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U.S. bishops say ‘justice has prevailed’ in high court decision on religious freedom for family businesses

June 30th, 2014 Posted in National News


WASHINGTON  —The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties means “justice has prevailed,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. CNS/CRS

The Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “preventive services” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as applied to these employers to the extent that it would have forced them to provide insurance coverage for drugs and devices that violate their religious convictions on respect for human life.

The statement follows:

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business. In this case, justice has prevailed, with the court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.

“The Court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates RFRA when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercise. ”

“We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.”


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Supreme Court rules some for-profit companies have religious rights, can’t be required to cover contraception


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In a narrowly tailored 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court June 30 said closely held companies may be exempted from a government requirement to include contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.The court said that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, the two family-run companies that objected to the government mandate that employees be covered for a range of contraceptives, including drugs considered to be abortifacients, are protected from the requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The opinion essentially held that for-profit companies may hold protected religious views.

Pro-life demonstrators celebrate June 30 outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington as its decision in the Hobby Lobby case is announced. The high court ruled that owners of closely held corporations can object on religious grounds to being forced by the government to provide coverage of contraceptives for their employees. (CNS photo/ Jonathan Ernst)

But the court also said that government requirements do not necessarily lose if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.

The ruling is not a slam-dunk for all entities that oppose the contraceptive mandate for religious reasons. The court noted that cases challenging the mandate for nonprofit entities, such as Catholic colleges and faith-based employers, are pending and that the June 30 ruling doesn’t consider them. The decision also did not delve into whether the private employers have religiously motivated protection from laws under the First Amendment.

It said the government failed to satisfy the requirement of RFRA, a 1993 law, that the least-restrictive means of accomplishing a government goal be followed to avoid imposing a restriction on religious expression.

The majority opinion said the ruling applies only to the contraceptive mandate and should not be interpreted to hold that all insurance coverage mandates — such as for blood transfusions or vaccinations — necessarily fail if they conflict with an employers’ religious beliefs.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the primary holding, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate concurring opinion, which agreed with the ruling, but made clear that while the opinion applies to the particular companies involved in this case, it’s not a sweeping condemnation of the key elements of the contraceptive mandate itself.

“It is important to confirm that a premise of the court’s opinion is its assumption that the HHS regulation here furthers a legitimate and compelling interest in the health of female employees,” wrote Kennedy in his concurrence. He went on to say that the federal government failed to use the least restrictive means of meeting that interest, pointing out that it has granted exemptions from the mandate for employees of nonprofit religious organizations.

“That accommodation equally furthers the government interest, but does not impinge on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs,” he wrote.

In her dissent with the main opinion, Justice Ruth Ginsburg called the court’s decision one of “startling breadth” allowing commercial enterprises to “opt out of any law” except tax laws that they “judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Ginsburg, joined on its merits by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, said she was “mindful of the havoc” the ruling could produce and noted that the court’s emphasis on RFRA failed to take into account the impact the decision would have on “third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith.” She said she believed the law was enacted by Congress “to serve a far less radical purpose.”

“Until today,” she wrote, religious exemptions have not been extended to the “commercial profit-making world” because these groups do not exist to foster the interests of those of the same faith, as religious organizations do. She also questioned why the court failed to make the distinction between a group’s members of diverse beliefs and members who share the same faith.

“The court’s determination that RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects,” she said, adding that even though the court “attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private.”

As a result, she said, “RFRA claims will proliferate.”


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Kings crowned with halos: Earthly power did not keep these monarchs from staying true to their faith

June 29th, 2014 Posted in Catechetical Corner Tags:



“Trailers for sale or rent / rooms to let, 50 cents. / No phone, no pool, no pets / I ain’t got no cigarettes / ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom / buys an eight-by-twelve four-bit room /  I’m a man of means by no means / King of the road.”

In 1964, singer Roger Miller hit No. 4 on the pop music charts with this memorable slow-moving country ditty. Though long gone, the memory of that song lingers in the back of my head — it’s stored back there along “King Creole” (Elvis Presley), “King Tut” (Steve Martin), “King of Pain” (the Police) and “Rain King” (Counting Crows).

But as memorable as these King-songs are, I wonder if they will stand the test of time like many of our Catholic kings who became saints. This column is written about several famous Catholic kings who lived lives worthy of heaven. Read more »

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Viewpoint: For caregivers — Special beatitudes and a prayer


I don’t recall my late wife, Monica, and I ever apologizing to Jesus or the evangelist Matthew for plagiarizing and doing a little rewriting of the beatitudes.

Perhaps I should assume that sometimes since Monica’s death in January 2013, she straightened the whole thing out face to face. Read more »

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‘Sudden ailment’ causes pope to cancel visit to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital


Catholic News Service

ROME — At the moment Pope Francis was scheduled to leave the Vatican to travel to Rome’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and its Gemelli Hospital, patients and staff were told the pope had to postpone his visit because he was not feeling well.

Medical staff members take pictures of the popemobile in front of Gemelli Hospital in Rome June 27. Pope Francis cancelled a visit to the hospital at the last minute because of what the Vatican called a “sudden indisposition.” The Vatican gave no immediate details about what, if anything, was ailing the 77-year-old pontiff, who has cancelled a number of engagements in the last few weeks because of minor health issues. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

“Because of a sudden ailment, the Holy Father will not go to the Gemelli for the announced visit,” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said a few minutes later. He declined to give more information about the pope’s condition.

Staff members, patients and their families were already gathered in the hospital lobby waiting for the pope to arrive. Pediatric patients were seated in the lobby and a microphone for the 77-year-old pope was ready. Domenico Gianni, the head of Vatican security who often travels with the pope, and other officers, as well as photographers from the Vatican newspaper also were waiting.

“The pope stayed home,” Father Lombardi said.

The spokesman said the visit would be rescheduled.

Several hours after announcing the pope would not go to Gemelli, Father Lombardi issued a brief note confirming Pope Francis’ commitments for the next two days, including the June 29 Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Pau. At the Mass each year, popes give the pallium — a woolen band worn around the shoulders — to new archbishops.

“There is no reason to be worried about the pope’s health,” Father Lombardi said.

At least four times in the past seven months, Pope Francis has canceled appointments because he wasn’t feeling well. In December, the pope postponed a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan and organizers of the World Expo that will be held there. In February, at the last minute, the Vatican said he was ill, so he canceled a visit to Rome’s major seminary. His scheduled May 18 visit to Rome’s Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love was canceled so the pope could rest before going to the Holy Land May 24-26. Most of his appointments June 9 were canceled because he wasn’t feeling well.

In addition, because of the difficulty he has been having in walking long distances, Pope Francis chose not to walk in the mile-long Corpus Christi procession June 19. Instead, he celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, then met the procession at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Cardinal Scola presided at the Mass Pope Francis had been scheduled to celebrate at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and read the homily the pope had prepared.

In the text, Pope Francis had written that a Christian should see his or her life as an opportunity to witness God’s love by humbly serving and caring for others. The day’s feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he said, was an occasion to reflect on how well one loves others. Is one consistent or “do I follow my moods and my fondness” for certain people?

The homily focused on Jesus’ sacred heart as a sign and symbol of God’s faithful, immeasurable love.

“God has set his heart on us, he has chosen us, and this bond is forever, not because we are faithful, but because the Lord is faithful and puts up with our infidelity, our slowness and our failures,” the text said.

“We can experience and taste the tenderness of this love at every stage of our lives, in times of joy as well as sadness, in times of health as well as in sickness,” Pope Francis had written.


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Vatican laicizes former nuncio to Dominican Republic — updated


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican investigation has led to the expulsion of a former Vatican ambassador from the priesthood in response to allegations of sexually abusing minors.

Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, was sentenced with laicization after a canonical process conducted by the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, the Vatican said in a written statement June 27.

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, is pictured during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found the archbishop guilty of sexual abuse of minors and has ordered that he be laicized. (CNS photo/Orlando Barria, EPA)

The 65-year-old archbishop has two months to appeal the decision.

The Vatican City criminal court’s own trial of the archbishop will begin once the canonical process concludes, the statement said.

Given the fact that the archbishop has been “dismissed from the clerical state,” the Vatican said, “all measures appropriate to the gravity of the case” would be taken while he is awaiting his criminal trial.

The specifics of those measures were to be decided by the former nuncio’s superiors within the Vatican Secretariat of State, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

The archbishop had “enjoyed relative freedom of movement” while the canonical process was underway, the Vatican statement said. However, given the imposed censure, it was expected the archbishop’s movements would be limited, Father Lombardi said.

The Vatican statement said the first round of the canonical process against the former nuncio ended in a “conviction of dismissal from the clerical state.” As such, Archbishop Wesolowski loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, except the obligation of celibacy. The statement did not specify if there were any other sanctions or requirements in connection with his sentencing.

Once the canonical case is closed definitively — in two months if there is no appeal — the “criminal proceedings” of Vatican City State’s own judicial system would begin, the statement said, since the archbishop was a Vatican citizen when he reportedly abused under-aged boys while serving as nuncio in the Dominican Republic.

Father Lombardi said it was not clear whether the archbishop would or could be tried under the new criminal codes Pope Francis approved in 2013. The new laws more clearly define and establish penalties for specific crimes against minors, including sexual violence against children.

Before the new laws went into effect Sept. 1, 2013, specific crimes against minors had been dealt with under more generic laws against the mistreatment of minors. The bulk of the Vatican’s criminal code is based on an 1889 version of Italy’s criminal code and did not contemplate many specific offenses such as, for example, the crime of child pornography.

The Vatican removed the archbishop from his position as apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic in August 2013 after he was accused of paying for sex with boys in the Caribbean country.

Archbishop Wesolowski arrived in the Dominican Republic in January 2008 after serving first as a priest in Krakow from 1972 to 1999, then as Vatican ambassador to Bolivia from 1999 to 2002 and ambassador to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan from 2002 to 2008.

Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, a former Polish bishops’ conference secretary-general, told the Polish Press Agency the ruling had been in response to “grave charges” against Archbishop Wesolowski and would help the wider church to “cope with such sins.”

Father Wojciech Gil, a Polish priest also accused of abuses in the Dominican Republic, was arrested during a vacation in Poland in February and has also been suspended from priestly duties pending trial.

Pope Francis had told reporters during an in-flight news conference from Israel to Italy in May 2014 that three bishops were under investigation for misdeeds related to the sexual abuse of minors. One, presumably the former nuncio, had “already been condemned,” the pope had said, and his penalty was being studied.

The pope told reporters the abuse of children was “an ugly crime” and affirmed a policy of “zero tolerance” for abusers.

Previously, the Vatican had acknowledged that a formal investigation was underway against Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who resigned in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct.

Only a few bishops have been laicized in connection to allegations of abusing minors; they include Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Miranda Melgarejo of Ayacucho, Peru, who was dismissed from the priesthood in 2013 because of sexual misconduct. Retired Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, was convicted by a civil court in 2011 of importing child pornography and was laicized by the Vatican in 2012.


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Obituary: Franciscan Sister Dorothy Epple, former Padua teacher


ASTON, Pa. – Sister Dorothy Epple, a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia who taught for two years at Padua Academy, died June 24 in Assisi House. She was 86 and had been a professed member of the congregation for 66 years.

Sister Dorothy, formerly known as Sister Anne Jerome, was at Padua from 1983-85. A Baltimore native, she spent 30 years in York, Pa., in the Diocese of Harrisburg, and she also ministered in the archdioceses of Philadelphia and Baltimore, and in the Diocee of Trenton.

Services will be June 30 in Assisi House, 610 Red Hill Road, Aston. A Christian wake service will start at 9:30 a.m., followed by a viewing, with Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Our Lady of Angels Cemetery. Donations in her name can be made to the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation, 609 S. Convent Road, Aston, PA 19014.

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Long robots’ journey into night: ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

June 27th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

There may, no doubt, be circumstances that would justify a film having a running time close to three hours.

Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor star in a scene from the movie “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Andrew Cooper, Paramount Pictures)

Some lavish adaptation of a Dickens novel, perhaps, or a sweeping historical epic might be expected to sustain prolonged viewer interest. A set of outsize Hasbro toys come to life, on the other hand, not so much.

Still, that’s what audiences will find waiting for them in the interminable 3-D action sequel “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

Such self-indulgence on the part of director Michael Bay is all the more regrettable because his fourth installment in this popular popcorn franchise is initially somewhat more engaging than its predecessors. The bond uniting small-time inventor, young widower and overprotective dad Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) with his teen daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), for example, gives us slightly more substantial human interest than was previously evident.

The rural setting of the Texas farm on which Cade and Tessa, routinely joined by Cade’s surfer sidekick, Lucas (T.J. Miller), live out a cash-strapped but mutually caring existence, moreover, makes for some pleasant visuals. Less welcome is the wayward relationship between Tessa and her clandestine boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor). As both Cade and the audience eventually discover, Pop has had better cause to worry than he knew.

Once the alien robots from whom the series takes its title show up, however, it does turn out to be a good thing that Irish-born Shane makes his living as a racecar driver. These mechanical beings are capable of changing shape at will, and do so most often by shifting into the guise of speedy vehicles. So it helps the humans who get mixed up with them — as Cade does by buying a long disused truck, to have some velocity of their own.

For those not fluently familiar with Transformers lore in all its manifestations, the briefest of explanations: the good, i.e. human-friendly, guys are called Autobots and are led by Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen). Their adversaries, and ours, are known as Decepticons. The whole point of plunking down your dozen or so dollars at the box office is to watch these guys magically morph, and noisily duke it out.

Stacked up against the endless shape-shifting and cacophonous combat, neither Wahlberg’s strong presence nor an amusing turn by Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce, a Steve Jobs-like tech pioneer stands much of a chance. Also lost along the way are scattered religious references — do Transformers have souls? — and a more sustained theme about the dangers of overreacting to terrorism.

That tendency is embodied by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), a top-ranking CIA agent for whom the only good automaton is a dead one.

Besides sometimes ridiculous dialogue, Ehren Kruger’s script also includes a heavy dose of vulgarity. Together with the benignly treated behavior between Tessa and Shane mentioned above, such verbal lapses make this sci-fi slog an inappropriate one for those youthful viewers who might best be able to endure it.

As for their elders, the legal phrase “time served” may spring to mind well before the final credits roll.

The film contains relentless, though largely bloodless, violence, an implied premarital situation, at least one use each of profanity and rough language and numerous crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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These generic ‘Jersey Boys’ were filmed in L.A.

June 27th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,


Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, John Lloyd Young and Michael Lomenda star in a scene from the movie “Jersey Boys.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Catholic News Service

Success on the stage does not easily translate into success on screen, particularly for a musical. And yet if the tunes are enjoyable, all is not lost. That’s the case with “Jersey Boys,” a movie version of the Broadway show about The Four Seasons, a 1960s vocal group.

Faced with an adaptation that often feels lackluster and slapdash, one wonders if the filmmakers’ creative license was severely encumbered. But since the director is Clint Eastwood, who has considerable clout in Hollywood, that seems unlikely.

It’s more probable that Eastwood and his key collaborators, including screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also wrote the musical, chose not to fiddle with material that continues to please theatergoers.

Choices still had to be made, however, and two important ones impact the movie negatively. First, “Jersey Boys” was filmed entirely in Los Angeles, primarily on the Warner Brothers back lot. As a result, it lacks visual authenticity.

Failing to convey the look and atmosphere of 1950s-1970s New Jersey is especially problematic when the story is so rooted in time and place. Every nightclub interior, residence and diner looks the same. The costumes also appear recycled. Undistinguished lighting and cinematography accentuate the film’s generic quality.

Second, having the actors peer into the camera and talk to the audience doesn’t work. Direct address is a device more commonly used in the theater. Here it interrupts the flow and detracts from the fly-on-the-wall intimacy movies can afford. Voice-overs, while not ideal, are a better option.

Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) is the first character to address viewers when, at the outset, he introduces us to his vocally gifted pal Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young). It’s 1951 in Belleville, N.J., just outside of Newark.

Frankie works in a barbershop and Tommy is a go-fer for mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). He’s always hustling something, Frankie’s talent most of all, and, while dabbling in crime, the two play in a series of bands along with bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda).

After songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) joins them, the group starts to gain traction, but it’s a long struggle. Eventually they break through with “Sherry,” which is followed by two more chart-topping hits: “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.”

During the second half of the film, personal and professional trials centering on Frankie’s family and Tommy’s mismanagement are more pronounced than the triumphs. Without greater psychological insight and detail, it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in this quintessential showbiz story. The lack of memorable acting is also an impediment.

Music is the bright spot. Valli’s falsetto tenor is distinctive, to say the least. Young won a Tony and plenty of other hardware for replicating it in the original Broadway cast. He may lack movie star charisma but he has the vocal chops; his soulful rendition of the 1975 smash “Who Loves You” is a high point.

The toe-tapping song arrangements are true to the period and accentuate the sentimental charms of the group’s sound. The movie soundtrack may not inspire millions of downloads, but their music is already fixed in the pop culture canon.

Because of some tonal dissonance — many scenes in the first half are so lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek they approach parody — and the far-from-uplifting final reel, “Jersey Boys” doesn’t come off as a fawning homage. The theme that loyalty is the paramount virtue in Jersey neighborhoods, however, fails to strike a resonant chord when marital fidelity appears to be the sole exception.

Although Eastwood is a true jazz aficionado and no stranger to making movies about musicians (see 1988′s “Bird” about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker), there’s scant evidence he brought his own musical sensibility to “Jersey Boys.” Maybe it would be a better movie if he had riffed on the material. At the very least, he should have tried harder to tailor it to the screen.

Most of the humor derives from stereotypes and cliches, none of which is sharp enough to offend Italian-Americans and/or Garden State residents. The brief appearance of a Catholic nun who swigs wine and burps is gratuitous. Yet it’s the amount of bad language that ultimately disqualifies “Jersey Boys” as suitable for minors.

The film contains a few nongraphic encounters, some profanity, frequent rough, crude and crass language, occasional sexual banter and mature references, including to crime and infidelity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.


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On feast of the Sacred Heart, pope says love is best expressed through actions


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Love is more about giving than receiving and is best expressed through action, not words, Pope Francis said.

A statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at St. Anthony’s Chapel on Troy Hill in Pittsburgh. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

God’s love, in fact, can only be experienced by people willing to let go of their egos and humbly let God take the lead, allowing him take their hand like a loving father with his children, the pope said in his homily June 27.

Celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis focused his homily on the heart of Jesus and his immense love.

“One can say that today is the feast of God’s love in Jesus Christ, of God’s love for us, of God’s love in us,” he said during an early morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The pope said, “There are two aspects of love. First, love is more about giving than receiving. Second, love is more about deeds than words,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

Love is always given or transmitted to another, he said, and “love always gives life, fosters growth.”

But, in order to understand and experience God’s love, people have to be humble and childlike before the immensity of the divine, he said. God wants a “father-child relationship” with people and wants to assure everybody, “I am with you.”

“This is the tender affection of the Lord,” the pope said. “This is what he communicates and it gives strength to our tenderness.

“But if we make ourselves out to be strong,” he said, “we will never experience the Lord’s caress, the Lord’s caresses, (that are) so beautiful.”

When Jesus says, “Be not afraid. I am with you,” and explains “I am meek and humble of heart,” the pope said, he is helping people understand “the mysterious love” God has for us.

Jesus himself, “the son of God, lowers himself in order to receive the father’s love,” Pope Francis said.

The other defining characteristic of God’s love is that “he loved us first,” the pope said. God is always “before us” and “he is waiting for us.”

“When we go looking for him, he sought us out first. He is always ahead of us, he’s waiting for us in order to receive us in his heart, in his love,” the pope said. “He gives us joy and takes us on life’s journey like a child, by our hand.”

To express his love, he said, God “needs our smallness, to lower ourselves. And he also needs our amazement when we look for him and discover him already there, waiting for us.”



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