A Christian is one who keeps the memory of his people, of their Journey and of the Church alive. This was the central theme of Pope Francis’ homily today at Casa Santa Marta this morning. The Holy Father began his homily by reflecting on the first reading which recalls Paul’s exhortation at the synagogue. In proclaiming the Gospel, the Pope noted, the apostles do not begin solely with Christ, but rather by recalling the history of the people of God. Jesus, he said, “does not make sense without this history.” The Holy Father went on to say that a Christian without the Church is “purely idealistic.” "But you cannot understand a Christian alone, just like you cannot understand Jesus Christ alone. Jesus Christ did not fall from the sky like a superhero who comes to save us. No. Jesus Christ has a history,” he said. “And we can say, and it is true, that God has a history because He wanted to walk with us. And you cannot understand Jesus Christ without His history. So a Christian without history, without a Christian nation, a Christian without the Church is incomprehensible. It is a thing of the laboratory, an artificial thing, a thing that cannot give life". The 77 year old Pontiff emphasized the importance of this dimension of history, saying that a “Christian is one who keeps the memory of the history of his people, who keeps the memory of his people’s journey, who keeps the memory of his Church.” This memory, he said, is that of a journey towards the fulfillment of a promise. “And for this, a Christian in the Church is a man, a woman with hope: hope in the promise. It is not expectation: no, no! That’s something else: It is hope. Right, on we go! [Towards] that which does not disappoint,” he said. Concluding his homily, Pope Francis invited the faithful to ask God for the grace of memory that allows us to look forward with hope. In doing so, one follows the path towards God and renews the covenant with Him. "It would do us good today,” he said, “to think about our Christian identity. Our Christian identity is belonging to a people: the Church. Without this, we are not Christians.” “We entered the Church through baptism: there we are Christians. And for this reason, we should be in the habit of asking for the grace of memory, the memory of the journey that the people of God has made; also of personal memory: What God did for me, in my life, how has he made me walk ... Ask for the grace of hope, which is not optimism: no, no! It 's something else. And ask for the grace to renew the covenant with the Lord who has called us every day. May the Lord give us these three graces, which are necessary for the Christian identity.”
Pope Francis has continued his catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this week discussing the fourth gift, fortitude. During today’s General audience, Francis explained that the gifts of the Spirit – wisdom, understanding and counsel – “enable us to contemplate God’s loving plan and to know his will,” but through the gift of fortitude, “we receive the strength to do God’s will in spite of our own natural weakness and limitations.” “In our everyday life, in difficult times it would do us good to say this 'I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me,'” said the Pope. “The Lord always gives us strength, the Lord never gives us more than we can handle, 'I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.'" The Holy Father acknowledged that “sometimes we may be tempted to allow ourselves to be overtaken by laziness or despondency, especially when faced with the hardships and trials of life.” Yet, he said, “do not lose heart, but invoke the Holy Spirit.” In doing so, “He can lift our hearts and communicate new vigor and enthusiasm to our lives and our following Jesus.” 3 aspects The Pontiff stressed three aspects of this gift: the first helped faithful grasp its importance, the second showed its power to help us, and the third explained how often it’s needed. In the parable of the sower and the seed, the Pontiff first showed "Jesus teaching us that the seed of God’s word sown in our hearts can encounter not only interior resistance,” but also be “choked by life’s sufferings and trials.” Francis says this analogy proves that with fortitude the Holy Spirit “frees the soil of our heart from torpor, uncertainties and all the fears that can stop it, so that the Word of God can be put into practice, in an authentic and joyful way.” This is a “real help,” he said, as it “gives us strength and frees us from many obstacles.” Turning to the second aspect, the Pope said “there are numerous Christians who continue to celebrate and witness to their faith with deep conviction and serenity, and resist even when they know that this can result in them paying a very high price.” Fortitude gives them the power to do this, he said, noting in “difficult moments and extreme situations” the gift of fortitude is “manifested in an extraordinary, exemplary way.” He told Christians to open their eyes to the “every day saints! Hidden saints among us! They have the gift of fortitude in carrying on in their duty as people, mother, father, brother, sister, citizen.” Encouraging Christians to follow suit, he asked: “If they do this, then why not me?” Noting the third thing to realize, Francis said that “we must not think that the gift of fortitude is only necessary on some occasions or in certain situations,” but, rather it must be the “base note of our being Christians, in our ordinary everyday lives.” Recalling how the Apostle Paul was propelled, he quoted Paul’s words: "'I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.'" “Whenever we feel weary or discouraged along the journey of faith,” the Pontiff noted, “let us ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the gift of fortitude, to refresh us and to guide our steps with renewed enthusiasm.”
We cannot understand the things of God only with our heads, we need to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit too. This was Pope Francis’ message at morning Mass Tuesday at Casa Santa Marta. The Pope also said that faith is a gift of God which we cannot receive if we live our lives “detached” from His people, the Church. As usual, the Pope reflected on the readings offered by the liturgy of the day, which show us "two groups of people". In the First Reading, "there are those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose" following Stephen’s martyrdom. "They were dispersed with the seed of the Gospel," the Pope said, "and they carried it everywhere". At first, they only spoke to the Jews. Then, "almost naturally, some of them" who had come to Antioch, "began to speak to the Greeks". And so, slowly, "they opened the doors to the Greeks, to the pagans”. Once the news arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas was sent to Antioch "to carry out an inspection". He noticed that everyone “was happy" because "a large number of people was added to the Lord". Pope Francis noted that these people did not say: “Let's go to the Jews first, then the Greeks, then pagans, then everyone. No! They allowed themselves to be carried by the Holy Spirit! They were docile to the Holy Spirit". And then, he said, "one thing leads to another" and "they end up opening the doors to everyone: to the pagans, who were considered unclean in the mentality of the time ... they opened the doors to everyone." This, he stressed , "is the first group of people, those who are docile to the Holy Spirit". Sometimes, he added, "the Holy Spirit prompts us to do bold things, such as driving Philip to go and baptize" the Minister of Ethiopia, or "how he pushed Peter to go and baptize Cornelius". "Other times, the Holy Spirit leads us gently and the virtue is in allowing ourselves to be carried by the Holy Spirit, in not resisting the Holy Spirit, in being docile to the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit works in the Church today, is acting in our lives today. Some of you may say: 'I have never seen him!'. But pay attention to what is happening, to what comes to your mind, to what comes in your heart. Good things? It is the Spirit that invites you to take that path. It takes docility! Docility to the Holy Spirit”. The second group presented to us in the readings of the day is the "intellectuals, who came to Jesus in the temple: they are the doctors of the law." Jesus, the Pope noted, has always had problems with them, "because they never arrived at understanding: they always came back to the same point, because they believed that religion was a thing of the mind, of laws". They saw it as a question of "fulfilling the commandments and nothing more. They cannot even imagine the existence of the Holy Spirit". The questioned Jesus , "they wanted to argue. Everything was about the mind, the intellect". "These people had no heart - he added -there is no love or beauty, there is no harmony" these people “only want explanations": "And you give them their explanations and, not convinced, they return with more questions. This is their way: they spin round and round ... As they spun Jesus around throughout his life, until the time that they were able to take him and kill him! These people do not open their hearts to the Holy Spirit! They believe that the things of God can be understood only with the head, with ideas, with their own ideas. They are proud. They think they know everything. And what does not fit into their intelligence is not true. You can raise a dead man in front of them , but they do not believe". Jesus "goes further" and says "something very strong": "You do not believe because you are not part of my sheep! You do not believe because you are not of the people of Israel. You have left the people. You are in intellectual aristocracy". This attitude, he warned, "closes the heart. They have denied their own people". "These people had become detached from the people of God and therefore could not believe. Faith is a gift from God! But faith comes if you are in His people, if you are, right now, in the Church, if you are helped by the sacraments, brothers and sisters, by the assembly, if you believe that this Church is the People of God. These people had distanced themselves, they did not believe in the people of God, they only believed in their own things, and thus built a whole system of commandments that chased the people away: they chased people away and would not let them come into the Church, the people. They could not believe! This is the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit". Pope Francis concluded by saying there are "two groups of people": those who are "gentle, sweet people, humble, open to the Holy Spirit", and the others "proud, self-sufficient, detached from the people, intellectual aristocrats, who closed their doors and resist the Holy Spirit". "This is not just stubbornness", he said , "it is much more: it is having a hard heart! And this is more dangerous". "Let us ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit to move forward in life, to be creative, to be joyful, because the other people were not joyful". When "there is a lot of seriousness, the Spirit of God is lacking," he said. We ask, therefore, "for the grace of obedience and that the Holy Spirit will help us to defend ourselves from this other evil spirit of self-sufficiency, pride, arrogance, closure of the heart to the Holy Spirit".
Although we are all sinners, we are called to give witness to the Church, which is Holy. This was the central theme of Pope Francis’ homily this morning at Casa Santa Marta. The Holy Father reflected on the first reading which recalls the conversion of St. Paul in Damascus. Despite persecuting Christians, Christ chooses Paul to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Despite his sins, the Pope said, St. Paul is called to proclaim the holiness of the Church. “But how can it be holy if we are all in it?” the Pope asked. “We are all sinners, here. And the Church is holy! We are sinners, but She is holy. She is the Spouse of Jesus Christ and He loves Her, He sanctifies Her, He sanctifies her every day with His Eucharistic sacrifice, because He loves Her so much.” “And we are sinners, but in a Holy Church. And we also sanctify ourselves with this belonging to the Church: we are children of the Church and the Mother Church sanctifies us, with its loves, with the Sacraments of her Spouse.” The Holy Father explained that God chooses sinners to show that it is He who sanctifies. No one can sanctify themselves, nor is there a course or a requirement to live a life of extreme asceticism. Holiness,“ he said, “is a gift from Jesus to His Church and to show this He chooses people in which his work to sanctify is clearly seen.” This is exemplified, he continued, in the Gospels where saints such as Matthew, who was considered “a traitor to his people”, Mary Magdalene, who Jesus freed from seven demons, and Zacchaeus, a corrupt tax collector. These and many others, the Pope said, followed the rule of sanctity: “our humiliation, so that the Lord may grow.” This humiliation, he went on to say, changes St. Paul’s heart and he becomes like a child: “he obeys.” However, the Pope noted, St. Paul cannot be defined as a hero. St. Paul, who was known for preaching the Gospel, in the end is captured, imprisoned and beheaded. “The difference between heroes and saints is the witness, the imitation of Jesus Christ,” he said. Many saints, especially the great saints, end their days humbly. The Pope recalled the final days of St. John Paul II, who was recently canonized. “He could not speak, the great athlete of God, the great warrior of God ends this way: overcome by sickness, humbled like Jesus,” the Pope said. “This is the route of holiness of the greats. It is also the route of our sanctity. If we do not let our hearts be converted on this path of Jesus - to carry the cross every day, the ordinary cross, the simple cross - and let Jesus grow; if we do not go on this path, we will not be saints.” Concluding his homily, Pope Francis told the faithful that in giving witness to Christ, we also give witness to His love for us. Although we are sinners, he said, “the Church is holy. It is the Spouse of Jesus.”
Pope Francis has said those in the Church called to administer the sacraments must leave room for the grace of God and not place bureaucratic obstacles in the way. This was one of the key points stressed by the Pope in his homily on Thursday at the Santa Marta residence. Pope Francis reflected on the three things necessary for an effective evangelization, saying it requires docility, dialogue with people, and trusting in the grace of God which is more important than bureaucracy. For the first requirement, he pointed to Philip the apostle as an example of docility. “He, Philip, obeys, he’s docile and accepts the calling from the Lord. Certainly he left behind many things that he ought to have done, because the Apostles in that period were very busy evangelizing. He leaves everything and sets off. And this makes us see that, without this docility or meekness before the voice of God, nobody can evangelize, nobody can announce Jesus Christ. At the very most he will be announcing himself. It’s God who calls us, it’s God who starts Philip on that road. And Philip follows. He’s docile.” Turning to the second element, Pope Francis noted how Philip uses dialogue in order to announce the gospel to the Ethiopian minister. “You can’t evangelize without dialogue. It’s impossible because you must begin from where the person who is to evangelized comes from. And this is so important. ‘But father, we waste so much time because every person has his or her own story, he or she comes with their own ideas…’ And, time is wasted. More time than God wasted when he created the world and He did it well. Dialogue. Spend time with that person because that person is who God wants you to evangelize. It’s more important to give him or her the news about Jesus, but according to who he or she is -- not how it should be, but how he or she is right now.” Continuing his reflection on the story of Philip, Pope Francis points out that the Apostle baptizes the Ethiopian and this places him in the hands of God and of his grace. “Let’s think about these three moments of evangelization: the docility to evangelize, to do what God is requesting; secondly, a dialogue with the people, but during this dialogue, you begin from where these people come from; and thirdly, trusting in grace. Grace is more important than all the bureaucracy. ‘What prevents this?’ Remember this. So many times we people of the Church are a factory to create obstacles so people can’t arrive at grace. May the Lord help us to understand this.”
My good friend, Fr. Joseph Girzone, writes a daily post (blog) for his Joshua Mountain Ministries ( http://joshuamountain.org/postings/ ) Yesterday he shared a delightful story about how God communicates with us......
Jesus' presence in our lives is very real..... Intimacy with Jesus is open to all of us who are ready to welcome him into our lives. Jesus’ love is not dependent on whether we are good or whether we are sinners. He loves us as he finds us. This past Saturday as I was driving to Saratoga for my grandnephew’s First Communion, I started to think of Jesus, and immediately I had a profound sense of His Presence within me. It was an experience that stayed with me for a good part of the drive. Nothing was said, no thoughts were exchanged but the presence was so real, I did not want it to leave. When I came home later on I stopped off at my godson’s house for him to drop of some papers for his father. As he and his wife were ready to go to a movie, he asked if I would drop off his five year old son Athanasius at his grandparents’ house so he could stay with them overnight. On the way there, I shared my Jesus experience with the little fellow, and when I finished, he told me about his times with Jesus. “Fahd, let me tell you about me and Jesus. When I talk to Jesus he doesn’t talk back and it made me feel bad, but, I think of Jesus a lot during the day, and when I think of Jesus, I have this nice warm feeling in my heart, and I realize now that Jesus is talking to my heart, so now I understand him. Is that what you were feeling, Fahd?” “I just felt his presence, Athen. But, he seems to talk with you without using words.” This experience is not extraordinary. It is an experience that is open to all of us, though I don’t think many people have been introduced to this kind of prayer. Jesus once promised us that if we accept him as a friend, he and his Father will come and live within us. Once you have that experience you will never doubt the reality of Jesus in your life, and you don’t have to solve all the manufactured questions about the accuracy of all the things that are written about Jesus. Your intimacy with him is all that is important. It is good to meet him in this life, so we won’t be ashamed when we finally encounter him later on.
Pope Francis has continued his catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this week discussing the third gift, counsel. During today’s General audience, the Pontiff told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square how prayer is needed for counsel. Relating to those present, he said, “We know how important it is, in the most difficult moments, to be able to count on the suggestions of wise persons who love us.” Yet, the Pope added how the faithful must not forget that we can count on the one who is wisest. Through the gift of counsel, he said, “it is God Himself, with his Spirit, who illumines our heart, to make us understand the right way to speak and to behave and the way to follow.” Counsel, therefore, is the gift with which the “Holy Spirit renders our conscience capable of making a concrete choice in communion with God, according to the logic of Jesus and of his Gospel,” said Pope Francis. Francis explained that the Spirit helps us “not to fall prey to egoism or our own way of seeing things” since he “makes us grow interiorly … grow positively ... and grow in the community.” In short, he said he “helps us to grow” and “to live in community.” The essential condition to preserve this gift is prayer, the Pontiff stressed. “We always come back to the same subject: prayer! But prayer is so important. To pray with the prayers that we all know from childhood, but also to pray with our own words. To pray to the Lord: ‘Lord, help me, counsel me, what must I do now?’" With prayer, he said, “we make room for the Spirit to come to help us at that moment. To counsel us on what we must all do. Prayer, never forget prayer! Never!” Inviting those present to pray whenever you can ‘squeeze it in,’ the Pontiff reminded them that, “No one, no one is aware when we pray on the bus, on the street: we pray in silence with our heart.” Therefore, “let us take advantage of these moments to pray, to pray that the Spirit will give us this gift of counsel,” he said. “But," he asked, "how does this gift act in us?” Giving the response, he explained: “The moment we receive him and host him in our heart, the Holy Spirit begins immediately to make us sensitive to his voice and to direct our thoughts, sentiments and intentions according to God’s heart.” This “intimacy” with God and listening to his Word, he said, “little by little,” allows us to “put aside our personal logic, dictated most often by our closures, our prejudices and our ambitions,” adding that we instead “learn to ask the Lord: what is your desire? What is your will? What pleases you?” Stating the effect of asking these questions, he said it's “a profound attunement [which] matures in us.” When we ask, we can start to see the truth of the words in Matthew’s Gospel: “‘When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’” “Although the Spirit is the one who counsels us, we must make room for the Spirit, so he can counsel us," said Francis, adding that “to make room is to pray, to pray so that He will come and help us always.” Closing, the 77-year-old Pontiff invited the faithful to pray these words from Psalm 16: “‘I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.'" “May the Spirit always be able to infuse this certainty in our heart and thus fill us with his consolation and his peace! Ask always for the gift of counsel.”
The Christian who does not witness to the faith becomes sterile. This was the focus of Pope Francis’ homily at morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. The Pope drew inspiration from the martyrdom of St. Stephen, narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The Church, he said, is "not a university of religion", but rather it's the people who follow Jesus. Only in this way, he added, is the Church both “fruitful and mother". In his homily, Pope Francis traced the path that led to the death of the first martyr of the Church, a death that was the exact replica of Christ’s. He, too, like Jesus, had encountered “the jealousy of the leaders who were trying" to eliminate him. He, too, had "false witnesses", and suffered "rash judgment”. Stephen warns his persecutors they are resisting the Holy Spirit, as Jesus had said, but these people "were uneasy, were not at peace in their hearts", the Pope said. These people, he added, had " hatred" in their heart. That is why, on hearing Stephen’s words, they were furious. "This hatred was sown in their hearts by the devil", the Pope added. "This is the devil’s hatred of Christ”. The devil "who did what he wanted with Jesus Christ in his Passion now does the same" with Stephen. This "struggle between God and the devil" is clearly seen in martyrdom. “On the other hand, Jesus had told his disciples that they had to rejoice to be persecuted in his name: "To be persecuted, to be a martyr, to gives one's life for Jesus, is one of the Beatitudes". That is why, the Pope added, "the devil cannot stand seeing the sanctity of a church or the sanctity of a person, without trying to do something". This is what he does with Stephen, but "he died like Jesus, forgiving". "Martyrdom is the translation of a Greek word that also means witness," the Pope continued. "And so we can say that for a Christian the path follows in the footsteps of this witness, Christ’s footsteps, to bear witness to Him and, many times, this witness ends up in laying down one’s life . You cannot understand a Christian without witness. We are not a 'religion' of ideas, of pure theology, beautiful things, of commandments. No, we are a people who follow Jesus Christ and bear witness – who want to bear witness to Jesus Christ - and sometimes this witness leads to laying down our lives”. On Stephen’s death, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, "a severe persecution began against the Church in Jerusalem". These people, the Pope observed, "felt strong and the devil provoked them to do this" and so "Christians scattered to the regions of Judea and Samaria". This persecution, the Pope noted, means that "the people spread far and wide" and wherever they went they explained the Gospel, gave testimony of Jesus, and so "mission of the Church" began. "So many converted, on hearing these people," the Pope said. One of the Fathers of the Church explained this by saying : "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians". With "their witness, they preach the faith". "Witness, be it in everyday life, in difficulties, and even in persecution and death, always bears fruit," he said. "The Church is fruitful and a mother when she witnesses to Jesus Christ. Instead, when the Church closes in on itself, when it thinks of itself as a - so to speak - 'school of religion', with so many great ideas, with many beautiful temples, with many fine museums, with many beautiful things, but does not give witness, it becomes sterile. The Christian is the same. The Christian who does not bear witness is sterile, without giving the life he has received from Jesus Christ". The Pope continued: "Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit", and "we cannot bear witness without the presence of the Holy Spirit in us". Pope Francis advised those present that in difficult times, where we have to choose the right path, where we have to say 'no' to a lot of things that maybe try to seduce us, "there is prayer to the Holy Spirit, and He makes us strong enough to take this path of witness". "Today thinking about these two icons - Stephen, who dies, and the people, the Christians, fleeing, scattering far and wide because of the violent persecution - let us ask: How is my witness? Am I a Christian who witnesses to Jesus or am I a simple numerary in this sect? Am I fruitful because I bear witness, or sterile because unable to let the Holy Spirit lead me forward in my Christian vocation?"
Vanity, thirst for power and for wealth - three attitudes Pope Francis has said one must avoid when following Christ. This was the subject of reflection for the Holy Father during his homily today at Casa Santa Marta. Today’s Gospel from St. John recalled a group of people who were searching for Jesus after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled,” Jesus said to the people when they found Him. The Pope said that the Gospel calls us to reflect on whether we are following the Lord out of love or personal gain. “We are all sinners, and we need to make an effort and look into ourselves in the way we live our Faith,” he said. The Holy Father highlighted three particular attitudes that one must avoid in order to follow God,the first of which is vanity. “This is not the right attitude. Vanity is not good, vanity causes us to slip on our pride and everything ends there. So I ask myself the question: and I? How do I follow Jesus? When I do good, do I do it under the public eye, or do I do it in private?” “I also think of pastors, because a pastor who is vain does not do good to the people of God: even if he is a priest or a bishop, he does not follow Jesus if he is besotted by vanity”. The second attitude that one must avoid is a thirst for power. The 77 year old Pontiff told those present that there are some who follow Jesus and are in a search of power. Some, perhaps, even do so unknowingly. “A clear example of this is to be found in John and James, the sons of Zebedee who asked Jesus to seat them in places of honour, one on His right and one on His left in his Kingdom,” the Pope explained. “And in the Church there are climbers, people driven by ambition! There are many of them! But if you like climbing, go to the mountains and climb them: it is healthier! Do not come to Church to climb! And Jesus scolds people with this kind of ambitious attitude in the Church.” The Holy Father noted that the disciples attitude changed only when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. However, he went on to say, they must continually ask themselves: in what way do they follow Christ? The final attitude that must be avoided is the lust for wealth or money. Some today, he said, follow Jesus yet try “to take economic advantage of the parish, of the diocese, of their Christian community, of the hospital, or the college.” “Let us think of the first Christian community that was swayed by this intention: Simon, Ananias and Sapphira… this has been a temptation right from the beginning,” he said. “And since, we have heard of so many good Catholics, good Christians, friends and benefactors of the Church that – it has been revealed - acted for personal profit. They presented themselves as benefactors of the Church and made money on the side…” Concluding his homily, Pope Francis invited the faithful to ask God for the grace to follow Christ with good intentions and not with those three attitudes that stray from the path to Him.
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