us with a first and last name. He loves us and does not forget us. What a beautiful thought!” he said. The Holy Father drew a parallel from Isaiah’s reading to the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which Christ makes the invitation to trust in God. Look at the birds in the sky, they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them,” Christ says in the Gospel. “But considering the many people who live in precarious conditions, or in a misery that offends their dignity, these words of Jesus might seem abstract, if not illusory,” the Pope said. “But in reality they are more actual than ever!” Speaking on Jesus’ reminder of not serving 2 masters, God and money, the Holy Father said that one must understand that if “everyone is out to get whatever he can for himself, there will never be justice.” By trusting in God’s providence, all can have the possibility to live in dignity. “A heart that is preoccupied with the desire to possess is a heart that is full of this desire to possess, but it lacks God,” he explained. “For this reason Jesus often admonished the rich, because the temptation to place their trust in the goods of this world is strong, and security, true security, is in God. In a heart possessed by riches, there is no longer much room for faith: everything is concerned with riches, there is no room for faith.” The Holy Father went on to say that in placing God first, His love will lead all to share our riches with those in need. God’s generosity will manifest itself when one places their wealth at the service of others. “If, however,” he warned, “someone acquires things only for himself, what will happen to him when he is called by God? He cannot bring his riches with him, because, as you know, there are no pockets in the burial shroud! It is better to share because we only bring to heaven what we shared with others.” Before reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis said that while this perspective seems unrealistic given today’s economic climate, it “leads us to the right hierarchy of values.” “To ensure that no one lacks bread, water, clothing, housing, work, health we need to recognize each other as children of the heavenly Father and so as brothers to each other, and conduct ourselves accordingly,” he concluded.
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