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Pope elevates liturgical celebration of St. Mary Magdalene, ‘evangelist,’ to a feast day

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Recognizing St. Mary Magdalene’s role as the first to witness Christ’s resurrection and as a “true and authentic evangelizer,” Pope Francis raised the July 22 memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast on the church’s liturgical calendar, the Vatican announced.

The Congregation for Divine Worship published a decree formalizing the decision June 10 along with an article explaining its significance.

St. Mary Magdalene is shown meditating on the crucifix in this painted wooden sculpture that is part of The Sacred Made Real exhibit in 2010 at the National Galley of Art in Washington. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

St. Mary Magdalene is shown meditating on the crucifix in this painted wooden sculpture that is part of The Sacred Made Real exhibit in 2010 at the National Galley of Art in Washington. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Both the decree and the article were titled “Apostolorum Apostola” (“Apostle of the Apostles”).

In the article for the Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the congregation, wrote that in celebrating “an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of Easter,” St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day is a call for all Christians to “reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy.”

“Pope Francis has taken this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to highlight the relevance of this woman who showed great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” Archbishop Roche wrote.

While most liturgical celebrations of individual saints during the year are known formally as memorials, those classified as feasts are reserved for important events in Christian history and for saints of particular significance, such as the Twelve Apostles.

In his apostolic letter “Dies Domini” (“The Lord’s Day”), St. John Paul II explained that the “commemoration of the saints does not obscure the centrality of Christ, but on the contrary extols it, demonstrating as it does the power of the redemption wrought by him.”

Preaching about St. Mary Magdalene, Pope Francis highlighted Christ’s mercy toward a woman who was “exploited and despised by those who believed they were righteous,” but she was loved and forgiven by him.

Her tears at Christ’s empty tomb are a reminder that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus,” the pope said April 2, 2013, during Mass in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis also mentions her specifically in the prayer he composed for the Year of Mercy: “Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured paradise to the repentant thief.”

Archbishop Roche explained that in giving St. Mary Magdalene the honor of being the first person to see the empty tomb and the first to listen to the truth of the resurrection, “Jesus has a special consideration and mercy for this woman, who manifests her love for him, looking for him in the garden with anguish and suffering.”

Drawing a comparison between Eve, who “spread death where there was life,” and St. Mary Magdalene, who “proclaimed life from the tomb, a place of death,” the archbishop said her feast day is a lesson for all Christians to trust in Christ who is “alive and risen.”

“It is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the general Roman calendar and highlights the special mission of this woman who is an example and model for every woman in the church.”

 

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Pope Benedict sees the yearning for mercy as a ‘sign of the times’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Although he lives a relatively hidden life in a villa in the Vatican Gardens, retired Pope Benedict XVI continues to study theological questions and, occasionally, to comment on them publicly.

Retired Pope Benedict XVI attends the Year of Mercy opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this Dec. 8, 2015. In a written interview, the retired pope commented on the theme of mercy. "Mercy is what moves us toward God, while justice makes us tremble in his sight, Pope Benedict said. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

Retired Pope Benedict XVI attends the Year of Mercy opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this Dec. 8, 2015. In a written interview, the retired pope commented on the theme of mercy. “Mercy is what moves us toward God, while justice makes us tremble in his sight, Pope Benedict said. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

The attention Pope Francis and many Christians are giving to the theme of divine mercy is a “sign of the times” that shows how, deep down, people still experience a need for God, the retired pope told Belgian Jesuit Father Jacques Servais in a written interview.

“Mercy is what moves us toward God, while justice makes us tremble in his sight,” Pope Benedict said in the interview published in mid-March.

Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the retired pope’s personal secretary, read Pope Benedict’s German text in October at a conference on the doctrine of justification and the experience of God. The retired pope approved the Italian translation of the text, which was published along with other papers presented at the conference.

The doctrine of justification, how people are made righteous in God’s eyes and saved by Jesus, was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, which will mark its 500th anniversary in 2017.

In the interview, Pope Benedict said, “For people today, unlike at the time of (Martin) Luther and from the classical perspective of the Christian faith, things have been turned upside down in a certain sense: Man no longer thinks he needs to be justified in God’s sight, but rather he is of the opinion that it is God who must justify himself because of all the horrendous things present in the world and in the face of human misery.”

Another sign of a strong change in general thinking that challenges at least medieval Christian thought, he said, is “the sensation that God cannot simply allow the perdition of the majority of humanity.”

Yet, Pope Benedict said, there still exists a general perception that “we need grace and pardon. For me it is one of the ‘signs of the times’ that the idea of God’s mercy is becoming increasingly central and dominant” in Christian thought.

St. Faustina Kowalska’s promotion of the divine mercy devotions in the early 1900s and the ministry and writings of St. John Paul II, “even if it did not always emerge in an explicit way,” both gave a strong push to a popular Christian focus on mercy and to theological explorations of the theme.

St. John Paul “affirmed that mercy is the only true and ultimately effective reaction against the power of evil. Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, only there do evil and violence stop,” said the retired pope, who worked closely with the Polish pope for decades.

“Pope Francis,” he said, “is in complete agreement with this line. His pastoral practice is expressed precisely in the fact that he speaks continuously of God’s mercy.””

The fact that so many people are open to that message, Pope Benedict said, shows that “under the patina of self-assurance” and a conviction of self-righteousness, “man today hides a deep awareness of his wounds and his lack of worthiness before God. He is waiting for mercy.”

Like Pope Francis, Pope Benedict urged a return to the sacrament of reconciliation. That is where, he said, “we let ourselves be molded and transformed by Christ and continually pass from the side of one who destroys to that of the one who saves.”

 

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God wants to save you; will you let him? pope asks

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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.

Pope Francis poses with U.N. troops from Argentina during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 3. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis poses with U.N. troops from Argentina during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 3. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“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.”

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Pope Francis: The church needs this Holy Year of Mercy

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church needs the extraordinary Holy Year to become an effective witness of God’s divine mercy, Pope Francis said.

“The jubilee is a favorable time for all of us, so that in contemplating divine mercy, which surpasses every human limitation and shines in the darkness of sin, we may become more convinced and effective witnesses,” the pope said Dec. 9 during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis presents a rose at an icon of Mary and the child Jesus as he begins his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 9. (CNS /Paul Haring)

Pope Francis presents a rose at an icon of Mary and the child Jesus as he begins his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 9. (CNS /Paul Haring)

One day after inaugurating the Year of Mercy, the pope dedicated his audience talk to the significance he hopes the year will have for the church saying that it is a time to experience the “sweet and gentle touch” of God’s forgiveness and his presence in difficult times.

“In short, this jubilee is a privileged moment,” he said, “so that the church may learn to choose only that which pleases God most”: forgiveness and mercy.

The Bible says that God saw the world, the planets and the animals he created and called them “good,” but when he looked at the man and woman he fashioned, he pronounced them “very good.”

The 4th-century doctor of the church “St. Ambrose would ask himself: ‘But why does it say very good? Why does it say that God is so happy after the creation of man and woman,’” the pope said. “In the end, it was because he had someone to forgive. This is beautiful! To forgive is God’s joy; the being of God is mercy. For this reason, in this year, we should open our hearts so that this love, this joy of God may fill us with this mercy.”

The work of reforming the church’s institutions and structures, he noted, also offers a living experience of God’s mercy that allows it to shine forth in the world. Without mercy, the pope said, any reform would be in vain because “we would become slaves of our institutions and our structures. No matter how renewed they may be, we would always be slaves.”

Only mercy can truly contribute to a “more human world,” the pope said, particularly at a time where forgiveness is “a rare guest in the areas of human life.” While some may believe that the church has more important objectives, he said, rediscovering divine mercy and forgiveness is essential to avoid falling into self-love, which can often be “disguised in Christian life as hypocrisy and worldliness.”

Pope Francis stressed the importance of recognizing one’s sins during the Holy Year in order to “strengthen within us the certainty of divine mercy.”

“’Lord, I am a sinner. Come with your mercy.’ This is beautiful prayer and it’s very easy to say every day. ‘Lord I am a sinner. Come with your mercy,’” he said.

 

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St. Hedwig’s celebrates Divine Mercy, St. John Paul II relic

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Dialog reporter

WILMINGTON – A busy and grace-filled week at St. Hedwig Church included a celebration of God’s mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday and a the opportunity to host a first-class relic of St. John Paul II for two days later in the week.

Hundreds of people gathered on April 12 for Divine Mercy Sunday, which included Mass and a procession around the Hedgeville neighborhood where the parish is located. Read more »

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