Pope Francis says future priests have to reject the temptation of “normality”: the temptation to be a pastor “for whom a ‘normal’ life is enough.” “You are preparing to respond to that impulse from the Spirit, to be the ‘future of the Church,’ in accordance with God’s heart; not with individual preferences or passing fashions, but as the announcement of the Gospel requires,” said the Pope this morning as he received in audience the Pontifical Community of the Lombard Seminary in Rome, in the Clementine Hall. “To prepare oneself well requires not only extensive work, but also an inner conversion, basing daily ministry on the first call of Jesus, and reviving it in the personal relationship with Him, as did the apostle Paul, whose conversion we remember today.” A priest cannot be contented with attention or judge his ministry on his “successes,” gradually becoming lukewarm and “without true interest in others,” Francis warned. “The ‘normality’ for us is instead pastoral holiness, the giving of life. If a priest decides merely to become a normal person, he will be a mediocre priest, or worse.” The Pope also mentioned St. Charles Borromeo, whose life is presented as “a constant movement of conversion, reflecting the image of the Pastor.” Francis also emphasised that the Lombard Seminary representatives were the heirs of and witnesses to a great history of sainthood, “rooted in your patrons, the bishops Ambrose and Charles; and in more recent times your alumni have included three Blesseds and three Servants of God. This is the goal to strive for. ” The Pope said that the seminarians must be in constant dialogue with “the Word of God, or better, with God who speaks.” “In these years you have been entrusted with the mission of training in this dialogue of life: the knowledge of the various disciplines you study is not an end in itself, but must instead be made concrete in the conversation of prayer and in the real encounter with people. It is not beneficial to form oneself in a compartmentalised fashion, as prayer, cultural and pastoral ministry are the cornerstones of the same edifice: they must remain steadfast and united to support each other, well cemented together, so that the priests of today and tomorrow will be spiritual men and merciful pastors, unified within by the love of the Lord and able to spread the joy of the Gospel in the simplicity of life.” The Pope also remarked that to be a good priest, it is essential to maintain contact and closeness with the bishop. “The characteristic of the diocesan priest is precisely his diocesan nature, and the cornerstone of this is frequent contact with the bishop, in dialogue and discernment with him. A priest who does not maintain a close relationship with his bishop is slowly isolated from the diocesan group and his fruitfulness diminishes, precisely because he does not participate in dialogue with the Father of the Diocese.” He concluded by asking those present to “cultivate the beauty of friendship and the art of establishing relations, so as to create a priestly fraternity, made stronger by its particular diversities.”
“’I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’: The works of mercy on the Jubilee path” is the title of Pope Francis’ message for Lent 2016 (10 February to 20 March). Taking as a starting point this phrase from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Holy Father divides his message into three sections: “Mary, the image of a Church which evanglises because she is evangelised”, “God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy”, and “The works of mercy”. The document, signed on 4 October, feast of St. Francis of Assisi, concludes by encouraging the faithful not to waste this season of Lent, a favourable time for conversion, and by invoking the intercession of Our Lady who, “encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant”. Following is the full text of the Pope’s Message: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee 1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” ( Misericordiae Vultus , 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness. After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat , prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb ( rahamim ) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness ( hesed ) shown within marriage and family relationships. 2. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people. This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” ( Misericordiae Vultus , 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by the Shema , which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” ( Dt 6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast. This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma , in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” ( Evangelii Gaudium , 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” ( ibid ., 164). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” ( Misericordiae Vultus , 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride. 3. The works of mercy God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” ( ibid. , 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” ( ibid. ). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith. In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” ( Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor. For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” ( Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming. Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).
To proclaim the Gospel with words, but even more importantly, with one’s life, is what all Christians are called to do. During his Angelus address today at noon, Pope Francis stressed this to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square, reminding them, “that to be a Christian and to be a missionary, is the same thing.” Different Approach, Worthy of Imitation Reflecting on today’s Gospel from Luke, the Pope observed how Jesus is different from the teachers of His time. “Jesus,” he said, “didn’t open a school for the study of the Law, but went about everywhere to preach and teach,” including in the synagogues, in the streets, in the houses, and differed from his cousin, John the Baptist, who proclaimed God’s imminent judgement, by instead proclaiming God’s forgiveness. Our Mission To evangelize the poor, Francis stressed, is Jesus’ mission–‘according to what He Himself says’–, but also is that of the Church and all baptized people. “To be Christian and to be a missionary is the same thing,” he said, stressing, “To proclaim the Gospel, with words, and, even before that, with one’s life, is the principle end of the Christian community and of each of its members.” The Holy Father reminded those gathered how Jesus addresses the Good News to everyone, without excluding anyone, and reaches out to those who are furthest away, the suffering, the sick, and those discarded by society. The Pontiff urged the faithful to consider what it means to evangelize the poor. “It means,” he responded, “above all, being close to them, having the joy of serving them, freeing them from oppression, and all this in the name of and with the Spirit of Christ.” Francis also encouraged those in the Square to think about the various aspects of their own lives, including in parish communities and associations, and ask themselves: “Are we faithful to the program of Christ?” “Is the evangelization of the poor, bringing to them the good news, the priority?” Don’t be confused “Be attentive,” the Pontiff warned, pointing out, “This isn’t about giving social assistance, much less about political activity.” Rather, he highlighted, “It has to do with the strength of the Gospel of God, Who converts hearts, heals the wounded, transforms human and social relationships according to the logic of love.” At the heart of center of the Gospel, Francis reaffirmed, are the poor. Pope Francis concluded, greeting the various groups present, wishing everyone a good lunch and Sunday, and asking them to pray for him.
This morning during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis reminded those gathered of the bishop’s two required jobs: praying and proclaiming the Gospel, and warned that if these tasks are neglected, God’s people suffer. According to Vatican Radio, the Pontiff drew inspiration from today’s Gospel of Mark which recalls Jesus’ choosing the 12 Apostles, and how, today, the “bishops are pillars of the Church,” called to be witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus. “We bishops have this responsibility to be witnesses: witnesses to the fact that the Lord Jesus is alive, that the Lord Jesus is risen, that the Lord Jesus walks with us, that the Lord Jesus saves us, that the Lord Jesus gave his life for us, that the Lord Jesus is our hope, that the Lord Jesus always welcomes us and forgives us. Giving witness. Our life must be this: a testimony. True witness to the Resurrection of Christ.” 2 Jobs of a Bishop The first task of a bishop, the Pontiff stressed, is to be with Jesus in prayer, “not to prepare pastoral plans … no, no! Prayer: this is the first task.” The second task, he continued, is to be a witness, which means preaching the salvation that the Lord Jesus has brought. “Two tasks that are not easy, but it is precisely these two tasks that are the strong pillars of the Church. If these columns are weakened because the bishop does not pray or prays little, forgets to pray; or because the bishop does not announce the Gospel and instead takes care of other things, the Church also weakens; it suffers. God’s people suffer. Because the columns are weak. ” “The Church without the bishop doesn’t work,” said the Pope. Therefore, we must all pray for our bishops, he concluded, as an “obligation of love, an obligation of children in reverence to the Father, an obligation of brothers so that the family remains united in its witness to Jesus Christ, living and risen.” With your heart, pray for your bishop The Holy Father went on to invite faithful to pray for “us bishops, because we too are sinners; we too have weaknesses.” “In every Mass, we pray for the bishops,” the Pope recalled. “We pray for Peter, the head of the college of bishops, and we pray for our local bishop. But this is not enough: we say the name, and many times we say it out of habit, and then we go on. Pray for the bishop with your heart!” Pope Francis concluded, saying,”Ask the Lord: Lord, take care of my bishop; take care of all the bishops, and send us bishops who are true witnesses – bishops who pray and bishops who help us through their preaching to understand the Gospel, so that we may trust that you, Lord, are alive and that you’re with us.”
The National Prayer Vigil for Life will begin this afternoon and conclude Friday morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Pope Francis celebrated Mass during his recent visit to Washington. More than 20,000 pilgrims from around the nation are expected; they will pray there for an end to abortion before the annual March for Life tomorrow. The march is still scheduled to take place despite forecasts for a blizzard. This year’s Vigil marks the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalizing abortion nationwide. Since those decisions, over 56 million abortions have been performed legally in the United States. The principal celebrant and homilist at the Vigil Opening Mass will be Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The Mass will be concelebrated by his fellow cardinals and many of the nation’s bishops and priests in the Basilica’s Great Upper Church. The 14-hour Vigil continues in the Crypt Church with confessions, a National Rosary for Life, Byzantine Rite Night Prayer, and holy hours led by seminarians from across the country from 11 p.m.-6 a.m. That same evening, The Catholic University of America will host approximately 1,000 pilgrims overnight. “It’s a huge encouragement to see so many young people praying, fasting, and marching to end abortion,” said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). “The loss of unborn children often devastates mothers, fathers, and other family members. And in the broader society, if life in the womb is not protected, then no one’s right to life is secure.” “The Jubilee Year of Mercy calls us to pray for the respect of all vulnerable people, and for the healing of those seeking peace after abortions,” McQuade said. On Friday, the day of the March for Life, the Basilica will host Morning Prayer in the Crypt Church and then the Vigil’s Closing Mass at 7:30 a.m. in the Great Upper Church, with Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh as principal celebrant and homilist. The National Prayer Vigil for Life is co-sponsored by the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and The Catholic University of America.
Pope Francis on Friday afternoon, January 15, visited the Bruno Buozzi nursing home on the outskirts of Rome, before going to the Casa Iride, which provides care for those in a persistent vegetative state, as well as assistance for their families. The surprise visit was announced from the official Jubilee of Mercy twitter feed. Photos showed the Holy Father greeting about 30 residents in the nursing home, and then talking with them while sharing a drink. The official website of the Jubilee of Mercy said “this improvised visit took everyone by surprise, and helped people understand the importance of the words spoken by Pope Francis against a culture of waste, and the great value the elderly and grandparents have in the Church and society.” The second facility houses seven patients in a vegetative state. The statement said this gesture by Pope Francis “demonstrates the great value of human life, and the dignity with which it must always be respected.” The Holy Father was accompanied by the President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, Archbishop Rino Fisichella. The Archbishop had announced last year that Pope Francis would, on one Friday every month, make a gesture linked to the works of mercy. The Pope has suggested that we should do the same. On 18 December, the first “Friday of Mercy,” the Holy Father opened the Holy Door established at the Caritas hostel located near Rome’s Termini train station.
“It is the sin of so many Christians who cling to what has always been done and who do not allow others to change. And they end up with half a life, [a life that is] patched, mended, meaningless.” During his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis stressed that those who have this mentality of–‘but this is how it’s always been done’–deprive themselves of having meaningful lives and close themselves to the Holy Spirit’s surprises, reported Vatican Radio. The sin, he said, “is a closed heart,” that “does not hear the voice of the Lord, that is not open to the newness of the Lord, to the Spirit that always surprises us.” “It’s always been done this way’ is a closed heart, and Jesus tells us, ‘I will send you the Holy Spirit and He will lead you into the fullness of truth.” The Pontiff drew inspiration from today’s reading in which Saul was rejected by God as King of Israel because he disobeyed, preferring to listen to the people rather than the will of God. After winning a battle, the people wanted to offer a sacrifice of the best animals to God, because, he said, “it’s always been done that way.” But God, this time, did not want that. Also in the Gospel, the Pope added, Jesus teaches us the same thing. When the doctors of the law criticized Him because His disciples did not fast “as had always been done,” Jesus responded with examples from daily life which illustrated that to continue certain habits doesn’t make sense. Francis clarified that this is not Jesus changing the law, and that man must have an open heart because the law is at the service of man, who is at the service of God. If you have a heart closed to the newness of the Spirit, you will never reach the full truth, and this was Saul’s sin, the Pope stressed. Being Stubborn = Sin of Idolizing Self The Prophet Samuel, the Pope highlighted, calls this rebellion of a closed heart, “the sin of divination,” and obstinacy, “the sin of idolatry.” “Christians who obstinately maintain ‘it’s always been done this way,’ this is the path, this is the street—they sin: the sin of divination,” he said. “It’s as if they went about by guessing: ‘What has been said and what doesn’t change is what’s important; what I hear—from myself and my closed heart—more than the Word of the Lord.’ Obstinacy is also the sin of idolatry: the Christian who is obstinate sins! The sin of idolatry.” ‘And what is the way, Father?’ Open the heart to the Holy Spirit, discern what is the will of God.” Habits Must Be Renewed Given this, an “open heart” is what is needed, “a heart that will not stubbornly remain in the sin of idolatry of oneself,” imagining that my own opinion is more important than the surprise of the Holy Spirit. “This is the message the Church gives us today. This is what Jesus says so forcefully: ‘New wine in new wineskins.’ Habits must be renewed in the newness of the Spirit, in the surprises of God.” Pope Francis concluded, praying that the Lord grant us the grace of an open heart, “of a heart open to the voice of the Spirit, which knows how to discern what should not change, because it is fundamental, from what should change in order to be able to receive the newness of the Spirit.”
Pope Francis has underscored that the feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love, and that God's love is manifested in being merciful. In his homily this morning in St. Peter's Square for the Mass which opened the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as well as marked the Marian Solemnity, the Pontiff stated this, noting, "Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world." While explaining that this is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves, he added, "Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness." "Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God which we have just heard leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfillment." This Extraordinary Holy Year, Francis noted, is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door, which Pope Francis opened today and even his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI passed through as well, means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. Pope Benedict was present at today's opening ceremony, after having accepted a personal invitation from Pope Francis to be there. While Francis stressed that this year we will grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy, he pondered: "How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy." In passing through the Holy Door, he said, this should invite us to be part of this mystery of love. "Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things," he said. "May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan," Pope Francis prayed.
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