I offer you a warm welcome, and I thank you for your kind words. My predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, also received delegations from your organization, which has maintained relations with the Holy See since the Second Vatican Council. I am grateful that these contacts have intensified: as you noted, our meeting here is a further testimony, beyond that of our shared commitment, to the valuable power of reconciliation, which heals and transforms relationships. For this we give thanks to God, who surely rejoices in the sincere friendship and fraternal sentiments which today inspire Jews and Catholics. Thus, with the Psalmist we too can say: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore” (Ps 133: 1, 3b).
Whereas the culture of encounter and reconciliation engenders life and gives rise to hope, the “non-culture” of hate sows death and reaps despair. Last year, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. There are no adequate words or thoughts in the face of such horrors of cruelty and sin; there is prayer, that God may have mercy and that such tragedies may never happen again. To this end, let us continue to help one another, as Pope John Paul II so desired, “to enable memory to play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never again be possible” (Letter on the Occasion of the Publication of the Document “We Remember: a Reflection on the Shoah”, 12 March 1998): a future of genuine respect for the life and dignity of every people and every human being.
Sadly, anti-Semitism, which I again denounce in all its forms as completely contrary to Christian principles and every vision worthy of the human person, is still widespread today. I reaffirm that “the Catholic Church feels particularly obliged to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies” (Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable, 47).
Today more than ever, the fight against anti-Semitism can benefit from effective instruments, such as information and formation. In this regard, I thank you for your work and for combining efforts to counter defamation with education, promotion of respect for all, and protection of the weakest. Caring for the sacred gift of all human life and safeguarding its dignity, from conception to death, is the best way of preventing every type of violence. Faced with too much violence spreading throughout the world, we are called to a greater nonviolence, which does not mean passivity, but active promotion of the good. Indeed, if it is necessary to pull out the weeds of evil, it is even more vital to sow the seeds of goodness: to cultivate justice, to foster accord, to sustain integration, without growing weary; only in this way may we gather the fruits of peace. I encourage you in this work, in the conviction that the best remedies against the rise of hatred consist in making available the means necessary for a dignified life, in promoting culture and favoring religious freedom everywhere, as well as in protecting believers and religions from every form of violence and exploitation.
I am grateful to you also for the dialogue which, at various levels, you maintain with the Catholic Church. Upon our shared commitment and our journey of friendship and fraternal trust, I invoke the Almighty’s blessings: in his munificence may he accompany us and help us to bring forth the fruits of goodness. Shalom alechem!
For I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies – oracle of the Lord God (Ezekiel 18:32)
Beloved People of God,
We, your bishops, are deeply concerned due to many deaths and killings in the campaign against prohibited drugs. This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers. We are concerned not only for those who have been killed. The situation of the families of those killed is also cause for concern. Their lives have only become worse. An Additional cause of concern is the reign of terror in many places of the poor. Many are killed not because of drugs. Those who kill them are not brought to account. An even greater cause of concern is the indifference of many to this kind of wrong. It is considered as normal, and, even worse, something that (according to them) needs to be done. We are one with many of our countrymen who want change. But change must be guided by truth and justice. We stand for some basic teachings. These teachings are rooted in our being human, our being Filipino, and our being Christian.
1. The life of every person comes from God. It is he who gives it, and it is he alone who can take it back. Not even the government has a right to kill life because it is only God’s steward and not the owner of life.
2. The opportunity to change is never lost in every person. This is because God is merciful, as our Holy Father Pope Francis repeatedly teaches. We just finished celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy. These events deepened our awareness that the Lord Jesus Christ offered his own life for sinners, to redeem them and give them a new future.
3. To destroy one’s own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society. The use of drugs is a sign that a person no longer values his own life, and endangers the lives of others. We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.
4. Every person has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Society has ways and processes to catch, prove guilty and punish perpetrators of crimes. This process must be followed, especially by agents of the law.
5. Any action that harms another (seriously) is a grave sin. To push drugs is a grave sin as is killing (except in self-defense). We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong. A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.
6. The deep root of the drug problem and criminality is the poverty of the majority, the destruction of the family and corruption in society. The step we have to take is to overcome poverty, especially through the giving of permanent work and sufficient wages to workers. Let us strengthen and carry forward the unity and love of the family members. Let us not allow any law that destroys the unity of families. We must also give priority to reforming rogue policemen and corrupt judges. The excessively slow adjudication of court cases is one big reason for the spread of criminality. Often it is the poor who suffer from this system. We also call upon elected politicians to serve the common good of the people and not their own interests.
7. To consent and to keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it. If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem. If we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths.
We in the Church will continue to speak against evil even as we acknowledge and repent of our own shortcomings. We will do this even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other. We will help drug addicts so that they may be healed and start a new life. We will stand in solidarity and care for those left behind by those who have been killed and for the victims of drug addicts. Let us renew our efforts to strengthen families.
Those of us who are leaders in the Church should strive to push forward or continue programs that will uplift the poor, like livelihood, education and health programs. Above all we will live up to — we all will live up to — becoming a Church of the Poor.
Let us not allow fear to reign and keep us silent. Let us put into practice not only our native inner strength but the strength that comes from our Christian faith. Our Lord Jesus promised us: “You will have affliction in this world, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Rm 8:35,37). Yes, indeed, “For the Spirit that is in you is more powerful than the spirit in those who belong in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).
As we commemorate the 100th year of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, let us respond to her call for prayer and repentance for the peace of our communities and of our country shrouded in the darkness of vice and death.
Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, Pray for us.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, January 30, 2017
WE ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS!: CBCP Statement on the Orlando Tragedy
THE SCENE is becoming disturbingly frequent in the United States — lifeless bodies strewn all over the place, and an assailant gone berserk who, by brazen thoughtlessness, changes lives and communities forever. With the families of those who lost their lives at Orlando, Florida, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines grieves. We, bishops of the Philippine Church, unite ourselves with those who mourn in prayer. But a tragedy like this challenges us to ask ourselves how we can all, not Americans alone, become a better people after having recovered from our grief.
First, this was a hate-crime — the murder of persons because of disgust for their sexual orientation. Bearing in the depth of his or her soul the image of the Creator, no human person should ever be the object of disgust. While we may have reasons to disagree with sexual preferences, or reprove certain forms of sexual activity, this can never justify hatred, let alone, murder of another human being.
Regrettably, this tragedy occurs in the midst of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. But this grim event merely underscores how right Pope Francis was in convoking this year as a year of mercy. The heartlessness with which so many were cut down in their youth or in the prime of life only makes clear how much the world needs mercy. As important as it is to be right, it is far more important to be merciful!
Second, we can and should never reconcile ourselves with violence in society — whether this be the violence of lawless elements, the violence of the self-righteous, the violence of vigilante groups, or the violence of government. Violence leaves only mourning, and loss, and bitterness in its wake. We cannot and should not accept a society that tolerates and perhaps even foments forms of violence, even if this should be in the name of restoring law and order.
Third, while the whole world is rightly shocked by the brutality of the tragedy at Orlando, from this darkness we see the light that Pope Francis holds out to us through his exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. No matter that we may disapprove of the actions, decisions and choices of others, there is absolutely no reason to reject the person, no justification for cruelty, no reason for making outcasts of them. This is a project on which we, in the Philippines, must seriously embark for many are still forced to the peripheries because the norms of “decent society” forbid association with them. Pope Francis sternly warns us that this cannot be Christian. We must continue the dialogue and the conversation with them over the things about which we disagree, but this dialogue must always be an encounter of brothers and sisters, an encounter of friends in the Lord.
We your bishops therefore urge school administrators and youth leaders to be particularly vigilant about cases of bullying, ostracism and harassment. We urge government to educate the nation in the ways of the respect for all life. We call on all Christians to show the world that our fidelity to Christ and our citizenship in his kingdom are of far more importance than whatever else may keep us in disagreement.
May you grant the fallen, Merciful Father, the peace and the light of your Kingdom, and may you grant us, who must continue on our pilgrimage, the wisdom to move from the darkness of grief to the light by which we recognize in each other the sons and daughters you adopted in Your Son, Jesus Christ.
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, June 13, 2016
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Has Suffered Cardiac Arrest
A Look at the History of the Devotion and What It Can Do For Us Today
3 June 2016
Fr Thomas Rosica
One of the most popular devotions within the Church is devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The geographic and historic center of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is in Paray-le-Monial, a small village in Burgundy, where St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) lived. She was a Visitation nun to whom Jesus appeared. The message Jesus gave this French religious, whose first vision was on 27 December 1673, was an image of God that was in great contrast to the Jansenist tendency of that century. In December 1673, during Christ’s first apparition to St. Mary Margaret, He gave her this message, as she later recounted: “My Sacred Heart is so intense in its love for men, and for you in particular, that not being able to contain within it the flames of its ardent charity, they must be transmitted through all means.”
Jesus showed Himself to Sr. Margaret Mary in a way that she could understand – with a human heart aflame with love. He told her that He would be present in a special way to those devoted to His Sacred Heart and that His presence would lead to peace in families, the conversion of sinners, blessings in abundance and perseverance when death was near.
To know God’s love in Jesus and to share it with others is the central message of the gospels. There has been no change in this message for two thousand years. Ways of explaining our faith may change, forms of prayer may be altered, certain devotions may come in and out of style, but at the core is the loving heart of Jesus, which remains constant and true.
The message of the Sacred Heart is one of God’s deep and intimate love for us. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is an integral part of our Catholic heritage because it helps us to live the basic Christian message of faith and love.
The Symbol of the Heart
A symbol is a real sign, whereas a metaphor is only a verbal sign; a symbol is a thing that signifies another thing, but a metaphor is a word used to indicate something different from its proper meaning. A visible heart is necessary for an image of the Sacred Heart, but this visible heart must be a symbolic heart. We know that the symbolism of the heart is a symbolism founded upon reality and that it constitutes the special object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.
The heart is, above all, the emblem of love, and by this characteristic, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is naturally defined. However, being directed to the loving Heart of Jesus, it naturally encounters whatever in Jesus is connected with this love. A first extension of the devotion is from the loving Heart to the intimate knowledge of Jesus, to His sentiments and virtues, to His whole emotional and moral life; from the loving Heart to all the manifestations of Its love.
When we designate Jesus as the Sacred Heart, we mean Jesus manifesting His Heart, Jesus all loving and amiable. Jesus entire is thus recapitulated in the Sacred Heart as all is recapitulated in Jesus.
It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side, the wounded Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love. It was in the fervent atmosphere of the Benedictine or Cistercian monasteries that the devotion arose, although it is impossible to say positively what were its first texts or were its first votaries. To St. Gertrude, St. Mechtilde, and the author of the “Vitis mystica” it was already well known.
From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the devotion was propagated but it did not seem to have developed in itself. It was everywhere practised by privileged souls, and the lives of the saints and annals of different religious congregations, of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carthusians, etc., furnish many examples of it. It was nevertheless a private, individual devotion of the mystical order.
It appears that in the sixteenth century, the devotion took a major step forward step and passed from the domain of mysticism into that of Christian asceticism. We learn from the writings of two masters of the spiritual life, the Lanspergius (d. 1539) of the Carthusians of Cologne, and Louis of Blois (Blosius; 1566), a Benedictine and Abbot of Liessies in Hainaut. To these may be added Blessed John of Avila (d. 1569) and St. Francis de Sales, the latter of the seventeenth century.
It was to Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), a humble Visitandine of the monastery at Paray-le Monial, that Christ chose to reveal the desires of His Heart and to confide the task of imparting new life to the devotion. There is nothing to indicate that this contemplative religious had known the devotion prior to the revelations, or at least that she had paid any attention to it.
A few days after the “great apparition” of June, 1675, Margaret Mary made all known to Father de la Colombière, and the latter, recognizing the action of the spirit of God, consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart, directed the holy Visitandine to write an account of the apparition, and made use of every available opportunity discreetly to circulate this account through France and England.
At his death on February 15, 1682, there was found in his journal of spiritual retreats a copy in his own handwriting of the account that he had requested of Margaret Mary, together with a few reflections on the usefulness of the devotion. The little text was widely read, even at Paray, although not without being the cause of “dreadful confusion” to Margaret Mary, who, nevertheless, resolved to make the best of it and profited by the book for the spreading of her cherished devotion.
The death of Margaret Mary on 17 October 1690, did not dampen the ardour of those interested in the devotion. In spite of all sorts of obstacles, and of the slowness of the Holy See, which in 1693 imparted indulgences to the Confraternities of the Sacred Heart and, in 1697, granted the feast to the Visitandines with the Mass of the Five Wounds, but refused a feast common to all, with special Mass and prayers, the devotion spread particularly in religious communities.
The Marseilles plague, 1720, furnished perhaps the first occasion for a solemn consecration and public worship outside of religious communities. Other cities of the South followed the example of Marseilles, and thus the devotion became a popular one.
Oftentimes, especially since about 1850, groups, congregations, and States have consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart, and, in 1875, this consecration was made throughout the Catholic world. Finally, on 11 June 1899, by order of Leo XIII, and with the formula prescribed by him, all mankind was solemnly consecrated to the Sacred Heart.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart Today
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has suffered cardiac arrest in recent decades. This decline of devotion is all the more striking because of its pre-eminence in the first half of the 20th century, when so many Catholic families had a picture of Jesus and his Sacred Heart displayed in their homes, and when Thursday night holy hours and first Fridays proliferated in parishes.
Like many forms of heart disease, such atrophy could have been prevented through a healthy diet—in this case, Scripture and tradition. The heart is a powerful metaphor in the Bible, what Karl Rahner, S.J., has called a “primordial word.” It signifies the wellspring of life, the totality of one’s being. The prophet Ezekiel, for instance, records God’s promise to change Israel’s “heart of stone” into a “heart of flesh,” while John’s Gospel gives the heart its most profound scriptural expression: Jesus’ heart is the source of living water, of rest for the Beloved Disciple, of the church and its sacraments, of doubting Thomas’s faith.
I believe that the deepest meaning of the devotion, however, is glimpsed in a poet who does not even mention it: Dante Alighieri. At the dark bottom of Hell, Satan is frozen in ice up to his chest, crying tears and drooling bloody foam, his six wings bellowing cold wind upward. Wedged into the inverted apex of the underworld, he is locked in his own resentment, impotent and utterly alone. Hell, the Inferno makes clear, is not fire, but ice: cold, crabbed isolation. Paradise is pure communion, illuminated and warmed by the love that moves the sun and the other stars.
In today’s love-starving world, how we need to follow the example of Jesus Christ in His unspeakable love for us. If there is one adjective that describes the modern world, this world is a loveless world. This world is a selfish world. This world is so preoccupied with space and time that it gives almost no thought to eternity and the everlasting joys that await those who have served God faithfully here on earth.
How do we serve God faithfully? We serve Him only as faithfully as we serve Him lovingly, by giving ourselves to the needs of everyone whom God puts into our lives. No one reaches heaven automatically. Heaven must be dearly paid for. The price of reaching heaven is the practice of selfless love here on earth.
That is what devotion to the Sacred Heart is all about. It is the practice of selfless love toward selfish people. It is giving ourselves to persons that do not give themselves to us. In all of our lives, God has allowed selfish persons who may be physically close to us, but spiritually are strangers and even enemies. That is why God allows unkind, unjust, even cruel people into our lives. By loving them, we show something of the kind of love that God expects of His followers.
The Heart of the Priesthood
“If you are afraid of love, don’t ever become a priest, and don’t ever celebrate mass. The mass will cause a torrent of interior suffering to pour down upon your soul, with one purpose only– to break you in half, so that all the people of the world can enter into your heart.” – Thomas Merton
“If you are afraid of people, don’t celebrate mass! Because when you start to say mass, the Spirit of God will awaken in you like a giant and break through the locks of your private sanctuary and invite all of the people of the world into your heart.” – Thomas Merton
“If you celebrate mass, condemn your heart to the torment of love that is so vast and so insatiable that you will not resist in bearing it alone. That love is the love of the Heart of Jesus that burns inside your miserable heart, and allows the immense weight of his mercy for all the sins of the world to fall upon you! Do you know what that love will do if you allow it to work in your soul, if you don’t resist it? It will devour you. It will kill you. It will break your heart.” – Thomas Merton
Fr Thomas Rosica is the CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light media, and English-language assistant to the Holy See press office.
Are we still at ease with silence? Has the noise of violence and terror drowned the voice of quiet conscience? Do we always interpret silence as fear of the cowards; the destiny imposed on the unwilling mute; the refuge of the guilty?
It is not always so.
There is nobility in silence like the silence of the lambs brought to slaughter in the temple to atone for sins. There is the silence of the desert mystics that pierced the hidden secrets of the heart of God. There is the silence of the woman who treasured all those things in her heart. Silence, indeed, is the language of God and only those who speak silence will be able to grasp Him.
Mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate. Mine is the silence of the tears from mourning trying to fathom the mystery of death. Mine is the silence of prayer contemplating the divine mysteries. Mine is the silence of the bud blooming quietly without calling attention to itself. Mine is the silence of a hopeful mother waiting to give birth to her infant. Mine is the language of peace that refuses the dark magic of revenge. Mine is the silence of the vigilant waiting for destiny to unfold. Mine is the silence of respect for those who consider us their enemies but whose good we truly pray for and whose happiness we want to see unfold.
There is virtue in silence. There is virtue in speech. Wisdom is knowing when it is time for silence and when is the timing for speech.
You can understand my speech if you speak the language of silence. You can understand my silence if you know how to love like Him who was born one silent night.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7)
Dear Young People,
We have come to the last stretch of our pilgrimage to Krakow, the place where we will celebrate the 31stWorld Youth Day next year in the month of July. We are being guided on this long and challenging path by Jesus’ words taken from the Sermon on the Mount. We began this journey in 2014 by meditating together on the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). The theme for 2015 was: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). During the year ahead, let us allow ourselves to be inspired by the words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).
1. The Jubilee of Mercy
With this theme, the Krakow 2016 WYD forms part of the Holy Year of Mercy and so becomes a Youth Jubilee at world level. It is not the first time that an international youth gathering has coincided with a Jubilee Year. Indeed, it was during the Holy Year of the Redemption (1983/1984) that Saint John Paul II first called on young people from around the world to come together on Palm Sunday. Then, during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, over two million young people from around 165 countries gathered in Rome for the15th World Youth Day. I am sure that the Youth Jubilee in Krakow will be, as on those two previous occasions, one of the high points of this Holy Year!
Perhaps some of you are asking: what is this Jubilee Year that is celebrated in the Church? The scriptural text of Leviticus 5 can help us to understand the meaning of a “jubilee” for the people of Israel. Every fifty years they heard the sounding of a trumpet (jobel) calling them (jobil) to celebrate a holy year as a time of reconciliation (jobal) for everyone. During that time they had to renew their good relations with God, with their neighbours and with creation, all in a spirit of gratuitousness. This fostered, among other things, debt forgiveness, special help for those who had fallen into poverty, an improvement in interpersonal relations and the freeing of slaves.
Jesus Christ came to proclaim and bring about the Lord’s everlasting time of grace. He brought good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed (cf. Lk 4:18-19). In Jesus, and particularly in his Paschal Mystery, the deeper meaning of the jubilee is fully realized. When the Church proclaims a jubilee in the name of Christ, we are all invited to experience a wonderful time of grace. The Church must offer abundant signs of God’s presence and closeness, and reawaken in people’s hearts the ability to look to the essentials. In particular, this Holy Year of Mercy is “a time for the Church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy” (Homily at First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, 11 April 2015).
2. Merciful like the Father
The motto for this Extraordinary Jubilee is “Merciful like the Father” (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 13). This fits in with the theme of the next WYD, so let us try to better understand the meaning of divine mercy.
The Old Testament uses various terms when it speaks about mercy. The most meaningful of these are hesedand rahamim. The first, when applied to God, expresses God’s unfailing fidelity to the Covenant with his people whom he loves and forgives for ever. The second, rahamim, which literally means “entrails”, can be translated as “heartfelt mercy”. This particularly brings to mind the maternal womb and helps us understand that God’s love for his people is like that of a mother for her child. That is how it is presented by the prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Is 49:15). Love of this kind involves making space for others within ourselves and being able to sympathize, suffer and rejoice with our neighbours.
The biblical concept of mercy also includes the tangible presence of love that is faithful, freely given and able to forgive. In the following passage from Hosea, we have a beautiful example of God’s love, which the prophet compares to that of a father for his child: “When Israel was a child I loved him; out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me... Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks... I stooped to feed my child” (Hos 11:1-4). Despite the child’s wrong attitude that deserves punishment, a father’s love is faithful. He always forgives his repentant children. We see here how forgiveness is always included in mercy. It is “not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child... It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 6).
The New Testament speaks to us of divine mercy (eleos) as a synthesis of the work that Jesus came to accomplish in the world in the name of the Father (cf. Mt 9:13). Our Lord’s mercy can be seen especially when he bends down to human misery and shows his compassion for those in need of understanding, healing and forgiveness. Everything in Jesus speaks of mercy. Indeed, he himself is mercy.
In Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel we find the three parables of mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the parable of the prodigal son. In these three parables we are struck by God’s joy, the joy that God feels when he finds and forgives a sinner. Yes, it is God’s joy to forgive! This sums up the whole of the Gospel. “Each of us, each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us; the Father never abandons us. He is a patient Father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who returns. He is celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness” (Angelus, 15 September 2013).
God’s mercy is very real and we are all called to experience it firsthand. When I was seventeen years old, it happened one day that, as I was about to go out with friends, I decided to stop into a church first. I met a priest there who inspired great confidence, and I felt the desire to open my heart in Confession. That meeting changed my life! I discovered that when we open our hearts with humility and transparency, we can contemplate God’s mercy in a very concrete way. I felt certain that, in the person of that priest, God was already waiting for me even before I took the step of entering that church. We keep looking for God, but God is there before us, always looking for us, and he finds us first. Maybe one of you feels something weighing on your heart. You are thinking: I did this, I did that.... Do not be afraid! God is waiting for you! God is a Father and he is always waiting for us! It is so wonderful to feel the merciful embrace of the Father in the sacrament of Reconciliation, to discover that the confessional is a place of mercy, and to allow ourselves to be touched by the merciful love of the Lord who always forgives us!
You, dear young man, dear young woman, have you ever felt the gaze of everlasting love upon you, a gaze that looks beyond your sins, limitations and failings, and continues to have faith in you and to look upon your life with hope? Do you realize how precious you are to God, who has given you everything out of love? Saint Paul tells us that “God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Do we really understand the power of these words?
I know how much the WYD cross means to all of you. It was a gift from Saint John Paul II and has been with you at all your World Meetings since 1984. So many changes and real conversions have taken place in the lives of young people who have encountered this simple bare cross! Perhaps you have asked yourselves the question: what is the origin of the extraordinary power of the cross? Here is the answer: the cross is the most eloquent sign of God’s mercy! It tells us that the measure of God’s love for humanity is to love without measure! Through the cross we can touch God’s mercy and be touched by that mercy! Here I would recall the episode of the two thieves crucified beside Jesus. One of them is arrogant and does not admit that he is a sinner. He mocks the Lord. The other acknowledges that he has done wrong; he turns to the Lord saying: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus looks at him with infinite mercy and replies: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (cf. Lk 23:32, 39-43). With which of the two do we identify? Is it with the arrogant one who does not acknowledge his own mistakes? Or is it with the other, who accepts that he is in need of divine mercy and begs for it with all his heart? It is in the Lord, who gave his life for us on the cross, that we will always find that unconditional love which sees our lives as something good and always gives us the chance to start again.
3. The amazing joy of being instruments of God’s mercy
The Word of God teaches us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). That is why the fifth Beatitude declares that the merciful are blessed. We know that the Lord loved us first. But we will be truly blessed and happy only when we enter into the divine “logic” of gift and gracious love, when we discover that God has loved us infinitely in order to make us capable of loving like Him, without measure. Saint John says: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love... In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (1 Jn 4:7-11).
After this very brief summary of how the Lord bestows his mercy upon us, I would like to give you some suggestions on how we can be instruments of this mercy for others.
I think of the example of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He said, “Jesus pays me a visit every morning in Holy Communion, and I return the visit in the meagre way I know how, visiting the poor”. Pier Giorgio was a young man who understood what it means to have a merciful heart that responds to those most in need. He gave them far more than material goods. He gave himself by giving his time, his words and his capacity to listen. He served the poor very quietly and unassumingly. He truly did what the Gospel tells us: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret” (Mt 6:3-4). Imagine that, on the day before his death when he was gravely ill, he was giving directions on how his friends in need should be helped. At his funeral, his family and friends were stunned by the presence of so many poor people unknown to them. They had been befriended and helped by the young Pier Giorgio.
I always like to link the Gospel Beatitudes with Matthew 25, where Jesus presents us with the works of mercy and tells us that we will be judged on them. I ask you, then, to rediscover the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, assist the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. Nor should we overlook the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, teach the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the sorrowful, forgive offences, patiently bear with troublesome people and pray to God for the living and the dead. As you can see, mercy does not just imply being a “good person” nor is it mere sentimentality. It is the measure of our authenticity as disciples of Jesus, and of our credibility as Christians in today’s world.
If you want me to be very specific, I would suggest that for the first seven months of 2016 you choose a corporal and a spiritual work of mercy to practice each month. Find inspiration in the prayer of Saint Faustina, a humble apostle of Divine Mercy in our times:
“Help me, O Lord,
…that my eyes may be merciful, so that I will never be suspicious or judge by appearances, but always look for what is beautiful in my neighbours’ souls and be of help to them;
… that my ears may be merciful, so that I will be attentive to my neighbours’ needs, and not indifferent to their pains and complaints;
… that my tongue may be merciful, so that I will never speak badly of others, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all;
… that my hands may be merciful and full of good deeds;
… that my feet may be merciful, so that I will hasten to help my neighbour, despite my own fatigue and weariness;
… that my heart may be merciful, so that I myself will share in all the sufferings of my neighbor” (Diary, 163).
The Divine Mercy message is a very specific life plan because it involves action. One of the most obvious works of mercy, and perhaps the most difficult to put into practice, is to forgive those who have offended us, who have done us wrong or whom we consider to be enemies. “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully” (Misericordiae Vultus, 9).
I meet so many young people who say that they are tired of this world being so divided, with clashes between supporters of different factions and so many wars, in some of which religion is being used as justification for violence. We must ask the Lord to give us the grace to be merciful to those who do us wrong. Jesus on the cross prayed for those who had crucified him: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Mercy is the only way to overcome evil. Justice is necessary, very much so, but by itself it is not enough. Justice and mercy must go together. How I wish that we could join together in a chorus of prayer, from the depths of our hearts, to implore the Lord to have mercy on us and on the whole world!
4. Krakow is expecting us!
Only a few months are left before we meet in Poland. Krakow, the city of Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina Kowalska, is waiting for us with open arms and hearts. I believe that Divine Providence led us to the decision to celebrate the Youth Jubilee in that city which was home to those two great apostles of mercy in our times. John Paul II realized that this is the time of mercy. At the start of his pontificate, he wrote the encyclical Dives in Misericordia. In the Holy Year 2000 he canonized Sister Faustina and instituted the Feast of Divine Mercy, which now takes place on the Second Sunday of Easter. In 2002 he personally inaugurated the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow and entrusted the world to Divine Mercy, in the desire that this message would reach all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope: “This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness!” (Homily at the Dedication of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow, 17 August 2002).
Dear young people, at the Shrine in Krakow dedicated to the merciful Jesus, where he is depicted in the image venerated by the people of God, Jesus is waiting for you. He has confidence in you and is counting on you! He has so many things to say to each of you... Do not be afraid to look into his eyes, full of infinite love for you. Open yourselves to his merciful gaze, so ready to forgive all your sins. A look from him can change your lives and heal the wounds of your souls. His eyes can quench the thirst that dwells deep in your young hearts, a thirst for love, for peace, for joy and for true happiness. Come to Him and do not be afraid! Come to him and say from the depths of your hearts: “Jesus, I trust in You!”. Let yourselves be touched by his boundless mercy, so that in turn you may become apostles of mercy by your actions, words and prayers in our world, wounded by selfishness, hatred and so much despair.
Carry with you the flame of Christ’s merciful love – as Saint John Paul II said – in every sphere of your daily life and to the very ends of the earth. In this mission, I am with you with my encouragement and prayers. I entrust all of you to Mary, Mother of Mercy, for this last stretch of the journey of spiritual preparation for the next WYD in Krakow. I bless all of you from my heart.