Wednesday, March 05, 2014

In Lent, Miserere and "Meeting"

In a word, it's the human condition – we fall, we fail, we sin; each of us, all of us, more often than we'd like to admit...

But now, the Lenten journey begins, offering the chance of a fresh start....

To mark his first full turn at these 40 Days on Peter's Chair, Pope Francis has issued a formal message for the season, drawn from Paul's 2 Corinthians depiction that Christ "became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich."

With the 266th Bishop of Rome set to preside over this Ash Wednesday's traditional evening rites on the Avventine Hill at 5pm local (11am ET), though, the gist of Papa Bergoglio's Lenten wish for the church was given in an even more conversational form last August, as Francis sent a video-message to his hometown faithful in Buenos Aires as they queued up at a local shrine for the feast of San Cayetano, the 16th century Italian cleric revered in Argentina as a patron of the poor and unemployed:

This [season] speaks of the people most in need, of those who need us to give them a hand, who need us to look them with love, to share their pain or their anxieties, their problems. What's important is that we don't just look at them from afar or help from afar. No, no! We must reach out to them. This is being Christian! This is what Jesus taught us: to reach out to the needy. Like Jesus who always reached out to the people. He went to meet them. Reaching out to those most in need.

Sometimes, I ask people, "Do you give alms?" They say, "Yes, father." "And when you give alms, do you look into the eyes of people you are giving alms to?" "Ah, I do not know, I don't really think about it." "Then you have not reached out to those people. You just tossed them some charity and went away. When you give alms, do you touch their hands or just toss them the coins?" "No, I toss them the coins." "Then you have not touched them. And if you have not touched them, you have not reached out to them." What Jesus teaches us, first of all, is to reach out to each other, and in reaching out, helping one another.

We must be able to reach out to each other. We must build, create, construct a culture of encounter. How many differences, family troubles, always! Trouble in the neighborhood, trouble at work, trouble everywhere. And these differences do not help. The culture of encounter. Reaching out to encounter each other. And the [feast's] theme says, "Reaching out to those most in need", in short, with those who need me. With those who are going through a bad time, far worse than what I'm going through.

There is always someone who is having it worse, eh? Always! There is always someone. So, I think, "I'm going through a bad time, I line up to encounter San Cayetano and with Jesus and then go out to encounter others, because there is always someone who is having it worse than me." To these people, it is to these people that we have to reach out.

Thank you for listening, thank you for coming here today, thank you for everything you carry in your hearts. Jesus loves you very much!... We ask only one thing: that you reach out! And that you go and seek out and encounter the most needy! But not alone, no. With Jesus! Does this mean going to convince someone to become Catholic? No, no, no! You are just reaching out to meet him, because he is your brother! That is enough. You reach out to help them, the rest is done by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. Remember well: with San Cayetano, we need to encounter the neediest. With Jesus, we who are in need, we reach out to those who are even more in need. And maybe Jesus will show us the path to meet with those who need it most.

When you meet those most in need, your heart will begin to grow bigger, bigger and bigger! Because reaching out multiplies our capacity to love. An encounter with others makes our heart bigger. Take courage! "I don't know what to do on my own". No, no, no! With Jesus and San Cayetano [we do]!

May God bless you and may this feast end well for you. And please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you.
May every grace and good thing you seek over these days be yours – to one and all, a fruitful and Blessed Lent in ways you've never known. And in a special way, to the many troopers – lay and ordained alike – who'll greet what've become the year's biggest crowds at practically every turn of this Ash Wednesday, good luck... and literally, go get 'em.