Sunday, August 4, 2019

Saint August 5 : St. Afra a Convert and Former Prostitute



Today, August 5, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Afra (died 304), Martyr of the Church. Saint Afra worked as a prostitute, but kindly hid her local bishop during the persecution of Christians. From his influence, she converted to the faith, dedicated herself to acts of charity, and was eventually persecuted and executed for her beliefs. The life of Saint Afra reminds us that true conversion and repentance for past sins is always possible, and that Our Loving Father calls us to Him regardless of the sins we have committed in the past!
Afra was originally a courtesan in the German town of Augsburg, having grown up in Cyprus, and moved to that area.
Upon moving to Ausburg, it is likely that Afra worked in a brothel, possibly close to the pagan Temple of Venus. At the onset of the persecution of Christians under the orders of Emperor Diocletian, Afra and her mother, Hilaria, hid the local bishop from harm. The holy man, Bishop Narcissus of Girona, did not know the profession of Afra and her mother, and through his witness, converted them to the faith. Afra and her mother, as well as her servants, were baptized, and began spending their time in charitable acts to the poor and suffering around them.
Despite the threat of death and persecution, Afra continued to hide the holy bishop until she herself was arrested and brought before the authorities. The judge, Gaius, knew of Afra and her profession, and ordered her to sacrifice to the pagan gods or be condemned to death.

Afra declared: “I was a great sinner before I knew God; but I will not add new crimes, nor do what you command me. My capitol is Jesus Christ, whom I have always before my eyes. I every day confess my sins; and, because I am unworthy to offer him any sacrifice, I desire to sacrifice myself for his name, that this body in which I have sinned may be purified and sacrificed to him by torments.” 

Gaius persisted, referencing her former profession, and urging her to recant her faith. “I am informed,” he said, “that you are a prostitute. Sacrifice, therefore, as you are a stranger to the God of the Christians, and cannot be accepted by him.”
But Afra replied, “Our Lord Jesus Christ hath said, that he came down from heaven to save sinners. The gospels testify that an abandoned woman washed his feet with her tears, and obtained pardon, and that he never rejected the publicans, but permitted them to eat with him.” 

Gaius said, “Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with you. It is in vain for you to acknowledge him for your God: a common prostitute can never he called a Christian.”

Afra replied, “It is true, I am unworthy to bear the name of a Christian; but Christ hath admitted me to be one.” 

Growing frustrated, the judge ordered her again: “Sacrifice to the gods, and they will save you.”
The martyr replied: “My Savior is Jesus Christ, who upon the cross promised paradise to the thief who confessed him. The only subject of my confusion and grief are my sins.”

Having run out of patience, Gaius declared, “I am ashamed that I have disputed so long with you. If you do not comply, you shall die.”

Afra replied: “That is what I desire, if I am not unworthy to find rest by this confession. Let that body which hath sinned undergo torments; but as to my soul, I will not taint it by sacrificing to demons.” 

Throwing up his hands, Gaius sentenced Afra to death. “We condemn Afra, a prostitute who hath declared herself a Christian, to be burnt alive, because she hath refused to offer sacrifice to the gods.”
Afra was immediately seized, stripped of her clothing, tied to a stake, and set ablaze. While she burned, she lifter her eyes to heaven and prayed:“O Lord Jesus Christ, Omnipotent God, who camest to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance, accept now the penance of my sufferings, and by this temporal fire deliver me from the everlasting fire, which torments both body and soul. I return thee thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ, for the honor thou hast done me in receiving me a holocaust for thy name’s sake; thou who hast vouchsafed to offer thyself upon the altar of the cross a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, the just for the unjust, and for sinners. I offer myself a victim to thee, O my God, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost world without end. Amen.”

Having prayed and handed her life over to her creator, Saint Afra died. Her mother and her servants rescued her body and interred her relics in a selpuchre. In the process of this act they were caught, and refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods, were likely executed.
Inspired by Saint Afra, today we pray for the conversion of sinners throughout the world, and for our own personal conversion and repentance. Holy Saint Afra, pray for us!

Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful Savior of the world, we humbly beseech You, by Your most Sacred Heart, that all the sheep who stray out of Your fold may in one days be converted to You, the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end.
Amen. Shared from 365Rosaries

Free Catholic Movie - Life of St. John Vianney : "The Wizard of Heaven" Patron of Priests - with Subtitles - B/W


The Wizard of Heaven - the Life of St. John Vianney - On February 9, 1818, a 32 year-old priest began his journey to Ars, France, with his few meager possessions. Ordained less than 3 years before, Fr. John Marie Baptist Vianney (1786 - 1859) was on route to take up his first pastoral assignment. Vianney's path to the priesthood had been marked by many uncertainties, failures and tears. Virtually failing his studies, his ordination had only come about because his close friend was able to pull some strings in the Diocese of Lyons. And even when ordained, few held any hopes for this illiterate, simple peasant. Assignments for new priests were based on their talents. It was not by accident, therefore, that Vianney was sent to what was considered "a Siberia for the clergy of the Lyons diocese." For a man to be sent to Ars was held by his brother priests as a disgrace. And so, on that cold winter day, a young priest, barely ordained, was banished to a tiny, remote, impoverished village that had lost its faith and morals. It was clearly a recipe for failure. Anyone could see that ... but God had something else in mind! A cinematic treasure has been found in the 1949 French Film, Le Sorcier du Ciel. Digitally remastered, The Wizard of Heaven tells the compelling and remarkable story of St. John Marie Baptist Vianney, the humble, pastor of Ars, France, who battled with the devil himself, not only for the Faith of his Parish, but even for that of his country. Starting with the Saint's arrival at Ars, this film brings to life the hardships, indifference, ridicule and opposition he encountered, as well as the zeal with which he strove to overcome them. Moreover, The Wizard of Heaven, captures an excellent portrayal of the incredible, ardent love for souls that consumed the heart of this noble priest and compelled him to the very heights of sanctity. Rightfully has the Church confided her priests to the care and guidance of the Cure of Ars, whose conquest of souls merited the following rebuke - “Vianney! How you make me suffer . . . If there were three more like you on earth, my kingdom would be destroyed” - satan French with English subtitles 90 minute runtime
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Pope Francis at Angelus explains "... to love God with our whole being, and to love one's neighbor as Jesus loved him.." Full Text + Video


Pope Francis prays Angelus in
St. Peter's Square
Sunday, 4 August 2019

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today's Gospel (see Lk 12: 13-21) opens with the scene of a man who stands up in the crowd and asks Jesus to settle a legal question about the family inheritance. But He does not address the question in the answer, and urges us to stay away from greed, that is, from the greed to possess. To divert his listeners from this frantic search for wealth, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, who believes he is happy because he has had the fortune of an exceptional year and feels secure for the accumulated assets. It will be nice that you read it today; it is in the twelfth chapter of St. Luke, verse 13. It is a beautiful parable that teaches us so much. The story comes alive when the contrast between what the rich person designs for himself and how much God shows him emerges.

The rich person puts before his soul, that is to himself, three considerations: the many assets piled up, the many years that these goods seem to assure him and thirdly, the unrestrained tranquility and well-being (see v.19). But the word God addressed to him cancels these projects of his. Instead of "many years", God indicates the immediacy of "tonight; you will die tonight "; in place of the "enjoyment of life" presents him with "making life; you will give life to God ", with the consequent judgment. As for the reality of the many accumulated goods on which the rich had to found everything, it is covered by the sarcasm of the question: "And what has he prepared, whose will it be?" (V.20). We think of struggles for inheritance; many family struggles. And so many people, we all know some history, that at the time of death begins to come: the grandchildren, the grandchildren come to see: "But what is my turn?", And take everything away. It is in this contrast that the appellation of "fool" is justified - because he thinks of things he believes to be concrete but they are a fantasy - with which God turns to this man. He is a fool because in practice he denied God, he did not reckon with Him.

The conclusion of the parable, formulated by the evangelist, is of singular efficacy: "So it is of him who accumulates treasure for himself and does not get rich near God" (v.21). It is a warning that reveals the horizon towards which we are all called to look. Material goods are necessary - they are goods! -, but they are a means of living honestly and sharing with the most needy. Jesus today invites us to consider that riches can bind the heart and distract it from the true treasure that is in heaven. San Paolo also reminds us of this in today's second reading. Thus he says: "Seek the things from above. ... turn your thoughts to things above, not to those of the earth "(Col 3: 1-2).

This - we understand - does not mean to get away from reality, but to look for things that have real value: justice, solidarity, acceptance, fraternity, peace, all of which constitute the true dignity of man. It is a matter of striving for a life realized not according to the worldly style, but according to the evangelical style: to love God with our whole being, and to love one's neighbor as Jesus loved him, that is, in service and in the gift of oneself. The greed of goods, the desire to have goods, does not satisfy the heart, rather it causes more hunger! Greed is like those good candies: you take one and say, "Ah! What a good ", and then take the other one; and one pulls the other. Such is covetousness: it is never satisfied. Be careful! Love understood in this way and lived is the source of true happiness, while the disproportionate search for material goods and riches is often a source of anxiety, adversity, prevarication, war. Many wars begin because of greed.

May the Virgin Mary help us not to be fascinated by the securities that pass, but to be credible every day as witnesses to the eternal values ​​of the Gospel.

After the Angelus

Dear brothers and sisters,

they are spiritually close to the victims of the episodes of violence that these days have bloodied Texas, California and Ohio, in the United States, affecting defenseless people. I invite you to join in my prayer for those who have lost their lives, for the wounded and their families. Ave Maria…

One hundred sixty years ago, like today, the holy Curé of Ars died, a model of goodness and charity for all priests. On this significant anniversary, I wanted to send a Letter to the priests of the whole world, to encourage them in fidelity to the mission to which the Lord called them. The testimony of this humble and totally dedicated parish priest, helps to rediscover the beauty and importance of the ministerial priesthood in contemporary society.

I greet all of you, Romans and pilgrims from various countries: families, associations, individual faithful.
Today there are several groups of children and young people. I greet you with great affection! Where there are young people there is noise and this is a grace. In particular, I greet the women's basketball teams from the American Universities of New Mexico and Nebraska; the youth pastoral group of Verona; the young people of Ponte di Brenta, Entratico, Cerese; the Seminarians of the Minor Seminary of Bergamo.

I wish you all a good Sunday. Please don't forget to pray for me. Good lunch and goodbye!
Source: Unofficial Translation from Vatican.va

#BreakingNews Shooting in Dayton, Ohio with 9 Killed and 26 Injured - Please Pray


In the second major mass shooting in less than 24 hours in the United States, officials say a gunman killed nine people and injured 26 early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio.

The shooter was killed by police officers.

"As a mayor this is a day that we all dread happening," Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley told reporters Sunday morning.

Twenty-six people are in multiple hospitals across the city, some with life-threatening injuries, she said.

Police were already on patrol in the area full of nightclubs known as the Oregon District and stopped the shooter.
Edited from NPR

On Twitter the mayor of Dayton wrote: 


I’m heartbroken. Thank you to our first responders for all that you’ve done. We will share updates as we have more information.

#BreakingNews Shooting at Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas leaves 20 Killed and 26 Injured




Twenty people have been killed and 26 injured in a mass shooting in the Texas city of El Paso.

Governor Greg Abbott described it as "one of the most deadly days in the history of Texas".

The massacre happened at a Walmart store near the Cielo Vista Mall, a few miles from the US-Mexican border.

A 21-year-old man is in custody. Police said the suspect was a resident of the Dallas-area city of Allen. He has been named by US media as Patrick Crusius.

US President Donald Trump described the attack as "an act of cowardice".

"I know that I stand with everyone in this country to condemn today's hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people", he wrote on Twitter.

The victims of the attack have not yet been named. However, Mexico's President Manuel Lopez Obrador said three Mexicans were among those killed. (updated to 7 Mexicans)

"We as a state unite in support of these victims and their family members," Mr Abbott said.

"We must do one thing today, one thing tomorrow and each and every day after this - we must unite."

The police and FBI are investigating whether an anonymous nationalist "manifesto", shared on an online forum, was written by the gunman. The document says the attack was targeted at the local Hispanic community.
Edited from BBC
Vatican News reports that Pope Francis, following the Angelus in St Peter’s Square on Sunday expressed his spiritual closeness to the victims, the wounded and the families affected by attacks, he said had "led to bloodshed in Texas, California and Ohio in the United States.

The President of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Domestic Justice Chairman issued a Statement Following Shooting in El Paso:

August 3, 2019
WASHINGTON— Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued the following statement in response to the tragic shooting at the Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Texas.

The full statement follows:

“This Saturday, less than week after the horrific instances of gun violence in California, yet another terrible, senseless and inhumane shooting took place, this time at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas.

Something remains fundamentally evil in our society when locations where people congregate to engage in the everyday activities of life can, without warning, become scenes of violence and contempt for human life. The plague that gun violence has become continues unchecked and spreads across our country.

Things must change. Once again, we call for effective legislation that addresses why these unimaginable and repeated occurrences of murderous gun violence continue to take place in our communities. As people of faith, we continue to pray for all the victims, and for healing in all these stricken communities. But action is also needed to end these abhorrent acts.”

Pope Francis writes Letter to Encourage Priests "Dear brother priests, I thank you for your fidelity to the commitments you have made." Full Official Text


LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
TO PRIESTS

To my Brother Priests
 
Dear Brothers,
A hundred and sixty years have passed since the death of the holy Curé of Ars, whom Pope Pius XI proposed as the patron of parish priests throughout the world.[1] On this, his feast day, I write this letter not only to parish priests but to all of you, my brother priests, who have quietly “left all behind” in order to immerse yourselves in the daily life of your communities. Like the Curé of Ars, you serve “in the trenches”, bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people. I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life.
Some time ago, I shared with the Italian bishops my worry that, in more than a few places, our priests feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit. I mentioned that priests need to find in their bishop an older brother and a father who reassures them in these difficult times, encouraging and supporting them along the way.[2]
As an older brother and a father, I too would like in this letter to thank you in the name of the holy and faithful People of God for all that you do for them, and to encourage you never to forget the words that the Lord spoke with great love to us on the day of our ordination. Those words are the source of our joy: “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends” (Jn 15:15).[3]
PAIN
“I have seen the suffering of my people” (Ex 3:7)
In these years, we have become more attentive to the cry, often silent and suppressed, of our brothers and sisters who were victims of the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers. This has been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire People of God.
As you know, we are firmly committed to carrying out the reforms needed to encourage from the outset a culture of pastoral care, so that the culture of abuse will have no room to develop, much less continue. This task is neither quick nor easy: it demands commitment on the part of all. If in the past, omission may itself have been a kind of response, today we desire conversion, transparency, sincerity and solidarity with victims to become our concrete way of moving forward. This in turn will help make us all the more attentive to every form of human suffering.[4]
This pain has also affected priests. I have seen it in the course of my pastoral visits in my own diocese and elsewhere, in my meetings and personal conversations with priests. Many have shared with me their outrage at what happened and their frustration that “for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was done, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears and disheartenment felt by more than a few”.[5] I have received many letters from priests expressing those feelings. At the same time, I am comforted by my meetings with pastors who recognize and share the pain and suffering of the victims and of the People of God, and have tried to find words and actions capable of inspiring hope.
Without denying or dismissing the harm caused by some of our brothers, it would be unfair not to express our gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others (cf. 2 Cor 12:15). They embody a spiritual fatherhood capable of weeping with those who weep. Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives. I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel.[6]
I am convinced that, to the extent that we remain faithful to God’s will, these present times of ecclesial purification will make us more joyful and humble, and prove, in the not distant future, very fruitful. “Let us not grow discouraged! The Lord is purifying his Bride and converting all of us to himself. He is letting us be put to the test in order to make us realize that without him we are simply dust. He is rescuing us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is breathing forth his Spirit in order to restore the beauty of his Bride, caught in adultery. We can benefit from rereading the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel. It is the history of the Church, and each of us can say it is our history too. In the end, through your sense of shame, you will continue to act as a shepherd. Our humble repentance, expressed in silent tears before these atrocious sins and the unfathomable grandeur of God’s forgiveness, is the beginning of a renewal of our holiness”.[7]
GRATITUDE
“I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph 1:16).
Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call. We do well to return constantly to those passages of the Gospel where we see Jesus praying, choosing and calling others “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mk 3:14).
Here I think of a great master of the priestly life in my own country, Father Lucio Gera. Speaking to a group of priests at a turbulent time in Latin America, he told them: “Always, but especially in times of trial, we need to return to those luminous moments when we experienced the Lord’s call to devote our lives to his service”. I myself like to call this “the deuteronomic memory of our vocation”; it makes each of us go back “to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame, I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good and gentle joy”.[8]
One day, each of us spoke up and said “yes”, a “yes” born and developed in the heart of the Christian community thanks to those “saints next door”[9] who showed us by their simple faith that it was worthwhile committing ourselves completely to the Lord and his kingdom. A “yes” whose implications were so momentous that often we find it hard to imagine all the goodness that it continues to produce. How beautiful it is when an elderly priest sees or is visited by those children – now adults – whom he baptized long ago and who now gratefully introduce a family of their own! At times like this, we realize that we were anointed to anoint others, and that God’s anointing never disappoints. I am led to say with the Apostle: “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (cf. Eph 1:16) and for all the good that you have done.
Amid trials, weakness and the consciousness of our limitations, “the worst temptation of all is to keep brooding over our troubles”[10] for then we lose our perspective, our good judgement and our courage. At those times, it is important – I would even say crucial – to cherish the memory of the Lord’s presence in our lives and his merciful gaze, which inspired us to put our lives on the line for him and for his People. And to find the strength to persevere and, with the Psalmist, to raise our own song of praise, “for his mercy endures forever” (Ps 136).
Gratitude is always a powerful weapon. Only if we are able to contemplate and feel genuine gratitude for all those ways we have experienced God’s love, generosity, solidarity and trust, as well as his forgiveness, patience, forbearance and compassion, will we allow the Spirit to grant us the freshness that can renew (and not simply patch up) our life and mission. Like Peter on the morning of the miraculous draught of fishes, may we let the recognition of all the blessings we have received awaken in us the amazement and gratitude that can enable us to say: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Only then to hear the Lord repeat his summons: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be fishers of men” (Lk 5:10). “For his mercy endures forever”.
Dear brother priests, I thank you for your fidelity to the commitments you have made. It is a sign that, in a society and culture that glorifies the ephemeral, there are still people unafraid to make lifelong promises. In effect, we show that we continue to believe in God, who has never broken his covenant, despite our having broken it countless times. In this way, we celebrate the fidelity of God, who continues to trust us, to believe in us and to count on us, for all our sins and failings, and who invites us to be faithful in turn. Realizing that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4:7), we know that the Lord triumphs through weakness (cf. 2 Cor12:9). He continues to sustain us and to renew his call, repaying us a hundredfold (cf. Mk 10:29-30). “For his mercy endures forever”.
Thank you for the joy with which you have offered your lives, revealing a heart that over the years has refused to become closed and bitter, but has grown daily in love for God and his people. A heart that, like good wine, has not turned sour but become richer with age. “For his mercy endures forever”.
Thank you for working to strengthen the bonds of fraternity and friendship with your brother priests and your bishop, providing one another with support and encouragement, caring for those who are ill, seeking out those who keep apart, visiting the elderly and drawing from their wisdom, sharing with one another and learning to laugh and cry together. How much we need this! But thank you too for your faithfulness and perseverance in undertaking difficult missions, or for those times when you have had to call a brother priest to order. “For his mercy endures forever”.
Thank you for your witness of persistence and patient endurance (hypomoné) in pastoral ministry. Often, with the parrhesía of the shepherd,[11] we find ourselves arguing with the Lord in prayer, as Moses did in courageously interceding for the people (cf. Num 14:13-19; Ex 32:30-32; Dt 9:18-21). “For his mercy endures forever”.
Thank you for celebrating the Eucharist each day and for being merciful shepherds in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, neither rigorous nor lax, but deeply concerned for your people and accompanying them on their journey of conversion to the new life that the Lord bestows on us all. We know that on the ladder of mercy we can descend to the depths of our human condition – including weakness and sin – and at the same time experience the heights of divine perfection: “Be merciful as the Father is merciful”.[12] In this way, we are “capable of warming people’s hearts, walking at their side in the dark, talking with them and even entering into their night and their darkness, without losing our way”.[13] “For his mercy endures forever”.
Thank you for anointing and fervently proclaiming to all, “in season and out of season” (cf. 2 Tim 4:2) the Gospel of Jesus Christ, probing the heart of your community “in order to discover where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren”.[14] “For his mercy endures forever”.
Thank you for the times when, with great emotion, you embraced sinners, healed wounds, warmed hearts and showed the tenderness and compassion of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-27). Nothing is more necessary than this: accessibility, closeness, readiness to draw near to the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. How powerful is the example of a priest who makes himself present and does not flee the wounds of his brothers and sisters![15] It mirrors the heart of a shepherd who has developed a spiritual taste for being one with his people,[16] a pastor who never forgets that he has come from them and that by serving them he will find and express his most pure and complete identity. This in turn will lead to adopting a simple and austere way of life, rejecting privileges that have nothing to do with the Gospel. “For his mercy endures forever”.
Finally, let us give thanks for the holiness of the faithful People of God, whom we are called to shepherd and through whom the Lord also shepherds and cares for us. He blesses us with the gift of contemplating that faithful People “in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant”.[17] Let us be grateful for each of them, and in their witness find support and encouragement. “For his mercy endures forever”.
ENCOURAGEMENT
“I want [your] hearts to be encouraged” (Col 2:2)
My second great desire is, in the words of Saint Paul, to offer encouragement as we strive to renew our priestly spirit, which is above all the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Faced with painful experiences, all of us need to be comforted and encouraged. The mission to which we are called does not exempt us from suffering, pain and even misunderstanding.[18] Rather, it requires us to face them squarely and to accept them, so that the Lord can transform them and conform us more closely to himself. “Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”.[19]
One good way of testing our hearts as pastors is to ask how we confront suffering. We can often act like the levite or the priest in the parable, stepping aside and ignoring the injured man (cf. Lk 10:31-32). Or we can draw near in the wrong way, viewing situations in the abstract and taking refuge in commonplaces, such as: “That’s life…”, or “Nothing can be done”. In this way, we yield to an uneasy fatalism. Or else we can draw near with a kind of aloofness that brings only isolation and exclusion. “Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world…”[20] Far from making us compassionate, this ends up holding us back from confronting our own wounds, the wounds of others and consequently the wounds of Jesus himself.[21]
Along these same lines, I would mention another subtle and dangerous attitude, which, as Bernanos liked to say, is “the most precious of the devil's potions”.[22] It is also the most harmful for those of us who would serve the Lord, for it breeds discouragement, desolation and despair.[23] Disappointment with life, with the Church or with ourselves can tempt us to latch onto a sweet sorrow or sadness that the Eastern Fathers called acedia. Cardinal Tomáš Špidlík described it in these terms: “If we are assailed by sadness at life, at the company of others or at our own isolation, it is because we lack faith in God’s providence and his works… Sadness paralyzes our desire to persevere in our work and prayer; it makes us hard to live with… The monastic authors who treated this vice at length call it the worst enemy of the spiritual life.”[24]
All of us are aware of a sadness that can turn into a habit and lead us slowly to accept evil and injustice by quietly telling us: “It has always been like this”. A sadness that stifles every effort at change and conversion by sowing resentment and hostility. “That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life of the Spirit, which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ”, to which we have been called.[25] Dear brothers, when that sweet sorrow threatens to take hold of our lives or our communities, without being fearful or troubled, yet with firm resolution, let us together beg the Spirit to “rouse us from our torpor, to free us from our inertia. Let us rethink our usual way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord”.[26]
Let me repeat: in times of difficulty, we all need God’s consolation and strength, as well as that of our brothers and sisters. All of us can benefit from the touching words that Saint Paul addressed to his communities: “I pray that you may not lose heart over [my] sufferings” (Eph 3:13), and “I want [your] hearts to be encouraged” (Col 2:22). In this way, we can carry out the mission that the Lord gives us anew each day: to proclaim “good news of great joy for all the people” (Lk 2:10). Not by presenting intellectual theories or moral axioms about the way things ought to be, but as men who in the midst of pain have been transformed and transfigured by the Lord and, like Job, can exclaim: “I knew you then only by hearsay, but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:2). Without this foundational experience, all of our hard work will only lead to frustration and disappointment.
In our own lives, we seen how “with Christ, joy is constantly born anew”.[27] Although there are different stages in this experience, we know that, despite our frailties and sins, “with a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, God makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew”.[28] That joy is not the fruit of our own thoughts or decisions, but of the confidence born of knowing the enduring truth of Jesus’ words to Peter. At times of uncertainty, remember those words: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). The Lord is the first to pray and fight for you and for me. And he invites us to enter fully into his own prayer. There may well be moments when we too have to enter into “the prayer of Gethsemane, that most human and dramatic of Jesus’ prayers… For there we find supplication, sorrow, anguish and even bewilderment (Mk 14:33ff.)”.[29]
We know that it is not easy to stand before the Lord and let his gaze examine our lives, heal our wounded hearts and cleanse our feet of the worldliness accumulated along the way, which now keeps us from moving forward. In prayer, we experience the blessed “insecurity” which reminds us that we are disciples in need of the Lord’s help, and which frees us from the promethean tendency of “those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules”.[30]
Dear brothers, Jesus, more than anyone, is aware of our efforts and our accomplishments, our failures and our mistakes. He is the first to tell us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-29).
In this prayer, we know that we are never alone. The prayer of a pastor embraces both the Spirit who cries out “Abba, Father!” (cf. Gal 4:6), and the people who have been entrusted to his care. Our mission and identity can be defined by this dialectic.
The prayer of a pastor is nourished and made incarnate in the heart of God’s People. It bears the marks of the sufferings and joys of his people, whom he silently presents to the Lord to be anointed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the hope of a pastor, who with trust and insistence asks the Lord to care for our weakness as individuals and as a people. Yet we should also realize that it is in the prayer of God’s People that the heart of a pastor takes flesh and finds its proper place. This sets us free from looking for quick, easy, ready-made answers; it allows the Lord to be the one – not our own recipes and goals – to point out a path of hope. Let us not forget that at the most difficult times in the life of the earliest community, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer emerged as the true guiding force.
Brothers, let us indeed acknowledge our weaknesses, but also let Jesus transform them and send us forth anew to the mission. Let us never lose the joy of knowing that we are “the sheep of his flock” and that he is our Lord and Shepherd.
For our hearts to be encouraged, we should not neglect the dialectic that determines our identity. First, our relationship with Jesus. Whenever we turn away from Jesus or neglect our relationship with him, slowly but surely our commitment begins to fade and our lamps lose the oil needed to light up our lives (cf. Mt 25:1-13): “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… because apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4-5). In this regard, I would encourage you not to neglect spiritual direction. Look for a brother with whom you can speak, reflect, discuss and discern, sharing with complete trust and openness your journey. A wise brother with whom to share the experience of discipleship. Find him, meet with him and enjoy his guidance, accompaniment and counsel. This is an indispensable aid to carrying out your ministry in obedience to the will of the Father (cf. Heb 10:9) and letting your heart beat with “the mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). We can profit from the words of Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one… One will lift up the other; but woe to the one who is alone and falls, and does not have another to help!” (4:9-10).
The other essential aspect of this dialectic is our relationship to our people. Foster that relationship and expand it. Do not withdraw from your people, your presbyterates and your communities, much less seek refuge in closed and elitist groups. Ultimately, this stifles and poisons the soul. A minister whose “heart is encouraged” is a minister always on the move. In our “going forth”, we walk “sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle and sometimes behind: in front, in order to guide the community; in the middle, in order to encourage and support, and at the back in order to keep it united, so that no one lags too far behind… There is another reason too: because our people have a “nose” for things. They sniff out, discover, new paths to take; they have the sensus fidei (cf. Lumen Gentium, 12)… What could be more beautiful than this?”[31] Jesus himself is the model of this evangelizing option that leads us to the heart of our people. How good it is for us to see him in his attention to every person! The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is nothing else but the culmination of that evangelizing style that marked his entire life.
Dear brother priests, the pain of so many victims, the pain of the people of God and our own personal pain, cannot be for naught. Jesus himself has brought this heavy burden to his cross and he now asks us to be renewed in our mission of drawing near to those who suffer, of drawing near without embarrassment to human misery, and indeed to make all these experiences our own, as eucharist.[32] Our age, marked by old and new wounds, requires us to be builders of relationships and communion, open, trusting and awaiting in hope the newness that the kingdom of God wishes to bring about even today. For it is a kingdom of forgiven sinners called to bear witness to the Lord’s ever-present compassion. “For his mercy endures forever”.
PRAISE
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Lk 1:46)
How can we speak about gratitude and encouragement without looking to Mary? She, the woman whose heart was pierced (cf. Lk 2:35), teaches us the praise capable of lifting our gaze to the future and restoring hope to the present. Her entire life was contained in her song of praise (cf. Lk 1:46-55). We too are called to sing that song as a promise of future fulfilment.
Whenever I visit a Marian shrine, I like to spend time looking at the Blessed Mother and letting her look at me. I pray for a childlike trust, the trust of the poor and simple who know that their mother is there, and that they have a place in her heart. And in looking at her, to hear once more, like the Indian Juan Diego: “My youngest son, what is the matter? Do not let it disturb your heart. Am I not here, I who have the honour to be your mother?”[33]
To contemplate Mary is “to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves”.[34]
Perhaps at times our gaze can begin to harden, or we can feel that the seductive power of apathy or self-pity is about to take root in our heart. Or our sense of being a living and integral part of God’s People begins to weary us, and we feel tempted to a certain elitism. At those times, let us not be afraid to turn to Mary and to take up her song of praise.
Perhaps at times we can feel tempted to withdraw into ourselves and our own affairs, safe from the dusty paths of daily life. Or regrets, complaints, criticism and sarcasm gain the upper hand and make us lose our desire to keep fighting, hoping and loving. At those times, let us look to Mary so that she can free our gaze of all the “clutter” that prevents us from being attentive and alert, and thus capable of seeing and celebrating Christ alive in the midst of his people. And if we see that we are going astray, or that we are failing in our attempts at conversion, then let us turn to her like a great parish priest from my previous diocese, who was also a poet. He asked her, with something of a smile: “This evening, dear Lady /my promise is sincere; /but just to be sure, don’t forget / to leave the key outside the door”.[35] Our Lady “is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice… As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love”.[36]
Dear brothers, once more, “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph 1:16), for your commitment and your ministry. For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new”.[37]
May we allow our gratitude to awaken praise and renewed enthusiasm for our ministry of anointing our brothers and sisters with hope. May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
May the Lord Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin watch over you. And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me.
Fraternally,
FRANCIS
Rome, at Saint John Lateran, on 4 August 2019,
Memorial of the Holy Curé of Ars


[1] Cf. Apostolic Letter Anno Iubilari (23 April 1929): AAS 21 (1929), 312-313.
[2] Address to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (20 May 2019). Spiritual fatherhood requires a bishop not to leave his priests as orphans; it can be felt not only in his readiness to open his doors to priests, but also to seek them out in order to care for them and to accompany them.
[4] Cf. Letter to the People of God (20 August 2018).
[6] Cf. Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Chile (31 May 2018).
[8] Homily at the Easter Vigil (19 April 2014).
[9] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 7.
[10] Cf. JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Las cartas de la tribulación (Herder, 2019), 21.
[12] Retreat to Priests. First Meditation (2 June 2016).
[13] A. SPADARO, Interview with Pope Francis, in La Civiltà Cattolica 3918 (19 September 2013), p. 462.
[14] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 137.
[16] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 268.
[17] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 7.
[18] Cf. Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, 13.
[19] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 50.
[20] Ibid., 134.
[21] Cf. JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Reflexiones en esperanza (Vatican City, 2013), p. 14.
[22] Journal d’un curé de campagne (Paris, 1974), p. 135; cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 83.
[23] Cf. BARSANUPH OF GAZA, Letters, in VITO CUTRO – MICHAŁ TADEUSZ SZWEMIN, Bisogno di paternità (Warsaw, 2018), p. 124.
[24] L’arte di purificare il cuore, Rome, 1999, p. 47.
[25] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 2.
[26] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 137.
[27] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 1.
[28] Ibid., 3.
[29] JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Reflexiones en esperanza (Vatican City, 2013), p. 26.
[30] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 94.
[32] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 268-270.
[33] Cf. Nican Mopohua, 107, 118, 119.
[34] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 288.
[35] Cf. AMELIO LUIS CALORI, Aula Fúlgida, Buenos Aires, 1946.
[36] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 286.
[37] Homily at the Easter Vigil (20 April 2019).
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