Sunday, March 31, 2013

"The Mercy of God Always Triumphs!"

31 MARCH 2013

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, Happy Easter! Happy Easter!

What a joy it is for me to announce this message: Christ is risen! I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons…

Most of all, I would like it to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious! The mercy of God always triumphs!

We too, like the women who were Jesus’ disciples, who went to the tomb and found it empty, may wonder what this event means (cf. Lk 24:4). What does it mean that Jesus is risen? It means that the love of God is stronger than evil and death itself; it means that the love of God can transform our lives and let those desert places in our hearts bloom. The love God can do this!

This same love for which the Son of God became man and followed the way of humility and self-giving to the very end, down to hell - to the abyss of separation from God - this same merciful love has flooded with light the dead body of Jesus, has transfigured it, has made it pass into eternal life. Jesus did not return to his former life, to earthly life, but entered into the glorious life of God and he entered there with our humanity, opening us to a future of hope.

This is what Easter is: it is the exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness. Because God is life, life alone, and we are his glory: the living man (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4,20,5-7).

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ died and rose once for all, and for everyone, but the power of the Resurrection, this passover from slavery to evil to the freedom of goodness, must be accomplished in every age, in our concrete existence, in our everyday lives. How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbour, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14).

So this is the invitation which I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection! Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace. Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.

Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long. Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort. How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?

Peace for Africa, still the scene of violent conflicts. In Mali, may unity and stability be restored; in Nigeria, where attacks sadly continue, gravely threatening the lives of many innocent people, and where great numbers of persons, including children, are held hostage by terrorist groups. Peace in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Central African Republic, where many have been forced to leave their homes and continue to live in fear.

Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow.

Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century; human trafficking is the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century! Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources! Peace to this our Earth! Made the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation.

Dear brothers and sisters, to all of you who are listening to me, from Rome and from all over of the world, I address the invitation of the Psalm: "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever. Let Israel say: ‘His steadfast love endures for ever’" (Ps 117:1-2).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, to you who have come from all over the world to this Square at the heart of Christianity, and to you linked by modern technology, I repeat my greeting: Happy Easter!

Bear in your families and in your countries the message of joy, hope and peace which every year, on this day, is powerfully renewed.

May the risen Lord, the conqueror of sin and death, be a support to you all, especially to the weakest and neediest. Thank you for your presence and for the witness of your faith. A thought and a special thank-you for the beautiful flowers, which come from the Netherlands. To all of you I affectionately say again: may the risen Christ guide all of you and the whole of humanity on the paths of justice, love and peace.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hæc Nox Est....

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30 MARCH 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would. They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross. We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises; we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

2. But let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further. They find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer. And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6). What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event. Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind. Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10). Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; he is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you, dear sister, dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!

Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

3. There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground,” Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look. But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: “Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee… And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:6,8). They are asked to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.

On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.


"Awake, O Sleeper...."

On this Holy Saturday, the church metaphorically waits by a tomb... but in reality, only a handful were there.

More recently, though, we've all shared another experience of keeping vigil in expectant hope. And as an epic Lent among us reaches its fulfillment, let that sign of the wait's end be ours again....

Ecclesia Dei, Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro – Surrexit Christus, spes nostra, Alleluia!

Christos voskrese... ¡El Señor resucitó, Aleluya!

Indeed, church, He is Risen – every blessing, gift and joy of Easter to you and yours....

Fratelli e sorelle, Buona Pasqua!

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And along those lines, with all good wishes, an Easter greeting to one and all, from the Pope....

(Translation: "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He isn't here – He is Risen.")


On Holy Saturday, "Don't Lose Hope!"

The following is a translation of the Pope's parting word from his Holy Thursday Mass and visit at Rome's Casal del Marmo youth detention facility....
I thank the [Justice] Minister for her words, the authorities for their greeting, and I thank you, boys and girls, for welcoming me today: I'm happy to be with you. Go forward [avanti], eh? And don't let yourselves be robbed of hope, don't let yourselves lose hope! You understand? With hope always, let's go forward! Thank you.

[At this point, a young man in the crowd said: "Thank you for coming today, Father. But I want to know one thing: why did you come here to Casal del Marmo today? That's all."

[Francis replied:] It's something that came from my heart; I just felt it. Where are those who perhaps could help me more to be humble, to be a servant as a bishop must be. So I thought, I asked: "Where are people who might like a visit?" And they told me, "Casal del Marmo, maybe." And since they said it, here I came. But it really just came from my heart. The things of the heart can't be explained, they just come. Thanks, eh!

I need to say goodbye now. Thank you so much for your welcome. Pray for me and don't lose hope. Always go forward! Thanks a lot!

Friday, March 29, 2013

"One Word Suffices: The Cross"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thank you for having taken part in these moments of deep prayer. I also thank those who have accompanied us through the media, especially the sick and elderly.

I do not wish to add too many words. One word should suffice this evening, that is the Cross itself. The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness. It is also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us. In judging us, he loves us. If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by him, but my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves.

Dear brothers and sisters, the word of the Cross is also the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil, the evil that continues to work in us and around us. Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the Cross upon themselves as Jesus did. This evening we have heard the witness given by our Lebanese brothers and sisters: they composed these beautiful prayers and meditations. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to them for this work and for the witness they offer. We were able to see this when Pope Benedict visited Lebanon: we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others. That occasion was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world: a sign of hope.

We now continue this Via Crucis in our daily lives. Let us walk together along the Way of the Cross and let us do so carrying in our hearts this word of love and forgiveness. Let us go forward waiting for the Resurrection of Jesus, who loves us so much, who is all love.
The preceding is an English translation of Pope Francis' remarks at the conclusion of tonight's traditional Good Friday Way of the Cross at Rome's Colosseum.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

In Remembrance....


...and as the book says, church, "All depart in silence."


"This Is What I Do, And I Do It With My Heart" – On Holy Thursday, The Pope's Prison Preach

As translated by Vatican Radio, the following is an English rendering of Pope Francis' off-the-cuff homily at the Mass of the Lord's Supper (readings), which the new pontiff decided to celebrate in Rome's Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility....
This is moving, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Peter understands nothing. He refuses but Jesus explains to him. Jesus, God did this, and He Himself explains it to the disciples.. ‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do’.

It is the example set by Our Lord, it’s important for Him to wash their feet, because among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign – washing your feet means I am at your service. And we are too, among each other, but we don’t have to wash each other’s feet each day. So what does this mean? That we have to help each other…sometimes I would get angry with one someone, but we must let it go and if they ask a favor, do it!
Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus in helping each other we will do good for each other.

Now we will perform the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet and we must each one of us think, Am I really willing to help others? Just think of that. Think that this sign is Christ’s caress, because Jesus came just for this, to serve us, to help us.
SVILUPPO: And here, a brief vid....


"Is The Church About Us, Or Him? Is It About Us, Or the People We're Called To Serve?"

Even if most of them took place earlier in the week, this Holy Thursday morning is the traditional time-slot for the annual "family reunion" of every local church: the Chrism Mass.

Along those lines, from our family to yours, here's fullvid of the off-cuff homily given just now by this shop's own bishop... in what might just be the most potent preach he's given to date from the chair of St John Neumann:

(For reference, beyond Pope Francis' Chrism Mass preach, the other text cited above was the high-octane assessment on the state of the church given during the General Congregations by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, which was leaked following his election.)

On a context note, today marks the 202nd birthday of the first "little bishop" who became a legend in this place – the first Redemptorist professed on these shores, ordained fourth bishop of Philadelphia 151 years ago on this day, later to become the first (and still lone) Stateside prelate to be raised to the altars.

And in his footsteps, wherever we are, whatever our call, let Neumann's prayer especially be our own today: "Dearest God, give us holiness!"


Pope to Priests: "Go To the 'Outskirts'"

28 MARCH 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters, This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.

The readings of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (Ps 133:2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.

The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs of whom there are many in these times…

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.

We need to “go out,” then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.

Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Even as we enter these most sacred of days, folks, lest anyone forgot, the reminder's in order that these pages only keep plugging along by means of their readership's – that is, your – support....

To be sure, Holy Week is normally a "breather" period around here... but, well – much as this scribe can use it after these last six weeks – that can't be the case this time. That said, given the scene, the less energy and brain-space that's needed to fret over the bills and costs that come with this work tends to make for a better product where it counts.

Indeed, there's more in the pipeline that'll hopefully see the light of print in due course – like the sustainability of this shop, it just needs more work. Most of all, though, may each and all of us know and share the best of what this Week is, what it asks of us, and the grace and fulfillment that come from truly making it Holy.

Again, to one and all, every blessing and gift of these days to you and yours.


"This Is How God Is" – At First Audience, Francis "Steps Outside"

Continuing the weekly tradition of his predecessors, this morning saw Pope Francis' first turn at the General Audience, his focus on Holy Week.

Speaking only in Italian, the new pontiff made it a point to note his intent to resume the topic begun by Benedict XVI in his Wednesday talks "after Easter."

For now, though – just two weeks since his election – today's appearance launches Francis into the intense cycle of Holy Week's climactic days. 

While Papa Bergoglio will celebrate and preach at the Chrism Mass in St Peter's tomorrow morning, the widely-noted Evening Mass in Rome's youth prison will be a private affair closed to press (even if photos might still emerge). By tradition, the pontiff doesn't give the homily at the Good Friday liturgy in St Peter's, but will likely offer closing remarks during the nighttime Via Crucis at the Colosseum.

In the Triduum's home stretch, Francis will preside and preach the Easter Vigil in the Vatican basilica on Saturday night, and give his Urbi et Orbi message following the morning Mass in lieu of a liturgical sermon.

As future plans go, meanwhile, this morning the Vatican announced that the 266th bishop of Rome – the title by which Francis has most often defined himself – will formally take possession of his cathedral, St John Lateran, at an evening Mass on April 7th, the Second Sunday of Easter.

(Note: As seen above today, Francis has kept to employing his personal silver ring in everyday use, wearing the Fisherman's Ring with which he was invested solely for major liturgies.)
All that said, beginning again with what's become his trademark "buon giorno!" and interrupted by several rounds of applause as he spoke, here's the Vatican Radio translation of the Pope's talk today – emphases added per original delivery:

Brothers and sisters, good morning!

I am pleased to welcome you to my first general audience. With deep gratitude and veneration I am taking up the "witness" from the hands of my beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI. After Easter we will resume the catechesis on the Year of Faith. Today I would like to focus a little on Holy Week. With Palm Sunday we began this week - the center of the whole liturgical year - in which we accompany Jesus in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

But what does it mean for us to live Holy Week? What does it means to follow Jesus on His way to the Cross on Calvary and the Resurrection? In His earthly mission, Jesus walked the streets of the Holy Land; He called twelve simple people to remain with Him, to share His journey and continue His mission; He chose them among the people full of faith in the promises of God. He spoke to everyone, without distinction, to the great and the lowly; to the rich young man and the poor widow, the powerful and the weak; He brought the mercy and forgiveness of God to all; He healed, comforted, understood, gave hope, He led all to the presence of God, who is interested in every man and woman, like a good father and a good mother is interested in each child.
God did not wait for us to go to Him, but He moved towards us, without calculation, without measures. This is how God is: He is always the first, He moves towards us. Jesus lived the daily realities of most ordinary people: He was moved by the crowd that seemed like a flock without a shepherd, and He cried in front of the suffering of Martha and Mary on the death of their brother Lazarus; He called a tax collector to be His disciple and also suffered the betrayal of a friend. In Christ, God has given us the assurance that He is with us, in our midst. "Foxes", Jesus said, "have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head" (Mt 8:20). Jesus did not have a home because His house is the people -- that is, us; His mission is to open all God’s doors, to be the loving presence of God.

In Holy Week we live the highest point of this journey, this loving plan that runs throughout the entire history of the relationship between God and humanity. Jesus enters Jerusalem to take the final step, in which His whole existence is summarized: He gives Himself totally, He keeps nothing for Himself, not even His life. At the Last Supper, with His friends, He shares the bread and distributes the chalice "for us." The Son of God is offered to us, He consigns His Body and his Blood into our hands to be with us always, to dwell among us. And on the Mount of Olives, as in the trial before Pilate, He puts up no resistance, He gifts Himself: He is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah, who stripped himself unto death (cf. Is 53:12).

Jesus does not live this love that leads to sacrifice passively or as a fatal destiny; certainly He does not hide His deep human commotion in the face of a violent death, but He entrusts Himself with full confidence to the Father. Jesus voluntarily consigned Himself to death to respond to the love of God the Father, in perfect union with His will, to demonstrate His love for us. On the Cross, Jesus "loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Each of us can say, "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Everyone can say that "for me"!

What does this mean for us? It means that this is my, your, our path. Living Holy Week following Jesus not only with the emotions of the heart; living Holy Week following Jesus means learning how to go beyond ourselves - as I said on Sunday - to reach out to others, to go to the outskirts of existence, to be the first to move towards our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, consolation and help. There is so much need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!

Living Holy Week means increasingly entering into God's logic, the logic of the Cross, which is not first of all that of pain and death, but of love and of self-giving that brings life. It means entering into the logic of the Gospel. Following, accompanying Christ, remaining with Him requires a "stepping outside," a stepping beyond. Stepping outside of ourselves, of a tired and routine way of living the faith, of the temptation to withdraw into pre-established patterns that end up closing our horizon to the creative action of God. God stepped outside of Himself to come among us, He pitched His tent among us to bring the mercy of God that saves and gives hope. Even if we want to follow Him and stay with Him, we must not be content to remain in the enclosure of the ninety-nine sheep, we have to "step outside", to search for the lost sheep together with Him, the one furthest away. Remember well: stepping outside of ourselves, like Jesus, like God has stepped outside of Himself in Jesus and Jesus stepped outside of Himself for all of us.

Some might say to me, "But, Father, I have no time", "I have so many things to do", "it is difficult", "what can I do with my little strength?", with my sin, with so many things? Often we settle for a few prayers, a distracted and inconsistent presence at Sunday Mass, a random act of charity, but we lack this courage to "step outside" to bring Christ. We are a bit like St. Peter. As soon as Jesus speaks of the Passion, Death and Resurrection, of self-giving, of love for all, the Apostle takes him aside and rebukes him. What Jesus says upsets his plans, seems unacceptable, undermines the sense of security that he had built up, his idea of ​​the Messiah. And Jesus looks at the disciples and addresses Peter with perhaps one of the strongest words of the Gospel: "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do"(Mk 8:33).
God always thinks with mercy: do not forget this. God always thinks with mercy: our merciful Father. God thinks like a father who awaits the return of his child and goes to meet him, sees him coming when he is still far away ... What does this mean? That each and every day he went out to see if his son was coming home. This is our merciful Father. It is the sign that he was waiting for him from the terrace of his house; God thinks like the Samaritan that does not approach the victim to commiserate with him, or look the other way, but to rescue him without asking for anything in return, without asking if he was Jew, if he was pagan, a Samaritan, rich or poor: he does not ask anything – he does not ask these things, he asks for nothing. He goes to his aid: This is how God thinks. God thinks like the shepherd who gives his life to defend and save his sheep.

Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes - what a pity, so many parishes are closed! - in our parishes, movements, associations, and to "step outside" towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith. Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God, with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions fruitful.

May you all live these days well, following the Lord with courage, and carrying within ourselves a ray of His love for all those whom we meet.
PHOTO: Reuters


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Home Sweet Domus – No Palace for The Pope

Not that it's terribly a surprise, but now it's official – Pope Francis has chosen not to live in the Papal Apartment of the Apostolic Palace, opting instead to remain in the simpler, more communitarian atmosphere of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican "hotel."

Less than two weeks since the pontiff's election, the latest move in Papa Bergoglio's Vatican "revolution" was announced by the Holy See's lead spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, confirming a report in today's La Nación, the Argentine daily of record. Francis himself spoke of the decision at today's morning Mass in the Domus chapel – which, continuing his now-daily custom, was celebrated with guests: in today's case, the permanent community in residence at the Domus.

Having reportedly remarked that the official living quarters "can fit 300 people" on his first tour of it (above), the Pope will continue to use the suite on the Palace's top floor as an office where he'll receive official visitors and handle other daytime work. 

Lombardi said today that Francis has now moved to a suite in the Domus, leaving the simple room which he was assigned by lot along with the other cardinal-electors prior to the Conclave. The suite had been prepared for the new Pope in anticipation of renovations others might've sought to the Palace apartment; the study in Francis' new quarters is shown above. 

As the pontiff determined where he'd live, the Vatican previously stated that Francis wanted his living arrangements to be marked by "simplicity and sharing." Beyond his Masses in the house chapel, t
he Pope is said to have been taking his meals in common with the Domus' residents and guests.

As cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio famously eschewed the house that came with the post for a simple apartment, where he did most of his own cooking and cared for an elderly cleric.

Opened in 1996 near the basilica's Arch of the Bells, the Domus normally hosts prelates visiting the Vatican on church business. Its prime purpose, however, was to provide accommodation for the cardinals during a Conclave – before its construction, generations of electors slept in makeshift, barracks-like quarters splayed through the antique rooms surrounding the Sistine Chapel, the beds often separated from each other merely by curtains.

Beyond seeking a humbler set-up – not to mention a home-base that's less isolating and, perhaps, easier to sneak out of as he sees fit – Francis' decision to remain at S. Marta underscores a unique reality of the new papacy: unlike his predecessors since time immemorial, the pontiff has no personal household of aides and domestics who've come with him to the Vatican. As the household traditionally shares the Palace residence with the Pope, the lack of a "family" of his own means that Francis would've been occupying the old apartment by himself.

Developing – more to come.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano(1); AFP(2)


Sunday, March 24, 2013


Yet again, church, the Mystery begins....

Every blessing of these days to one and all, all your loved ones and those you serve... both for ourselves and the rest, may we know the grace to make this week holy.

SVILUPPO: Building upon this Palm Sunday's record of noteworthy and intense preaching – both liturgically and in light of recent events – here's fullaudio of today's homecoming homily from American Catholicism's ranking Franciscan, the Capuchin Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston....


"Three Words: Joy, Cross, Young"

24 MARCH 2013

Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" (Lk 19:38).

Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, and he has bent down to heal body and soul.

This is Jesus. This is his heart which looks to all of us, to our sicknesses, to our sins. The love of Jesus is great. And thus he enters Jerusalem, with this love, and looks at us. It is a beautiful scene, full of light - the light of the love of Jesus, the love of his heart - of joy, of celebration.

At the beginning of Mass, we too repeated it. We waved our palms, our olive branches. We too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives. Jesus is God, but he lowered himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother. He illumines our path here. And in this way we have welcomed him today. And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.

2. The second word. Why does Jesus enter Jerusalem? Or better: how does Jesus enter Jerusalem? The crowds acclaim him as King. And he does not deny it, he does not tell them to be silent (cf. Lk 19:39-40). But what kind of a King is Jesus? Let us take a look at him: he is riding on a donkey, he is not accompanied by a court, he is not surrounded by an army as a symbol of power. He is received by humble people, simple folk who have the sense to see something more in Jesus; they have that sense of the faith which says: here is the Saviour. Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, as Isaiah foretold in the First Reading (cf. Is 50:6). He enters to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision. He enters to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood. And this brings us to the second word: Cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross. And it is precisely here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross! It reminds me of what Benedict XVI said to the Cardinals: you are princes, but of a king crucified. That is the throne of Jesus. Jesus takes it upon himself… Why the Cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God. Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave. When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket. Love of power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And – as each one of us knows and is aware - our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection. This is the good that Jesus does for us on the throne of the Cross. Christ’s Cross embraced with love never leads to sadness, but to joy, to the joy of having been saved and of doing a little of what he did on the day of his death.

3. Today in this Square, there are many young people: for twenty-eight years Palm Sunday has been World Youth Day! This is our third word: youth! Dear young people, I saw you in the procession as you were coming in; I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him! You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always: a young heart, even at the age of seventy or eighty. Dear young people! With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love. And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves, in giving ourselves, in emerging from ourselves that we have true joy and that, with his love, God conquered evil. You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: "Go, make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace. Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world. Young people must say to the world: to follow Christ is good; to go with Christ is good; the message of Christ is good; emerging from ourselves, to the ends of the earth and of existence, to take Jesus there, is good! Three words, then: joy, Cross, young.

Let us ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary. She teaches us the joy of meeting Christ, the love with which we must look to the foot of the Cross, the enthusiasm of the young heart with which we must follow him during this Holy Week and throughout our lives. May it be so.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

"We Are Brothers": Two Popes, Together

...and here it is: in a moment without precedent in the 2,000-year annals of the Roman church, two Popes together in life.

Ten days after Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election as the 266th pontiff, the three-hour meeting between Pope Francis and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI  at Castel Gandolfo included lunch and a 45-minute private discussion. 

The new Pope arrived by helicopter at the papal "Camp David" in the Alban Hills shortly after noon local time, his now-retired predecessor – the first pontiff to voluntarily depart the office in over six centuries – having come to welcome him at the nearby heliport.

According to a briefing from the lead Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, when the duo entered the villa's chapel for a moment of prayer, Benedict emphatically motioned at Francis to take the single armchair and pre-dieu reserved for the Pope. 

Instead, the pontiff told his predecessor, "No – we are brothers," gesturing for them to kneel side by side in the same pew, which they did.

While hundreds of faithful and media alike waited in the square outside the villa's front portal, hoping to see (and even chanting for) an appearance from the twin Popes on the balcony above, none was made.

Having given his predecessor an icon of Our Lady of Humility "in gratitude for [Benedict's] pontificate" before departing (below), Francis returned to the Vatican by helicopter shortly before 3pm.

Temporarily in residence at Castel – a place for which he's had an immense fondness – since his resignation on 28 February, Benedict is expected to return to Vatican City in late April or May, when renovations are completed on his new home, a former convent in the gardens. 

In an address to the priests of Rome shortly before his emotional departure – on which he pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to whoever would be chosen to succeed him – Benedict said that he would be "hidden from the world" in his post-papacy, yet close by in prayer and spirit.

While maintaining the papal white, in a concession to his new status, B16's cassock did not include a shoulder-cape, nor did he wear the white watered-silk sash. 

Likewise, as the Fisherman's Ring he received at his 2005 inaugural was destroyed on his departure from office – in keeping with long-standing tradition for the end of a Pope's reign – as foreseen, Papa Ratzinger has taken to wearing a copy of the "Council ring," the unadorned gold band given by Paul VI to the Fathers of Vatican II at the gathering's close in December 1965.

Meanwhile, as he still acclimates to the papacy – while upending many of its long-standing conventions at a rapid clip – tomorrow's Palm Sunday Mass opens Francis' first turn at Holy Week, traditionally the most intense and high-profile period of a Pope's calendar. 

As previously noted, the Vatican announced on Thursday that the new pontiff has decided to open Catholicism's holiest period of the year – the Easter Triduum – by celebrating his Holy Thursday evening Mass at Rome's youth prison, as opposed to one of the city's major basilicas, which have hosted the rite for centuries.

*   *   *
The meeting's highlights recorded by cameras from the CTV – Vatican television – here's the official clipreel as syndicated by the lead Italian daily, La Repubblica:

PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano


Friday, March 22, 2013

Il "Giardino" del Papa – Friday In the "Garden" With Francis

Continuing his outreach into his new world, the Pope started this last Friday of Lent by celebrating a quiet Mass for the employees of the Vatican's gardening and sanitation services in the chapel of the Domus Sancta Marthae, the Vatican guest-house where he's remained since his election.

The simple rite moved the 30 or so in attendance – "we're the invisible ones," one worker told Vatican Radio, noting that his colleagues "were all teary-eyed" when he looked around the room.

Giving his homily off-the-cuff while standing at the chapel's ambo, Francis – who didn't use a miter for the liturgy – spoke of the day's Gospel, which recounted the attempted stoning of Jesus.

According to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the Pope said that "if we have a closed heart, we have a heart of stone... and we go on to stone Jesus Christ in the person of our brothers and sisters, especially the neediest."

Following the Mass, the Pope took a moment of private prayer at the rear of the chapel (above) before greeting his congregation individually at the door (photos). Lombardi added that the Mass was the second of its kind; yesterday, Francis celebrated his morning Eucharist with the employees of the Domus.

Even following his election, the new pontiff has reportedly been using the airy modern chapel of the "Conclave hotel" for his daily meditation regardless of whether others are present. Said to be in the habit of waking before 5am, Papa Bergoglio starts his day with some two hours of quiet reflection before Mass.

While Francis started receiving official visitors in the study of the Papal Apartment in the Apostolic Palace on Wednesday, he seems to be cool to the secluded top-floor suite, of which he reputedly said on his first tour that it "has enough room for 300 people."

In any event, the low-key liturgy managed to wrest the spotlight from what was supposed to be the marquee item of the new Pope's day – his inaugural address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, who now hail from over 180 countries.

*    *    *
Before veering into his first Holy Week with Palm Sunday's outdoor Mass, the Pope will mark ten days since his election tomorrow with an unprecedented moment as he spends the afternoon making a heavily-anticipated visit to his predecessor, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. 

Francis is slated to leave for Castel Gandolfo by helicopter at noon. On arriving at the Alban villa that serves as the Pope's "Camp David" – B16's temporary digs until his new home in the Vatican Gardens is finished, likely in May – he'll share lunch with the retired pontiff and linger through the afternoon.

Since arriving at Castel hours before his resignation took effect, Joseph Ratzinger has only been spotted once, in a long-distance shot taken by paparazzi as he strolled through the residence's gardens.

As scheduling goes, the Pope's return-time to the Vatican has not been announced – in deference to the historic nature of the encounter, photos are expected.

PHOTOS: FotoVat(1); Reuters(2)


"Let Us Make This Week Holy"

Let us resolve to make this week holy by claiming Christ’s redemptive grace and by living holy lives.

The Word became flesh and redeemed us by his holy life and holy death. This week especially, let us accept redemption by living grateful, faithful, prayerful, generous, just and holy lives.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by reading and meditating Holy Scripture.

So often, we get caught up in the hurry of daily living. As individuals and as families, reserve prime time to be with Jesus, to hear the cries of the children waving palm branches, to see the Son of Man riding on an ass' colt, to feel the press of the crowd, to be caught up in the "Hosannas” and to realize how the cries of acclamation will yield to the garden of suffering, to be there and watch as Jesus is sentenced by Pilate to Calvary, to see him rejected, mocked, spat upon, beaten and forced to carry a heavy cross, to hear the echo of the hammer, to feel the agony of the torn flesh and strained muscles, to know Mary’s anguish as he hung three hours before he died.

We recoil before the atrocities of war, gang crime, domestic violence and catastrophic illness. Unless we personally and immediately are touched by suffering, it is easy to read Scripture and to walk away without contacting the redemptive suffering that makes us holy. The reality of the Word falls on deaf ears.

Let us take time this week to be present to someone who suffers. Sharing the pain of a fellow human will enliven Scripture and help us enter into the holy mystery of the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by participating in the Holy Week services of the church, not just by attending, but also by preparing, by studying the readings, entering into the spirit, offering our services as ministers of the Word or Eucharist, decorating the church or preparing the environment for worship.

Let us sing, "Lord, have mercy," and "Hosanna." Let us praise the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, uniting with the suffering church throughout the world -- in Rome and Ireland, in Syria and Lebanon, in South Africa and Angola, India and China, Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Mississippi.

Let us break bread together; let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery. Let us do it in memory of him, acknowledging in faith his real presence upon our altars.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy within our families, sharing family prayer on a regular basis, making every meal a holy meal where loving conversations bond family members in unity, sharing family work without grumbling, making love not war, asking forgiveness for past hurts and forgiving one another from the heart, seeking to go all the way for love as Jesus went all the way for love.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy with the needy, the alienated, the lonely, the sick and afflicted, the untouchable.

Let us unite our sufferings, inconveniences and annoyances with the suffering of Jesus. Let us stretch ourselves, going beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work.

We unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Let us be practical, reaching out across the boundaries of race and class and status to help somebody, to encourage and affirm somebody, offering to the young an incentive to learn and grow, offering to the downtrodden resources to help themselves.

May our fasting be the kind that saves and shares with the poor, that actually contacts the needy, that gives heart to heart, that touches and nourishes and heals.

During this Holy Week when Jesus gave his life for love, let us truly love one another.
*   *   *
Keeping with house tradition on this last Friday of Lent, the preceding was the last call to the church given by one of the leading lights of post-Conciliar Catholicism – the mighty Sister Thea Bowman – days before the Franciscan teacher, preacher, singer, warrior and all-around spiritual force lost her battle with bone cancer at 52 on 30 March 1990, this year's Holy Saturday.

Even if we've just scaled the Everest of the beat, the mountain of what matters most still lies ahead. And tempting as it is to think the events of the days accomplish the purpose, no, we don't get off that easily – the work of making the Week Called Holy live up to its billing falls to us. So over these days to come, may we all know the grace to walk through them as they deserve.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Holy Thursday, Pope To Prison

In a sudden announcement this morning from the Holy See, Pope Francis has yet again turned Vatican protocol on its head – shredding the earlier plan to begin the Easter Triduum in St Peter's Basilica, the new pontiff has instead opted to go to a juvenile prison in Rome to celebrate Holy Thursday's Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, at which he'll wash the feet of 12 inmates.

The opening chapter of the church's most sacred moment of the year, while the rite normally takes place in at St John Lateran, this year's Evening Mass was previously slated to happen in the Vatican Basilica as the new pontiff has yet to take possession of the Lateran – the "Mother and Head" of all churches, which has served for a millennium as the cathedral of the bishop of Rome. 

While the Popes have predominantly washed the feet of 12 retired priests of their diocese at the liturgy over recent decades, laymen and even special-needs youth have occasionally been chosen as the group for the foot-washing. However, the Mass has always taken place in a papal basilica.

On another charged front, meanwhile, as the facility Papa Bergoglio has chosen for the Mass comprises both male and female inmates, given his prior practice, a long-standing flashpoint for the church in the "developed" world – namely, the inclusion of women in the Mandatum rite – could just see its most authoritative thumbs-up to date in Francis' action next week.

In its release, the Vatican noted that the second Holy Thursday Mass "is characterized by the announcement of the Commandment of love and the act of the washing of the feet.

Along those lines, "in his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires, [then-]Cardinal Bergoglio would celebrate this Mass in a jail, a hospital or a home for the poor or marginalized people," the release said (prior instances above).

Over years past, the groups among which the now-Pope led the Lord's Supper liturgy included drug addicts and HIV/AIDS patients as a way of highlighting Christ's preference for the "least" in the eyes of the world at his table.

"With the celebration at the Casal del Marmo [facility]," the Holy See said, "Pope Francis continues this practice, one that can only be characterized in a context of simplicity."

Given the significant presence of pilgrims to Rome for Holy Week, several thousand tickets to the Evening Mass had already been distributed. As previously scheduled, however, the Pope will still celebrate the mid-morning Chrism Mass – dedicated to the institution of the priesthood and the consecration of his diocese's oils for the year – in its usual venue at St Peter's.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Pope's Call

With the "Launch Mass" now in the books, the papal transition has reached its close, and the various participants and spectators of these last weeks have already begun heading home.

Things will remain eventful, however... and as further evidence of how much Pope Francis is jamming into the shredder of Vatican protocol, the Catholic world might want to start getting used to a six-word phrase that's looking bound to stun many over the years to come – "The Pope is on the phone."

Es verdad – beyond reaching out in the flesh, Jorge Bergoglio has spent a good part of his first week in white quietly burning up the lines to places and people he can't immediately visit. 

A practice mostly eschewed by his recent predecessors, PopeCalls look set to become a key element of Francis' ability to keep personally close – and on the equally crucial governance side, duly appraised.

Even before his first appearance at the balcony, the new pontiff placed a call to his predecessor at Castel Gandolfo, then another one last night on B16's onomastico, St Joseph's Day. Among others who've already been rung up include the Nuncio to Argentina (to ask that no trips for the Inaugural be made) and the Father-General of the Jesuits, while yesterday morning's public watch party in Buenos Aires received a 3.30am call from Francis over the sound system before the Mass and last night, the Pope dialed the hometown newsstand where he'd buy his morning paper to thank the family who owns it for their daily time together over the years and ask for their prayers.

Still, even if Papa Bergoglio's reaching deep into his new world, its heavy reality would seem to be even an lonelier one for him than those who've come before. While most of the cardinals traveled to Rome for the Conclave with their priest-secretary or some other aide, the Argentinian came alone... and now that he won't be leaving, it doesn't seem that anyone's being flown over to join him – reports are that the Maltese Msgr Alfred Xuereb, previously Benedict's junior secretary since 2007, will be Francis' key aide in the Apartment.

More on that in due course. For now, as things begin to settle in after these momentous weeks – and for some of us, the clean-up begins – another call is worth revisiting: that is, to the journey of Lent, which begins its climax come the weekend with Palm Sunday.

While Francis' Holy Week messages begin with the Sunday homily, thanks to a Zenit translation, the following is an English rendering of the 2013 Lenten Message the new Pope issued as Cardinal Bergoglio this past Ash Wednesday in Buenos Aires. 

As the intense experience of these days winds down and with an eye to the one just ahead – may it give us all a little extra something as we prepare for these days to come.

*   *   * 
To the priests, the consecrated and the laity of the Archdiocese,

Rend your hearts, not your garments;
Return now to the Lord your God,
Because He is compassionate and merciful,
Slow to anger and rich in mercy …

Little by little we get used to hearing and seeing, through the media, the black chronicle of contemporary society, presented almost with perverse enjoyment and we also get used to touching it and hearing it around us and in our own flesh. The drama is in the street, in the neighborhood, in our home, and, why not, in our heart. The suffering of the innocent and peaceful never ceases to hit us; contempt for the rights of the most fragile persons and peoples are not that foreign to us; the dominance of money with its demonic effects such as drugs, corruption, the trafficking of persons, including children, together with material and moral misery are the common currency. The destruction of fitting work, the painful emigrations and the lack of a future are also added to this symphony. Our errors and sins as Church are also not absent from this great panorama. The most personal egoisms are justified, and not because of this are they lesser, the lack of ethical values in a society that metastasizes in families, in the coexistence of neighborhoods, villages and cities, speak to us of our limitation, of our weakness and of our inability to transform this innumerable list of destructive realities

The trap of impotence makes us think: Does it make sense to try to change this? Can we do anything in face of this situation? Is it worthwhile to try if the world continues its carnival dance disguising everything for a while? However, when the mask falls, the truth appears and, although for many it is anachronistic to say it, sin reappears, which wounds our flesh with all its destructive force, twisting the destinies of the world and of history.

Lent comes to us as a cry of truth and sure hope, which answers yes, that it is possible not to put on makeup and draw plastic smiles as if nothing is happening. Yes, it is possible that everything be made new and different because God continues to be “rich in kindness and mercy, always willing to forgive,” and He encourages us to begin again and again. Today we are again invited to undertake a paschal journey to Truth, a journey that includes the cross and renunciation, which will be uncomfortable but not sterile. We are invited to admit that something is not right in ourselves, in society and in the change, to turn around, to be converted.

Strong and challenging on this day are the words of the prophet Joel: Rend your hearts, not your garments: be converted to the Lord your God. It is an invitation to all peoples; no one is excluded.

Rend your hearts, not your garments, artificial penance without guarantees for the future.

Rend your hearts, not your garments, formal and fulfilled fast which continues to keep us satisfied.

Rend your hearts, not your garments, superficial and egoistic prayer which does not reach the depth of our life to allow it to be touched by God.

Rend your hearts to say with the Psalmist: “we have sinned.” “Sin is the wound of the soul: Oh poor wounded one, recognize your Physician! Show him the wounds of your guilt. And given that our secret thoughts are not hidden from Him, make him hear the groan of your heart. Move Him to compassion with your tears, with your insistence. Importune Him! May He hear your sighs, make your pain reach Him so that, in the end, He can say to you: The Lord has forgiven your sin” (Saint Gregory the Great). This is the reality of our human condition. This is the truth that can bring us closer to genuine reconciliation with God and with men. It is not about discrediting self-esteem but about penetrating the depth of our hearts and of assuming the mystery of suffering and pain which has bound us for centuries, thousands of years, always.

Rend your hearts, so that through that crack we can really look at ourselves.

Rend your hearts, open your hearts, because only in a broken and open heart can the merciful love of God enter, who loves and heals us.

Rend your hearts says the prophet, and Paul asks us almost on his knees to “be reconciled with God.” To change one’s way of living is the sign and fruit of this broken and reconciled heart by a love that surpasses us.

This is the invitation, given the many wounds that harm us and that can lead us to the temptation of hardening us: Rend your hearts to experience in silent and serene prayer the gentleness of God’s tenderness.

Rend your hearts to be able to love with the love with which we are loved, to console with the consolation that consoles us and to share what we have received.
The liturgical time that the Church begins today is not only for us, but also for the transformation of our families, our communities, our Church, our homeland, of the whole world. They are forty days to be converted to the very holiness of God; to become collaborators who receive grace and the possibility to reconstruct human life so that every man will experience the salvation that Christ won for us with his Death and Resurrection. 
Together with prayer and penance, as a sign of our faith in the strength of Easter which transforms everything, we also prepare to begin as in other years our “solidaristic Lenten gesture.” As Church in Buenos Aires that marches towards Easter and that believes that the Kingdom of God is possible, we need to have spring from our hearts, broken by the desire of conversion and love, the grace and effective action that will alleviate the sorrow of so many brothers who walk with us. “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great” (Saint John Chrysostom). 
This Year of Faith we are living is also an opportunity that God gives us to grow and mature in our encounter with the Lord who makes Himself visible in the suffering face of so many youth without a future, in the trembling hands of the forgotten elderly and in the vacillating knees of so many families that continue to face life without finding anyone to support them. 
I wish you a holy Lent, a penitential and fruitful Lent and, please, I ask you to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin look after you. 
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ