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‘Is my dad in heaven,’ little boy asks Pope Francis

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ROME — After circling a massive, crumbling public housing complex on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis had an emotional encounter with the neighborhood’s children.

Question-and-answer sessions with youngsters are a standard part of Pope Francis’ parish visits. And, at St. Paul of the Cross parish April 15, there were the usual questions like, “How did you feel when you were elected pope?” Read more »

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Nothing can keep God from seeking those who stray, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — There is no such thing as a soul that is lost forever, only people who are waiting to be found, Pope Francis said.

God is not part of humanity’s “throwaway culture” and does not shut out the sinner and those most in need, the pope said May 4 during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Because of his immense love for everyone, God takes the illogical step of leaving his faithful flock behind in the harsh desert to seek out the one who has gone missing, he told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope reflected on the Gospel parable of the good shepherd, which, he said, reflects Jesus’ concern for sinners and God’s commitment to never give up on anyone.

Jesus uses the parable to explain how “his closeness to sinners must not scandalize, but, on the contrary, encourage everyone to seriously reflect on how we live our faith,” the pope said.

The parable, he said, responds to the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, who “were proud, arrogant, believed themselves just,” and, therefore, became suspicious or shocked seeing Jesus welcome and eat with sinners.

The parable according to the Gospel of Luke begins, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?”

The query, the pope said, introduces a paradox that questions how smart this shepherd could be when he abandons his precious flock, not in a safe pen, but in the dangerous desert just for one sheep.

“He could have reasoned, ‘Well, let’s look at the numbers: I have 99, I lost one, oh well,’” the pope said. But, “no. He goes looking for it because everyone is very important to him and that (sheep) is the one most in need, the most abandoned, the most rejected and he goes out to find it.”

The story might make people think that the good shepherd doesn’t care about the ones he leaves behind, the pope said, “But in actuality it’s not like that. The lesson Jesus wants to give us instead is that no sheep can be lost. The Lord cannot resign himself to the fact that even one single person may be lost.”

God’s desire to save all his children is so “unstoppable, not even 99 sheep can hold the shepherd back and keep him locked up in the pen.”

“We are all forewarned — mercy toward sinners is the way God works” and “nothing and no one will be able to take away his will of salvation” for all of humanity, the pope said.

“God doesn’t know our current throwaway culture,” he said. “God throws nobody away. God loves everyone, seeks out everyone, everybody, one by one.”

The parable shows how everything depends on the shepherd and his willingness to look for the lost ones.

But it also tells the faithful flock that they will always be on the move, that they “do not possess the Lord, they cannot fool themselves keeping him imprisoned in our mindset and game plans,” Pope Francis said.

“The shepherd will be found where the lost sheep is,” he said, and it is up to the flock to follow the shepherd’s same journey of mercy so all 100 may be reunited again and rejoice.

The church needs to reflect often on the parable of the lost sheep, he said, because there is always someone who has strayed from the fold.

Sometimes seeing that empty place at the table, the pope said, “is discouraging and makes us believe that the loss is inevitable, an illness without a cure. And then we run the risk of closing ourselves up in the pen where there will be no smell of sheep, but the stink of stale air.”

Christians, he said, must never have the musty smell of confinement, which happens when a parish or community loses its missionary zeal and cuts itself off from others, seeing itself as “we, quote unquote, the righteous.”

Christians must understand that in Jesus’ eyes, no one is ever lost for good; there “are only sheep that must be found.” God waits up until the very end, like he did for the good thief, who repented before he died on the cross next to Jesus, the pope said.

No distance is too far to keep the shepherd away, and “no flock can give up on a brother” because the joy of finding what was lost belongs both to the faithful and the shepherd, he said.

“We are all sheep who have been found again and welcomed by the Lord’s mercy, called to gather the whole flock together with him,” Pope Francis said.

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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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Pope says church doesn’t want ‘dirty money’ from benefactors who exploit workers

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Speaking out against exploitation and unfair wages for workers, Pope Francis told benefactors to forget about donating money to the church if their earnings came from mistreating others.

“Please, take your check back and burn it,” he said to applause.

Pope Francis, 'dirty money', exploit workers, general audience, take check back, burn it,

Students from the Austrian program of Franciscan University of Steubenville react as Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The people of God, that is, the church, don’t need dirty money. They need hearts that are open to God’s mercy,” the pope said March 2 during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

God wants people to turn away from evil and do what is just, not cover up their sins with gestures of sacrifice, he said.

Just as God derives no pleasure from “the blood of bulls and lambs” slaughtered in his name, he is especially averse to offerings from hands dirty with the blood of another human being.

“I think of some church benefactors who come with an offering,” he said, and sometimes that offering is “fruit of the blood of many people, who are exploited, mistreated, enslaved by poorly paid work.”

The pope said he would tell these donors to go away because God wants sinners “with purified hands” who have changed course, avoid evil and work for what is good and just, like aiding the oppressed and defending the weak.

“I am thinking of many, many refugees who are landing in Europe and don’t know where to go,” he said.

At his general audience, the pope continued a series of talks dedicated to the Year of Mercy by focusing on how God is able to unconditionally love, beseech and correct his sinning children.

Just like the father of a family, God cares for his people by teaching them, guiding them to freely choose the good and help others, and correcting them when they make a mistake.

The prophet Isaiah presents God as an “affectionate, but also an alert and strict father,” the pope said.

God points out the infidelity and corruption of his people, and shows his bitterness and disappointment in order to help them recognize their sin and “bring them back to the path of justice,” he said.

“Even though he is hurt, God lets love do the talking and he appeals to the conscience of these degenerate children so they mend their ways and let themselves be loved again,” the pope said.

One role parents have is to help their children use their freedom responsibly, but it is human sin which causes people to see freedom as a “pretense for autonomy, for pride,” and pride leads to conflict and “the illusion of self-sufficiency.”

People belong to God as his children, and as such, should live in loving, trusting obedience, recognizing that “everything is a gift that comes from the father’s love,” he said.

Pope Francis said refusing God and his paternity renders life rootless, bare and unlivable.

“The consequence of sin, he said, is a state of suffering,” which also serves to help people become accountable and face “the desolate emptiness” of choosing death over life.

“Suffering, the inevitable consequence of a self-destructive decision, must make the sinner reflect in order to open him or her up to conversion and forgiveness,” Pope Francis said.

For the God of mercy and love, “punishment becomes an instrument to stimulate reflection,” he said. God “always leaves the door of hope open,” patiently waiting for the moment the sinner is ready to listen and convert.

The road to salvation, therefore, isn’t ritual sacrifice, it is doing what is right and just in the eyes of God, he said.

Ritual sacrifice is condemned because, “instead of showing conversion, it claims to replace it,” he said, “creating the deceptive belief that sacrifices are what save, not the divine mercy that forgives sins.”

Just as people go see the doctor when they are ill, people who are afflicted with the debilitating effects of sin should turn to God — not a “witch doctor” or other false and mistaken paths. Only God offers true healing.

No matter what people have done, God never disowns or turns anyone away, he said. Even “the evilest person” in the world will always be one of his children, the pope said.

“He will always say, ‘Child, come.’ And this is our father’s love and this is God’s mercy. Having a father like this gives us hope and faith,” he said.

Freely and forever, God will always turn the gravest of sins, “white as snow,” the pope said. “This is the miracle of God’s love.”

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Vatican panel calls violence ‘greatest corruption of religion’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Violence is the “greatest corruption of religion,” while belief in a single God is the “principle and source of love between human beings,” says a new study by a Vatican advisory panel of theologians.

“God, the Trinity, and the Unity of Humanity” was released Jan. 16 by the International Theological Commission, a group appointed by the pope to advise the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document argued against the idea that monotheism inevitably gives rise to religiously inspired violence.

The 55-page document was prepared by a 10-member subcommittee that included Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. It was approved by Cardinal-designate Gerhard Muller, head of the doctrinal congregation.

The document responds to arguments positing “an intrinsic link between monotheism and violence” and says such arguments reflect a “number of misunderstandings” of “authentic Christian thought about the one God.”

The very category of monotheism is “too generic,” the authors argue, since it does not distinguish among the different traditions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

The document also objects to what it calls a “cultural simplification that reduces the alternatives to a choice between a necessarily violent monotheism and a presumptively tolerant polytheism.”

The Bible contains a number of instances of “violence that involve God directly or indirectly,” the authors acknowledge. Examples include God’s destruction of the world in the great flood, and of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire, as well as several occasions when God orders the Israelites to exterminate armies or conquered cities as sacrifices to him.

While it rejects any interpretations that oppose a “bad God of the Old Testament and a good God of the New Testament,” the document notes that the Hebrew Scriptures were written for a tribal culture “profoundly intertwined with the ethos, intolerably violent for us, of an archaic-sacral conception of honor and sacrifice, of conflict and reprisal, of war and conquest.”

Moreover, the authors argue, the contrasting portrayals of violence in the Scriptures demonstrate the historical evolution of attitudes toward violence, “with the prospect of progressively overcoming it” through faith in God.

“The event of Jesus Christ, which universally manifests the love of God, enables the religious justification of violence to be neutralized,” the document argues. “The death and resurrection of Christ (are) the key to the reconciliation of human beings.”

The authors draw a link between Trinitarian love and the harmony of society: Through the sacraments, men and women become children of God and brothers and sisters to each other, achieving a spiritual unity that promotes a “human culture of social ties and the overcoming of enmity among peoples.”

Violence that appears religiously inspired is often really driven by economic and political interests that exploit faith and tend to malign religion in the name of a false humanism, the document argues.

Yet the authors warn that religion is constantly in need of purification, lest it yield to the “temptation of trading divine might for temporal power, which in the end takes the road of violence.”

The document is available in Italian, along with an introduction in English and other languages, at the website of the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica, which ordinarily publishes the Italian versions of the commission’s documents.

 

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