Friday, January 15, 2016

"Where We Find Our God" – At Nursing Home, The Pope's "Mercy Friday"

In the day-to-day of his Petrine ministry, it's no secret that Francis likes linking what some might see as diametrically opposed realities of the center and the peripheries in the hope of bringing them closer together. And so, just as he went straight from addressing a joint session of Congress to a Washington soup kitchen for the homeless, just after meeting this morning with the CEO of Google did word of another surprise break: an unanticipated afternoon visit to a retirement home (left) on the outskirts of Rome.

The drop-in only announced once the Pope had spent more than an hour with the 30 residents, while "Matthew 25 stops" have become the spiritual core of Francis' travels and his celebrations of the Holy Thursday Evening Mass (in keeping with his practice in Buenos Aires), today's outing is part of the monthly "Mercy Fridays" which will see the pontiff personally take up the works of mercy around his own diocese to underscore the message of this Jubilee Year. Accordingly, Papa Bergoglio was accompanied by the Curial official tasked with planning the celebrations, the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

After their departure, the New Evangelization council released several photos of the visit and a statement that the site was chosen to highlight the Pope's repeated calls "against the 'throwaway culture' and [for] the great value that the elderly and grandparents should have in the church and society." The release likewise noted that Francis visited patients in vegetative states at another nearby facility, joined by the family members who care for them.

While any record of what the Pope said hasn't emerged, in his now-released treatise on the Extraordinary Holy Year, Francis was asked if the traditional works of mercy as taught through the centuries remain relevant today, offering this in reply:
They are still valid, still current. Perhaps some aspects could be better “translated,” but they remain the basis for self-examination. They help us open up to the mercy of God, to ask for the grace to understand that without mercy a person cannot do a thing, that you cannot do a single thing, that “the world would not exist,” in the words of the elderly lady I met in 1992.

Let us examine the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, dress the naked, house the pilgrims, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. I do not think there is much to explain. And if we look at our situation, our society, it seems to me that there is no lack of circumstances or opportunities all around us. What should we do for the homeless man camped in front of our home, for the poor man who has nothing to eat, for the neighboring family who cannot make it to the end of the month due to the recession, because the husband lost his job? How should we behave with the immigrants who have survived the crossing and who land on our shores? What should we do for the elderly who are alone, abandoned, and who have no one?

We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God, that is where we touch the Lord. Jesus himself told us, explaining the protocol for which we will all be judged: “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40)....

By welcoming a marginalized person whose body is wounded and by welcoming the sinner whose soul is wounded, we put our credibility as Christians on the line. Let us always remember the words of Saint John of the Cross: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
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As a papal pit-stop at a retirement home will inevitably set off some chatter about whether Francis himself will follow the modern precedent set by his predecessor and renounce the papacy, one thing beyond clear is that nothing of the sort will take place upon his 80th birthday in December, nor anywhere close.

Lest some forgot, just because you can bet the house on such things being said around that time – or, indeed, even already – doesn't make them reality-based.

For starters, while Francis' oft-cited "model" predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, famously contemplated leaving office as he approached the same milestone he introduced for the retirement of cardinals, for a practice still in its "experimental" phase to be tied to reaching a certain age would, albeit unintentionally, bind the hands of future Popes merely by setting an expectation for it.

To be sure, the incumbent has said as much himself, telling the Mexican network Televisa last year that "it does not appeal to me, this idea of setting an age [for retirement]. Because I believe that the papacy has an element of being the final authority.

"So," he added, "saying 'OK, this fellow is 80 years old,' creates the sensation of the ending of a pontificate which would not be good. Too predictable, no?"

Of course, hardly anything's more anathema to Francis than being "too predictable." And speaking of which, to recall the line he quietly slipped into the last homily of November's Africa trek, "the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination... in a certain sense we are in midstream."