Wednesday, January 13, 2016

With His New Book, Pope Francis Unlocks the Door

Pope Francis meets with people involved in the publishing of  "The Name of God Is Mercy" at the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican Jan. 11. The book features an interview the pope did with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis meets with people involved in the publishing of “The Name of God Is Mercy” at the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican Jan. 11. The book features an interview the pope did with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

By James Carroll

A book on mercy might be expected to be a warm bath in kindliness, all sweetness and light, but Pope Francis, in “The Name of God Is Mercy,” offers a tough-minded reflection on an urgently needed public virtue, together with firm, if kindly, pushback against his critics.
The Pope’s now mythic line—“Who am I to judge?”—endeared him to many who long for humane authority, but it alarmed those who worry that the traditional center of religious and social order cannot hold. (Who are you to judge? You’re the Pope, that’s who!) That the question was asked in the context of an apparent tolerance of homosexuality made it especially threatening to the culture warriors, for whom gay rights is a flash point. Was the Pope yielding on a point of doctrine? Indeed, was doctrine at risk in his seeming openness to readmitting the divorced and remarried to Communion, or in his refusal to give due emphasis to other touchstone issues of sexual morality? Was there, in the Times columnist Ross Douthat’s incendiary phrase, a “plot to change Catholicism”?
Not that Francis equates himself with Jesus. What makes his book most moving is the way in which this man, without disrespecting his own privacy or offering false bromides of modesty (what Douthat derides as “ostentatious humility”), opens the sacred space of his conscience to explain how he came to center his ministry, and now his papacy, around mercy. “The Pope is a man who needs the mercy of God,” he tells Tornielli. “I said it sincerely to the prisoners of Palmasola, in Bolivia.” Palmasola is the infamous, vastly overcrowded, and hyper-violent penitentiary that Francis visited last July. “Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: why them and not me?” he says. “I should be here. I deserve to be here.”
In “The Name of God Is Mercy,” Pope Francis lets us see how he came to be the man he is. His most profound and shaping instruction, he says, occurred on the priest’s side of the confessional screen, where he was long entrusted with litanies of suffering, failure, despair, and sin. “When I heard confessions, I always thought about myself, about my own sins, and about my need for mercy, and so I tried to forgive a great deal,” he says. This was what he calls “the gift of confession,” and it was transforming. When he was a parish priest in Argentina, he tells Tornielli, a woman he knew “had to prostitute herself to provide her children with food.” He made sure that she and her children received gifts at Christmastime, but when the woman came to thank him, it was not for that. Rather, she explained that she was grateful “because you never stopped calling me ‘Señora.’ ”
“As a confessor, even when I have found myself before a locked door, I have always tried to find a crack, just a tiny opening, so that I can pry open that door and grant forgiveness and mercy,” Francis says. His new book comes out toward the start of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which he inaugurated in December, in a centuries-old ritual, by unlocking the ceremonial Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Church of which Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope, nearly three years ago, was itself a locked door. As Francis, he has, exactly, found a “tiny opening.” He is pushing, and, to universal surprise, the door is beginning to swing open.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Francis lays out case for mercy in 1st book as pope

  • VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis lays out his case for emphasizing the merciful face of the Catholic Church in his first book as pontiff, saying God never tires of forgiving and actually prefers the sinners who repent over self-righteous moralizers who don't.
    "The Name of God Is Mercy," a 100-page conversation with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, is being published this week in 86 countries to help kick-start Francis' Holy Year of Mercy. A copy was provided in advance to The Associated Press on Sunday.
    In the book, Francis condemns what he calls the "scholars of law" — the doctrinaire-minded rigorists who throughout the history of the church have challenged Jesus' message of unconditional love and mercy for even the most wretched of sinners. He says often these self-righteous Christians are hypocrites themselves, using the law to hide their own "deep wounds."
    "These are men who live attached to the letter of the law but who neglect love; men who only know how to close doors and draw boundaries," Francis is quoted as saying.
    Francis has rankled many conservatives with his frequent dismissals of theological and legalistic arguments stressing doctrine over his more pastoral message of welcome and mercy for society's most marginal. The clash in approaches has been particularly evident in recent church debates over marriage and divorce.
    "We must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother's eye while remaining unaware of the beam in his own," Francis says. "Let us always remember that God rejoices more when one sinner returns to the fold than when 99 righteous people have no need of repentance."
    In the book, Francis insists that his now-infamous "Who am I to judge" comment about gays was merely a repetition of the church's teaching on homosexuality. Francis won praise from gays with the comment, uttered during his first press conference in 2013. But many conservatives have criticized the remark as vague and incomplete since church teaching also holds that gay acts are "intrinsically disordered."
    Francis says the church has long held that gays should be treated with dignity and respect and seen as individuals. And he goes to some length throughout the text to cite scripture and previous popes to make clear that his radical agenda is fully rooted in the church's basic teachings.
    "People should not be defined only by their sexual tendancies: Let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love," he says. "I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together. You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it."
    Francis has made clear from the start of his pontificate that his would be a papacy focused on mercy, and he called a jubilee year to emphasize it. Throughout the book, Francis refers repeatedly to his own ministry to prostitutes and prisoners in Argentina, showing how his own personal encounters with society's outcasts have shaped his view about the faith and formed the bedrock of his papacy.
    But Francis' opening isn't a free-for-all: He says of course prisons can't throw their doors open and let violent criminals out onto the streets. But he says once a debt is paid, prisoners must be reintegrated back into society and welcomed. And he distinguishes between ordinary and even repeat sinners and those who are corrupt, saying corruption is a condition, a state of life and often a hypocritical one incompatible with Christianity.
    "The corrupt man often doesn't realize his own condition, much as a person with bad breath doesn't know they have it," he says.
    Some conservatives have balked at Francis' mercy-over-morals priorities, saying it has sent confusing messages to the faithful especially after two previous popes spent so much time stressing doctrine. Even some cardinals have called on Francis to make clear-cut policy statements on certain hot-button issues, especially on the divisive question of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.
    Church teaching holds that, if these Catholics are living in sin, they cannot receive the sacraments.
    Francis launched a two-year study on the issue and other matters related to Catholic family life, and is expected to weigh in this year with a document on whether any accommodation can be found.
    In the book, Francis doesn't commit himself one way or the other, but he indicated that his ultimate decision may draw on a personal experience.
    Francis recounts that one of his nieces wanted to marry a man who had children from a previous marriage but hadn't yet obtained an annulment, a church decree that his first marriage was null.
    The couple got married in a civil ceremony and went on to have three children. Francis recalls that every Sunday when they went to Mass the man went to confession and told the priest that he knew he couldn't be absolved from the sin of adultery, but he asked for a blessing.
    "This is a religiously mature man," Francis said.
    Progressives, led by the German bishops, have said such religiously mature Catholics should be allowed to participate fully in the life of the church, including receiving the sacraments.
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    Taken from:

    Friday, January 8, 2016

    Prodigal Son. Pope Francis Explains

    Pope Francis: when you say ‘love,’ do you really know what it means?

    by Elise Harris

    .- Love was the center of Pope Francis’ second daily homily after taking a break for Christmas – he said the word has become so casual that we no longer know exactly what we mean when we say it.
    “This word ‘love’ is a word that is used so many times and when we use it we don’t know exactly what it means. What is love?” the Pope said during his Jan. 8 daily Mass in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse.
    It was his second daily Mass after taking a break during the Christmas holiday season. At yesterday’s Mass, the Pope dedicated his homily to the topic of mercy.
    He focused today’s reflections on the passage in the First Letter of St. John when the apostle tells his readers that “God is love.”
    At times, the Pope said, we can think real love is the kind we see in soap operas, “but that doesn’t appear to be love.”
    For others, love can seem like having a crush on someone, but that feeling eventually fades away, he noted, and asked where the source of true love can be found.
    “Whoever loves has been created by God because God is love,” he said, and cautioned against a mistaken notion that “Every love is God. No, God is love.”
    Francis went on to describe how God is the one who loved us first. The Apostle John provides numerous examples of this in the Gospel, he said, pointing specifically to Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish and to the parable of the Prodigal Son as examples.
    “When we have something on our mind and we want to ask God to forgive us, it’s he who is waiting for us – to forgive us,” the Pope said, explaining that the current Jubilee of Mercy is a means of being assured that “our Lord is waiting for us, each one of us.”
    The reason, he said, is “to embrace us. Nothing more. To say to us: son, daughter, I love you. I let my Son be crucified for you: this is the price of my love, this is the gift of my love.”
    Pope Francis then noted how God is waiting for us to open the doors of our hearts to him, and said that we must have the certainty that God waits for us as we are, not as we are told we ought to be.
    He encouraged attendees to go to the Lord and tell him how much they love him. If a person feels that they are unable to say that, Francis told them instead to say something to the effect of “you know Lord that I would like to love you but I am such a bad sinner.”
    When God hears this, the Pope said, “he will do the same as he did with the prodigal son who squandered all his money on vices: he won’t let you finish your speech and with an embrace will silence you. The embrace of God’s love.”


    Wednesday, January 6, 2016

    “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews?”

    Pope Francis: Church doesn’t shine with its own light

    2016-01-06 Vatican Radio
    (Vatican Radio) In his homily at Mass celebrating the solemnity of the Epiphany, Pope Francis said the Church is called to be a missionary Church and announcing Christ is not a profession and nor is it about proselytism. He said the Church cannot delude herself that she shines with her own light but instead draws her brightness from the light of Christ.
    Please find below a translation in English of Pope Francis’ prepared remarks for his homily at the Mass in St Peter’s Basilica celebrating the solemnity of the Epiphany:
    The words of the Prophet Isaiah – addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem – are also meant for us.  They call us to go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendour of the light which illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1).  That “light” is the glory of the Lord.  The Church cannot delude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light.  Saint Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church… [she] shines not with her own light, but with the light of Christ.  She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Hexaemeron, IV, 8, 32).  Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples.  For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the mysterium lunae.
    We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received.  To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession.  For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it.  There is no other way.  Mission is her vocation.  How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ.  They need to know the face of the Father.
    The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father.  The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God.  Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity.  The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman.  Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart” which continues to seek without finding sure answers.  They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.
    How many stars there are in the sky!  And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly.  They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions, and at long last the light appeared.  That star changed them.  It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey.  They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light.  The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.
    All this has something to say to us today.  We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Mt 2:2).  We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will.   We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother.  Let us follow the light which God offers us!  The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity.  And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love.  Let us recognize that true wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child.  It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up.  For here is the wellspring of that light which draws to itself every individual and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace.
    (from Vatican Radio)

    Tuesday, January 5, 2016

    Jesus: “I have revealed to you the whole ocean of my mercy”.

    7 ways that St. Faustina is influencing Pope Francis on mercy

    The Holy Year of Mercy has at its core a figure straight out of the St. John Paul II playbook

    By John L. Allen Jr.
    Associate editor January 4, 2016
    ROME — Because Pope Benedict XVI was seen as a man of tradition, it was often easy to miss the innovative aspects of his papacy. In equal-and-opposite fashion, because Pope Francis is seen as a maverick, it’s tempting to overlook the various ways he stands in continuity with his predecessors.
    Yet Francis’ signature initiative — probably the thing he would tell you he’s been building toward from the beginning, his Holy Year of Mercy — has at its core a figure straight out of the St. John Paul II playbook.
    In fact, there’s a woman behind the pontiff’s jubilee: St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun who launched the worldwide Divine Mercy devotion.

    Faustina was an early 20th century mystic who belonged to an order called The Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. She reported a series of visions, captured in her 700-page diary, in which she said Jesus told her to spread devotion to his mercy under the motto, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
    Growing up in Krakow, the young Karol Wojtyla was fascinated that this message of mercy arose in Poland between the two World Wars. Later, as John Paul II, the Polish pope would beatify and canonize Faustina, and he also established a feast of Divine Mercy for the first Sunday after Easter — another request that Faustina said came straight from Jesus.
    It’s true that Francis has not talked much about Faustina out loud in connection with his Year of Mercy, leading some devotees to wonder if she’s in danger of becoming the “forgotten woman” of the jubilee.

    Yet upon closer examination, it seems clear that her fingerprints are all over it. Consider the following seven indications of her influence on Francis and his thinking about mercy.
    1. Papal bull
    When Francis issued a formal papal bull decreeing his holy year, titled Misericordiae Vultus, he chose to do so on April 11, 2015 — the vigil of the feast of Divine Mercy, the observance directly associated with Faustina.
    “May she, who was called to enter the depths of divine mercy, intercede for us and obtain for us the grace of living and walking always according to the mercy of God and with an unwavering trust in his love,” he wrote.
    2. Programmatic line
    Looking back, it seems clear that the programmatic line for Francis’ jubilee came during his first airborne news conference returning from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.
    Although he was asked specifically about Communion for the divorced and remarried, he gave a broad reply about the importance of mercy. He said he believes the present era is a “kairos” of mercy, using an evocative Greek New Testament term that means a privileged moment in God’s plan of salvation.
    In the next breath, Francis cited John Paul II and Faustina.
    “But John Paul II had the first intuition of this,” he said, “when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy …. He had intuited that this was a need in our time.”

    3. “Ocean of Mercy”
    In his homily for this year’s New Year’s Day Mass, marking his first public utterance of 2016, Francis argued that alongside a “torrent of misery” in the contemporary world, there is also an oft-overlooked “ocean of mercy.”
    Though he didn’t explicitly cite Faustina, he easily could have. “Ocean of mercy” is one of her signature phrases, appearing in her diary a robust 16 times.
    Here’s a classic for-instance, in this case from one of her visions of Jesus: “I have revealed to you the whole ocean of my mercy,” she reports Jesus saying. “I seek and desire souls like yours, but they are few.”
    In another place, Faustina writes that “during Holy Mass, I was given knowledge of the heart of Jesus and of the nature of the fire of love with which he burns for us … he is an ocean of mercy.”
    4. Poland trip
    At least in terms of crowd size and the magnitude of the event, the highlight of Pope Francis’ jubilee year isn’t likely to come in Rome. Instead it’s likely to be in Krakow in late July, when Francis travels there to lead the Church’s World Youth Day.
    Obviously, the legacy of John Paul II and Faustina will be front-and-center throughout that trip.
    To make sure no one misses the point, Francis signed off on making John Paul II and Faustina the co-patrons of World Youth Day, referring to them both as “apostles of divine mercy.” The outing shapes as an homage by Francis to Faustina and the pope who canonized her, and one can expect him to reflect on the Divine Mercy devotion at length.

    5. The “misericordina”
    On Nov. 17, 2013, Francis used his typical Sunday Angelus address to do something more customary in TV infomercials: He hawked a prescription drug, even having people hand out samples in St. Peter’s Square.
    Only the “drug,” in this case, wasn’t actually from a pharmacy, even though it was made up to look that way. Instead it was a small packet containing a rosary, the Divine Mercy image with the motto “Jesus, I trust in you,” and instructions for use. Italians call it the misericordina, a play on the word for mercy.
    “It’s a spiritual medicine,” the pope told the crowd that day. “Don’t forget to take it, because it’s good for you, it’s good for your heart, your soul, and your whole life.”

    6. Roman priests
    In March 2014, Francis held a session with priests of Rome in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall, saying he wanted to devote it to the theme of mercy. He spoke at length about John Paul II and Faustina.
    “In his homily for the canonization, which took place in 2000, John Paul II emphasized that the message of Jesus Christ to Sister Faustina is located, in time, between the two World Wars and is intimately tied to the history of the 20th century,” Francis said, going on to quote several passages from the homily.
    In a key line, Francis said, “Today we forget everything far too quickly … but we cannot forget the great content, the great intuitions and gifts that have been left to the People of God. And Divine Mercy is one of these.”
    In retrospect, it seems a clear hint that Francis understands his jubilee of mercy as an extension of that “intuition and gift.”

    7. Francis in Cuba
    When Pope Francis traveled to Cuba just before heading to the United States last September, he chose “messenger of mercy” as the motto for the outing, making it something of a preview of his jubilee.
    He said Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square on Sept. 20, and commentators noted the irony that alongside the towering images of Che Guevara and José Martí that dominate the space, there was also a large image of Jesus that was put up for the day.
    What was less commented upon, however, was the nature of that depiction: It was the Divine Mercy image, with the motto “Jesus, I trust in you” in Spanish.

    An earthier brand of mercy
    Granted, the approach Francis takes to the theme of mercy is not simply a photocopy of Faustina’s.
    Hers was a highly spiritual version of mercy, focused on compassion for lost souls and people suffering under the weight of sin. Francis’ brand of mercy is earthier, insisting on finding expression in concrete acts of solidarity with the poor, with migrants and refugees, with prisoners, and other victims of what he calls a “throwaway culture.”
    That’s why one could make a strong case that the other woman behind the pope’s jubilee is Mother Teresa, and it’s probably no accident that her canonization also seems likely to take place during the year, perhaps in early September.
    Yet these are questions of emphasis, not contradiction. Francis certainly would acknowledge that one does not have to be poor to need mercy, and it’s not as if Faustina was blind to the social gospel; the order she joined in Poland, after all, was devoted to helping troubled women, including unwed mothers and prostitutes.
    Make no mistake: Francis is a change agent in many respects. But when it comes to his jubilee of mercy, he’s not reinventing the wheel; he’s giving a new push to a wheel that started rolling with a Polish nun and was sped up by a Polish pope.
    As a final note, Francis would no doubt also say that Faustina offers a classic illustration of his oft-stated argument that women in Catholicism don’t have to be ordained priests in order to exercise influence.
    It’s entirely possible that by the end of the jubilee, it’ll be like a hockey game with three stars of the game acknowledged: Francis, who called it; Faustina, who inspired it, and Mother Teresa, who provided its model for mercy-in-action.
    In other words, the female contribution may actually trump that of the male. If so, that’s something in which a pope who’s repeatedly vowed to seek greater roles for women in the Church may find food for thought.

    John L. Allen Jr., associate editor, specializes in coverage of the Vatican. More