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Lent (90)

Venerdì, 11 Marzo 2016 23:00

Compassion and Mercy

Written by

Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, o.c.d.

There is no limit to God's mercy. He never rejects us because of our sins, he never grows weary of our infidelities, he never refuses to forgive us, he is always ready to forget our offenses and to repay our ingratitude with graces. He never reproaches us for our offenses, even when we fall again immediately after being forgiven. He is never angered by our repeated failures or weakness in the practice of virtue, but always stretches out his hand to us, wanting to help us. Even when men condemn us, God shows mercy to us; he absolves us and sends us away justified....

How far does our mercy go? How much compassion do we have for the faults of others? The measure of our mercy toward our neighbor will be the measure of God's mercy toward us....

God does not require us to be sinless that he may shower upon us the fullness of his mercy, but he does require us to be merciful to our neighbor, and moreover, to be humble. In fact, to be sinners is not enough to attract divine mercy; we must also humbly acknowledge our sins and turn to God with complete confidence. "What pleases God," said Saint Therese of Lisieux, "is to see me love my littleness and poverty; it is the blind hope I have in his mercy. This is my sole treasure." This is the treasure which supplies for all our miseries, weaknesses, relapses, and infidelities, because by means of this humility and confidence we shall obtain the divine mercy. And with this at our disposal, how can our wretchedness discourage us?

Venerdì, 04 Marzo 2016 23:00

How the Humble Are Exalted

Written by

Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur

It is not pride, is it, to call myself your friend, one you have called, your chosen friend? I see the traces of your love everywhere, the divine call everywhere, my vocation everywhere. You made use of trials, suffering, and illness to make me completely yours and to make me holy, first drawing me to you solely by your action within me. You have done everything. Now complete your work; make me holy according to your will; use me for others, for my beloved ones, for all your interests; use me for your greater glory, and let all be done in silence and in an intimate encounter between us alone. From the depths of my being and my misery I say, "Lord, what will you have me do? Speak, your servant listens; I am the handmaid of the Lord; I come, Father, ready to do your will" (Lk 1:38).

Patience, gentleness, humility, silence, kindness. To hide all that I can of my physical suffering, and all my moral suffering, my spiritual deprivations. To cover everything with serenity and smiles: all my discomfort, sadness, and renunciations. To try to reconcile the tastes, desires, and needs of each and to take no account of myself, not to think of what I might wish; to sacrifice even my greatest hopes, when, misunderstood, they might irritate or displease another. I shall have all eternity in which to contemplate him whom I adore, to unite myself to him, and to pray. Here, I must think of my neighbor, of others; I must sacrifice myself, and practice contemplation in action. There is plenty of material for renunciation and profound and constant self-denial in this unending abandonment of all that is my deepest longing.

Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur

Mercoledì, 23 Marzo 2016 23:00

They will condemn him to death

Written by

Monsignor Romano Guardini

Christ on the cross! Inconceivable what he went through as he hung there. In the degree that we are Christian and have learned to love the Lord, we begin to sense something of that mystery of utter helplessness, hopelessness. This then the end of all effort and struggle! Everything, without reserve—body, heart, and spirit given over to the illimitable flame of omnipresent agony, to the terrible judgment of assumed world—sin that none can alleviate and whose horror only death can end. Such the depths from which omnipotent love calls new creation into being....

Ardent with suffering, he was to plunge to that ultimate depth, distance, center where the sacred power which formed the world from nothing could break into new creation.

Since the Lords death, this has become reality, in which all things have changed. It is from here that we live—as far as we are really alive in the sight of God.

If anyone should ask: What is certain in life and death— so certain that everything else may be anchored in it? The answer is: The love of Christ. Life teaches us that this is the only true reply. Not people—not even the best and dearest; not science, or philosophy, or art or any other product of human genius. Also not nature, which is so full of profound deception; neither time nor fate.... Not even simply "God"; for his wrath has been roused by sin, and how without Christ would we know what to expect from him? Only Christ's love is certain. We cannot even say God's love; for that God loves us we also know, ultimately, only through Christ. And even if we did know without Christ that God loved us—love can also be inexorable, and the more noble it is, the more demanding. Only through Christ do we know that God's love is forgiving. Certain is only that which manifested itself on the cross. What has been said so often and so inadequately is true: The heart of Jesus Christ is the beginning and end of all things.

Monsignor Romano Guardini

Mercoledì, 02 Marzo 2016 16:14

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Written by

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Are you poor? Like Lazarus covered with sores, put your trust in him. Lazarus was poor, Abraham was rich. When we hear in the Gospel that that poor man with his sores died and was carried up by angels to Abraham's bosom, all the beggars, the sore-infested, the cripples, the rejects—when they hear that reading, what do they say? "He was talking about us." Perhaps a poor man in want, scarcely able to support himself, or a beggar perhaps, notices some rich man standing in God's house clothed appropriately to his station. When he hears that reading he says, "He was talking about me; I too, when I die, am going to be carried up by angels to Abraham's bosom." He hears the Gospel say in the same place about the rich man, that when he died he began to be tormented in hell. When the poor man hears this he says to himself, "He said that about me, this about him over there."...

He rewards loving kindness with a crown, not poverty. Sure, God is not going to say in his judgment, "Let the nobleman approach me, let the commoner depart from me." But neither is he going to say, "Let the commoner approach me, let the nobleman depart from me." What he is going to say is, "Let the just approach, let the unjust depart."

So, poor man, hold onto loving kindness if you want to arrive. If you really want to know that what the Lord chose is loving kindness, and it's not riches that he condemned— the poor man was carried up—but where to?—to Abraham's bosom. Read what Abraham was, and you will find he was rich. The rich man went ahead and prepared hospitality and a home for the poor man. That's just what you have in the psalm, all together, rich and poor (Ps 49:2).

Let us glorify God and our Lord Jesus Christ in our good works, and say from the bottom of our hearts, have mercy on me, Lord have mercy on me, because— not in gold, not in silver, not in honor, not in wealth, not in a powerful friend, not in a crowd of supporters, not in a retinue of servants, but—in you my soul has put its trust.

Mercoledì, 24 Febbraio 2016 11:43

A Reflection on Lenten Fasting

Written by

by  Rev. Daniel Merz

In the early Church and, to a lesser extent still today, there were two fasts. There was the "total fast" that preceded all major feasts or sacramental events.  The ancient name for this fast was "statio" from the verb "sto, stare" to stand watch, on guard or in vigil.  The second fast was a fast of abstinence from certain foods, e.g., meats or fats.  This was more an act of self-discipline and self-control.  The statio fast was total and a means of watching and waiting…i.e. for something.  The fast of abstinence was more general and personal, to help oneself be more disciplined or self-controlled.  The total fast is still kept today prior to reception of Holy Communion.  Following Holy Communion, the total fast ceases because Jesus had explicitly stated that we don't fast when the bridegroom is here, in other words, what we're keeping vigil for has arrived, the wait is over.  On the other hand, the fast of abstinence was allowed on Sundays because the continuity of abstinence can be important for it to be effective.

These initial observations, then, teach us that the Eucharist is always the end of a preparation.  It is always the fulfillment of an expectation. In the Orthodox Church during Lent, they have Eucharist only on Saturday and Sunday. But because Wednesdays and Fridays are total fast days, those two days are also days for the Communion service (Liturgy of the PreSanctified) which are held in the evening, i.e., after the day of preparation.  Fasting is always preparatory.

But how did fasting become such an important means of preparing for the Eucharist and of learning virtue through self-discipline?  Christian fasting is revealed in an interdependence between two events in the Bible:the "breaking of the fast" by Adam and Eve; and the "keeping of the fast" by Christ at the beginning of his ministry.

Humanity's "Fall" away from God and into sin began with eating.  God had proclaimed a fast from the fruit of only one tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17), and Adam and Eve broke it.  Fasting is here connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and damnation.  Food perpetuates life in this physical world, which is subject to decay and death.  But God "created no death." (Wis. 1:13)  Humanity, in Adam and Eve, rejected a life dependent on God alone for one that was dependent rather on "bread alone." (Dt. 8:3; Mt. 4:4; Lk. 4:4)  The whole world was given to man as a kind of food, as a means to life, but "life" is meant as communion with God, not as food. ("Their god is their belly." Phil. 3:19)  The tragedy is not so much that Adam ate food, but that he ate the food for its own sake, "apart" from God and to be independent of Him.  Believing that food had life in itself and thus he could be "like God."   And he put his faith in food.  This kind of existence seems to be built on the principle that man does indeed live "by bread alone."

Christ, however, is the new Adam.  At the beginning of his ministry in the Gospel of Matthew, we read, "When He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He became hungry."  Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else—when we face the ultimate question: "on what does my life depend?"  Satan tempted both Adam and Christ, saying: Eat, for your hunger is proof that you depend entirely on food, that your life is in food.   Adam believed and ate.  Christ said, "Man does NOT live by bread alone." (Mt. 4:4; Lk. 4:4)  This liberates us from total dependence on food, on matter, on the world.  Thus, for the Christian, fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature.In order for fasting to be effective, then, the spirit must be a part of it.  Christian fasting is not concerned with losing weight.  It is a matter of prayer and the spirit.   And because of that, because it is truly a place of the spirit, true fasting may well lead to temptation, and weakness and doubt and irritation.In other words, it will be a real fight between good and evil, and very likely we shall fail many times in these battles.  But the very discovery of the Christian life as "fight" and "effort" is an essential aspect of fasting.

Christian tradition can name at least seven reasons for fasting:

  1. From the beginning, God commanded some fasting, and sin entered into the world because Adam and Eve broke the fast.
  2. For the Christian, fasting is ultimately about fasting from sin.
  3. Fasting reveals our dependence on God and not the resources of this world.
  4. Fasting is an ancient way of preparing for the Eucharist—the truest of foods.
  5. Fasting is preparation for baptism (and all the sacraments)—for the reception of grace.
  6. Fasting is a means of saving resources to give to the poor.
  7. Fasting is a means of self-discipline, chastity, and the restraining of the appetites.

This article draws in part on the writings of Alexander Schmemann, "Notes in Liturgical Theology," St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1959, pp. 2-9.  Rev. Daniel Merz is a former Associate Director of the USCCB Divine Worship office.

Martedì, 23 Febbraio 2016 22:08

Understanding the Theology and Spirituality of Lent

Written by

Fr. Bosco da Cunha, O.Carm


As Catholics, we are familiar with the season of Lent, which we enter with the attitude of repentance.  Even though we maintain our attitude of repentance throughout the liturgical year, this attitude is significantly more important during Lent.   Why? What is the theology and spirituality of the Lent Season?  Why do we need to understand?  What do we have to do?  What kind of commitment do we have to make? In order to answer these questions, we really need to return to God

The Theology and Spirituality of Lent Season

The season of Lent is not an archaeological heritage from the practice of asceticism in the history of the Church of a certain era, but it is a season especially offered to enliven the role of the Church in the Easter Mystery of Christ,  “if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:17).  This is the center of the Lenten Season where Christ fixes the Church, His beloved bride (Eph 5:25-27).  Therefore the emphasis is more into the repentance and the sanctification in God, not only just practicing asceticism.

The effort to repent is a sign of our involvement to the experience of Christ who fasted in the desert for 40 days for us.  Walking in the season of Lent, the Church realizes that God Himself has given His grace for his beloved people who come to repent; therefore repentance has the value of a liturgical act, where Christ is working in sanctifying His Church. The Church is an Easter Community because of existence of the Sacrament of Baptism where people are invited to live their faith constantly through an ongoing repentance.

Ecclesiastically, Lent Season is an invitation for all God’s people to open themselves to God, the Savior, who wants to clean our sins and sanctify us.  Therefore, the act of repentance is not an individual form of action, rather it is a communal act that is performed in relation with others, because:

  • Sin means we are against God.
  • Sin has social consequences
  • The act of repentance is also the responsibility of the Church.
  • We have the responsibility to pray for sinners.

The means provided to express our attitude of repentance during the Lent Season are:

  • To be more faithful and diligent in listening and meditating upon the Word of God.
  • To spend more time praying.
  • To fast and abstain.
  • To intensify the works of charity and love.

Keeping with the time and the era, pastoral activities during Lent should be adjusted to help the faithful to make the most out of the season of repentance.  We must try our best to help the faithful to renew their baptism promise individually or communally in order to direct them into a more inveterate Easter celebration and to be more passionate in following Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We need to acknowledge that as Christians our lives are guided by the dynamics of Easter.


As Lenten Season is the time to repent, to return to God, and to enter into an intimate and deep relationship with Christ, it is important for us to live its teaching and spirituality.  To repent means we conform ourselves with the will of God.  Therefore, we are willing to leave behind our tendency toward sin, focusing and relying our whole live only on Jesus Christ.  Lent makes us realize that we are only fragile and sinful human beings and we must rely on God’s strength.

Catherine Allen


We live in a world that largely promotes hard data and evidence as being prerequisite to understanding, belief and action. This foundation for decision-making and direction can push aside faith, hope and love as essential elements. These intangibles do not present the quantifiable substance to influence decision­making. Without them, however, we can tend towards a life which imitates the pursuit and demonstration of possessions rather than reflection and imitation of actions; Jesus' actions. If we strip away the 'things' of life, what is it we see that we truly need to live? Faith, hope, love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy within and across community. This would be a spiritual awakening.

Like Jesus did with Peter, John and James, we need to rise above our physical world to gain perspective and really see. We too might then see a glimpse of glory. We might allow ourselves to be enthralled, captivated, hopeful. Ideally we would not then shrink and hide from this as did the three. What is to be gained? Lent is the perfect time for this reflection. We might stop and consider our endeavours and lived purpose. We might allow our­selves clarity in our assessment of our impact on our world; our relationships, our work, our seemingly incidental interactions with others and on the environment. We may honestly repent and redirect, even if in doing so pain is, necessarily, involved.

All life includes pain and pain can invite learning, clarification and growth. We can learn a lot about ourselves when we are confronted with and tackle painful situations and circumstances. We can also exercise healthy and necessary humility. We might authentically see our need for God. Rather than give up faith and hope, take up our challenges. Sometimes God is working with, for and through us in mysterious ways. Our plan may not reach fruition but is it our plan which needs fulfilment, or God's? In God's plan we are an integral, precious member of a commu­nity, with obligations and responsibilities to live optimally for the good of all. In this year of Mercy especially, we might confront the bewildering, overwhelming or frightening and be lead to be the bigger person, sustained by the Holy Spirit. We might fight against fear, judgement and condemnation and, instead, seek to understand and embrace all with love. The love, courage and fortitude thus lived will lead us to Easter and its gift of everlast­ing life and entry to the heavenly community. This Lent may we actively pursue right judgement.

Catherine Allen, Parishioner of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Australia,

Mercoledì, 10 Febbraio 2016 11:03

What is Lent?

Written by

EWTN and Rev. William.

Lent is the forty day period before Easter, excluding Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). [This traditional ennumeration does not precisely coincide with the calendar according to the liturgical reform. In order to give special prominence to the Sacred Triduum (Mass of the Lord's Supper, Good Friday, Easter Vigil) the current calendar counts Lent as only from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, up to the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Even so, Lenten practices are properly maintained up to the Easter Vigil, excluding Sundays, as before.]

History of Lent

Since the earliest times of the Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation for Easter. Lent becomes more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. The Council of Nicea (325), in its disciplinary canons, noted that two provincial synods should be held each year, "one before the 40 days of Lent." Pope St. Leo (d. 461) preached that the faithful must "fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the 40 days," again noting the apostolic origins of Lent. One can safely conclude that by the end of the fourth century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.

Of course, the number "40" has always had special spiritual significance regarding preparation. On Mount Sinai, preparing to receive the Ten Commandments, "Moses stayed there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating any food or drinking any water" (Ex 34:28). Elijah walked "40 days and 40 nights" to the mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb (another name for Sinai) (I Kgs 19:8). Most importantly, Jesus fasted and prayed for "40 days and 40 nights" in the desert before He began His public ministry (Mt 4:2).

Once the 40 days of Lent were established, the next development concerned how much fasting was to be done. In Jerusalem, for instance, people fasted for 40 days, Monday through Friday, but not on Saturday or Sunday, thereby making Lent last for eight weeks. In Rome and in the West, people fasted for six weeks, Monday through Saturday, thereby making Lent last for six weeks. Eventually, the practice prevailed of fasting for six days a week over the course of six weeks, and Ash Wednesday was instituted to bring the number of fast days before Easter to 40. The rules of fasting varied. First, some areas of the Church abstained from all forms of meat and animal products, while others made exceptions for food like fish. For example, Pope St. Gregory (d. 604), writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: "We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs."

Over the years, modifications have been made to the Lenten observances, making our practices not only simple but also easy. Ash Wednesday still marks the beginning of Lent, which lasts for 40 days, not including Sundays. The present fasting and abstinence laws are very simple: On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the faithful fast (having only one full meal a day and smaller snacks to keep up one's strength) and abstain from meat; on the other Fridays of Lent, the faithful abstain from meat. People are still encouraged "to give up something" for Lent as a sacrifice. (An interesting note is that technically on Sundays and solemnities like St. Joseph's Day (March 19) and the Annunciation (March 25), one is exempt and can partake of whatever has been offered up for Lent.

Mercoledì, 10 Febbraio 2016 10:51

Ash Wednesday - The first day of Lent

Written by

Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular and important holy days in the liturgical calendar. Ash Wednesday opens Lent, a season of fasting and prayer.

Ash Wednesday takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday, and is cheifly observed by Catholics, although many other Christians observe it too.

Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest applies the ashes to a person's forehead, he speaks the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Alternatively, the priest may speak the words, "Repent and believe in the Gospel."

Ashes also symbolize grief, in this case, grief that we have sinned and caused division from God.

Writings from the Second-century Church refer to the wearing of ashes as a sign of penance.

Priests administer ashes during Mass and all are invited to accept the ashes as a visible symbol of penance. Even non-Christians and the excommunicated are welcome to receive the ashes. The ashes are made from blessed palm branches, taken from the previous year's palm Sunday Mass.

It is important to remember that Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting. Some faithful take the rest of the day off work and remain home. It is generally inappropriate to dine out, to shop, or to go about in public after receiving the ashes. Feasting is highly inappropriate. Small children, the elderly and sick are exempt from this observance.

It is not required that a person wear the ashes for the rest of the day, and they may be washed off after Mass. However, many people keep the ashes as a reminder until the evening.

Recently, movements have developed that involve pastors distributing ashes to passersby in public places. This isn't considered taboo, but Catholics should know this practice is distinctly Protestant. Catholics should still receive ashes within the context of Mass.

In some cases, ashes may be delivered by a priest or a family member to those who are sick or shut-in.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.

Why we receive the ashes

Following the example of the Nine vites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told

"Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return."

Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.

The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins -- just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.

The Ashes

The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.

Martedì, 09 Febbraio 2016 20:09

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2016

Written by

Pope Francis

“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee

1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized

In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.

After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.

2. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy

The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.

This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by the Shema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.

This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelii Gaudium, 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (ibid., 164). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.

3. The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).

From the Vatican, 4 October 2015

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi


Pagina 2 di 7

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