Pope Francis on True Religion

pope francisPope Francis warns us that true religion is not about spiritual escape. It’s about transformation. On the one hand, this means moral transformation – which Francis explains means learning true concern for others. On the other hand, it’s a spiritual transformation that discovers the reality of Christ.

As we approach Holy Week, let us think about being transformed by a true spirituality that follows Christ, and Him crucified.

Isolation, which is a version of immanentism, can find expression in a false autonomy which has no place for God. But in the realm of religion it can also take the form of a spiritual consumerism tailored to one’s own unhealthy individualism.

The return to the sacred and the quest for spirituality which mark our own time are ambiguous phenomena. Today, our challenge is not so much atheism as the need to respond adequately to many people’s thirst for God, lest they try to satisfy it with alienating solutions or with a disembodied Jesus who demands nothing of us with regard to others.

Unless these people find in the Church a spirituality which can offer healing and liberation, and fill them with life and peace, while at the same time summoning them to fraternal communion and missionary fruitfulness, they will end up by being taken in by solutions which neither make life truly human nor give glory to God.

Genuine forms of popular religiosity are incarnate, since they are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture. For this reason they entail a personal relationship, not with vague spiritual energies or powers, but with God, with Christ, with Mary, with the saints. These devotions are fleshy, they have a face. They are capable of fostering relationships and not just enabling escapism. In other parts of our society, we see the growing attraction to various forms of a “spirituality of well-being” divorced from any community life, or to a “theology of prosperity” detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters, or to depersonalized experiences which are nothing more than a form of self-centredness.

–Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis on the Preferential Option for the Poor

pope francisIn his charter for evangelization Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that true love means reaching out to those who have nothing to offer us in return. Consider the power for conversion – for our own, and for those who witness us – when we reach out in acts of truly disinterested love. Consider the counter-witness we give when we do not. How does we present the Church when we only love those who make our life more comfortable?

 

Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth. But the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.

Pope Francis Delivers First 'Urbi Et Orbi' Blessing During Easter Mass In St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis embraces Dominic Gondreau, March 31, 2013. Photo Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images News/Getty Images.

It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others.

 

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis on Christ’s Poverty

pope francisPope Francis’s Lenten messages asks us to consider the poverty of Christ. It is good to meditate on Christ’s love for us – and to learn from his example what it means to love others.

By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says “that by his poverty you might become rich”. This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross. God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety.

Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery. It is striking that the Apostle states that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Yet Saint Paul is well aware of the “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8), that he is “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2).

So what is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us? It is his way of loving us, his way of being our neighbour, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man left half dead by the side of the road.

–Pope Francis, Message for Lent, 2014

Pope Francis on Lenten Poverty

pope francisIn his message for Lent, Pope Francis asks us to think of Lenten penance in terms of poverty and true riches. We give up what doesn’t matter in order to remember what does truly matter: “For there is more to life than food, and more to the body than clothing” (Luke 12:23):

Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all: Jesus’ wealth is that of his boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to him. Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and who loves its parents, without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant.

Jesus’ wealth lies in his being the Son; his unique relationship with the Father is the sovereign prerogative of this Messiah who is poor. When Jesus asks us to take up his “yoke which is easy”, he asks us to be enriched by his “poverty which is rich” and his “richness which is poor”, to share his filial and fraternal Spirit, to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother (cf. Rom 8:29).

It has been said that the only real regret lies in not being a saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.

–Pope Francis, Lenten message 2014

Pope Francis on the Holiness of the Church

pope francisIn the Creed, after professing: “I believe in one Church”, we add the adjective “holy”; we affirm the sanctity of the Church, and this is a characteristic that has been present from the beginning in the consciousness of early Christians, who were simply called “the holy people” (cf. Acts 9:13, 32, 41; Rom 8:27; 1 Cor 6:1), because they were certain that it is the action of God, the Holy Spirit that sanctifies the Church.

You could say to me: but the Church is made up of sinners, we see them everyday. And this is true: we are a Church of sinners – and we sinners are called to let ourselves be transformed, renewed, sanctified by God.

There has been in history the temptation for some to say: the Church is only the Church of the pure, the perfectly consistent, and expels all the rest. This is not true! This is heresy! The Church, that is holy, does not reject sinners; she does not reject us all; she does not reject because she calls everyone, welcomes them, is open even to those furthest from her, she calls everyone to allow themselves to be enfolded by the mercy, the tenderness and the forgiveness of the Father, who offers everyone the possibility of meeting him, of journeying toward sanctity.

“Well! Father, I am a sinner, I have tremendous sins, how can I possibly feel part of the Church?” Dear brother, dear sister, this is exactly what the Lord wants, that you say to him: “Lord, here I am, with my sins”. Is one of you here without sin? Anyone? No one, not one of us. We all carry our sins with us. But the Lord wants to hear us say to him: “Forgive me, help me to walk, change my heart!”.

And the Lord can change your heart. In the Church, the God we encounter is not a merciless judge, but like the Father in the Gospel parable. You may be like the son who left home, who sank to the depths, farthest from the Gospel. When you have the strength to say: I want to come home, you will find the door open. God will come to meet you because he is always waiting for you, God is always waiting for you, God embraces you, kisses you and celebrates. That is how the Lord is, that is how the tenderness of our Heavenly Father is.

The Lord wants us to belong to a Church that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone, that is not a house for the few, but a house for everyone, where all can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love, the strongest and the weakest, sinners, the indifferent, those who feel discouraged or lost. The Church offers all the possibility of following a path of holiness, that is the path of the Christian: she brings us to encounter Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, especially in Confession and in the Eucharist; she communicates the Word of God to us, she lets us live in charity, in the love of God for all.

Let us ask ourselves then, will we let ourselves be sanctified? Are we a Church that calls and welcomes sinners with open arms, that gives courage and hope, or are we a Church closed in on herself? Are we a Church where the love of God dwells, where one cares for the other, where one prays for the others?

–General Audience, Wednesday, 2 October, 2013

Pope Francis on Holiness

pope francisA final question: what can I, a weak fragile sinner, do?

God says to you: do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to let yourself be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us be infected by the holiness of God. Every Christian is called to sanctity (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, nn. 19-42); and sanctity does not consist especially in doing extraordinary things, but in allowing God to act.

It is the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, it is having faith in his action that allows us to live in charity, to do everything with joy and humility, for the glory of God and as a service to our neighbour.

There is a celebrated saying by the French writer Léon Bloy, who in the last moments of his life, said: “The only real sadness in life is not becoming a saint”. Let us not lose the hope of holiness, let us follow this path. Do we want to be saints?

The Lord awaits us, with open arms; he waits to accompany us on the path to sanctity. Let us live in the joy of our faith, let us allow ourselves to be loved by the Lord… let us ask for this gift from God in prayer, for ourselves and for others.

–Pope Francis, Wednesday General Audience, Oct. 2, 2013

Leo XIII on Evangelizing the Poor

Today Pope Francis released a major new document, the biggest so far of his pontificate, on Evangelization. He has a lot to say about poverty and our response to it. Perhaps this is a good time to share an interesting passage from a papal document from 130 years ago.

Something I have noticed in my study of papal teaching is what seems like a great distance between our pastoral strategies and priorities today and more traditional ones. Today it feels like we assume the only people worth evangelizing are the rich and powerful. We are very interested, for example, in campus ministry (according to the US Census, about 16.5% of Americans over the age of 25 have attended some college; about 7.7% have graduated), but not so interested in the inner city or blue-collar people. Outreach to lawyers is alive and well; the parish Holy Name Society is completely neglected. Good priests go to rich parishes. Catholic labor unions are less than a distant memory. That, I believe, is a rejection of Catholic tradition.

I like the following paragraphs from Pope Leo XIII because of all the forms of communities he names. Concrete pastoral ideas for a Church that cares about people who aren’t rich and powerful. I only add that there are an awful lot of ideas like this, including in more recent papal documents – we just choose to ignore them:

 

“Awaken the sleeping, stimulate the hesitating; by your example and your authority train them all to fulfill with constancy and courage the duties which are the Christian life in action.

And in order to maintain and develop this revived courage, means must be taken to promote the growth, multiplication, harmony, and fruitfulness of Associations the principal object of which should be to preserve and excite zeal for the Christian faith and other virtues. Such are the associations of young men and of workmen; such are the committees organized by Catholics, and meeting periodically; such are the institutions destined to relieve poverty, to protect the sanctification of festival days, to instruct the children of the poor, and several others of the same kind.”

-Leo XIII, Etsi nos, 1882

Pope Francis on Gossip

Pope Francis preaches against gossip a lot. This is a nice example of how, as in yesterday’s meditation on the Sunday readings, we can prepare for Christ’s coming. Below a summary of one such homily, from Vatican Radio.

 

“There is no such thing as innocent gossip,” Pope Francis tells us in his homily at today’s morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, according to Vatican Radio.

Francis is reflecting on today’s Gospel (Luke 6:39-42), the one in which Jesus uses the analogy of a “splinter in your brother’s eye” to warn his followers against the hypocrisy of judging others without first judging themselves. “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye,” Jesus says.

In his morning homily, Francis admonishes us to avoid gossip, calling it a “criminal” act that is no different than the act of murder that Cain committed against his brother, Abel.

“It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord,” the pope says. “And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. And every time we do this, we are imitating that gesture of Cain, the first murderer in history.”

Francis urges us to refrain from gossiping about another person, instead says we should “go and pray for him! Go and do penance for her! And then, if it is necessary, speak to that person who may be able to seek remedy for the problem.”

“We ask for grace so that we and the entire church may convert from the crime of gossip to love, to humility, to meekness, to docility, to the generosity of love towards our neighbor,” he says.

Pope Francis on the “culture of waste”

“A widespread utilitarian mentality, the “culture of waste”, which now enslaves the hearts and minds of many, has a very high cost: it requires the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker. Our response to this mentality is a categorical and unhesitant “yes” to life. “The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental – the condition of all the others.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, November 18, 1974 , 11) . Things have a price and are sold, but people have a dignity, worth more than things and they don’t have a price. Many times we find ourselves in situations where we see that which costs less is life. Because of this, attention to human life in its totality has become a real priority of the Magisterium of the Church in recent years, particularly to the most defenseless, that is, the disabled, the sick, the unborn child, the child, the elderly who are life’s most defenseless.

“Each one of us is invited to recognize in the fragile human being the face of the Lord, who, in his human flesh, experienced the indifference and loneliness to which we often condemn the poorest, either in the developing nations, or in the developed societies. Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world. And also each old person – I spoke of the child, let us also speak of the elderly, another point! – each old person, even if infirm or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the “culture of waste” proposes! They cannot be discarded!”

–Pope Francis, Address to the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and Catholic Gynecologists, Sept. 20, 2013

Pope Francis on the Harmony of Creation

“Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also ‘violence, division, disagreement, war’. This occurs when man, the summit of creation, stops contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraws into his own selfishness.

“When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests, and places himself in the center, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. . . .

“Can we say this: that from harmony he passes to ‘disharmony’? No, there is no such thing as ‘disharmony’; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear.

“It is exactly in this chaos that God asks man’s conscience: “Where is Abel your brother?” and Cain responds: ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’. We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a metamorphosis occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters.”

–Pope Francis, vigil for peace, Sept. 7, 2013

Read the entire homily here.