To prevent evil from entering into our hearts, there is an ancient, but very good, practice: the examination of conscience. That was Pope Francis’ message during the morning homily Friday at Santa Marta. The Gospel of the day reminds us that the devil always comes back to us; he never stops tempting man. “The devil has patience,” Pope Francis said. “He never leaves that which he wants for himself,” that is, our souls: “After the temptations, in the desert, when Jesus was tempted by the devil, in Luke’s version it says that the devil left Him for a time, but during the life of Jesus he returned again and again: when they put Him to the test, when they tried to trap Him, in the Passion, finally on the Cross. ‘But if you are the Son of God… but you come, you come from us, so we cannot believe.’ And we all know that these words touch the heart: ‘But can you do it? Let me see! No, you can’t.’ That’s how the devil even to the end [dealt] with Jesus… and likewise with us.” We need to guard our hearts, where the Holy Spirit dwells, the Pope said, “so that other spirits do not enter. To guard the heart, as a house is guarded, with a key.” And then to watch the heart, like a sentinel: “How often,” he asked, “do wicked thoughts, wicked intentions, jealousy, envy enter in? So many things that enter in. But who has opened that door? Where do they enter from? If I do not realize [how much] enters into my heart, my heart becomes a piazza, where everything comes and goes. A heart without intimacy, a heart where the Lord cannot speak and cannot even be heard.” “And Jesus says something else here – doesn’t He? – that sounds a little strange: ‘He who does not gather with me scatters.’ He uses the word ‘to gather.’ To have a gathering heart, a heart in which we know what happens, and here and there you can perform a practice as old as the Church, but good: the examination of conscience. Who of us, at night, at the end of the day, remains by himself, by herself, and asks the question: what happened today in my heart? What happened? What things have passed through my heart? If we don’t do this, we have truly failed to know how to watch and guard [our hearts] well.” The examination of conscience “is a grace, because to guard our heart is to guard the Holy Spirit, Who is within us”: “We know – Jesus says clearly – that the devil always returns. Even at the end of life, He, Jesus, gives us an example of this. And to guard, to watch, so that the demons don’t enter in, we must be able to gather ourselves, that is, to stand in silence before ourselves and before God, and at the end of the day ask ourselves: ‘What happened today in my heart? Did anyone I don’t know enter? Is the key in its place?’ And this will help us to defend ourselves from so much wickedness, even from that which we could do if these demons, who are very clever and at the end would cheat all of us, even if they enter.”
We ask for a lot of things when we pray, but the greatest gift that God can give us is the Holy Spirit. This was Pope Francis’ reflection Thursday morning at Mass in Santa Marta, commenting on the Gospel of the day, which presents the parable of the man who gets what he needs because of his persistence. Pope Francis began his homily by noting that “God has so much mercy” and observing that in the Collect we begin by asking God for forgiveness and to "obtain what prayer does not dare to hope for." "This got me thinking: it is precisely the mercy of God not only to forgive - we all know that - but to be generous and give more and more ... We asked: 'And obtain what prayer does not dare to hope for.' When we pray we might ask for this [intention] or that [intention] and He always gives us more, much more!” The Pope underlined three key words in the Gospel: "Friend, the Father and gift." Jesus shows the disciples what prayer is. It is like a man who goes to a friend at midnight asking for something. In life, Francis observed, "There are truest friends" who really give their all. "Jesus goes a step further and speaks of the Father: What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? ... how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?'" The Pope continued, "not only the friend who accompanies us on our journey of life helps us and gives us what we ask, but Our Father in heaven" who "loves us so much and of whom Jesus said that He cares about feeding the birds in the field. Jesus wants to awaken faith in prayer" and says: "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." "This," said Pope Francis, "is the prayer: ask, seek and knock at the heart of God." And the Father "gifts the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" "This is the gift, this is God’s added extra. God never gives you a gift, something that you ask for, without wrapping it up well, without adding something extra to make it even more beautiful. And that little bit more that the Lord, the Father gives us, is the Spirit. The true gift of the Father is the one that prayer does not dare to hope for. 'I ask for this grace; I ask for this, I knock and pray so much... I only hope that you will give me this.' And He who is Father, will give me that and more: He will give me the gift of the Holy Spirit." "You pray," said the Pope, "with a friend, who is your companion on life's journey, you pray with the Father and you pray in the Holy Spirit. The friend is Jesus." "He accompanies us and teaches us to pray. And our prayer should be Trinitarian. So often [people ask]: 'But do you believe?': 'Yes! Yes! '; 'What do you believe in?'; 'In God!'; 'But what is God for you?'; 'God, God'. But 'God' does not exist: Do not be shocked! So God does not exist! There is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they are persons, they are not some vague idea in the clouds ... This God spray does not exist! The three Persons exist! Jesus is our companion on the journey who gives us what we ask; the Father who cares for us and loves us; and the Holy Spirit is the gift, the extra gift from the Father, that our consciousness does not dare to hope for."
If we want to give glory to God, we must remember all He has done for us. But that also means remembering our sins. It means being honest with ourselves, said Pope Francis as he reflected on the Readings of the Day during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. The Lord "chose his people and accompanied them during their journey in the wilderness, throughout their lives", said Pope Francis commenting on the first reading in which St. Paul recalls his past life, without hiding his sins. What "God did with His people - the Pope said - he has done and continues to do which each of us". The Pope then asked "where we were chosen because Christian, and not that person over there, far away who has never even heard of Jesus Christ?". "It 'a grace," was the Pope’s answer: "A grace of love". St. Paul’s "concrete memory of this reality, is what makes Paul", who confesses to having ferociously persecuted the church. Paul does not say "I am good, I am the son of this [family], I have a certain nobility ... ". No, Paul says, "I was a persecutor, I've been bad". Pope Francis said that Paul remembers his journey, and he remembers it from the very beginning". "This habit of remembering our life is not very common practice. We forget things, we live in the moment and then forget the past. And each of us has a story: a story of grace, a story of sin, a story of journey, so many things ... It is a good thing to pray with our history. [A prayer like] the one Paul does, where he tells a piece of his story, but in general says: 'He has chosen me! He called me! He saved me! He was my companion on the journey ... '. Pope Francis continued : "[The act of ] remembering our own lives is to give glory to God. Remembering on our sins, by which the Lord has saved us, is to give glory to God”. "Paul says that he has only two things: his sins, and the grace of the Crucified Lord, His grace”. Paul "remembered his sins, and boasted about them: 'I was a sinner, but Christ Crucified saved me' and he boasted about Christ. This was Paul’s memory. This is act of remembering that Jesus himself invites us to do ": "When Jesus says to Martha: 'You are worried and troubled about many things, but you only need one thing. Mary has chosen the better part. 'What does he mean? [He means] Listening to the Lord and remembering. You cannot pray every day as if we did not have a story. Each of us has his or her own. And with this story in our heart we approach prayer, like Mary. Often we are distracted, like Martha, by work, by the day’s events, by those things that we have to do, and we forget this story". Pope Francis said that our relationship with God, “does not begin on the day of Baptism: it is sealed there". [Our relationship] begins "when God, from eternity, looked upon us and chose us. It all begins in God’s heart: "Remembering that we were chosen, chosen by God. Remembering our journey of covenant. Hve we respected this covenant, or not? No, we are sinners and we remember this, and we remember God’s promise to us which never disappoints, which is our hope. This is the true prayer”. Pope Francis concluded his homily with an invitation to pray with Psalm 138: " LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar". “This is to pray, to pray is to remember in God's presence because our story is the story of His love for us".
At 10 am today, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Pope Francis presided at the celebration of Holy Mass in the Vatican Basilica on the occasion of the opening of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: The pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization. Concelebrating with the Holy Father were cardinals, patriarchs, major archbishops, archbishops, bishops and priests, and members of the Synod. The Pope delivered the following homily: Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the Lord’s vineyard. The Lord’s vineyard is his "dream", the plan which he nurtures with all his love, like a farmer who cares for his vineyard. Vines are plants which need much care! God’s "dream" is his people. He planted it and nurtured it with patient and faithful love, so that it can become a holy people, a people which brings forth abundant fruits of justice. But in both the ancient prophecy and in Jesus’ parable, God’s dream is thwarted. Isaiah says that the vine which he so loved and nurtured has yielded "wild grapes" (5:2,4); God "expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness, but only a cry of distress" (v. 7). In the Gospel, it is the farmers themselves who ruin the Lord’s plan: they fail to do their job but think only of their own interests. In Jesus’ parable, he is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the "experts", the managers. To them in a particular way God entrusted his "dream", his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field. This is the job of leaders: to nuture the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work. But Jesus tells us that those farmers took over the vineyard. Out of greed and pride they want to do with it as they will, and so they prevent God from realizing his dream for the people he has chosen. The temptation to greed is ever present. We encounter it also in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds (cf. ch. 34), which Saint Augustine commented upon in one his celebrated sermons which we have just reread in the Liturgy of the Hours. Greed for money and power. And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4) We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard. Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent… They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity. We too can be tempted to "take over" the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can "thwart" God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity. My brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ, as Saint Paul says, by "the peace of God which passes all understanding" (Phil 4:7). In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt21:43).
Are we open to the gift of God’s salvation, or do we prefer to take refuge in the safety of our man-made rules and regulations? That was the question Pope Francis posed during his homily at the morning Mass at Santa Marta on Friday. God’s only wish, Pope Francis told his listeners, is to save his people, but so often we want to make the rules for our own salvation. This is the dramatic paradox of so many of the Bible stories which culminate in the life of Jesus himself. Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day, the Pope spoke of Jesus’ sadness at being rejected and ignored by his own people. “If the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon,” Jesus warns the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, “they would long ago have repented.” Just as the prophets were rejected and killed by their people, so they do the same to Jesus. And it’s the leaders, the Pope said, who provoke this resistance to the salvation he’s offering: It’s the ruling class which closes the door to God’s way of salvation, Pope Francis said. That’s why Jesus has such strong words with the leaders of his day – they argue, they try to trick him and catch him out because they are resisting his offer of salvation. Jesus says to them, “I don’t understand you! You are like those children who say ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’. What do you want?” They want, the Pope said, to save themselves and remain closed to the way of the Lord. This attitude, the Pope continued, is quite different from that of the people of God, who understand and accept salvation brought to them through Jesus. Their leaders, on the other hand, reduce salvation to the fulfilment of the 613 commandments they have created through their intellectual and theological fervor. These leaders, the Pope said, don’t believe in mercy and forgiveness but simply in sacrifices. They want everything clearly sorted out and this is the drama of their resistance to salvation. Each one of us, he said, shares this drama and we should ask ourselves: How do I want to be saved? On my own? Through a spirituality which is good, but fixed and clear so that there are no risks? Or following the footsteps of Jesus who always surprises us, opening doors to that mystery of God’s mercy and pardon? If I don’t follow Jesus but go looking for other gurus and seek refuge in man-made commandments, the Pope concluded, I may feel safe but the truth is I am buying my salvation, instead of receiving the free gift that God gives me.
Pope Francis' prayer intentions this month focus on peace as well as evangelizing through World Mission Day. The Pope's chosen intentions for October were announced by the Apostleship of Prayer. The Pope's general intention is "that the Lord may grant peace to those parts of the world most battered by war and violence.” For his mission intention, the Holy Father prays “That World Mission Day may rekindle in every believer zeal for carrying the Gospel into all the world.”
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