MEETING WITH THE CLERGY OF THE DIOCESE OF ROME
MEDITATION OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano
Thursday, 7 March 2019
Good morning to all of you.
It's always nice to meet here every year at the beginning of Lent, for this liturgy of God's forgiveness. It's good for us - it's good for me too! - and I feel a great peace in my heart, now that each of us has received the mercy of God and has given it to others, his brothers. We live this moment for what it really is, like an extraordinary grace, a permanent miracle of divine tenderness, in which once again the Reconciliation of God, the sister of Baptism, moves us, cleans us with tears, regenerates us, gives us back original beauty.
This peace and gratitude that from our hearts rise to the Lord help us to understand how the whole Church and each of her children live and grow thanks to God's mercy. The Bride of the Lamb becomes "without stain or wrinkle" (Eph 5, 27) by the gift of God, her beauty is the point of arrival of a path of purification and transfiguration, that is, an exodus to which the Lord permanently invites her: "Behold, I will lead her into the wilderness and speak to her heart" ( Os 2.16). We must never cease to warn each other of the temptation of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction, as if we were People of God for our own initiative or our own merit. This withdrawal on ourselves is very bad and will always hurt us: either self-sufficiency in doing or mirror sin, complacency: "How beautiful I am! How good I am! ". We are not God's people by our initiative, by our merit; no indeed, we are and will always be the fruit of the Lord's merciful action: a People of proud made small by the humility of God, a People of miserable - we are not afraid to say this word: "I am miserable" - made rich from the poverty of God, a people of the accursed made righteous by him who made himself the "accursed" hanging on the wood of the cross (cf. Gal 3:13). Let us never forget it: "without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15: 5). I repeat, the Master told us: «without me you can not do anything!». And so it changes the thing, it is not me in front of the mirror that I look at myself, I am not the center of the activities, even the center of prayer, so many times ... No, no, He is the center. I'm in the suburbs. He is the center, it is He who does everything, and this requires us a holy passivity - the one that is not holy is laziness, no, that no - a holy passivity before God, before Jesus above all, it is He who does the things.
This is why this time of Lent is truly a grace: it allows us to relocate ourselves before God, letting him be everything. His love lifts us from the dust (remember that without me you are dust, the Lord told us yesterday), his Spirit blown once again on our nostrils gives us the life of the resurrected. The hand of God, who created us in the image and likeness of his Trinitarian mystery, has made us many in unity, different but inseparable from each other. The pardon of God, which we have celebrated today, is a force that re-establishes communion at all levels: among us priests in the only diocesan presbyterate; with all Christians, in the one body that is the Church; with all men, in the unity of the human family. The Lord presents us to one another and tells us: here is your brother, "bone from your bones, flesh from your flesh" (cf. Gen 2:23), the one with whom you are called to live the "charity that will never end "(1Cor 13.8).
For these seven years of diocesan journey of pastoral conversion, which separate us from the Jubilee of 2025 (we have arrived at the second), I have proposed the book of Exodus as a paradigm. The Lord acts, then as today, and transforms a "non-people" into the People of God. This is his desire and his project also on us.
Well, what does the Lord do when he has to see with sadness that Israel is a "hard-necked" people (Exodus 32: 9), "prone to evil" (Ex 32: 22) as in the episode of the golden calf? Begins a patient work of reconciliation, a learned pedagogy, in which he threatens and comforts, makes aware of the consequences of the evil done and decides to forget the sin, punishes striking the people and heals the wound he has inflicted. Precisely in the text of Exodus 32-34, which you will propose in Lent for the meditation of your communities, the Lord seems to have taken a radical decision: "I will not come among you" (Ex 33: 3). When the Lord closes, he goes away. We have experience of this, in bad times, of spiritual desolation. If any of you do not know these moments, I advise you to go and talk to a good confessor, a spiritual father, because something is missing in your life; I do not know what it is but do not have desolation ... it is not normal, I would say it is not Christian. We have these moments. I will no longer walk in your head; I will send my angel (cf. Ex 32: 34) to precede you on the way, but I will not come. When the Lord leaves us alone, without his presence, and we are in the parish, we are working and we feel employed but without the presence of the Lord, in desolation ... Not only in consolation, in desolation. Think of this.
On the other hand, the people, perhaps out of impatience or feeling abandoned (because Moses was slow to come down from the mountain), had put aside the prophet chosen by God and asked Aron to build an idol, mute image of God, that walked to the his head. The people do not tolerate the absence of Moses, they are in desolation and do not tolerate and immediately look for another God to be comfortable. Sometimes, when we have no desolation, we may have idols. "No, I'm fine, with this I'm arranging ...". The sadness of God's abandonment never comes. What does the Lord do when we "cut him off" - with idols - from the life of our communities, because we are convinced that we are sufficient for ourselves? At that moment, the idol is me: "No, I'm arranging ... Thanks ... Do not worry, I'll do it". And the need of the Lord is not felt, the desolation of the absence of the Lord is not felt.
But the Lord is smart! The reconciliation that He wants to offer to the people will be a lesson that the Israelites will always remember. God behaves like a rejected lover: if you really do not want me, then I'm leaving! And leave us alone. It's true, we can get away with it for a while, six months, a year, two years, three years, even more. At one point this breaks out. If we go on alone, this self-sufficiency breaks out, this self-satisfaction of loneliness. And it breaks badly, it bursts badly. I think of a case of a good, good, religious priest, I knew him well. He was brilliant. If there was a problem in some communities, the superiors thought of him to solve the problem: a college, a university, he was good, good. But he was a devotee of "holy mirror": he looked so much at himself. And God has been good to him. One day he made him feel that he was alone in life, that he had lost so much. And he did not dare to say to the Lord: "But I have arranged this thing, the other one, the other one ...". No, he immediately realized that he was alone. And the greatest grace that the Lord can give, for me it is the greatest grace: that man cried. The grace of crying. He cried for the lost time, he cried because the holy mirror had not given him what he expected of himself. And he started from the beginning, humbly. When the Lord goes away, because we drive him away, we must ask for the gift of tears, mourn the absence of the Lord. "You do not want me, so I go," says the Lord, and over time what happened to this priest happens.
Let's go back to Exodus. The effect is that hoped for: "The people heard this sad news and all grieved: no one wore his ornaments" (Ex 33: 4). It has not escaped the Israelites that no punishment is as heavy as this divine decision which contradicts its holy name: "I am who am!" (Ex 3:14): an expression that has a concrete, not abstract, translatable meaning " I am the one who is and will be here, next to you ". When you realize that He is gone, because you have driven him away, it is a grace to hear this. If you do not notice, there is suffering. The angel is not a solution, rather it would be the permanent witness of the absence of God. This is why the reaction of the people is sadness. This is another dangerous thing, because there is a good sadness and a bad sadness. There must be discerned, in moments of sadness: how is my sadness, where does it come from? And sometimes it is good, it comes from God, from the absence of God, as in this case; other times it is a complacency, too, is not it?
What would we feel if the Risen Lord told us: continue your ecclesial activities and your liturgies, but will I no longer be present and act in your sacraments? Since, when you make your decisions, you are based on worldly and non-evangelical criteria (tamquan Deus non esset), then I totally set myself aside ... Everything would be empty, meaningless, it would be nothing but "dust". The threat of God opens the door to the intuition of what our life would be without Him, if indeed He would always remove his Face. It is death, despair, hell: without me you can not do anything.
The Lord shows us once again, on the living flesh of the unmasking of our hypocrisy, what his mercy really is. To Moses God reveals on the mountain his Glory and his holy Name: "The Lord, the Lord, God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in love and faithfulness" (Ex 34: 6). In the "game of love" brought forth by God, made of threatened absence and redeemed presence - "My face will walk with you and I will give you rest" (Ex 33.14) - God realizes reconciliation with his People. Israel comes out of this painful experience, which will mark it forever, with a new maturity: it is more aware of who the God who freed him from Egypt is more lucid in understanding the true dangers of the path (we could say: more fear of himself than of the serpents of the desert!). This is good: to have a little fear of ourselves, of our omnipotence, of our cunning, of our hiding, of our double game ... A little fear. If it were possible, be more afraid of this than snakes, because this is a real poison. And so the people are more united around Moses and the Word of God that he announces. The experience of sin and God's forgiveness is what has enabled Israel to become a little more the People who belong to God. We have made this penitential liturgy and have experienced our sins; and to say sin is something that opens us to the mercy of God, because sin usually hides. We hide sin not only to God, not only to our neighbor, not only to the priest but to ourselves. The "cosmetics" has gone so far, in this: we are specialists in making up situations. "Yes, but it's not for that matter, you understand ...". And a little 'water to wash yourself from cosmetics is good for everyone, to see that we are not so beautiful: we are ugly, ugly even in our things. But without despairing, because there is God, gracious and merciful, who is always behind us. There is his mercy that accompanies us.
Dear brothers, this is the meaning of Lent that we will live. In the spiritual exercises that you will preach to the people of your communities, in the penitential liturgies that you will celebrate, have the courage to propose the reconciliation of the Lord, to propose his passionate and jealous love.
Our role is like that of Moses: a generous service to the work of reconciliation of God, a "stay in the game" of his love.
It is beautiful the way in which God involves Moses, he really treats him as his friend: he prepares him before he comes down from the mountain warning him of the perversion of the people, he accepts that he acts as an intercessor for his brothers, listens to him while reminding him of the oath that he God has done to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We can imagine that God smiled when Moses invited him not to contradict himself, not to make a bad impression in the eyes of the Egyptians and not to be less than their gods, to have respect for his Holy Name. He provokes it with the dialectic of responsibilities: "Your people, whom you, Moses, have brought out of Egypt", because Moses responds by underlining that no, the people belong to God, it is He who brought them out of Egypt. .. And this is a mature dialogue with the Lord. When we see that the people we serve in the parish, or wherever, have turned away, we have this tendency to say: "It is my people, it is my people". Yes, it is your people, but vicariously, let's say: the people are His! And then go and scold him: "Look at your people what he's doing". This dialogue with the Lord.
But the heart of God exulted with joy when he heard the words of Moses: "If you forgive their sin [...] Otherwise, remove me from your book that you wrote!" (Ex 32.32). And this is one of the most beautiful things of the priest, of the priest who goes before the Lord and puts his face for his people. "It's your people, not mine, and you must forgive" - "No, but ..." - "I'm leaving! I do not talk to you anymore. Delete me". It takes "pants" to talk like this with God! But we must talk like that, like men, not like pusillanimi, like men! Because this means that I am aware of the place I have in the Church, that I am not an administrator, placed there to neatly carry on something. It means that I believe, that I have faith. Try to talk like this, with God.
Dying for the people, sharing the fate of the people no matter what happens, until they die. Moses did not accept God's proposal, he did not accept corruption. God pretends to want to bribe him. He did not accept: "No, I'm not here. I stay with the people. With your people ". God's proposal was: "Let my anger light up against them and devour them. Of you I will make a great nation "(Ex 32,10) - here is the" corruption ". But how? Is God the corruptor? He is trying to see the heart of his pastor. He does not want to save himself, Moses: now he is one with his brothers. Maybe everyone got to this point, maybe! It is bad when a priest goes to the bishop to complain about his people: "Ah, you can not, these people do not understand anything, and so, and so ..., time is thrown away ...". It's ugly! What is missing from that man? So many things are missing, to that priest! Moses does not do this. He does not want to save himself, because he is one with his brothers. Here the Father has seen the face of the Son. The light of the Spirit of God has invaded the face of Moses and has outlined on his face the features of the Resurrected Crucifix, making it luminous. And when we go there to fight with God - even our father Abraham had done it, that fight with God - when we go there we show that we resemble Jesus, who gives his life for his people. And the Father smiles: he will see in us the gaze of Jesus who went to death for us, for the people of the Father, us. The heart of God's friend has now become fully dilated, becoming great - Moses, the friend of God - similar to the heart of God, much greater than the human heart (cf. 1 Jn 3:18). Moses truly became the friend who speaks with God face to face (cf. Ex 33,11). Face to face! This is when the bishop or the spiritual father asks a priest if he prays: "Yes yes, I ... yes, I with the 'mother-in-law' I arrange - the 'mother-in-law' is the breviary - yes, I arrange, I do Lodi, then…". No, no. If you pray, what does it mean? If you put your face for your people before God. If you go to fight for your people with God. This is to pray for a priest. It is not to make the prescriptions. "Ah, Father, but then does the breviary no longer go?" No, the breviary goes, but with this attitude. You are there, before God and your people behind you. And Moses is also the guardian of the Glory of God, of the secrets of God. He contemplated the Glory of the shoulders, heard his true Name on the mountain, understood his love of the Father.
Dear brothers, it is our enormous privilege! God knows our "shameful nakedness". It struck me so much when I saw the original of the [Virgin] Odigitria di Bari: it is not like now, a bit 'dressed in robes that put on the icon Eastern Christians. It is the Madonna with the naked child. I loved it so much that the Bishop of Bari gave me one of these, he gave it to me, and I put it there, in front of my door. And I like it - I say it to share an experience - I like it in the morning, when I get up, when I step in front, tell the Madonna to keep my nakedness: "Mother, you know all my nudity". This is a great thing: ask the Lord - from my nakedness - to ask that he guard my nakedness. She knows them all. God knows our "shameful nakedness", yet he never tires of using us to offer reconciliation to people. We are very poor, sinners, yet God takes us to intercede for our brothers and to distribute to the men, through our hands that are nothing innocent, the salvation that regenerates.
Sin disfigures us, and we make pain with it the humiliating experience when we ourselves or one of our brother priests or bishops falls into the abyss without fund of vice, corruption or, worse still, of the crime that destroys the lives of others. I feel like sharing with you the unbearable pain and pain that cause in us and in the whole ecclesial body the wave of scandals that the newspapers of the whole world are now full of. It is evident that the true meaning of what is happening is to be found in the spirit of evil, in the Enemy, which acts with the claim of being the master of the world, as I said in the Eucharistic liturgy at the end of the Meeting on the protection of minors in the Church (24 February 2018). Still, do not be discouraged! The Lord is purifying his Bride and is converting us all to himself. He is making us experience the test because we understand that without Him we are dust. It is saving us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is blowing his Spirit to restore beauty to his Bride, surprised in flagrant adultery. It will do us good to take chapter 16 of Ezekiel today. This is the history of the Church. This is my story, everyone can say. And in the end, but through your shame, you will continue to be the shepherd. Our humble repentance, which remains silent between tears in the face of the monstrosity of sin and the unfathomable greatness of God's forgiveness, this, this humble repentance is the beginning of our holiness.
Do not be afraid to play your life at the service of reconciliation between God and men: we are not given any other secret greatness that would give this life so that men may know his love. The life of a priest is often marked by misunderstandings, silent suffering, sometimes persecution. And also sins that only He knows. The lacerations between brothers of our community, the non-acceptance of the Gospel Word, the contempt of the poor, the resentment fueled by reconciliations never happened, the scandal caused by the shameful behavior of some confreres, all this can take away our sleep and leave us in impotence . Instead, we believe in the patient guidance of God, who does things in his time, we enlarge our hearts and put ourselves at the service of the Word of reconciliation.
What we have lived in this Cathedral today, let us propose it in our communities. In the penitential liturgies that we will live in the parishes and prefectures, during this Lenten season, everyone will ask forgiveness to God and to the brothers of sin that has undermined ecclesial communion and has stifled missionary dynamism. With humility - which is a characteristic of the heart of God, but which we make so difficult to make ours - we confess to each other that we need God to repose his life to us.
Be the first to ask forgiveness of your brothers. "To accuse oneself is a sapiential beginning, linked to the fear of God" (ibid.). It will be a good sign if, as we have done today, each of you will confess from a confrere even in the penitential liturgies in the parish, before the eyes of the faithful. We will have a luminous face, like Moses, if with eyes moved we will speak to others of the mercy that has been used to us. It is the road, there is not another one. So we will see the devil of pride fall like lightning from heaven, if the miracle of reconciliation in our communities will happen. We will feel to be a little more the People who belong to the Lord, in the midst of whom God walks. This is the road.
And I wish you good Lent!
Now I would like to add something that I have been asked to do. One of the concrete ways of living a Lent of charity is to contribute generously to the campaign "As in heaven, so on the road", with which our diocesan Caritas intends to respond to all forms of poverty, welcoming and supporting those in need. I know that every year you respond generously to this appeal, but this year I ask you for a greater commitment so that the whole community and all the communities are really involved in the first person.
Card. De Donatis:
A word for the delivery, now, of this booklet: Pope Francis gives it to us. It is the volume that will accompany us in Lent, as a second reading, as we did last year: the same size as the breviary, so we will be helped to have it close. And so the prefects distribute to all these volumes, maybe you can bring it even for those who are not present. Thank you. I, in the name of all, I thank you with all my heart, who came here today, like every year. What I can tell you in the name of all, beyond graces, that we continue to support you with our daily prayer.
I need this, I need prayer. Pray for me. One of the things I like about this [booklet] is the wealth of the Fathers: to return to the Fathers. A short time ago, in a parish in Rome a book was presented, "I need paternity" I believe it is called, all texts of the Fathers according to different themes: the virtues, the Church ... Returning to the Fathers helps us a lot because it is a great wealth. Thank you.
FULL TEXT and Image Release Shared from Vatican va - Unofficial Translation