Pope Francis: ‘Lent is a favourable time for conversion’

Pope Francis visits a shanty town near Rome in February 2015. In his Message for Lent 2016 he asks the faithful to open their hearts to the poor. – REUTERS

26/01/2016 13:22

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is asking us to live this Lenten period as a favourable time for conversion during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
In his message for Lent entitled “I desire mercy and not sacrifice. The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee” the Pope reiterates the importance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and condemns the attitude and actions of  the proud, the powerful and the wealthy who refuse to open the doors of their hearts to God and to the poor.
Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni: 
By reflecting upon and putting into practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – Pope Francis says – Christians will be able to reawaken their consciences which too often have grown dull in the face of poverty.
In his Message for a special Lenten period which takes place this year within the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Pope says that it is a season to be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience the transforming miracle of divine Mercy.
Pointing out that poor have a special place at the heart of the Gospel, he warns of  the “blindness” and of the  “illusion of omnipotence” which often afflicts the rich and powerful who close their hearts to the poor and end up themselves – he says – being the poorest of the poor.
This illusion of omnipotence, the Pope continues – can “likewise take social and political forms as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and in our day by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and techno-science which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited”.
The powerful message – presented on Tuesday morning in the Vatican Press Office – calls on believers to practice the works of mercy and to listen to God’s Word.
“Let us not waste this season of Lent – Pope Francis says – so favourable a time for conversion!”.

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ message for Lent:

“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee

1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized
In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17).  By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word.  The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand.  For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness. 
After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her.  The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful.  In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships. 
2. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy
The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel.  God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth.  Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride.  These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.
This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son.  In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8).  As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by the Shema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5).  As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast. 
This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place.  It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelii Gaudium, 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (ibid., 164).  Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him.  In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him.   In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride. 
3. The works of mercy 
God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn.  In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them.  On such things will we be judged.  For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15).  For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.).  It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love.  Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith. 
In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such.  They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor.  This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars.  The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow.  It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21).  Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion.  As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see.  Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin.  This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited.  This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor. 
For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy.  In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness.  The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated.  By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need.  By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them.  This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches.  Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.  The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29).  Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming. 
Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion!  We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).

(Linda Bordoni)


Taken from: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/01/26/pope_francis_lent_is_a_favourable__time_for_conversion/1203828



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)


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.

“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)

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