Our Lenten Journey 2016
Today’s Readings from the USCCB:
Our Lenten Journey 2016
Today’s Readings from the USCCB:
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — A jubilee year that does not open people’s wallets to share what they have with others is not a true jubilee, Pope Francis said.
“This pope isn’t inventing that,” he insisted. “It’s in the Bible.”
At his weekly general audience Feb. 10 in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke about the description of a jubilee year in the Book of Leviticus. The religious feast also had serious social implications, he said, because it proclaimed a forgiveness of debts, the freedom of indentured servants and special generosity toward the poor and the stranger.
“It was a kind of general amnesty, which permitted everyone to return to their original situation with the cancellation of every debt, the restitution of land and the possibility of enjoying once again the freedom proper to members of the people of God,” he said.
For God’s chosen people, who are called to holiness, the pope said, the jubilee prescriptions help “to combat poverty and inequality, guaranteeing a dignified life for all and a fair distribution of the land on which to live and draw sustenance.”
During the Catholic Church’s jubilee year, each Christian should think about what they have, he said, and “if they have too many things,” they should “give some to someone who has nothing; 10 percent or 50 percent. The Holy Spirit will inspire you.”
Pope Francis told the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square that “a jubilee is for conversion so that our hearts become bigger, more generous, more (like) a child of God, with more love.”
“I’ll tell you something,” he said, “if this jubilee doesn’t reach our pockets, it’s not a real jubilee. Do you understand? This is in the Bible, eh, this pope isn’t inventing that. It’s in the Bible.”
“The biblical message is very clear: courageously open yourselves to sharing; this is mercy,” the pope said. “If we want mercy from God, let us begin by being merciful ourselves.”
A biblical jubilee is about sharing and solidarity, Pope Francis said. “The biblical jubilee was a jubilee of mercy because it was lived with a sincere search of the good of one’s needy brothers and sisters.”
The laws governing God’s people in the Bible, he said, also had other means for encouraging people to help others experience God’s mercy. One of those things was the command to tithe a tenth of one’s earnings to the temple and to widows and orphans or to give a portion of the first fruits of one’s harvest.
In addition, he said, the Bible had harsh words for those who charged high interest rates when loaning to the poor. In many countries, he added, usury is still a huge problem and families lose everything and end up on the streets.
“Please, let us pray that in this jubilee the Lord would remove from all our hearts this desire to have more,” he said.
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — On the eve of sending off “missionaries of mercy” to all corners of the globe, Pope Francis told his specially appointed men that the reassuring strength of God’s love, not the “bludgeon of judgment,” will bring the “lost sheep” back to the fold.
“Being a missionary of mercy is a responsibility that is entrusted to you because it asks you to be a firsthand witness of God’s closeness and his way of loving, not our way, which is always limited and sometimes contradictory,” he said Feb. 9.
Meeting with hundreds of missionaries who came to Rome to receive in person their special papal mandate on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis said he wanted to highlight the unique aspects of their new ministry so they would carry it out properly and be “a real help” to the people they encounter.
The pope designated 1,142 religious and diocesan priests from all over the world to preach and teach about God’s mercy and serve especially as confessors during the Year of Mercy, which ends Nov. 20. The men were to receive their special mandate during a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 10.
He told the missionaries that they need to recognize that people’s desire for forgiveness might be obscured by their inability or embarrassment to talk about their sins.
“It’s not easy to go before another person, knowing he represents God, and confess one’s sins,” he said. Confessors should be respectful and encouraging, he said, because the penitents can easily feel exposed and vulnerable “with their weakness and limitations, with the shame of being a sinner.”
“Do not forget, there isn’t a sin before you, but a repentant sinner,” a person who wants to be listened to, forgiven, and brought home again, he told them.
With the little strength they have on their own, sinners want to do everything to be a child of God again, therefore, do not be a judge “with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune from sin,” or be too invasive with inappropriate or prying questions, the pope said.
Help the sinner, who may be feeling the same shame of nakedness Adam and Eve felt in the Garden of Eden when they recognized the evil they had done, by “covering the sinner with the blanket of mercy, so they will no longer be embarrassed and can regain the joy of their filial dignity,” he said.
He said he wants the missionaries to be a living expression of “the church who, like a mother, welcomes anyone who approaches her,” knowing that through her they will become one with Christ.
In the confessional, the pope said, they must remember that it is Christ who welcomes, listens, forgives and grants peace. “We are his ministers and we always need to be forgiven by him first,” he said.
The pope said whatever sin a priest hears, he must always remember his own sinful nature and be a humble channel of God’s mercy.
He said he still feels the joyful, life-changing moment he experienced as a teenager Sept. 21, 1953, after he went to confession.
Speaking off the cuff, he said, “I don’t remember what the priest said” because what he said was not as important as his smile and the overwhelming sense of God’s presence.
“It was like being received by a father,” he said.
BEIJING — A top Politburo official told faith leaders that religious groups must promote Chinese culture and become more compatible with socialism.
Yu Zhengsheng said religious leaders must form a bridge between the Communist Party and hundreds of millions of Chinese that follow the country’s five officially recognized religions — Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism, reported ucanews.com.
Xinhua, China’s state news agency, said Yu “called on religious groups in China to continue adding Chinese characteristics, dig into positive elements in their religions and make more effort in building a religious ideology with Chinese characteristics.”
Yu, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, led the meeting. Vice Premier Liu Yandong and Sun Chunlan, head of the United Work Front Department, which manages relations with faith groups, also attended. National broadcaster CCTV broadcast Yu’s instructions on its evening bulletin Feb. 4, ucanews.com reported.
It said Liu Yuanlong, who took part in his role as vice director of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was not immediately available for comment.
Without explanation, Beijing has repeatedly postponed a major meeting on religion that was due to be chaired by President Xi Jinping at the end of last year. Delays may be due to problems drawing up a cohesive religious blueprint for the whole country, according to analysts.
Yu has met regularly with religious groups across the country over the past year as the party makes plans for the meeting.
Under Xi, China has veered toward a more repressive policy on religion that has stressed Chinese faiths over those deemed imported from overseas. The Chinese president has regularly quoted from Confucius, whose popularity has been resurgent in recent years, while Christians, Muslims and Buddhists have complained of growing persecution.
Amid a campaign by the provincial authorities in Zhejiang that has led to the removal of more than 1,500 church crosses over the past two years, authorities there have started a new program that includes efforts to tie Bible passages to party doctrine.
In another major shift on religious practice, the party’s Central Committee and State Council have issued a circular ordering retired officials to steer clear of religion, Xinhua reported Feb. 4.
The circular “clearly stated that retired cadres cannot believe in religion, cannot participate in religious activities and must resolutely fight against cults,” the document said.
Retired officials must distinguish between “ethnic customs” and “believing in religions,” it said.
Although Beijing has barred active cadres from practicing religion, this is the first time a state document has also ordered retired officials not to follow a faith since the party set up its retirement system in 1982.
How the state plans to enforce the measure remains unclear. As many as 84 percent of party members admitted some kind of religious belief, a survey by Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society found in 2007.
“Many of the exposed corrupt officials of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) are reported to believe in religion or magic, such as patronizing and consulting spiritual masters,” said Fenggang Yang, the center’s director. “This kind of behavior is probably common among other officials as well.”
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Confessors have two choices: to be like Jesus who readily forgave sins or like the devil who always condemns, Pope Francis said.
“You can either do the work of Jesus, who forgives, by giving your lives in prayer (and) through many hours seated there or you do the work of the devil who condemns and accuses,” the pope said during Mass Feb. 9 with Capuchin friars from around the world.
The Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica was held in conjunction with the veneration of the relics of two Capuchins, Sts. Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic; Pope Francis requested their relics be brought to the Vatican for the Year of Mercy.
Both saints, the pope told the friars, spent long hours in the confessional as ministers of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Recalling the day’s Gospel passage, in which the Pharisees and scribes condemn Jesus and his disciples for not observing traditions, the pope reminded the Capuchins that confessors are called to be “great forgivers in the confessional.”
“The confessional is for forgiving,” he said. “If you cannot give someone absolution, please, do not ‘beat’ him.”
The pope repeated the story of a former Capuchin provincial who was sent to a shrine as a confessor after his retirement. The friar, who usually had a long line of people waiting for him, “always found a way to forgive or at least leave that person’s soul in peace with a hug.”
However, the priest expressed concern that he was forgiving too much. “And what do you do when you feel that way?” the pope recalled asking him.
“I go to the chapel in front of the tabernacle, and I tell the Lord: ‘I’m sorry Lord, forgive me, I think I forgave too much today. But Lord, it was you who gave me a bad example,’” the friar responded.
Forgiveness, the pope explained, is a “caress from God” and confessors who do not forgive become like the scribes in the Gospel “who are always there to accuse,” much like “the great accuser in the Bible: the devil.”
Pope Francis also called on the Capuchins to be humble and sincere if they are not up to the task of forgiving with mercy.
“If you do not feel it, be humble and say: ‘No, no, I’ll celebrate Mass, I’ll clean the floor, I’ll do everything except confess because I do not know how to do it well,” the pope said.
SANTA ANA, Calif. — Saying the future of the pro-life movement is “cultural not political,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles called upon Catholic Latinos to work toward a “new Christian humanism, a new vision of society and human destiny that is rooted in the Gospel.”
“We want a new culture, not a new political coalition,” he told participants at the Hispanic Pro-life Congress Jan. 30 at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, pointing to the necessity of changing society’s views on the “fundamental injustice” of abortion and euthanasia.
Archbishop Gomez said that the practice of abortion and euthanasia raises concerns about “what kind of society we are and what kind of people we want to be.”
He expressed unease that society is losing a sense of its common humanity and responsibility for others, especially when it comes to abortion and euthanasia, which he called the most important issues facing the country.
While running through a list of social sins and the importance of addressing racial discrimination, deportations and unjust immigration policies, unemployment, homelessness, pollution of the environment, neighborhood violence, drug abuse, decrepit prisons and the death penalty, the archbishop said the church must place abortion and euthanasia foremost in its efforts.
He said the “‘seamless garment’ or ‘consistent ethic of life’” positions espoused widely are “not the vision we need.”
“Because in practice the ‘seamless garment’ and ‘consistent ethic’ result in a mistaken idea that all issues are morally equivalent,” he said. “Of course, they are not. So in everything we need to be clear that the root of violence in our society is the violence against those who are not yet born and those who are the end of their lives.”
It is the church’s role to declare that the right to life is the foundation of all other rights, justice and peace in the world, the archbishop explained in calling for a “new vision for our efforts.”
“This vision is spiritual not political. And because it is spiritual, it makes no sense for there to be any division between our ‘pro-life’ efforts and our work for ‘social justice.’ In the face of the suffering and human need in the world, we cannot compartmentalize our compassion or draw lines between those we will care about and those we will not,” Archbishop Gomez explained.
He urged a deeper appreciation for the Gospel, which he said “is the core of God’s beautiful plan of love for creation and for every human life that he revealed in Jesus Christ.”
The Gospel of life, the archbishop added, is what the early church called the “kerygma,” the core teaching of the faith.
He quoted Pope Francis, who summarized kerygma: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
Urging his audience to “stay close to Jesus,” Archbishop Gomez said Catholics have a duty to welcome and protect life and to care for life, every life because God loves every person, especially those who are poor, marginalized and alone. “With God’s love, there are no boundaries, no borders, no barriers,” he said.
He also called for building friendships and to “be in dialogue with those who disagree with us.”
“We can’t negotiate about good and evil. … But we need to work with and talk to people who may not share our full vision of a culture of life, or at least people who don’t share our vision yet,” he said. “We have to be optimistic that truth, lived with joy, will lead to conversions and new ways of thinking.”
Describing the church’s mission as one of bringing mercy to society, especially for those who are “inconvenient and unexpected” and those who “impose a burden on our way of life,” Archbishop Gomez reminded the audience to love as God loves.
“We need to build a community of conscience; to defend life and protect life,” he said.
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Praying is not like taking an aspirin, something one does just to feel a little better, Pope Francis told thousands of members of Padre Pio Prayer Groups from around the world.
Prayer is not a business negotiation with God, either, the pope told more than 60,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square Feb. 6. Prayer is a “work of spiritual mercy,” a time to entrust everything to the heart of God, he said.
The pilgrims were in Rome for the Year of Mercy and a week of special events that included veneration of the relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic, both Capuchin friars who often spent more than 12 hours a day hearing confessions.
Although many faithful believe the body of Padre Pio, who died in 1968, is incorrupt, church officials have never made such a claim. When his body was exhumed in 2008, church officials said it was in “fair condition.” Chemicals were used to ensure its long-term preservation and the face was covered with a silicone mask.
Pushed through the center of Rome Feb. 5 in glass coffins on rolling platforms, the relics of Padre Pio and St. Leopold were escorted by Italian military police, dozens of Capuchin friars and thousands of faithful.
When the procession reached St. Peter’s Square, the boundary of Vatican City State, the Italian police stood at attention and the Swiss Guard took over the honor-guard duties. Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s, welcomed the relics, blessed them with incense and accompanied them into St. Peter’s Basilica where they were to stay for veneration until Feb. 11.
At the papal audience, joining members of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups from around the world were staff members of the hospital he founded, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering), whose work is supported by the prayers and donations of the prayer groups.
Pope Francis told them that their devotion to Padre Pio should help them rediscover each day “the beauty of the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy.”
With his long hours in the confessional, the pope said, “Padre Pio was a servant of mercy and he was fulltime, carrying out the ‘apostolate of listening’ even to the point of fainting.”
“The great river of mercy” that Padre Pio unleashed, he said, should continue through the prayers and, especially, the willingness to listen and to care for others shown by members of the prayer groups.
If prayer were just about finding a little peace of mind or obtaining something specific from God, then it would basically be motivated by selfishness: “I pray to feel good, like I’d take an aspirin,” the pope said.
“Prayer, rather, is a work of spiritual mercy that carries everything to the heart of God” and says to him, “You take it, you who are my father.”
Padre Pio, he said, used to tell people prayer is “a key that opens God’s heart.”
“God’s heart is not armored with all sorts of security measures,” the pope said. “You can open it with a common key, prayer.”
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican joined international appeals for raising money to provide emergency and long-term assistance to the millions of people affected by the crisis in Syria.
Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, attended the Syria Donors Conference in London Feb. 4 and said the Catholic Church would continue to help the region through its fundraising efforts. The Vatican released a copy of the archbishop’s address the same day.
The meeting, co-hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations, was meant to gather together leaders from world governments and NGOs to raise funding and support to address the six-year-long humanitarian crisis.
The conference website said there are 13.5 million vulnerable and displaced people inside Syria, and 4.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries in need of assistance.
U.N. agencies have appealed for $8.4 billion to help those in Syria and refugees in host countries.
In his address, Archbishop Gallagher said the crisis in Syria was marked by “ever-increasing human suffering, including extreme cases of malnourishment of innocent children and other civilians, especially among the high number of people who are trapped in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.”
Religious minorities, including Christians, “suffer disproportionately the effects of war and social upheaval in the region,” he said.
“In fact, their very presence and existence are gravely threatened,” he said, which is why “Pope Francis has repeatedly called attention to the particular needs of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East.”
The Vatican and the Catholic Church have been responding to the crisis “from the very beginning” by providing not just
“emergency aid but also the medium and long-term needs of refugees and host countries,” he said, adding that the Vatican welcomes the conference’s emphasis on providing education, jobs and economic development as part of aid programs.
Just last year, he said, Catholic dioceses, aid agencies and NGOs in partnership with governments and other international organizations provided $150 million in humanitarian assistance that directly benefited more than 4 million people. The assistance went to educational programs, food and nonfood aid, health care, housing, work programs and direct cash assistance.
Catholic agencies and entities, he said, “make no distinction regarding the religious or ethnic identity of those requiring assistance,” but they do try to give priority to the most vulnerable and those most in need, which include religious minorities.
Catholic News Service
ROME — Thousands of people waited hours outside a Rome church to glimpse the mortal remains of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic, two Capuchins popular as miracle workers and known particularly for the long hours they would spend hearing confessions.
Pope Francis asked the Capuchins to bring the relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold to Rome for the Year of Mercy, particularly the Feb. 10 celebration of Ash Wednesday and the commissioning of the official “missionaries of mercy.”
The hearse carrying Padre Pio’s crystal coffin was about 90 minutes late getting to Rome’s Basilica of St. Lawrence Feb. 3 because pockets and clusters of faithful repeatedly forced it to slow down as it drove from San Giovanni Rotondo, 235 miles to the southeast.
Posters pasted up all over the center of Rome giving the detailed schedule for Masses, prayer services and other devotions feature a large photo of Padre Pio and a smaller photo of St. Leopold.
In the celebrations, St. Leopold “is given the backseat, but that’s been his life,” said Capuchin Father Clayton Fernandes, secretary-general of the order. St. Leopold was a Croatian-born friar who ministered in Padua, Italy, and died in 1942. Father Fernandes said, “He was 4-feet-5-inches tall,” and was known to prophesy and to levitate.
While St. Leopold is well known in Croatia and around Padua, his fame pales in comparison to that of Padre Pio, who was born in 1887 and died in 1968.
From 1918 to the very end of his life, Padre Pio bore the stigmata, wounds similar to those inflicted on Christ when he was crucified.
“For 50 years, he bore the marks of Christ,” Father Fernandes said, yet the marks disappeared as soon as he died. There were accusations that they were self-inflicted, but the Capuchin said doctors examined them when he was operated on for appendicitis and said they did not believe they were self-inflicted.
“People realized that this was not just an ordinary guy; he had special gifts,” Father Fernandes said. His primary gift was the ability “to read hearts, he could tell you what you were going through before you told him.” He also was said to bilocate.
“Padre Pio is special for all these reasons and more,” Father Fernandes said. “Padre Pio has won the hearts of the people because he spoke to their reality, the reality of a family that struggles because of economic difficulties, because they have someone who is sick.”
“We need more Padre Pios today: priests, confessors, even laypeople who just take the time to listen to another and say, ‘I’m interested in what you are going through. Maybe I can’t do much, but remember, I think about you and pray for you.’ This is precisely what Padre Pio did and continues to do,” Father Fernandes said.
At the same time, there are stories of Padre Pio yelling at people and being harsh with penitents. While Padre Pio was not always gentle, Father Fernandes said, he seemed to know what was needed to bring each individual to conversion.
“He was tough,” Father Fernandes said. People would flock to him, expecting him to work a miracle, “but they didn’t want to change.”
“Conversion is a process that starts with me,” he said. Padre Pio or any good confessor, spiritual guide or friend can help people on the path, but it takes a personal decision.
“This is the secret to his success, you could say: He was able to look deep into people and say, ‘Look, what you are asking for is not really what you need. You need something more’ or ‘you need something different,’” Father Fernandes said. He was like any good father, who knew that sometimes what a child asks for is not what the child really needs.
The Capuchin also insists that Padre Pio “was not a one-man show.” The other friars in his community and in his province supported his work and assisted him, especially in replying to the thousands of letters that would arrive each week. “They believed that he had a special gift from God, not that he was perfect.”
“There is one precise reason why Pope Francis wants Padre Pio and St. Leopold (at the Vatican for the jubilee),” he said: “It’s because they are missionaries of mercy. And mercy as encountered in confession. These are two friars who spent the big part of their life in the confessional.”
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — God doesn’t want to condemn anyone; he wants to save every person in the entire world, Pope Francis said.
“The problem is letting him enter one’s heart” to transform one’s life, the pope said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Feb. 3.
“This is the heart of God, the heart of a father who loves his children and wants them to live rightly and justly and, therefore, to live in fullness and be happy,” he said.
The pope continued a series of talks dedicated to divine mercy, looking specifically at how divine mercy and divine justice go hand in hand.
“It might seem that they are two things that contradict each other,” he said, but they don’t because “it is precisely God’s mercy that brings true justice to fruition.”
God’s justice is different from the human administration of legal justice, which is “retributive, that imposes a penalty on the guilty,” the pope said.
“This path still does not lead to true justice because it doesn’t actually conquer evil but simply contains it,” the pope said. “Rather, it is only by responding to (evil) with the good that evil truly can be overcome.”
The Bible shows that true justice bypasses a court system, he said. The one who is wronged goes directly to the one who is guilty “in order to invite him to conversion, to help him to understand that he is doing wrong, to appeal to his conscience.”
Through this act of persuasion, the one guilty of wrongdoing “can open himself to the forgiveness that the injured party is offering him. And this is beautiful,” the pope said.
This is the way that families try to work out their conflicts, he said. The one who has been offended “loves the culprit and wants to salvage the relationship that binds them, not cut off this relationship,” he said.
But it is not an easy path to take, he added. “It requires that the person who was wronged be ready to forgive and desire the salvation of and what’s best for the one who has wronged him.”
These reciprocal acts of forgiveness and conversion are the only way true justice can triumph, the pope said, because “if the guilty one recognizes the evil committed and stops doing it, then the evil is no more and the one who was unjust becomes just.”
“This is how God acts with us sinners,” he said. God constantly offers forgiveness and helps people recognize their sin in order to set them free.
That is because “God doesn’t seek our condemnation, but our salvation. God doesn’t want to condemn anybody,” not even those whom many think deserve it like Pontius Pilate or Judas, he said. “The Lord of mercy wants to save everybody.”
God’s immense heart “goes beyond our small concept of justice” and opens up people’s horizons to his limitless mercy, he said.
This is the kind of paternal heart people want to encounter in the confessional, the pope said.
While the priest may seek to help the penitent understand the evil committed, “we all go to the confessional to find a father, a father who helps us change our life, a father who gives us the strength to go on, a father who forgives us in the name of God.”
That is why the sacrament of penance or reconciliation is such a big responsibility for the priest, the pope said, because the people “who come to you are just looking for a father” and the priest in the confessional is there “in the place of the father who brings justice with his mercy.”
At the end of the audience, the pope greeted members of “American Circus,” an Italian troupe who, wearing bright red, white and blue outfits, performed a routine featuring cheerleading, acrobatics and juggling.
The pope was especially impressed with the juggler who bounced small rubber balls, including with the bottom of his feet, at lighting speed.
“The one that was in the front was great, wasn’t he?” the pope commented to Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household who was sitting next to the pope at the general audience.
Speaking to the performers directly, the pope told them, “you create beauty and beauty always brings us closer to God.”
He also recognized the hard work and training that goes into their craft and said they are a wonderful example “for all of us.”
“The seduction of an easy life, to end up with good results without effort, this is a temptation,” he said.
But with their talent and the hard work they put in behind the scenes, “you offer us a witness that life without constant exertion is a mediocre life,” he told them. “I thank you so much for your example.”