“Gaudete et exsultate” – A summary and some reflections on Chapter 1

Pope-Francis-writing-740x493As is characteristic of Pope Francis, his latest document, the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, is not “a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification”. Instead, the Holy Father has the practicality of daily life in mind: he simply wants to repropose the call to holiness “for our own time”.

In this post I will take a look at the first chapter of this new document. I will try to add some thoughts and connections of my own, as well as provide a summary for those who haven’t gotten around to reading the whole thing yet. I haven’t either, so what you read here very much is a collection of first impressions.

The first paragraph of the exhortation emphasises that the call to holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian. Too often it seems as if Christianity is just a system of rules and regulations, but, Pope Francis reminds us, “[The Lord] wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” for He created us for true life and happiness. That is the goal of following Christ. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI in paragraph 21, Pope Francis writes, “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.”

Holiness is not something to be achieved alone. On the contrary, there are countless numbers of saints that lead by example. They “may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord,” the Pope writes. In paragraph 5, he reminds us of a recent change he made to the reasons why a person can be declared to be a blessed or saint: when “a life is constantly offered for others, even until death”. The processes of beatification and canonisation recognise the heroic virtues, which people in the past, but also “our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones” consistently display to inspire and guide us on the path to holiness.

And holiness is not just a goal on the horizon, distant or otherwise. In paragraph 7, Pope Francis speaks of “the middle class of holiness”: parents, people who work hard for their loved ones, for the sick, our next-door neighbours who display God’s presence among us. It is these people who make real history.

Holiness also unites, especially when we look at the martyrs. People are persecuted or killed for their Christian faith, and the persecutors make no distinction between Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants. Theirs is a ecumenism of blood.

But these are just some factual statements, important as they may be. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis “would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Exhortation should, then, be read as a personal letter to all of us. Paragraphs 14 to 18, under the header “For you too”, are essential reading in this regard. Each has their own way of achieving holiness, and while examples are good and helpful, they are not meant to simply be copied, “for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us.” We are tasked to find our own path, our own vocation in life, because that is what is attainable for us.

In paragraph 12, the Holy Father stresses the “genius of women” which is “seen in feminine styles of holiness”. While listing a number of important female saints, he returns again to the “middle class”: “all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness.”

Holiness, or the attempt at achieving it, is essential to the mission of a Christian in the world. That mission, which each of us has, is “to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.”

But what is that holiness, then? Pope Francis offers a deceptively simple answer: “[H]oliness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.” We can incorporate these mysteries in our lives by contemplating them, he writes, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola.

It is important to recall that saints, which we are called to be, are not perfect human beings. After all, only God is perfect. “Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect.” That is why we must look at “the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person”. We must also look at the totality of our own lives, not just dwell on individual mistakes or successes. Pope Francis encourages us to always listen to the Holy Spirit and the signs He gives us; we should ask in prayer what Jesus expects from us at every moment and for every decision we make.

Holiness requires an openness to God. “Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit,” we read in paragraph 24. If we don’t, our mission to speak the message of Jesus that God wants us to communicate to the world by our lives will fail.

Our striving for holiness is intimately connected to Christ. We must work with Him to build His Kingdom: this is thus a communal effort. We cannot seek one thing while avoiding another. “Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission,” the Pope writes in paragraph 26.

What are the sort of activities that can help us on the path to holiness, then? As each path is different, it is impossible to provide a simple list, but the Holy Father does give some directions: “Anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.” We must be committed, so that everything we do has evangelical meaning. But that “does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary.” We live in a world of distractions, a world not filled with joy, but with discontent (the social media world is certainly no stranger to that). In moments of silence we are able to open ourselves to God, which, as we have read, is a prerequisite for starting on our path to holiness.

Paragraph 31 summarises the above well: “We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.”

But that path can also be scary, as it seems to take us away from what is familiar. In paragraph 32, Pope Francis echoes a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.” Pope Francis writes the same about holiness: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.” This, as I have written above, is the heart of being a Christian: the path to holiness leads us to becoming the fullest version of ourselves.

In this first chapter, Pope Francis establishes that this is a personal letter to each of us. It explains that holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian, and that it precludes neither the contemplative nor the active sides of life: we should never choose one over the other, but both are required. With this text he also emphasises his own focus on spirituality: Christianity is a faith with its roots in the muck of daily life. Holiness is not something high and unattainable, no, it can become visible in the most mediocre things. Holiness has a middle class of hard work which is at least as important as the first class of theology and contemplation. I found the various references to the fullness of life which God has created us for especially striking. I think it is a beautiful invitation to find our own path to holiness and follow Christ every day.

I will look at Chapter 2 in the near future.


Like this post? Think of making a donation! 

 

Advertisements

Lectures and meetings – baby bishops’ school in Rome

This past week, the bishops who have been appointed in the last year were in Rome for what has become known as ‘baby bishops’ school’, a series of lectures on things related to being a bishop. Among the participants was Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden, appointed in April of this year. The last time a Dutch bishop participated was in 2012. The week-long course has existed since 2001 and is jointly organised by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Oriental Churches.

20170908-_C817730.jpgBishop Ron van den Hout, at left, concelebrates the daily Mass during the course for newly-appointed bishops.

This year’s topic of the course was ‘Teachers in discernment’, and, according to a factual report on the website of Bishop van den Hout’s diocese, the bishops heard lectures on mutual collegiality, the relationships with the priests of the bishop’s new diocese, ecumenism, pastoral care for priests and their affective life, Church and media, the missionary Church, and the role of canon law in managing a diocese.

The German bishops were with six in Rome, among them Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, who shared the photo below on his Facebook page, of bishops (and one priest) at dinner.

21740590_979533605512127_6593107632050468441_n

From left to right: Franz Josef Gebert (auxiliary, Trier), Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Fr. Stefan Langer (Hamburg), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Horst Eberlein (auxiliary, Hamburg), Dominicus Meier (auxiliary, Paderborn (albeit not a newly-ordained bishop)) and Rupert Graf zu Stolberg (auxiliary, München und Freising). Absent from the gathering were Bishops Mattäus Karrer (auxiliary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart) and Rolf Lohmann (auxiliary, Münster).

 

Next to the lectures, Bishop Kohlgraf identifies another important element of the week. “Another at least equally important part is formed by the conversations between the individual participants. It allowed me to get to know brothers who work in very sober and sometimes difficult situations and yet radiate great joy”. A participant in last year’s edition, Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney, Australia (a bishop you should follow in Facebook or Twitter, by the way), said something similar in a recent conversation with Crux: “Make sure you organize a few lunches and dinners along the way. Make sure you make time to get to know some of those bishops in a more intimate setting. Build friendships there.”

The new bishops were received in audience by Pope Francis on Thursday afternoon. In his address, the Holy Father reminded them that “[t]he mission that awaits you is not to bring your own ideas and projects, nor solutions that are abstractly designed by those who consider the Church a home garden but humbly, without attention-seeking or narcissism , to offer your concrete witness of union with God, serving the Gospel that should be cultivated and helped to grow in that specific situation.” He spoke about discerning God in everything the bishops does and says. “Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone. And, in the end, we will all be measured not by counting our works but on the growth of God’s work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the “Pastor and keeper of our souls” (cf. 1 Pt 2:25)”.

 

Remembering Baptism – Archbishop Schick’s Letter for Lent

schickIt’s time again for bishops writing their faithful on the occasion of the season of Lent. I will share a selection of these letters here over the coming weeks. First of is Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, who writes about Lent as the season of preparation for Baptism, or, as in the case of many faithful, a remembrance of our Baptism.

“Oh Blessedness of being baptised”

Dear sisters and brothers!

In the liturgical year, Lent is the time in which the “joy of the Gospel” is to be renewed. We are invited to engage deeper into the imitation of Jesus. We will experience anew: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

The year 2015 will be celebrated as a “Year of Orders”. Pope Francis has set it is a “Year of the Vocation to Religious Life”. Additionally, in the Archdiocese of Bamberg we celebrate 1,000 years of religious life among us since the establishment of the Benedictine monastery on the Michaelsberg in the year 1015. In this year we will get to know above all the orders and other religious communities better, consider religious life, express our appreciation for the religious Christians and pray for and promote vocations for them.

But this can only be meaningful and successful when we strengthen the meaning and feeling of the vocation and consecration of all Christians. Not just the religious and the priests, but all Christians are called by Jesus Christ and consecrated by the Baptism of God. In the second reading from the First Letter of Peter we have heard: “It is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now — not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, with angels, ruling forces and powers subject to him” (1 Pet. 3:21-22).

I have been baptised and consecrated to God

All Christians are consecrated to God through Jesus Christ, who in Baptism gave us a clear conscience and has inextricably linked us to Himself; in HIM, the Risen One, we have “life in full”, here in faith, hope and love, there in unending joy with all who are saved. All baptised are also called to cooperate in building the Kingdom of God, “the saving justice, the peace and the joy” (cf. Rom. 14:17). Pope Francis expressed this as follows: “This offering of self to God regards every Christian, because we are all consecrated to him in Baptism. We are all called to offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus and like Jesus, making a generous gift of our life, in the family, at work, in service to the Church, in works of mercy.”

Ik would ask you to think about your calling to Baptism and the consecration to God through Baptism in the time of Lent that lies before us.

Above all, Lent, the time of penance before Easter is in the Church dedicated to immediate preparation of the catechumens, who will receive the sacrament of Baptism at Easter. With the catechumens, those who have already been baptised will experience anew the gratitude and joy of their Baptism. In the Easter night, then, all baptised are called to solemnly renew their baptismal promises, a burning candle in their hand. Before all individual callings in the Church, who all have in common “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all” (cf. Eph. 4:5-6).

Baptism as a gift and a task

We are Christians since Jesus Christ has given us his irrevocable yes. It was His initiative – not of our making – to call us into his “wonderful communion”. In Baptism we say our yes to this calling and are consecrated to God.

Almost all of us were baptised as small children. Our parents and godparents spoke the yes of our Baptism on our behalf. This has been common in the Church, the family of Jesus Christ, since the beginning. Like the parents give their children everything what is important to themselves and what they consider valuable for life from the start, they also let their children receive the divine gift of Baptism immediately after birth. Over the course of life every Christian, independently and on their own responsibility, will then discover their calling to Christian life ever deeper and confirm his consecration to God. Our being Christians is never complete. Ever deeper we will “grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth” of God’s love for us (cf. Eph. 3:18-19). We will express this love ever more in our daily life through active love of God and neighbour. That is what are invited to do in every Lent.

Considering the baptismal promises

Dear sisters and brothers!

Baptism effects our belonging to Jesus Christ, our following and becoming similar to Him. At the beginning of Lent 2015 I would cordially invite you to think about your calling of Baptism and your consecration to God through Baptism. Suggestions for “remembering Baptism” can be found in our Gotteslob, n. 576. In the coming weeks, read the baptismal promises. Speak about your Baptism in your family and among your friends, in the parish council, youth group, society and seniors’ club. Ask yourself what it means for you to be called by and baptised in Jesus Christ. Read – or even better sing – the hymns in Gotteslob: “Ich bin getauft und Gott geweiht” (GL 491) or: „Fest soll mein Taufbund immer stehen” (GL 870). Think about what it means to answer the question “Do you believe?” every time with “I believe” and “Do you renounce?” with “I renounce”! A good confession should be a part of Lent: it can encourage the joy of being a Christian. The sacrament of Penance is called a “second Baptism” by theologians. It renews the grace of Baptism as it frees one from sin and makes a new start in one’s Christian life; put differently: the sacrament of Penance renews the vocation of following Christ and the consecration to God.

We Christians need more self-awareness, which makes us humble and modest, like true Christians. We find this self-awareness in the living encounter with Jesus Christ, who, through Baptism, “called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light”. This allows us to work zealously and firmly for the propagation of faith and to cooperate in the building of the Kingdom of God. Thus prepared, we can join joyfully in the celebration of Easter and renew our baptismal promises.

Baptism – Life in the Church

Baptism is always a calling to the Church, to a life in the mystical Body of Christ and to walking with the people of God towards Heaven. We can also better serve one another in the community of Christians with the gifts that each has received, and which also have an effect on the community. For that we regularly need spiritual support; the most important of which is the Sunday Eucharist. When attended the Eucharist is not possible, we should come together in a celebration of the Word of God or a prayer service, in which we hear God’s Word, pray and sing together. In our pastoral plan “Den Aufbruch wafen – heute!” from 2005 everything relevant for the celebration of the Eucharist is outlined on the pages 52 to 54. The daily morning, evening and table prayers are connected to the Eucharist. These should all be a matter of course for us. It is also important that we show ourselves publicly, in word and action, as Christians. That strengthens us and helps maintaining Christian standards and values in our society. The spirit of Jesus Christ is  indispensable for a good future and a good working relationship between us and the world.

 Blessed Lent

Dear brothers and sisters!

I wish you a blessed lent in the “Year of Orders” and in the “Year of the Vocation to Religious Life”. May the time of penance before Lent help us increase the joy of our Baptism, the joy of the community with Jesus Christ and the Gospel, the joy of the Church and the cooperation in the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis writes to us: “During the season of Lent, the Church issues two important invitations: to have a greater awareness of the redemptive work of Christ; and to live out one’s Baptism with deeper commitment.” Let us accept this double invitation.

May the good God therefore bless you, the + Father and the + Son and the + Holy Spirit.

Your Archbishop,

Dr. Ludwig Schick

Catholic Voices launches a Dutch chapter

catholic voicesGood news this week as Catholic Voices launches a Dutch group. This weekend, a group of 20 Catholics follow the initial training in order to become informed and communicative voices for the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith in the media. Founder of Catholic Voices as a whole, Jack Valero, summarises the purpose of the initiative as follows: “It’s not about winning the discussion, but giving a positive witness.”

The original Catholic Voices was formed in 2010 in the United Kingdom, on the eve of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to that country, in order to be able to answer questions of the media and inform the public about all sort of subjects related to the Church and the faith. A Catholic Voice may be contacted via the group to be a guest commentator, a participant of a discussion or a source of information for all sorts of media.

catholic voices nederland

Since 2010, groups ave been established in a number of countries, including Italy, the United States and Australia.

In addition to training the first group of Catholic Voices, they also offer a three-part training course in Strategic Communication of the Faith, on three Saturdays in 2015. This is for people who want to be able to give good answers to the difficult questions they may get in their daily life.

In the First Letter of Peter we read, “If anyone asks you to give an account of the hope which you cherish, be ready at all times to answer for it” (3:15), and that is exactly what Catholic Voices wants to do. In our modern media, driven by concerns of a financial as nature as well as the need to offer good journalism and information, the subject of religion is often forgotten. No longer are there specific, well-informed reporters appointed to cover these topics, and often we see the results: incorrect information and subjective reporting coloured by opinions. Catholic Voices can be a tool to correct that, as well as a wonderful opportunity for individual faithful to learn more, not just about their faith and Church, but also about their own communication.

Seventh Station: Jesus falls for the second time

He bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24

For the second time as he makes his way along the narrow path to Calvary, Jesus falls. We can sense his physical weakness after the long night and the torture he had endured. Perhaps it was not just that ordeal, his own exhaustion and the heavy cross on his shoulders that made him fall. An unfathomable burden weighs on Jesus, something personal and profound which makes itself felt more clearly with each step.

We see you as a just another poor man,
one who made a mistake in life and now must pay for it.
You seem to have no physical or moral strength left
to face the new day. And so you fall.

We recognize ourselves in you, Jesus,
even in this further, exhausted fall!
Yet you get up again; you want to carry on.
For us, for all of us,
to give us the courage to get up again.
We are weak indeed,
but your love is greater than our failures;
it is always ready to accept and understand us.

Our sins, which you took upon yourself,
crush you, yet your mercy
is infinitely greater than our misery.
Yes, Jesus, thanks to you we get up again.
We made our mistakes.
We let ourselves be taken in by the temptations of the world
perhaps for nothing more than a glimmer of satisfaction,
at the thought that someone still wants us,
that someone says he or she likes us, even loves us.
At times it is a struggle even to maintain
the commitment to fidelity made in our marriage vows.
We no longer feel the freshness or the enthusiasm we once had.
Everything is repetitious, every act seems a burden,
We just want to escape.

But we try to get up once more, Jesus,
And not to fall into the greatest temptation of all:
that of not believing that your love can accomplish all things.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Zen turns 80

As a class of 18 new cardinal electors awaits their creation, the current group falls to 107 as Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun turns 80 and loses his right to vote in a conclave. The former archbishop of Hong Kong was for years China’s only cardinal, and the number doesn’t seem to increase anytime soon, considering the difficult relations between the Communist superpower and the Holy See. Cardinal Zen’s successor in the former British colony, Bishop John Tong Hon, is already lined up to become China’s next sole cardinal and elector.

Cardinal Zen, a priest since 1961, was ordained as coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong, finally succeeding Cardinal Wu Cheng-Chung in 2002. He was created a cardinal in the first consistory called by Pope Benedict XVI, in 2006.

His episcopal motto, “Ipsi cura est”, comes from 1 Peter 5:7, and means “he cares (about you)”, something that Cardinal Zen took to heart, often being publicly critical of the governments of both China and Hong Kong. His latest action was a three-day hunger strike last October, to protest how the government handled the school system.

Cardinal Zen of course retains his cardinal title church of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore a Tor Bella Monaca on Rome’s eastern outskirts.

Papal soundbytes, Aquileia and Venice

Pope Benedict XVI speaks with Archbishop Dino De Antoni of Gorizia upon his arrival in Aquileia

It took a while, but the Vatican website now features the English texts of all the pope’s speeches, homilies and other remarks made during the pastoral visit to Aquileia and Venice on 7 and 8 May. So, without further ado, here are the papal soundbytes of this first pastoral visit of the year. Go visit the above link to read the full texts.

Christ, God and man

What made the Church which Chromatius loved and served great was her profession of faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. In commenting on the Gospel narrative of the woman who pours perfume first on Jesus’ feet and then on his head, Chromatius says: “The feet of Christ indicate the mystery of his Incarnation which is why he deigned to be born of a virgin in these recent times; the head, on the other hand, indicates the glory of his divinity which proceeds from the Father before all the ages. This means that we must believe two things about Christ: that he is God, and that he is man, God begotten by the Father, a man born of a virgin…. We cannot otherwise be saved, unless we believe these two things about Christ” (Chromatius of Aquileia, Catechesis to the People, Cittá Nuova, 1989, p. 93). (Meeting with the people of Aquileia, 7 May.)

The Holy Spirit speaks through community

It is through the “synodal assembly” that the Holy Spirit speaks to your beloved Churches and to all of you individually, strengthening you for a more mature growth in fellowship and mutual cooperation. This “ecclesial gathering” allows all the Christian communities that you represent here, first of all to share the original experience of Christianity, that of the personal encounter with Jesus, who fully discloses to every man and every woman the meaning and direction of our path, both through life and through history. (Preparatory assembly for the Second Ecclesial Convention of Aquileia, 7 May.)

“He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 2:7). Your pastors have repeated this invitation of the Book of Revelation to all your individual Churches and the various ecclesial realities. In this way they have urged you to discover and to “narrate” what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing in your communities; to read with the eyes of faith the profound changes taking place, the new challenges and questions emerging. (Idem.)

Faith and family

Be sure to put at the centre of your attention the family, the cradle of love and life, the fundamental cell of society and the ecclesial community; this pastoral commitment is made more urgent by the growing crisis of married life and the declining birth rate. In all your pastoral activities make sure that you reserve a very special care for young people: they, who today look to the future with great uncertainty, often live in a state of unease, insecurity and fragility, but who carry in their hearts a great hunger and thirst for God, which calls for a constant attention and response! (Idem)

From faith lived with courage, today as in the past, flows a rich culture of love for life, from conception until its natural end, the promotion of human dignity, of the elevation of the importance of the family based on faithful marriage and open to life, and of the commitment to justice and solidarity. (idem.)

Pope Benedict XVI, pictured here with Angelo Cardinal Scola, arrives in St. Mark's Square

The eyes of faith and reason

I invite you all, dear Venetians, always to seek and to preserve harmony between the eyes of faith and reason, which enables the conscience to perceive the true good, so that the decisions of the civil community may always be inspired by ethical principles that correspond to the deep truth of human nature. Man cannot renounce the truth about himself without his sense of personal responsibility, solidarity with others and honesty in economic and working relations, suffering. (Meeting with the faithful at St. Mark’s Square, Venice, 7 May.)

Conversion

Sometimes, when we speak of conversion we think solely of its demanding aspect of detachment and renunciation. Christian conversion, on the contrary, is also and above all about joy, hope and love. It is always the work of the Risen Christ, the Lord of life who has obtained this grace for us through his Passion and communicates it to us by virtue of his Resurrection. (Mass at San Giuliano Park, Mestre, 8 May.)

The Holy Father arrives in Mestre by boat

Doubt, sadness and disappointment

The many testimonies that have spread everywhere are an eloquent expression of this faith: churches, works of art, hospitals, libraries and schools; the actual environment of your cities, of the countryside and the mountains, is everywhere spangled with references to Christ. Yet today this existence of Christ risks being emptied of its truth and of its deepest content; it risks becoming a horizon that only superficially — and rather, in its social and cultural aspects — embraces life; it risks being reduced to a Christianity in which the experience of faith in the Crucified and Risen Jesus fails to illuminate the journey of life, as we have heard in today’s Gospel concerning the two disciples of Emmaus, who after the crucifixion of Jesus were going home immersed in doubt, sadness and disappointment. Unfortunately such an attitude is beginning to spread in your region too. This happens when today’s disciples drift away from the Jerusalem of the Crucified and Risen One, no longer believing in the power and in the living presence of the Lord. The problem of evil, sorrow and suffering, the problem of injustice and abuse, fear of others, of strangers and foreigners who come to our lands and seem to attack what we are, prompt Christians today to say sadly: we hoped that the Lord would deliver us from evil, from sorrow, from suffering, from fear, from injustice. (Idem.)

Staying with Jesus who has stayed with us, assimilating his lifestyle, choosing with him the logic of communion with each other, of solidarity and of sharing. The Eucharist is the maximum expression of the gift which Jesus makes of himself and is a constant invitation to live our lives in the Eucharistic logic, as a gift to God and to others. (Idem.)

Defending the eternal values

I know that you have made and are making a considerable effort to defend the eternal values of the Christian faith. I encourage you never to give in to the recurring temptations of the hedonistic culture and to the appeal of materialistic consumerism. Accept the invitation of the Apostle Peter, contained in today’s Second Reading, to conduct yourselves “with fear throughout the time of your exile” here below (1 Pt 1:17); an invitation that is put into practice by living intensely on the thoroughfares of our world in the awareness of the destination to be reached: unity with God, in the Crucified and Risen Christ.  (Idem.)

Be holy! Make Christ the centre of your lives! Build the edifice of your existence on him! In Jesus you will find the strength to open yourselves to others and to make yourselves, after his example, a gift for the whole of humanity. (Idem.)

Strength and encouragement

Today, symbolically, I come to redeliver the Gospel to you, the spiritual children of St Mark, in order to strengthen you in the faith and encourage you in the face of the challenges of the present time. Move ahead with confidence on the path of the new evangelization, in loving service to the poor and with courageous testimony in the various social realities. Be aware that you bear a message meant for every man and and for the whole man; a message of faith, of hope and of love. (Assembly for the conclusion of the pastoral visit, Venice, 8 May.)

The holiness of the laity

May you always and everywhere know how to account for the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). The Church needs your gifts and your enthusiasm. Know how to say “yes” to Christ who calls you to be his disciples, to be holy. I would remind you, once again, that “holiness” does not mean doing extraordinary things, but following the will of God every day, living one’s own vocation really well, with the help of prayer, of the Word of God, the sacraments and with the daily effort for consistency. Yes, it takes lay faithful who are fascinated by the ideal of “holiness”, to build a society worthy of man, a civilization of love. (Idem.)

The Eucharist

[O]ur spiritual life depends essentially on the Eucharist. Without it, faith and hope are extinguished, love cools. I therefore urge you increasingly to pay special attention to the quality of Eucharistic celebrations, especially those on Sunday, so that the day of the Lord is lived fully and may illuminate the happenings and activities of daily life. From the Eucharist, the inexhaustible source of divine love, you can tap into the energy needed to bring Christ to others and to bring others to Christ, to be daily witnesses of charity and solidarity and to share the goods that Providence gives you with brothers and sisters who lack the necessities of life. (idem.)

Health

Salute” is an all-encompassing, integral reality: it extends from “being well” which enables us to live serenely a day of study and work or of vacation, to the salus animae, on which our eternal destiny depends. God takes care of all this, excluding nothing. He takes care of our health in the full sense. Jesus demonstrates this in the Gospel: he healed the sick, suffering from every kind of illness, but he also freed those possessed by the devil. He forgave sins; he resurrected the dead. Jesus revealed that God loves life and wants to deliver it from every denial, even to the point of rescuing it from that radical denial which is spiritual evil, sin, a poisonous root that contaminates all things. (Meeting with the worlds of culture and economy, Venice, 8 May).

The Council fathers

We must not […] forget that the Council Fathers […] lived in the period of the two World Wars and totalitarianism. Their perspective was certainly not dictated by an easy optimism, but by Christian faith which enlivens hope at the same time great and patient, open to the future and attentive to the historical situations. (Idem.)

The Gospel

The Gospel is the greatest power for transformation in the world, but it is neither a utopia nor an ideology. The first Christian generations called it rather the “way”, that is, the way of living that Christ practised first and invites us to follow. (Idem.)

Photo credit:
[1] AP Photo/Paolo Giovannini
[2], [4] Marco Secchi/Getty Images
[3] Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
[5] AP Photo/Luigi Costantini
[6] Barbara Zanon/Getty Images