Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ Homily at His Final Mass in the U.S.

Today the word of God surprises us with powerful and thought-provoking images. Images which challenge us, but also stir our enthusiasm. In the first reading, Joshua tells Moses that two members of the people are prophesying, speaking God’s word, without a mandate. In the Gospel, John tells Jesus that the disciples had stopped someone from casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus. Here is the surprise: Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! Would that all could be prophets of God’s word! Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord’s name!

Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.

Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing “scandal” are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly “intolerable” scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!

Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds. He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for “love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us” first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, “Do not hold back anything that is good, instead help it to grow!” To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group”, who are not “like us”, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith!

Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.

Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.

So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf.Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family. Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!

Pointedly, yet affectionately, Jesus tells us: “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13). How much wisdom there is in these few words! It is true that, as far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show! But Jesus knows that, where children are concerned, we are capable of boundless generosity. So he reassures us: if only we have faith, the Father will give us his Spirit.

We Christians, the Lord’s disciples, ask the families of the world to help us! How many of us are here at this celebration! This is itself something prophetic, a kind of miracle in today’s world. Would that we could all be prophets! Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of others!

And how beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders, we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle! We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!

Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region, or religion to which they belong!

May God grant to all of us, as the Lord’s disciples, the grace to be worthy of this purity of heart which is not scandalized by the Gospel!

A Reflection on Plastic Bags

About two weeks ago, when I was in the check-out line at the supermarket, I noticed that my cashier did not say “plastic or paper.”  The baggers just started putting our groceries into paper bags. I first thought, “They must have forgot…” I always said plastic when they asked me, but I let it go.  Plastic was easier to carry to the car… we use them around the house… easy to throw away.

It wasn’t until later that I found out why the city of Chicago had banned my plastic bags. The reasoning was that our city was using 2,000 bags per minute, and we needed to put a stop to this waste. Think about all the large stores, all the purchases, all the businesses. Three million of us.  Bags that are made with petroleum. Not easily biodegradable. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad.

So I thought, OK, I’ll just use paper from now on. And then I found out it take more energy to make a paper bag than it does a plastic bag. Millions of paper bags, and we’ll just throw them away, too.  Unless I bring my own bags.

I know I should have been more aware of these things before August 1st, but I was just too busy. Like going to the dentist, or eating your vegetables, we all know the right thing to do, but sometimes, we just don’t do it. We’re lazy. We’re stressed.  Maybe you can relate.

Well, Pope Francis has a message for people like us in his first encyclical, Laudato Si. On Care of Our Common Home. Promulgated in May of this year, on the feast of Pentecost, the Pope doesn’t pull punches when it comes to our responsibility and the environment.

“The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

Wow.  In other words, caring for the environment is no longer optional. What we do today affects all generations, the rich and the poor, Christian and non-Christians, everybody. The faucet we leave running, that plastic bottle we throw out, that iced coffee cup I buy every morning, the light I leave on – that’s taking energy and resources from our grandchildren.

I have to change how I live. Today. We all do.

See, everything is connected. Like a spider’s web, our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. How we treat the earth is a good indicator of how we treat other people.

In other words, we are responsible for the earth, not in control of it.  The idea of a “throw-away” culture is not acceptable for plants, animals, rivers, air… or other people. We are not objects that can be discarded… it’s why those Planned Parenthood videos are so disturbing.

Think of it this way: it’s not about saving the environment — it’s about saving God’s environment.  We are caring for our common home, and everyone who lives here. This is ecological conversion.  Imagine if we all pause for a moment and thought about this each time we shop, reusing our bags as way to care for others, being aware of our carbon footprint?

Why not say a prayer every time you pull the bags out of the backseat? A prayer of gratitude for all that you have been given, a chance to reflect for just a minute on why you are using the bags.  Imagine if we all take this seriously?  What could we do?

What would you do?

Both Pope Francis and Bishop Cupich, who has been tweeting about this encyclical all summer long, feel this is one of the most important issues of our time.

But you could say these bags… are the reason I became a more responsible Catholic, a better Christian, this summer.

A final report from Rio

A reported 3 million people turned out Sunday for Pope Francis’ final Mass of his Brazil trip after camping out on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach.

Nearly the entire 2.5 mile crescent of the beach overflowed with people, some of them taking an early morning dip in the Atlantic and others tossing t-shirts, flags and soccer jerseys into the pontiff’s open-sided car as he drove by. Francis worked the crowd, kissing babies, taking a sip of mate tea handed up to him and catching gifts on the fly. Even the normally stern-faced Vatican bodyguards let smiles slip as they jogged alongside his car, caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd.

“Jesus is calling [on] you to be a disciple with a mission,” Francis told the crowd, according to CatholicHerald.co.uk. He added that the best way to evangelize the young is another young person, and that the Church needs their enthusiasm, creativity and joy.

“Dear young people Jesus Christ is counting on you, the Church is counting on you, the Pope is counting on you!” Francis said.

Francis has spent the week emphasizing a core message: of the need for Catholics, lay and religious, to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.

According to census data, the number of Catholics in Brazil dipped from 125 million in 2000 to 123 million in 2010, with the church’s share of the total population dropping from 74 percent to 65 percent. During the same time period, the number of evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals skyrocketed from 26 million to 42 million, increasing from 15 percent to 22 percent of the population in 2010.

He repeated the message Sunday in his homily.

“Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers and selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world,” he said.

It seemed the message was getting through.

“You feel that he really connected with people here,” said the Rev. Jean-Luc Zadroga, a Benedictine monk who was leading a group of 14 students from a Catholic university in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. “He’s really trying to reach out to Catholics who have fallen away from the church or disappointed with the church and I think it’s working.”

Francis on Saturday offered a breathtakingly blunt list of explanations for the “exodus.”

“Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas,” he said. “Perhaps the world seems to have made the church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions. Perhaps the church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.”

On Saturday night, Francis headed into the final hours of his first international trip riding a remarkable wave of popularity.

“I’m trembling, look how good you can see him!” gushed Fiorella Dias, a 16-year-old Brazilian who jumped for joy as she reviewed the video she shot as the pope passed by. “I have got to call my mother!”

The Saturday vigil drew a reported 3 million flag-waving, rosary-toting faithful, who overflowed Copacabana beach. The attendance figure, given by local media citing the mayor’s office, is higher than the 1 million at the last World Youth Day vigil in Madrid in 2011, and far more than the 650,000 at Toronto’s 2002 vigil.

Many of those watching the vigil had tears in their eyes as they listened to Francis’ call for them to build up their church like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was called to do.

“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup!” Francis said, drawing cheers from the crowd in this soccer-mad nation.

On the beach, pilgrims staked out their spots on the sand, lounged and snacked, and prepared for the all-night slumber party ahead of Sunday’s Mass. Francis leaves Brazil Sunday evening.

“At church, it can be a bit tedious, but here it’s amazing,” marveled Anna Samson, a 21-year-old college senior from Long Beach, California.

“Seeing the pope, seeing the Stations of the Cross acted out live, seeing all these young people from all over,” she said as she and two friends plied the beach in search of a place to spread their sleeping bags. “It’s overwhelming, just amazing.”

Saturday night’s vigil capped a busy day for the pope in which he drove home a message he has emphasized throughout the week in speeches, homilies and off-the-cuff remarks: the need for Catholics, lay and religious, to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.

In the longest and most important speech of his four-month pontificate, Francis took a direct swipe at the “intellectual” message of the church that so characterized the pontificate of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Speaking to Brazil’s bishops, he said ordinary Catholics simply don’t understand such lofty ideas and need to hear the simpler message of love, forgiveness and mercy that is at the core of the Catholic faith.

“At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people,” he said. “Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery.”

In a speech outlining the kind of church he wants, Francis asked bishops to reflect on why hundreds of thousands of Catholics have left the church for Protestant and Pentecostal congregations that have grown exponentially in recent decades in Brazil, particularly in its slums or favelas, where their charismatic message and nuts-and-bolts advice is welcome by the poor.

Francis also asked if the church today can still “warm the hearts” of its faithful with priests who take time to listen to their problems and remain close to them.

“We need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy,” he said. “Without mercy, we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of ‘wounded’ persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love.”

The Argentine pope began Saturday with a Mass in Rio’s beehive-like modern cathedral where he exhorted 1,000 bishops from around the world to go out and find the faithful, a more diplomatic expression of the direct, off-the-cuff instructions he delivered to young Argentine pilgrims on Thursday. In those remarks, he urged the youngsters to make a “mess” in their dioceses and shake things up, even at the expense of confrontation with their bishops and priests.

“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” Francis said in his homily Saturday.

Francis’ target audience is the poor and the marginalized — the people that history’s first pope from Latin America has highlighted on this first trip of his pontificate. He has visited one of Rio’s most violent slum areas, met with juvenile offenders and drug addicts.

He carried that message to a meeting with Brazil’s political, economic and intellectual elite, urging them to look out for the poorest and use their leadership positions to work for the common good. He also called for greater dialogue between generations, religions and peoples during the speech at Rio’s grand municipal theater.

Published July 28, 2013/FoxNews.com.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.