Pope describes how to discover one’s vocation

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Within the universal Christian vocation of serving God and serving others, God handcrafts a specific calling for each person, a vocation that fits his or her personality and abilities, Pope Francis said.
“To discern our personal vocation, we have to realize that it is a calling from a friend, who is Jesus. When we give something to our friends, we give them the best we have. It will not necessarily be what is most expensive or hard to obtain, but what we know will make them happy,” the pope wrote in “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”).
The document, his apostolic exhortation reflecting on the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, was released at the Vatican April 2.
Much of the document is a summary of the discussion at the 2018 synod and a presynod meeting of young adults about ways to improve youth and young adult ministry and create more space in the church for the contributions of young people.
But the most original part of the 35,000-word document is its explanation of what a vocation is – strongly moving away from seeing vocation only as a reference to priesthood or religious life – and practical ways for a person to discern his or her vocation.
A Christian’s first vocation is a call to friendship with Jesus, he said. And closely related to that is the call to serve others.
“Your own personal vocation does not consist only in the work you do, though that is an expression of it,” the pope said. “Your vocation is something more: It is a path guiding your many efforts and actions toward service to others.”
Finding one’s vocation “has nothing to do with inventing ourselves or creating ourselves out of nothing. It has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit.”
God’s personalized gift of a vocation “will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you,” Pope Francis wrote. “It will be a perfect fit for your entire life.”
Following a vocation, he said, “is a very personal decision that others cannot make for us,” which is why it requires “solitude and silence,” as well as serious discussions with friends and wise guides.
Pope Francis offered basic questions each person should ask him- or herself: “Do I know what brings joy or sorrow to my heart? What are my strengths and weaknesses?”
But since a vocation isn’t about serving oneself, he said, those questions lead to others: “How can I serve people better and prove most helpful to our world and to the church? What is my real place in this world? What can I offer to society?”
And, then, he said, one must ask: “Do I have the abilities needed to offer this kind of service? Could I develop those abilities?”
Discovering one’s vocation, even in the deepest prayer, is not like finding the exact road map for one’s life with all the stops and starts and obstacles and detours clearly marked, he said. Instead, it is more like being invited on an adventure.
That sense of adventure, even as a person ages and slows down, is what keeps them young at heart, he said. “When I began my ministry as pope, the Lord broadened my horizons and granted me renewed youth. The same thing can happen to a couple married for many years, or to a monk in his monastery. There are things we need to ‘let go of’ as the years pass, but growth in maturity can coexist with a fire constantly rekindled, with a heart ever young.”
Most young people will discover their vocation is to marry and form a family, he said, and that requires preparation to grow in self-knowledge and in virtue, “particularly love, patience, openness to dialogue and helping others.”
“It also involves maturing in your own sexuality, so that it can become less and less a means of using others, and increasingly a capacity to entrust yourself fully to another person in an exclusive and generous way,” the pope wrote.
And while most young people will marry, he said, Catholics must believe that God continues to call men to the priesthood and men and women to religious life.
“The Lord cannot fail in his promise to provide the church with shepherds, for without them she would not be able to live and carry out her mission,” he said. And “if it is true that some priests do not give good witness, that does not mean that the Lord stops calling. On the contrary, he doubles the stakes, for he never ceases to care for his beloved church.”
The key qualification for helping someone in their vocational discernment is an ability to listen, the pope said. The helper may be a priest, religious, layperson or even another young person.
“The other person must sense that I am listening unconditionally, without being offended or shocked, tired or bored,” he said. And while listening, “I need to ask myself what is it that the other person is trying to tell me, what they want me to realize is happening in their lives.”
Assistance also means having such respect for the work God is doing in the life of the other, that the guide would never dare to try to dictate the way forward, he said. “In the end, good discernment is a path of freedom that brings to full fruit what is unique in each person, something so personal that only God knows it. Others cannot fully understand or predict from the outside how it will develop.”
(Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_WoodenA)

Pope signs letter to young people at popular Marian sanctuary

By Carol Glatz Catholic
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The place Pope Francis chose to sign his letter to young people is an important and popular sanctuary housing the Holy House of Loreto.
According to tradition, the tiny stone house is considered to be the home where the Mary was born and raised and also the house in which the Holy Family was thought to live when Jesus was a boy. It also is held to be the place where Mary received the angel’s annunciation and conceived the Son of God through the Holy Spirit.
With his visit, the pope will encourage young people and pray that Mary “takes them by the hand and guides them with joy” to their own generous declaration of “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word,” Archbishop Fabio Dal Cin of Loreto told Vatican News March 21.
By signing a document based on a synod’s discussions about young people, faith and vocational discernment, the pope also is making a symbolic gesture, connecting the place venerated to be the home of “a very special family” with all the world’s families and the family of the universal church, the archbishop said in a video interview posted on the sanctuary’s website, www.santuarioloreto.it.
The pope signed the document – titled in Spanish, “Vive Cristo, esperanza nuestra,” (“Christ, Our Hope, Lives”) – in the basilica housing the shrine March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.
The gesture at the sanctuary, like the document itself, is a renewed call to focus on “accompanying the younger generations,” Archbishop Dal Cin told Vatican News.
This reflects a similar historic visit, he said, when St. John XXIII went to the shrine of Loreto in 1962 to entrust to Mary the Second Vatican Council, which began a week later.
In Loreto, St. John prayed that Mary, “as ‘Help of Bishops,’ to intercede for me as bishop of Rome and for all the bishops of the world, to obtain for us the grace to enter the council … with one heart, one heartbeat of love for Christ and for souls.”
On the 50th anniversary of St. John’s visit to Loreto, Pope Benedict XVI visited the shrine in 2012 to entrust to Mary the Year of Faith, which began a week later, and the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization.
Archbishop Dal Cin said Pope Francis entrusting to Mary the letter to young people at the same shrine shows a similar desire that she help the world’s bishops so the document would have a fruitful pastoral outcome.
Millions of people visit Italy’s most important Marian shrine each year. It was even popular with St. John Paul II, who went to this eastern seaside town five times during his pontificate.
The small house, which is surrounded by a large, intricately carved marble structure inside the main basilica, is actually made of three stone walls. The shrine’s caretakers say research has shown the brown and tan stones came from Palestine. The stones, now smooth from the touch of centuries of pious hands, were hand cut in the shape of bricks – a technique used by the Nabatei tribe, which was then also present in Palestine.
According to tradition, the Holy House was carried by angels from Nazareth, Israel, to this hillside town the night of Dec. 9-10, 1294, after making a three-year stop in Croatia. The shrine’s custodians say the stones were actually removed from the Holy Land and carried by ship by a member of the Angeli family.
The family name is also the Italian word for “angels,” thus being the probable reason for the more popular notion of winged angels flying the house to Italy.

Answering God’s call demands courage to take a risk

By Carol Glatz Catholic
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Answering the Lord’s call demands the courage to take a risk, but it is an invitation to become part of an important mission, Pope Francis said.
God “wants us to discover that each of us is called – in a variety of ways – to something grand, and that our lives should not grow entangled in the nets of an ennui that dulls the heart,” the pope said.
“Every vocation is a summons not to stand on the shore, nets in hand, but to follow Jesus on the path he has marked out for us, for our own happiness and for the good of those around us,” he said in his message for the 2019 World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Vatican released the pope’s message March 9.
The day, which was to be celebrated May 12, was dedicated to the theme: “The courage to take a risk for God’s promise.”
That kind of risk-taking can be seen when Jesus was at Sea of Galilee and called his first disciples, who were fishermen going about their daily lives, dedicated to their demanding work, the pope said in his message.
“As with every call, the Gospel speaks of an encounter. Jesus walks by, sees those fishermen, and walks up to them,” the pope said. “The same thing happened when we met the person we wanted to marry or when we first felt the attraction of a life of consecration: we were surprised by an encounter, and at that moment we glimpsed the promise of a joy capable of bringing fulfilment to our lives.”
Jesus drew near the four fishermen and broke through the “paralysis of routine,” making them the promise, “I will make you fishers of men,” he said.
Pope Francis acknowledged in his message that totally consecrating one’s life to service in the church could be difficult in the current climate. But, he said, “the church is our mother because she brings us to new life and leads us to Christ. So we must love her, even when we see her face marred by human frailty and sin, and we must help to make her ever more beautiful and radiant, so that she can bear witness to God’s love in the world.”
“The Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a ‘cage’ or a burden to be borne,” the pope said. On the contrary, it is God extending a loving invitation to be part of a great undertaking, opening “before our eyes the horizon of a greater sea and an abundant catch.”
“God in fact desires that our lives not become banal and predictable, imprisoned by daily routine, or unresponsive before decisions that could give it meaning,” he said. “The Lord does not want us to live from day to day, thinking that nothing is worth fighting for, slowly losing our desire to set out on new and exciting paths.”
But embracing God’s invitation to be part of something greater demands the courage to risk making a decision, just as the first disciples did when they “immediately left their nets and followed him,” he said.
“Responding to the Lord’s call involves putting ourselves on the line and facing a great challenge. It means being ready to leave behind whatever would keep us tied to our little boat and prevent us from making a definitive choice.”
People are called to be bold and decisive in seeking God’s plan for their lives, looking out onto the vast “ocean” of vocations, he said.
In order to help people better discern their vocation, the pope asked the church to provide young people with special opportunities for listening and discernment, a renewed commitment to youth ministry and the promotion of vocations through prayer, reflecting on God’s word, eucharistic adoration and spiritual accompaniment.  
Pope Francis urged everyone, especially young people, to not be “deaf to the Lord’s call.”
“If he calls you to follow this path, do not pull your oars into the boat, but trust him. Do not yield to fear, which paralyzes us before the great heights to which the Lord points us.”
“Always remember that to those who leave their nets and boat behind, and follow him, the Lord promises the joy of a new life that can fill our hearts and enliven our journey,” he said.

(Contributing to this story was Liam McIntyre in Rome.)

Give up gossip for Lent

By Cindy Wooden
ROME (CNS) – Lent is a good time to concentrate on fighting the urge to gossip about others and instead trying to correct one’s own faults and defects, Pope Francis said.
Reciting the Angelus prayer at noon March 3 with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square and visiting the parish of St. Crispin in Labaro, a suburb on the northern edge of Rome, later that afternoon, Pope Francis focused on the line from the day’s Gospel: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”
“We all know it usually is easier or more comfortable to notice and condemn the defects and sins of others rather than seeing our own with that kind of clarity,” the pope said at the Angelus. The pope returned to the passage during his parish visit, telling parishioners that Jesus “wants to teach us to not go around criticizing others, not go looking for others’ defects, but look first at your own.”
If someone were to say, “but, Father, I don’t have any,” the pope said he would explain that “I assure you if you don’t notice you have any here, you’ll find them in purgatory! It’s better to notice them here.”
Unfortunately, he said, people seldom stop at just noticing others’ defects, something “we are experts at.”
What almost always happens next, he said, is that “we talk about them,” not telling the person to his or her face in a way that could help the person improve but indulging freely and happily in gossip.
“It’s something that because of original sin we all have, and it leads us to condemn others,” the pope said. “We are experts in finding the bad things in others and not seeing our own.” Speaking the Sunday before Lent was to begin, Pope Francis said it would be great if everyone tried during Lent to reflect on Jesus’ words to see the faults only of others and on the temptation of gossip.
Catholics should ask themselves, “Am I a hypocrite who smiles and then turns around to criticize and destroy with my tongue?” He said. “If, by the end of Lent, we are able to correct this a bit and not go around always criticizing others behind their backs, I assure you (the celebration of) Jesus’ resurrection will be more beautiful.”
The pope began his parish visit by meeting children who had recently received their first Communion or were preparing for first Communion and those who recently received confirmation or were preparing to be confirmed.
The young people asked him questions, including about how to be good and resist temptation.
Beginning his response, Pope Francis asked the youngsters if they knew who the “boss of wickedness” is. “The devil,” they replied.
“But the devil’s a fantasy; he doesn’t exist, does he?” the pope asked.
“Yes, he exists. It’s true,” the pope told them. “And he is our worst enemy. He’s the one who tries to make us slide. He’s the one who puts evil desires and evil thoughts in our hearts and leads us to do so many bad things.”
The way to resist the devil, he said, is to pray to Jesus and to his mother and to talk to one’s parents, catechists or priests when temptation is lurking.
Prayer and talking to someone good and wise also is important when trying to make a decision, he told them in response to another question.
“We can all make mistakes,” Pope Francis said. “Even I can make a mistake?”
“Yes,” the children replied.
“The pope can make a mistake?” he asked just to make sure he understood them.
When they responded in the affirmative, he told them they were right, and that when someone has a decision to make, prayer and seeking advice can help.

After the Vatican’s summit on abuse, the stakes are clear

By Greg Erlandson
VATICAN CITY – (CNS) The long-awaited “Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church,” nicknamed the abuse summit, was an extraordinary and historic gathering that surpassed many expectations while perhaps disappointing others.
Historic in that it brought together the heads of 114 bishops’ conferences from the entire world, as well as the leaders of religious congregations, curial officials and even a few laypeople to discuss in a semi-public forum the sins of the church and to hear the powerful words of the victims themselves. Extraordinary in that it featured a drumbeat of eloquent and at times blunt criticisms by speakers regarding the way that the church has handled abuse crises to date.
It also may have become a prototype of sorts for what synodal gatherings may come to look like in the future in terms of both a diversity of voices and an honesty of opinion.
From the start, Pope Francis had four chief audiences to reach, each with its own suspicions and concerns.
The first was the broad leadership of the church, the bishops of the world represented by the heads of their episcopal conferences as well as the leadership of religious congregations.

Pope Francis reviews papers during the third-day of a meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican Feb. 23, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The second consisted of the victims of clerical sexual abuse who so often had been ignored, excused or even attacked for having the courage to tell what was done to them. Numerous organizations of survivors came to Rome to be heard, and many made their dissatisfaction with the proceedings known, judging them too little and too unsubstantial. Within the hall, however, other victims were heard in person and by audio. Their statements were read as reflections for prayer, and every session was reminded of what they are suffering.
The third audience was both the larger Catholic community as well as the general public, both of whom increasingly look on the church as guilty until proven innocent and doubt that the church is able to police itself.
The fourth audience was those members of the Roman Curia who have been cautious about some proposals and changes, for example those proposed by the U.S. bishops last year.
It appears that the actual proceedings over the course of four days had a powerful impact on the vast majority of the attendees. From prayerful meditations on the words of victim survivors to presentations by victims themselves, the bishops came face to face with the impact of clergy sexual abuse. While some of the attendees had previous experience meeting with those who had been abused, for others coming from regions where the crisis has not been directly acknowledged, it was revelatory. The cry of the victims was made flesh before their eyes, the tears and the trauma unavoidable and undeniable.
The assembled leaders heard from their own. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, launched the summit with a spiritual reflection on the necessity of touching the wounds of their people as Thomas touched the side of Christ.
Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota dismissed those who say the problem is worse elsewhere. “The fact that abuses occur in other institutions and groups can never justify the occurrence of abuses in the church,” he said. He exhorted his fellow bishops, “We have to recognize that the enemy is within.”
Other bishops addressed the needs for practical changes in administration, in church law, and in how the bishops related to each other, both personally and in terms of their dioceses and conferences.
Two of the most powerful speeches of the four-day summit were delivered by women. Nigerian Sister Veronica Openibo, leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, shattered the myth that abuse was only a Western problem, recounting her experiences as a leader and as a woman religious regarding abuses in her own country.
Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, speaking as a journalist and as a mother, gave a scorching challenge to the assembled leaders: “If you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists, who seek the common good, will be your worst enemies.”
Pope Francis, who sat through all the sessions and heard all the presentations, told the bishops at the start of the meeting that he wanted “concrete and effective measures.” In the final news conference of the meeting, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi identified three “concrete initiatives”:
Legislation from the pope that would “strengthen prevention and the fight against abuse on the part of the Roman Curia and the Vatican City State.”
A guide from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that would make clear the “duties and tasks” of all bishops when confronting allegations of abuse.
The creation of task forces of “competent persons” who could “help episcopal conferences and dioceses that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors.”

Sex abuse survivors Denise Buchanan and Alessandro Battaglia are pictured in front of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 24, 2019, on the final day of the Vatican’s four-day meeting on the protection of minors in the church. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

While none of these are new proposals, the impact of the summit, the explicit commitment of the pope, and the clear expectations of the larger world for a change in the status quo will put enormous pressure on the Vatican to deliver on these commitments while they in turn press all dioceses to do the same.
There are those in the Vatican bureaucracy, the fourth audience, who seem not to understand how devastating the scandals have been to the Catholic communities in North America, Australia, Ireland and Chile. The truth is that the proposed “concrete initiatives” have long been in the works, and it can appear that all in the Curia do not fully appreciate the scale and the scope of the emergency.
As Cardinal Oswald Gracias told impatient journalists at the final news conference, “It is not like the Holy Father snaps his fingers and everything is done all over the world.” For this reason, the summit was an opportunity also to bring pressure to bear on those in the bureaucracy who may, for a variety of reasons, be dragging their heels.
The pope’s final speech at the summit’s end disappointed some. He emphasized that that the abuse of minors was a “universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere and affecting everyone,” a rationale often heard from some churchmen angry or defensive about the criticism the church has endured.
But the pope made clear that the church is not just any institution: “The brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.”
With this summit, Pope Francis has tossed down the gauntlet. The stakes are clear. In the words of Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, “All of this will take time, but we do not have forever and we dare not fail.”

(Follow Erlandson on Twitter: @GregErlandsoni)

Pope calls on world leaders to eradicate poverty, hunger

By Junno Arocho Esteves
ROME (CNS) – Sustainable development in rural areas is key to making poverty and hunger a thing of the past, Pope Francis said.
In an address to members of the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s governing council Feb. 14, the pope said that while achieving such a goal “has been talked about for a long time,” there has not been enough concrete action.
“It is paradoxical that a good portion of the more than 820 million people who suffer hunger and malnutrition in the world live in rural areas, are dedicated to food production and are farmers,” he said at the council’s opening session at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
The two-day meeting of the organization, commonly known as IFAD, was devoted to the theme: “Rural innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Before addressing the gathering, the pope presented a gift to the organization: a sculpture by Argentine artist Norma D’Ippolito, titled “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”) depicting the hands of Christ bound with ropes.
In his speech, the pope said he came to bring the “longings and needs of many of our brothers and sisters who suffer in the world.”
“They live in precarious situations: the air is polluted, natural resources are depleted, rivers are polluted, soils are acidified,” he said. “They do not have enough water for themselves or for their crops; their sanitary infrastructures are very inadequate; their houses are meager and defective.”
While society has made advances in other areas of knowledge, he added, little progress has been made in helping the rural poor. Winning the fight against poverty and hunger requires using scientific and technological advances for the common good.
“Being determined in this fight is essential so that we can hear – not as a slogan but as a truth – ‘Hunger has no present and no future. Only the past,’” he said. “In order to do this, we need the help of the international community, civil society and all those who have the resources. Responsibilities cannot be evaded, passed from one to another, but must be assumed in order to offer concrete and real solutions.”
Pope Francis said that today’s challenges cannot be resolved “in isolation, occasionally or ephemerally” but instead require a joint effort that affirms “the centrality of the human person.”
Those who are suffering, he added, must be directly involved in the fight against hunger and not viewed as “mere recipients of aid that may end up generating dependencies.”
He also encouraged the members of IFAD to continue along the path of innovation and entrepreneurship to achieve the goal of eradicating malnutrition and promoting sustainable development.
“It is necessary to promote a ‘science with a conscience’ and truly put technology at the service of the poor,” the pope said. “On the other hand, new technologies should not be in opposition to local cultures and traditional knowledge, but rather complement them and act in synergy with them.”
After his speech, the pope met with delegates from 31 different indigenous groups present from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific.
Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said in a statement that the pope’s meeting with the delegates lasted nearly 20 minutes.
“The pope greeted each person present; several of them gave Pope Francis a handmade stole,” Gisotti said.
Speaking to the delegates, the pope said that indigenous people are “a cry for hope” that remind the world of the shared responsibility in caring for the environment. While certain decisions have “ruined” the earth, he added, “it is never too late to learn the lesson and learn a new way of life.”
Indigenous people, he said, know how “to listen to the earth” and to live in harmony with it.
“Let us never forget the saying of our grandparents: ‘God always forgives, men sometimes forgive, nature never forgives,’” Pope Francis said. “And we are seeing this through its mistreatment and exploitation. You – who know how to dialogue with the earth – are entrusted with transmitting this ancestral wisdom to us.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Global encounter of WYD challenges nationalism, walls

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The joyous harmony of people coming together from so many different nations for World Youth Day stands in sharp contrast to today’s “sad” situation of confrontational nationalist feelings, Pope Francis said.
“It is a sign that young Christians are the leaven for peace in the world,” he said at his general audience Jan. 30 in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.
The pope dedicated his weekly reflection to his trip to Panama Jan. 23-27 to celebrate World Youth Day.
The hundreds of thousands of young people from five continents who attended the events “formed a great symphony of faces and languages,” he said.
“To see all the flags flying together, fluttering in the hands of young people, happy to encounter each other is a prophetic sign, a sign (that goes) against the tide of today’s sad tendency toward confrontational nationalist sentiments that erect walls, that close themselves off from universality, from the encounter among peoples,” he said.
He praised the enthusiasm and prayerful reverence young people showed at the many events and recalled the dedication he saw on the faces of many who declared themselves open to God’s will and ready serve the Lord.
“As long as there are new generations able to say, ‘Here I am’ to God, the world will have a future,” he said.
Another image that struck him during the trip, he said, was seeing so many mothers and fathers proudly holding up their children as he passed by in the popemobile.
They showed off their children “as if to say, ‘Here is my pride, here is my future,’” he said.
“How much dignity is in this gesture and how eloquent (given) the demographic winter we are living in Europe,” the pope said. “The pride of those families is the children; children are security for the future. A demographic winter without children is hard.”
Young people are called to live the Gospel today “because young people are not ‘the tomorrow,’ not ‘in the meantime,’ but they are the ‘today’ of the church and the world,” he said.
Pope Francis also urged people to pray the Way of the Cross, saying it is “the school of Christian life” where one learns about a love that is “patient, silent, concrete.”
He then said he wanted to share a secret with everyone and pulled out a small box, showing it to the crowd, explaining it was a pocket-sized kit for praying the Way of the Cross.
He said he loved following the Via Crucis “because it is following Jesus with Mary on the way of the cross where he gave his life for us, for our redemption.”
“When I have time,” he said, he takes the prayer kit out and prays, and he urged others to do the same.

Lord’s Prayer is reaching out for father’s loving embrace

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN (CNS) – To pray well, people need to have the heart of a child – a child who feels safe and loved in a father’s tender embrace, Pope Francis said.
If people have become estranged from God, feel lonely, abandoned or have realized their mistakes and are paralyzed by guilt, “we can still find the strength to pray” by starting with the word, “Father,” pronounced with the tenderness of a child, he said.
No matter what problems or feelings a person is experiencing or the mistakes someone has made, God “will not hide his face. He will not close himself up in silence. Say, ‘Father,’ and he will answer,’” the pope said Jan. 16 during his weekly general audience.
After greeting the thousands of faithful gathered in the Paul VI audience hall, the pope continued his series of talks on the Lord’s Prayer, reflecting on the Aramaic term, “Abba,” which Jesus uses to address God, the father.
“It is rare Aramaic expressions do not to get translated into Greek in the New Testament,” which shows how special, important and nuanced “Abba” is in reflecting the radical and new relationship God has with his people, the pope said.
St. Paul, he said, wrote to the Romans that they were now “children of God, for you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”
Jesus teaches his disciples that “Christians can no longer consider God a tyrant to be feared,” but instead feel a sense of trust growing in their hearts in which they can “speak to the creator, calling him ‘Father,’” the pope said.
The term “Abba,” the pope said, “is something much more intimate and moving that simply calling God, ‘father,’” It is an endearing term, somewhat like “dad,” “daddy” or “papa.”
Even though the Lord’s Prayer has been translated using the more formal term, “Father,” “we are invited to say, ‘papa,’ to have a rapport with God like a child with his or her papa.”
Whatever term used, it is meant to inspire and foster a feeling of love and warmth, he said, like a child would feel in the full embrace of a tender father.
“To pray well, one must have the heart of a child, not a heart that feels adequate” or self-satisfied, he said.
People must imagine this prayer being recited by the prodigal son after he has been embraced by his father, who waited so long, who forgave him and only wants to say how much he missed his child, Pope Francis said.
“Then we discover how those words take on life, take on strength,” he said.
People will then wonder, “’How is it possible that you, God, know only love? That you don’t know hate? Where inside of you is revenge, the demand for justice, the fury over your wounded honor?’ And God will respond, ‘I know only love.’”
The father of the prodigal son also displays the maternal qualities of forgiveness and empathy, the pope said. Mothers especially are the ones who keep loving their children, “even when they would no longer deserve anything.”
“God is looking for you even if you do not seek him,” he said. “God loves you even if you have forgotten him. God sees a glimpse of beauty in you even if you think you have uselessly squandered all of your talents.”
“God is not just a father, he is like a mother who never stops loving” her child.
At the end of the general audience, in preparation for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25, Pope Francis said, “ecumenism is not something optional.”
The purpose of the week of prayer and encounter, he said, is to foster and strengthen a common witness upholding “true justice and supporting the weakest through concrete, appropriate and effective responses.”

Prayer involves recognizing self as God’s beloved child

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN (CNS) – Christians are not better than other people, but they do know that God is their father and they are called “to reflect a ray of his goodness in this world thirsting for goodness, waiting for good news,” Pope Francis said.
Leading his first general audience of 2019, the pope continued a series of talks he has been giving about the Lord’s Prayer. But he also welcomed artists from CirCuba, the national circus of Cuba, who were performing in Rome over the holidays.
One of the performers even had a very willing pope help him with his act by balancing a spinning ball on his finger. At the end of the audience Jan. 2, the pope praised the performers for their hard work and for the way they lift people’s spirits with their shows.
In his main audience talk, Pope Francis explained how the Gospel of Matthew presents the Lord’s Prayer as part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which also includes the Eight Beatitudes.
Proclaiming the beatitudes, the pope said, Jesus affirms the blessedness and happiness of “a series of categories of people, who – in his time, but also in ours – are not particularly esteemed. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the humble of heart. This is the revolution of the Gospel! Where the Gospel is, there is revolution because the Gospel does not leave things as they were.”
With the beatitudes, he said, Jesus is telling people that those “who carry in their hearts the mystery of a God who revealed his omnipotence in love and pardon” are those who come closest to understanding him.
The core of the Sermon on the Mount, he said, is: “You are sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven,” which is why Jesus then teaches the crowd to pray the Our Father.
Summarizing his talk in Spanish, Pope Francis said, “God does not want to be appeased with long streams of adulation, as the pagans did to win the benevolence of the deity; it is enough to talk to him like a father who knows what we need before we even tell him.”
“The Christian is not someone who tries to be better than others, but one who knows he or she is a sinner,” the pope said. A Christian knows how to stand before God with awe, to call upon him as Father and try to reflect his goodness in the world.
Jesus urges his followers not to be like the hypocrites who pray just to be seen, the pope said. “How often have we seen the scandal of those people who go to church, spend the whole day there or go every day and then they live hating others or speaking badly of others – this is a scandal. It would be better not to go to church.”
“If you go to church, live like a child (of God) and like a brother or sister” to others, Pope Francis said.
In teaching the Our Father, Jesus was helping his followers learn the essence of prayer and the importance of not thinking that using more words makes for a better prayer, he said. “The pagans thought that by speaking, speaking, speaking, they were praying.”
Praying isn’t like being “a parrot,” who repeats an endless stream of words, the pope said. “No, praying comes from the heart, from inside.”
“It even could be a silent prayer,” he said. “Basically, it is enough to put yourself under God’s gaze, recognize his fatherly love – and that’s enough to be heard.”
“How beautiful it is to think that our God does not need sacrifices to win his favor. He needs nothing,” the pope said. “He asks only that we keep open a channel of communication with him to discover continually that we are his beloved children.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for things from God in prayer

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN (CNS) – No one should be afraid to turn to God with prayer, especially in times of great doubt, suffering and need, Pope Francis said.
Jesus does not want people to become numb to life’s problems and “extinguish” those things that make them human when they pray, the pope said Dec. 12 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.
“He does not want us to smother our questions and requests, learning to put up with everything. Instead, he wants every pain, every apprehension to rise up to heaven and become a dialogue” with God, the father, he said.
Continuing a new series of audience talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the simplicity of the prayer and the way it addresses God with intimate familiarity.
With this prayer, Jesus shows an “audacious” way to address God immediately as “our Father” without any pomp and “preambles,” the pope said.
“He doesn’t say to turn to God calling him ‘O, the All-Powerful’ or ‘O, the One on high,’ or ‘O, You who are so far from us and I am the wretched one ….’”  
“No. He doesn’t say that, but simply (uses) the word, ‘Father,’ with great simplicity, like children who turn to their daddy. This word, ‘Father,’ expresses intimacy, filial trust,” he said.
The prayer invites people to pray in a way that “lets all the barriers of subjection and fear fall away,” he added.
While the Our Father is rooted in “the concrete reality” of every human being, prayer, in essence, begins with life itself.
“Our first prayer, in a certain way, was the first wail that came with our first breath”, and it signals every human being’s destiny: “our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our constant search for happiness.”
Prayer is found wherever there is a deep hunger, longing, struggle and the question, “why?” Pope Francis said.
“Jesus does not want to extinguish (what is) human, he does not want to anesthetize” the person in prayer, he said. Jesus understands that having faith is being able to “cry out.”
“We all should be like Bartimaeus in the Gospel,” he said. This blind man in Jericho kept crying out to the Lord for help even though everyone around him told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus, who – they felt – ought not be disturbed because he was so busy.
Bartimaeus did not listen and only cried out louder “with holy insistence,” the pope said. Jesus listened to his plea and told him his faith is what saved him.
The pope said this shows how the cry for healing is an essential part of salvation, because it shows the person has faith and hope and is “free from the desperation of those who do not believe there is a way out of so many unbearable situations.”
“We can tell him everything, even those things in our life that are distorted and beyond comprehension. He promised us that he would always be with us,” he said.
When greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope greeted all those from Mexico and Latin America, noting that Dec. 12 marked the feast “of our patroness,” Our Lady of Guadalupe. He asked that she help people surrender themselves to God’s love and to place all of their hope in him.
Before the audience, the pope blew out a few candles on a birthday cake a visitor had prepared for him. The pope will celebrate his 82nd birthday Dec. 17.
Greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope met with a delegation from Panama, representing the upcoming World Youth Day events in January, and he greeted a delegation of Austrian members of parliament who were marking the 200th anniversary of the song “Silent Night,” whose melody was composed by an Austrian school teacher.
The pope said that “with its profound simplicity, this song helps us understand the event of that holy night. Jesus, the savior, born in Bethlehem, reveals to us the love of God the father.”