ASH WEDNESDAY AND THE MISSIONARIES OF MERCY
As I write, it is Ash Wednesday and Pope Francis is presiding at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica during which there will be a penitential act and the imposition of ashes. This is a rite that normally takes place every year on Rome’s Aventine Hill, following a procession by the Holy Father, cardinals and bishops, priests and lay faithful from Saint Anselm to the basilica of Saint Sabina.
This Ash Wednesday, however, is a bit different as takes place in the Year of Mercy, and tonight the Pope will give the mandate to 1,000 Missionaries of Mercy who will be asked, when they return to their home countries, to be holy confessors, having received the special faculty, the authority, today to pardon sins normally reserved to the Holy See. Bishops around the world may give this faculty to priests in their dioceses, and have done so in many cases. Today is significant in that Pope Francis has singled out these 1000 missionaries – chosen by their bishops – to receive this special faculty during the Jubilee of Mercy.
The Pope received the Missionaries in a special audience last night and reminded them that, “in this ministry you are called to express the maternal nature of the Church. The Church is a Mother because she always creates new children in faith; the Church is a Mother because she nourishes this faith; and the Church is a Mother because she offers the forgiveness of God, regenerating to a new life, the fruit of conversion,” he continued.
“You must know,” he said, “how to look into the desire of the heart of the penitent,” as this, through grace, is the beginning of conversion. “The heart turns to God acknowledging the evil which has been done, but with the hope of obtaining pardon. This desire is reinforced when the person decides in his heart to change his life and does not want to sin again. It is the moment when we trust the mercy of God, and you have complete confidence you will be understood, forgiven and supported by Him.”
The Holy Father closed his remarks by commenting on an aspect “not often spoken about, that is, shame. It is not easy to accuse yourself before another man, knowing that he represents God, and to confess your sin. A person feels shame both for what he has done, and for having to confess it to another person.”
Francis asked confessors to have “an attitude of respect and encouragement. … Do not forget: in front of us there is no sin, just the repentant sinner, a person who feels the desire to be accepted and forgiven… Therefore, we are not called to judge, with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune from sin; on the contrary, we are called to act as Shem and Japheth, the sons of Noah, who took a blanket and put it over their father and hid his shame.”
The Pope emphasized that “it is, therefore, not with the club of judgment that we will bring back the lost sheep to the fold, but with the holiness of life which is the principle of renewal and reform in the Church.”
A JUBILEE, A TIME TO CANCEL DEBTS, RELEASE SLAVES, PARDON
At this week’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis focused his catechesis on the significance of a Jubilee Year, an ancient institution that calls on us to practice pardon, combat poverty and inequality, promote an equitable distribution of the earth’s goods for all.
He began by saying, “It is fitting and meaningful to hold this Audience on Ash Wednesday. We begin the Lenten journey, and today we stop to consider the ancient institution of the ‘jubilee’, an ancient custom attested to in Sacred Scripture. We find it in particular in the Book of Leviticus, who presents it as a culminating moment in the religious and social life of the people of Israel.
Recalling that according to the Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee Year is a heightened moment of religious and social life, a time of “general pardon” for all people to return to their original state – the freedom proper to the holy people of God – the Pope pointed out that the earth belongs to God and has been entrusted to us.
He said that as stewards of the Lord we are called to render the world we have received human and habitable, and that “no one should claim exclusive possession creating situations of inequality.
“May each of us look into our hearts and ask himself whether he has too many things. Why not give some to those who have none? Ten percent, fifty percent… may the Holy Spirit inspire each of you” he said, in off the cuff remarks.
He added that he recently heard that some eighty percent of the world’s wealth is in the hands of only twenty percent of the world’s population, and said, “if the Jubilee does not come out of your pockets it’s not a true Jubilee.”
“This in the Bible. It’s not this Pope inventing it. In the Bible the scope of a Jubilee was to create a society based on equality and solidarity, where freedom, land and money would benefit all and not just a few” he said. We can say – he continued – that the Biblical Jubilee was a ‘Jubilee of Mercy’ because it was to be lived for the good of our needy brothers and sisters.
In this context, Pope Francis mentioned the phenomenon of loansharking and of how so many desperate people have ended up taking their own lives because they don’t find a helping hand, but only the hand that demands the payment of interests.
“The Lord blesses he who opens his hand with generosity. He will give you twice as much back, perhaps not in money, but in other things”.
And telling those present that if they want to receive mercy from God, they must start by being merciful to those close to them, thus contributing to building a society based on solidarity, fraternity and justice.
Before the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haydar al-Abadi. The meeting took place in the studio of the Paul VI Audience Hall. Afterwards, the Prime Minister met with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. A statement from the Holy See Press Office called the talks “cordial,” adding that reference was made to the good state of bilateral relations between Iraq and the Holy See, the life of the Church in the country, as well as the situation of Christians and ethnic and religious minorities living in Iraq, with particular reference to the importance of their presence and the need to protect their rights. (Vatican Radio)
After the audience, Pope Francis asked for prayers for his meeting with his “dear brother,” the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Head of the Russian Orthodox Church. They will meet Friday, February 12 at Cuba’s international airport as the Pope travels to Mexico for an apostolic journey.
Francis also asked for prayers for the sick before tomorrow’s celebration of the World Day of the Sick. He recalled that this Day takes place annually on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, and this year will be celebrated in Nazareth. Francis mentioned his Message for this World Day where he reflected on the irreplaceable role of Mary at the wedding in Cana and said that Mary’s concern and attention reflects the tenderness of God and the immense mercy of Jesus. “May that same tenderness be present in the life of so many people who are close to the sick and help them to be attentive to all of their needs, even the most imperceptible ones, because they look at them with eyes full of love.” (Press office, Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano)