[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis’s first homily of his three-nation, eight-day South American trip focussed on the family, describing it as the “the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, and the best home for the elderly” in a Mass in Samanes Park in the coastal city of Guayaquil in Ecuador, attended by 600,000 people under baking sun.
Francis was driven into the city in a customary small silver Fiat marked for the occasion with Vatican City number plates, as tens of thousands lined the streets to welcome him.
The homily, a reflection on the Miracle at the Wedding of Cana, praised the family as the best “social capital” available to any society, one that cannot be replaced by other institutions and which needs to be helped and strengthened; a healthy society, he said, has a debt to families for supplying the values and virtues on which the common good depends. He went on to describe the family as a school of service, where faith is transmitted: “When we experience the love of our parents, we feel the closeness of God’s love.”
The Pope lamented the effects of family breakdown in contemporary society. “How many of our adolescents and young people sense that these are no longer found in their homes? How many women, sad and lonely, wonder when love left, when it slipped away from their lives? How many elderly people feel left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love?”
Turning to October’s synod, he said:
Shortly before the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church will celebrate the Ordinary Synod devoted to the family, deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families in our time. I ask you to pray fervently for this intention, so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it – by making it part of his “hour” – into a miracle.
This was reported as urging a more flexible attitude towards divorced and gay people, although Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said later that Francis was not referring to specific controversies but that he wanted the synod to find ways “to help people move from a situation of sin to a situation of grace”. The Pope is keen to bring back into the Church’s fold those who feel like outcasts.
At the end of the homily, Francis returned to the theme of mercy, when he spoke beautifully of the way God seeks out those who are lost and on the margins, whose faith allows them to be touched by His Grace:
The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love. And it will come in spite of all the variables and statistics which say otherwise; the best wine is yet to come for those who today feel hopelessly lost. Say it until you are convinced of it: the best wine is yet to come. Whisper it to the hopeless and the loveless. God always seek out the peripheries, those who have run out of wine, those who drink only of discouragement. Jesus feels their weakness, in order to pour out the best wines for those who, for whatever reason, feel that all their jars have been broken.
After the Mass, Pope Francis went to lunch at the Jesuits’ Javier College, where he sought ought an old friend, 91-year-old Fr Fernando Cortés, known affectionately as “Padre Paquito”. The Wall St Journal interviewed the cigar-smoking Spanish Jesuit prior to the visit, observing a copy of The Great Reformer on his desk.
When he was Jesuit provincial and later rector of the Colegio Máximo, the vast formation house for Jesuits in the Southern Cone, Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio was sceptical about many Jesuit formation houses in the region, and tended to keep the Jesuit students in Argentina. But he made an exception for the Colegio Javier in Guayaquil, where he sent a number of his students as part of their formation. Hence his bond with the then rector of the college, Padre Paquito, whom he first met in the early 1980s when on a trip there. Padre Paquito later went to the Colegio Máximo for the ordination of Argentine scholastics who had studied in Guayaquil. They became friends, but haven’t seen each other for 30 years.
Following lunch at the college, Pope Francis departed for the capital, Quito, where he paid a courtesy visit to the president, Rafael Correa, who had received him at the airport on Sunday evening.
In his welcome speech at the airport, Correa, a populist leftist who describes himself as a practising Catholic, deftly focussed on the environment and social justice, liberally quoting both Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’, as well as the Latin-American bishops’ documents of Medellín, Puebla and Aparecida. Describing Ecuador — which sits on the equator, and has astonishingly diverse countryside and wildlife — as “the planet’s eco-centre”, he said it was also the “capital of South America” which had generated “thinking and revolutonary actions on the part of those of us who, like you, are exasperated by injustice and exclusion”. Jesting that if the Pope is Argentine and God is probably Brazilian (as Francis himself joked while in Rio de Janeiro in 2013), then surely “heaven is in Ecuador”.
In his speech in response, Pope Francis said he had come “as a witness of God’s mercy and of faith in Jesus Christ”, noting that “we can find in the Gospel a key to meeting contemporary challenges, respecting differences, fostering dialogue and full participation, so that the growth in progress and development already registered will ensure a better future for everyone, with particular concern for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. In these efforts, Mr President, you can always count on the commitment and cooperation of the Church.”
Returning to a favourite theme of his — articulated in his speech to the cardinals prior to the conclave that elected him in March 2013 — Francis described the Church as like the moon and Christ like the sun in that the Church did not possess the light but reflected that of Christ. Noting how Ecuador, in Mount Chimborazo, was the place on earth closest to the sun, he said: “May the coming days make all of us ever more clearly aware of how close is the sun which ‘dawns upon us from on high’. May each of us be a true reflection of his light and his love.” (For the origins of this idea in St Ambrose via Karl Rahner, see Gianni Valente here).
In a packed agenda today, Pope Francis will meet the bishops of Ecuador before celebrating Mass at 10:30 at the Bicentennial Park in Quito, in which his homily will deal with the theme of mission. This afternoon he will meet with educators at the Pontifical Catholic University, where he will address 5,000 invited guests and 3,000 students. Then he will give another speech to civil society leaders at San Francisco church before paying a private visit to the Jesuit church, the Iglesia de la Compañía, which contains the miraculous image of Our Lady of Sorrows (see CNS here).
Pope Francis’s homily at Samanes Park yesterday follows in full:
Samanes Park, Guayaquil, Monday, 6 July 2015
The Gospel passage which we have just heard is the first momentous sign in the Gospel according to John. Mary’s maternal concern is seen in her plea to Jesus: “They have no wine”, and Jesus’ reference to “his hour” will be more fully understood later, in the story of his Passion.
This is good, because it allows us to see Jesus’ eagerness to teach, to accompany, to heal and to give joy, thanks to the words of his Mother: “They have no wine”.
The wedding at Cana is repeated in every generation, in every family, in every one of us and our efforts to let our hearts find rest in strong, fruitful and joyful love. Let us make room for Mary, “the Mother” as the evangelist calls her. Let us journey with her to Cana.
Mary is attentive in the course of this wedding feast, she is concerned for the needs of the newlyweds. She is not closed in on herself, worried only about her little world. Her love makes her “outgoing” towards others. So she notices that the wine has run out. Wine is a sign of happiness, love and plenty. How many of our adolescents and young people sense that these are no longer found in their homes? How many women, sad and lonely, wonder when love left, when it slipped away from their lives? How many elderly people feel left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love? This lack of “wine” can also be due to unemployment, illness and difficult situations which our families may experience. Mary is not a “demanding” mother, a mother-in-law who revels in our lack of experience, our mistakes and the things we forget to do. Mary is a Mother! She is there, attentive and concerned.
But Mary approaches Jesus with confidence, Mary prays. She does not go to the steward, she immediately tells her Son of the newlyweds’ problem. The response she receives seems disheartening: “What does it have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). But she nonetheless places the problem in God’s hands. Her concern to meet the needs of others hastens Jesus’ hour. Mary was a part of that hour, from the cradle to the cross. She was able “to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love” (Evangelii Gaudium, 286). She accepted us as her sons and daughters when the sword pierced her heart. She teaches us to put our families in God’s hands, to pray, to kindle the hope which shows us that our concerns are also God’s concerns.
Praying always lifts us out of our worries and concerns. It makes us rise above everything that hurts, upsets or disappoints us, and it puts us in the place of others, in their shoes. The family is a school where prayer also reminds us that we are not isolated individuals; we are one and we have a neighbour close at hand: he or she is living under the same roof, is a part of our life, and is in need.
Mary finally acts. Her words, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5), addressed to the attendants, are also an invitation to us to open our hearts to Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served. Service is the sign of true love. We learn this especially in the family, where we become servants out of love for one another. In the heart of the family, no one is rejected. “In the family we learn how to ask without demanding, to say ‘thank you’ as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings” (Laudato Si’, 213). The family is the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly. The family constitutes the best “social capital”. It cannot be replaced by other institutions. It needs to be helped and strengthened, lest we lose our proper sense of the services which society as a whole provides. Those services are not a type of alms, but rather a genuine “social debt” with respect to the institution of the family, which contributes so greatly to the common good.
The family is also a small Church, a “domestic Church” which, along with life, also mediates God’s tenderness and mercy. In the family, we imbibe faith with our mother’s milk. When we experience the love of our parents, we feel the closeness of God’s love.
In the family, miracles are performed with what little we have, with what we are, with what is at hand… many times, it is not ideal, it is not what we dreamt of, nor what “should have been”. The new wine of the wedding feast of Cana came from the water jars, the jars used for ablutions, we might even say from the place where everyone had left their sins… “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). In our own families and in the greater family to which we all belong, nothing is thrown away, nothing is useless. Shortly before the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church will celebrate the Ordinary Synod devoted to the family, deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families in our time. I ask you to pray fervently for this intention, so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it – by making it part of his “hour” – into a miracle.
It all began because “they had no wine”. It could all be done because a woman – the Virgin Mary – was attentive, left her concerns in God’s hands and acted sensibly and courageously. But there was more to come: everyone went on to enjoy the finest of wines. And this is the good news: the finest wines are yet to be tasted; for families, the richest, deepest and most beautiful things are yet to come. The time is coming when we will taste love daily, when our children will come to appreciate the home we share, and our elderly will be present each day in the joys of life. The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love. And it will come in spite of all the variables and statistics which say otherwise; the best wine is yet to come for those who today feel hopelessly lost. Say it until you are convinced of it: the best wine is yet to come. Whisper it to the hopeless and the loveless. God always seek out the peripheries, those who have run out of wine, those who drink only of discouragement. Jesus feels their weakness, in order to pour out the best wines for those who, for whatever reason, feel that all their jars have been broken.
As Mary bids us, let us “do what he tells us” and be thankful that in this, our time and our hour, the new wine, the finest wine, will make us recover the joy of being a family.