Digging deep into the great theme of mercy, Pope Francis last night led a moving Stations of the Cross and this morning visited the iconic Divine Mercy shrine in the city, forever associated with St Faustina Kowalska. He then went to the John Paul II shrine to celebrate Mass with priests and religious.
Texts follow of the Pope’s meditation at the conclusion of the Via Crucis and this morning’s homily at the John Paul II shrine.
POPE FRANCIS MEDITATION AT CONCLUSION OF VIA CRUCIS, 29 July
I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me (Mt 25:35-36).
These words of Jesus answer the question that arises so often in our minds and hearts: “Where is God?” Where is God, if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees? Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war? Where is God, when cruel diseases break the bonds of life and affection? Or when children are exploited and demeaned, and they too suffer from grave illness? Where is God, amid the anguish of those who doubt and are troubled in spirit? These are questions that humanly speaking have no answer. We can only look to Jesus and ask him. And Jesus’ answer is this: “God is in them”. Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them. He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, “one body”.
Jesus himself chose to identify with these our brothers and sisters enduring pain and anguish by agreeing to tread the “way of sorrows” that led to Calvary. By dying on the cross, he surrendered himself into to the hands of the Father, taking upon himself and in himself, with self-sacrificing love, the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of all humanity. By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times. Tonight Jesus, and we with him, embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war. We greet them and we welcome them with fraternal affection and friendship.
By following Jesus along the Way of the Cross, we have once again realized the importance of imitating him through the fourteen works of mercy. These help us to be open to God’s mercy, to implore the grace to appreciate that without mercy we can do nothing; without mercy, neither I nor you nor any of us can do a thing. Let us first consider the seven corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and those in prison, and burying the dead. Freely we have received, so freely let us give. We are called to serve the crucified Jesus in all those who are marginalized, to touch his sacred flesh in those who are disadvantaged, in those who hunger and thirst, in the naked and imprisoned, the sick and unemployed, in those who are persecuted, refugees and migrants. There we find our God; there we touch the Lord. Jesus himself told us this when he explained the criterion on which we will be judged: whenever we do these things to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do them to him (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
After the corporal works of mercy come the spiritual works: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, consoling the afflicted, pardoning offences, bearing wrongs patiently, praying for the living and the dead. In welcoming the outcast who suffer physically and welcoming sinners who suffer spiritually, our credibility as Christians is at stake.
Humanity today needs men and women, and especially young people like yourselves, who do not wish to live their lives “halfway”, young people ready to spend their lives freely in service to those of their brothers and sisters who are poorest and most vulnerable, in imitation of Christ who gave himself completely for our salvation. In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service. Unless those who call themselves Christians live to serve, their lives serve no good purpose. By their lives, they deny Jesus Christ.
This evening, dear friends, the Lord once more asks you to be in the forefront of serving others. He wants to make of you a concrete response to the needs and sufferings of humanity. He wants you to be signs of his merciful love for our time! To enable you to carry out this mission, he shows you the way of personal commitment and self-sacrifice. It is the Way of the Cross. The Way of the Cross is the way of fidelity in following Jesus to the end, in the often dramatic situations of everyday life. It is a way that fears no lack of success, ostracism or solitude, because it fills ours hearts with the fullness of Jesus. The Way of the Cross is the way of God’s own life, his “style”, which Jesus brings even to the pathways of a society at times divided, unjust and corrupt.
The Way of the Cross alone defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life. It is the way of hope, the way of the future. Those who take up this way with generosity and faith give hope and a future to humanity.
Dear young people, on that Good Friday many disciples went back crestfallen to their homes. Others chose to go out to the country to forget the cross. I ask you: How do you want to go back this evening to your own homes, to the places where you are staying? How do you want to go back this evening to be alone with your thoughts? Each of you has to answer the challenge that this question sets before you.
POPE FRANCIS HOMILY AT ST JOHN PAUL II SHRINE, 30 July
The words of the Gospel we have just heard (cf. Jn 20:19-31) speak to us of a place, a disciple and a book.
The place is where the disciples gathered on the evening of Easter; we read only that its doors were closed (cf. v. 19). Eight days later, the disciples were once more gathered there, and the doors were still shut (cf. v. 26). Jesus enters, stands in their midst and brings them his peace, the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins: in a word, God’s mercy. Behind those closed doors there resounds Jesus’ call to his followers: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v. 21).
Jesus sends. From the beginning, he wants his to be a Church on the move, a Church that goes out into the world. And he wants it to do this just as he did. He was not sent into the world by the Father to wield power, but to take the form of a slave (cf. Phil 2:7); he came not “to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45) and to bring the Good News (cf. Lk 4:18). In the same way, his followers are sent forth in every age. The contrast is striking: whereas the disciples had closed the doors out of fear, Jesus sends them out on mission. He wants them to open the doors and go out to spread God’s pardon and peace, with the power of the Holy Spirit.
This call is also addressed to us. How can we fail to hear its echo in the great appeal of Saint John Paul II: “Open the doors”? Yet, in our lives as priests and consecrated persons, we can often be tempted to remain enclosed, out of fear or convenience, within ourselves and in our surroundings. But Jesus directs us to a one-way street: that of going forth from ourselves. It is a one-way trip, with no return ticket. It involves making an exodus from ourselves, losing our lives for his sake (cf. Mk 8:35) and setting out on the path of self-gift. Nor does Jesus like journeys made halfway, doors half-closed, lives lived on two tracks. He asks us to pack lightly for the journey, to set out renouncing our own security, with him alone as our strength.
In other words, the life of Jesus’ closest disciples, which is what we are called to be, is shaped by concrete love, a love, in other words, marked by service and availability. It is a life that has no closed spaces or private property for our own use. Those who choose to model their entire life on Jesus no longer choose their own places; they go where they are sent, in ready response to the one who calls. They do not even choose their own times. The house where they live does not belong to them, because the Church and the world are the open spaces of their mission. Their wealth is to put the Lord in the midst of their lives and to seek nothing else for themselves. So they flee the satisfaction of being at the centre of things; they do not build on the shaky foundations of worldly power, or settle into the comforts that compromise evangelization. They do not waste time planning a secure future, lest they risk becoming isolated and gloomy, enclosed within the narrow walls of a joyless and desperate self-centredness. Finding their happiness in the Lord, they are not content with a life of mediocrity, but burn with the desire to bear witness and reach out to others. They love to take risks and to set out, not limited to trails already blazed, but open and faithful to the paths pointed out by the Spirit. Rather than just getting by, they rejoice to evangelize.
Secondly, today’s Gospel presents us with the one disciple who is named: Thomas. In his hesitation and his efforts to understand, this disciple, albeit somewhat stubborn, is a bit like us and we find him likeable. Without knowing it, he gives us a great gift: he brings us closer to God, because God does not hide from those who seek him. Jesus shows Thomas his glorious wounds; he makes him touch with his hand the infinite tenderness of God, the vivid signs of how much he suffered out of love for humanity.
For us who are disciples, it is important to put our humanity in contact with the flesh of the Lord, to bring to him, with complete trust and utter sincerity, our whole being. As Jesus told Saint Faustina, he is happy when we tell him everything: he is not bored with our lives, which he already knows; he waits for us to tell him even about the events of our day (cf. Diary, 6 September 1937). That is the way to seek God: through prayer that is transparent and unafraid to hand over to him our troubles, our struggles and our resistance. Jesus’ heart is won over by sincere openness, by hearts capable of acknowledging and grieving over their weakness, yet trusting that precisely there God’s mercy will be active.
What does Jesus ask of us? He desires hearts that are truly consecrated, hearts that draw life from his forgiveness in order to pour it out with compassion on our brothers and sisters. Jesus wants hearts that are open and tender towards the weak, never hearts that are hardened. He wants docile and transparent hearts that do not dissimulate before those whom the Church appoints as our guides. Disciples do not hesitate to ask questions, they have the courage to face their misgivings and bring them to the Lord, to their formators and superiors, without calculations or reticence. A faithful disciple engages in constant watchful discernment, knowing that the heart must be trained daily, beginning with the affections, to flee every form of duplicity in attitudes and in life.
The Apostle Thomas, at the conclusion of his impassioned quest, not only came to believe in the resurrection, but found in Jesus his life’s greatest treasure, his Lord. He says to Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). We would do well each day to pray these magnificent words, and to say to the Lord: You are my one treasure, the path I must follow, the core of my life, my all.
The final verse of today’s Gospel speaks of a book: it is the Gospel that, we are told, does not contain all the many other signs that Jesus worked (v. 30). After the great sign of his mercy, we could say that there is no longer a need to add another. Yet one challenge does remain. There is room left for the signs needing to be worked by us, who have received the Spirit of love and are called to spread mercy. It might be said that the Gospel, the living book of God’s mercy that must be continually read and reread, still has many blank pages left. It remains an open book that we are called to write in the same style, by the works of mercy we practise. Let me ask you this: What are the pages of your books like? Are they blank? May the Mother of God help us in this. May she, who fully welcomed the word of God into her life (cf. Lk 8:20-21), give us the grace to be living writers of the Gospel. May our Mother of Mercy teach us how to take concrete care of the wounds of Jesus in our brothers and sisters in need, those close at hand and those far away, the sick and the migrant, because by serving those who suffer we honour the flesh of Christ. May the Virgin Mary help us to spend ourselves completely for the good of the faithful entrusted to us, and to show concern for one another as true brothers and sisters in the communion of the Church, our holy Mother.
Dear brothers and sisters, each of us holds in his or her heart a very personal page of the book of God’s mercy. It is the story of our own calling, the voice of the love that attracted us and transformed our life, leading us to leave everything at his word and to follow him (cf. Lk 5:11). Today let us gratefully rekindle the memory of his call, which is stronger than any resistance and weariness on our part. As we continue this celebration of the Eucharist, the centre of our lives, let us thank the Lord for having entered through our closed doors with his mercy, for calling us, like Thomas, by name, and for giving us the grace to continue writing his Gospel of love.