Christian marriage is not merely a ceremony that is done in a church, with flowers, dress, and photos, but "is a sacrament that takes place in the Church and makes the Church."
During his weekly General Audience this morning in a sunny St. Peter’s Square, the Pope made this observation, stressing that Christian marriage should never be reduced to material things.
Continuing his catechesis series on the family, and reflecting specifically on marriage, Francis called to mind how Saint Paul introduced the analogy between the couple, husband and wife, and Christ and the Church.
"It's clear that this is an imperfect analogy, but we have to grasp the spiritual meaning that is very high and revolutionary," Francis said, noting Paul says the love between husband and wife is the image of the love between Christ and the Church.
"Unthinkable dignity!" he said. "But in reality, it is inscribed in God's creative design, and with the grace of Christ, innumerable Christian couples, despite their sins and limitations, have achieved this!"
Francis reminded those gathered of Paul's words that a husband must love his wife as himself, just as "Christ 'loved the Church and gave himself up for her.'"
The sacrament of marriage, the Pontiff noted, is a great act of faith and love, and requires courage to step beyond one's self.
"The Christian vocation to love unconditionally and without limit is what, with the grace of Christ, is the basis of the free consent which makes marriage," he said.
The Church itself, the Pope said, "is fully involved in the history of every Christian marriage and is built in its successes and failures, and suffering."
"But we must ask ourselves seriously: Do we ourselves accept, as believers and also pastors, this unbreakable bond of the history of Christ and the Church with the history of marriage and of the human family? Are we prepared to take this responsibility seriously, that is that every marriage goes on the road of love that Christ has with the Church?
"This is great!" Francis said.
The life of the Church, he added, "is enriched each time by the beauty of this spousal covenant, and deteriorates whenever it is disfigured."
The courageous faithfulness of spouses, the Pope said, is required for the Church to give all the gifts of faith, love and hope. "God's people need their daily walk in faith, love and hope, with all the joys and hardships that this path entails in a marriage and in a family."
Before concluding, Francis remind those gathered, "Christ does not cease to care for the Church," for God transmits His tenderness from couple to couple and from family to family.
God does not get deterred, Pope Francis noted, for the Lord is ready "to remove from its human face wrinkles and stains of all kinds."
Toward the conclusion of the General Audience, Pope Francis recalled that in the coming days, some will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.
“On this occasion," Francis said, "I entrust to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, the hope that human society learns from past mistakes and that in front of the current conflicts that are tearing apart some regions of the world, all civil leaders commit themselves to seeking the common good and promoting a culture of peace.”
Thanks to the surprises of the Holy Spirit, the Church moves forward. During his homily at Casa Santa Marta this morning, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that God surprises us and that we must not be afraid of change and leaving old habits behind.
The Holy Spirit, Francis underscored, not only makes us understand, but makes the Church move forward.
"We can study the whole history of salvation and all theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand," he said.
The Holy Father stressed it is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or know Jesus' voice: 'My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. '
The Church's going forward, Francis highlighted, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
"And how do I do this - you ask the Pope - make sure that voice I hear is the voice of Jesus, that what I feel I have to do is done by the Holy Spirit?"
Responding, Francis said: "Praying.”
"Without prayer, there is no place for the Spirit.
He invited those gathered to ask God to send them the Holy Spirit so that we may discern at all times what we have to do.
We must discern, the Pope stressed, and to discern, he said we must pray and ask for grace.
Francis warned against the mentality that if we do things the way we have always done, that we are safer, stressing, "The Christian life is not a museum of memories."
"But to do as you've always done," he warned, "is an 'alternative death.'"
The Holy Father concluded urging the faithful to "risk, with prayer, and then, with the humility, accepting what the Spirit asks us to change.
The foundation of our faith rest on that first encounter with Jesus Christ. These were the words of Pope Francis during his homily at Casa Santa Marta. According to Vatican Radio, the Holy Father reflected on the impact an encounter with Christ has on one’s life. He drew from today’s first reading, which recounted St. Paul’s conversion from one who persecuted the early Christians to one chosen by God “to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel.”
The Pope noted that this first encounter, like many others in the Bible, is the one that changes one’s life. He called on the faithful to never forget their first encounter with Christ.
“He never forgets, but we forget the encounter with Christ,” he said. “And this would be a good assignment to do at home, to consider: ‘When have I really felt that the Lord was close to me? When have I felt the need to change my life, or to become better, or to forgive someone? When have I felt the Lord asking something of me? When have I encountered the Lord?’”
Our faith, the Holy Father continued, “is an encounter with Jesus.”
“This is the foundation of our faith: I have encountered Jesus, as Saul did.”
‘A Memory of Love’
Continuing his homily, the 78 year old Pontiff invited the faithful to pray daily, in order to remember that first encounter with Christ. He also said that by reading the Gospels daily, one can see the work of God in Jesus’ encounters with others.
So many encounters with Jesus are there. Maybe one of them is similar to mine. Each one of us has his own,” he said.
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis asked the faithful to pray for the “grace of memory...so that we might not hear the complaint the Lord makes in Revelation: ‘I have this against you, that you have forgotten your first love’.”
When society devalues the alliance between men and women, “It’s a loss for everybody,” Pope Francis said, noting that marriage and family must be reaffirmed. The Holy Father made this statement speaking to the thousands in a sunny St. Peter’s Square during his weekly General Audience, while continuing his catechesis on the family.
This week, the Pontiff discussed the second chapter of Genesis, where the Lord having created the heavens and the earth, creates 'the culmination of creation: man. Then, sensing something was not right and incomplete, God tried to fill this void, wanting to create 'a suitable partner' for him.
"The woman is not a replica of man," but comes directly from the creative act of God, the Pope stressed.
"When God finally presents woman, man is elated and recognizes that creature, and only that creature, is part of him; 'Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.'"
"Finally, there is a reflection, a reciprocity," Francis said.
He underscored the complementarity and reciprocity of man and woman, adding that woman is never subordinate or to be considered lesser.
"The image of the "rib” does not express inferiority or subordination, but, on the contrary, that man and woman are the same substance and are complementary."
“To find a woman, man first must dream her and then find her,” the Argentine Pope said.
The Pontiff condemned misogynist societies and treating women like commodities.
God's trust in man and woman, the Pope said, was generous, direct and full, but then evil introduces suspicion, disbelief, and distrust into their minds, which would turn into a vicious cycle.
"Sin creates mistrust and division between the man and the woman," Francis said, noting this is worsened by abuse, subjugation, seduction and arrogance as well as by other factors that are even more dramatic and violent.
"History bears the traces," he said. "Consider, for example, to the excesses of negative patriarchal cultures" and "hostility toward and distrust of women."
"The protection of this alliance between man and women--even if sinners and wounded, confused and humiliated, distrusted and uncertain--is for us believers a challenging and thrilling vocation," the Pontiff said.
He noted how the same was true of Adam and Eve, and how despite their betrayal, God welcomed and clothed them, ‘an image of tenderness toward the sinning couple that leaves us with our mouths open,” and of “fatherly protection of the human couple.”
“The same God,” Francis stressed, “cares and protects his masterpiece.”
"Today, the Church is a Church of Martyrs: they suffer, they give their lives and we receive a blessing from God for their witness." These were the words of Pope Francis during his morning homily at Casa Santa Marta today. According to Vatican Radio, the Pope reflected on today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
"As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,'" the reading states.
The Pope commented on the reaction of those who stoned Stephen, which upon hearing the martyr "confess his vision of Jesus", covered their ears and promptly killed him.
"The Word of God always pains certain hearts. The Word of God bothers, when you have a hard heart, when you have a pagan heart, because the Word of God challenges you to move forward, to look for and nourish you with that bread of which Jesus spoke about. In the Book of Revelations, many martyrs were killed for their faithfulness to the Word of God, to the Truth of God."
The 78 year old Pontiff also took the occasion to remember today's martyrs who are killed today "by those who believe they have the 'truth.'"
"In these days, how many Stephens are there in the world!" he exclaimed.
"Let us think about our brothers who were slaughtered on the shores of Libya; let us think about that young boy burned alive by his companions because he was Christian; let us think about those migrants on the high seas who are thrown into the sea by others, because they are Christians; let us think about […] those Ethiopians, murdered because they were Christians…and so many others," the Pope lamented.
"And many others that we do not know about, who suffer in prisons, because they are Christians. Today, the Church is a Church of Martyrs: they suffer, they give their lives and we receive a blessing from God for their witness."
Concluding his homily, the Pope also prayed for the many "hidden martyrs" who suffer daily for the faith.
"Let us unite ourselves to Jesus in the Eucharist, and unite ourselves to so many brothers and sisters who suffer the martyrdom of persecution, of calumny and of murder for being faithful to the only bread that satisfies, that is, Jesus," he concluded.
In his homily at Casa Santa Marta this morning, Pope Francis said that Christians are called to follow the example of the saints and martyrs, who did not give in to the temptation of seeking power.
According to Vatican Radio, the Holy Father reflected on today's Gospel of St. John, in which a crowd seeks Jesus "not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled."
This attitude of self-interests, the Pope said is often seen in the Gospels, even among Jesus' own disciples.
"The sons of Zebedee who wanted to be prime minister and the other the minister of the economy, to have power," he noted. "That unction to bring to the poor good news, the liberation to prisoners, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and announce a year of grace, as it becomes dark, it is lost and transforms into something of power."
This temptation, the Pope continued, was also given to Jesus by the devil in the desert. The danger lies in passing from religious wonder to profiteering from it.
"This was also a proposal of the devil to Jesus in the temptations," he said.
"One on bread, precisely. The other on the spectacle: 'Let us make a beautiful spectacle so that all the people will believe in you.' And the third, apostasy: that is, the adoration of the idols. And this is a daily temptation of Christians, ours, of all of us who are in the Church: the temptation not of the power, of the strength of the Spirit, but the temptation of worldly power. Thus one falls in that religious tepidness which brings you to worldliness, that tepidness that ends, when it grows, grows, grows, in that attitude that Jesus calls hypocrisy."
The 78 year old Pontiff went on to say that Jesus calls on all to awaken with the witness of martyrs and saints who remind us of our mission to follow in Jesus' footsteps.
"The people understand Jesus' reproach and tell him: 'But what should we fulfil to do the works of God? Jesus says to them: 'This is the work of God: that you believe in the One who He has sent', that is, faith in Him, only in Him, trust in Him and not in other things that bring us far from Him. This is the work of God: that you believe in the One who He has sent, in Him," the Pope said.
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis prayed that Christ may give the faithful the grace to not fall into a spirit of worldliness. It is a spirit, he said, "that behind or under a varnish of Christianity, brings us to become pagans."
The image of God is not only displayed in man and woman individually but also together as a couple.
These were the words of Pope Francis during his General Audience today in St. Peter's Square. The Holy Father said that today's catechesis and the following will reflect on the sacrament of marriage and the complementarity between man and woman.
The Pope began his catechesis by recalling the story of creation in which God, after creating the universe and all living things, created his masterpiece: mankind.
"As we all know, sexual difference is present in many forms of life, in the long ladder of the living," he noted. "But only man and woman carry within them the image and likeness of God."
Genesis, he explained, not only explains that man and woman individually bear this likeness to God, but also together as a couple.
"The difference between man and woman is not for opposition, or subordination, but for communion and creation, always in the image and likeness of God."
The 78 year old Pontiff went on to say that without the mutual enrichment in their relationship, neither can truly understand what it means to be man and woman. While modern culture has opened new ways and freedoms to understand these differences, the Pope noted that it also introduced "many doubts and much skepticism."
"I wonder, for example, if the so-called gender theory is also an expression of frustration and resignation, which aims to erase sexual difference because they can no longer deal with it. Yes, we risk taking a step back," he said.
"The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem, not the solution. To solve their relationship problems, man and the woman should instead talk more, listen more, know more, [and] love each other more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate with friendship."
The Pope went on to call on intellectuals to not abandon the importance of this theme, which he said has become secondary.
The Covenant Between Man and Woman
Continuing his catechesis, Pope Francis focused on two important aspects that were crucial in fostering the complementarity between man and woman.
The first, he said, was the need for women to not only be heard, but that "her voice has a real weight, a recognized authority, in society and in the Church." This, he noted, was the same way in which Jesus considered the role of women.
"Jesus considered [woman] in such a way that gives a strong light, that enlightens a path that takes us far, from which we've only covered a small piece," he said.
"We have not yet understood in depth what things the feminine genius can give us, that woman can give to society and also to us. Perhaps to see things with different eyes that complements the thoughts of men. It is a path that must be crossed with more creativity and more boldness."
The second reflection the Jesuit Pope offered regarded the theme of man and woman created in God's image. The collective mistrust in God, he said, gives way to incredulity and cynicism and connects to the crisis between man and woman. This division is exemplified in the creation story in which this covenant is broken once sin entered.
"In fact, the biblical story, with the grand symbolic fresco of the earthly paradise and original sin, precisely tells us that the communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of trust in the Heavenly Father generates division and conflict between man and woman," he said.
Concluding his catechesis, Pope Francis said that the Church has the responsibility of rediscovering the beauty of God's design in the covenant between man and woman.
"Jesus encourages us explicitly to give witness to this beauty, which is the image of God," 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