“The Son of God, made incarnate for our salvation, has given us his Mother, who joins us on our pilgrimage through this life, so that we may never be left alone, especially at times of trouble and uncertainty.”—Pope Francis, at a 5 p.m. Mass today in Rome (his second Mass of the day), during his homily, in the basilica St. Mary Major. The Pope was in St. Mary Major to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of the Lord (celebrated on January 1), to venerate an ancient icon of Mary and the Child Jesus called the Salus Populi Romani (Protection of the Roman People) which is kept in the basilica, and to open the Holy Door of Mercy in the chief basilica in Christendom dedicated to Mary
“At the foot of the Cross, Mary sees her Son offer himself totally, showing us what it means to love as God loves. At that moment she heard Jesus utter words which probably reflected what he had learned from her as a child: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:24). At that moment, Mary became for all of us the Mother of forgiveness.”—Pope Francis, in the same homily today
“For us, Mary is an icon of how the Church must offer forgiveness to those who seek it. The Mother of forgiveness teaches the Church that the forgiveness granted on Golgotha knows no limits. Neither the law with its quibbles, nor the wisdom of this world with its distinctions, can hold it back.” —Pope Francis, in the same homily
“The Church’s forgiveness must be every bit as broad as that offered by Jesus on the Cross and by Mary at his feet. There is no other way.”—Pope Francis, in the same homily
Pope Francis began 2016 with a “visit to Mary” — a visit to the heart of popular Catholic Marian piety, to an icon of Mary kept in the oldest basilica in the world dedicated to Mary, St. Mary Major.
It was the 30th time as Pope that he has visited St. Mary Major, and this icon, since his election in March, 2013.
At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis asked even those standing outside of the basilica to repeat out loud the ancient invocation to Mary: “Mary, Holy Mother of God!”
And during this Mass, he delivered an important homily.
Celebrating Mass at 5 p.m. (after celebrating Mass this morning in St. Peter’s Square and giving his Angelus message and New Year’s blessing at noon), Francis gave a homily which may offer insight into how he will decide some of the great questions facing him in coming months, including the much-discussed question of re-admission of divorced and remarried Catholics, after a penitential path, to the Eucharist.
The Argentine Pope, seemingly in fidelity to a powerful mystical experience of divine forgiveness that he himself personally experienced as a youth (as he has publicly stated) on September 21, 1953, the Feast of St. Mathew, when he was 16 years old, told us today that forgiveness (for those who seek it) knows “no limits.”
For this Pope, it is quite clear: “There is no other way.”
Is Francis, with his calling of the two-part Synod on the Family, and with his declaring a “Jubilee Year of Mercy,” indicating in these words that he wishes to “open the doors” to that “mercy” and “forgiveness” that would enable all repentant sinners to return to participate without scandal and without shame in the full life of the Church, in the life of Christ, including receiving Holy Communion?
Is that what he was saying in this homily?
The answer is still not clear.
We await the Pope’s document, his conclusions after the two-part Synod, and his own reflection and decision on all that was said.
However, one concern, in our present cultural circumstances, is this: that a praiseworthy papal desire to assist individual men and women suffering from the personal, individual wounds of their own lives (and there are tens of millions of them) not create an opening on another front which would cause unexpected harm to men and women — and to the truth of the faith.
This is a concern because cultural forces inimical to the faith greatly desire to gain a victory in this particular battle, a battle which is only part of a very broad-based metaphysical war against the concepts of substantial being, personhood, the soul, personal fault, sin, guilt, repentance, and holiness of life — the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic sacramental system… the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic faith.
The point is this: even if Christians all agree on the astounding, joy-causing gift of God’s mercy toward all who seek His forgiveness, we may disagree on how precisely to express that fact, given our present circumstances and predicament.
What are those circumstances? What is our predicament?
Cultural, political, social and economic events in 2016 are now unfolding with such rapidity, enabled in large part by the technological changes in communication — the speed of the internet and of global networks — that all of us, seemingly, are experiencing a certain sense of disorientation and intellectual, philosophical vertigo. Things are moving too fast.
As in the high-frequency trading in the markets, where tens of thousands of trades are made by computer algorithms inside of a second, our cultural decisions are being conditioned daily, hourly, minutely, by global events.
I speak of a “computer algorithm” intentionally. We are in a situation in our development such that the human mind alone seems often no longer capable of reacting quickly enough to changing situations — computers must make the decisions, pre-programmed by humans, then set free to function independently.
In our present situation, words and terms are being re-defined ceaselessly.
A papal interview sound-byte, in this context, can become more influential than a lifetime’s Summa.
As a consequence, we all risk using a language from last year to refer to a problem from next year, and in the process, being misunderstood.
Let me be more specific.
We know that the institution of the family, the very idea of the family, has, with extraordinary rapidity, culturally speaking, in just a handful of years, become one of the ideological battlegrounds of our time.
The “culture war” of 2016 is no longer about contraception, abortion, the moment when human life begins, infanticide, euthanasia, pre-marital or extra-marital sexual activity, or divorce and remarriage.
It is now about the idea of gender itself, which is another way of saying it is about the idea of man himself.
Man himself is now in question. And the rise of artificial intelligence and of “trans-humanism” is making this ever more clear: the anthropological question, the question of man, the question of the nature and dignity of the beings we are, is the central question of our time.
The issue is now that our “gender identities” (our being male or female) and virtually all defined “gender roles” — like “fatherhood” or “motherhood,” or acting in a “paternal” or “maternal,” or in a “sisterly” or “brotherly” way — are seen (and denounced) as not something “given” (by nature, and by nature’s God) but only (and tragically) “socially imposed constructs,” and, as such, illegitimate limitations on individual freedom… illegitimate limitations on individual rights.
That is, gender constructs are politically oppressive.
And therefore, must be eliminated… for the sake of human freedom.
That is our predicament: that a considerable global consensus (with Russia as a notable exception) has emerged to eliminate traditional gender roles for the sake of greater human freedom. And this means those who oppose this consensus could be depicted as dangerous opponents, enemies, of human freedom.
Humanity saw, in the 20th century, compact movements achieve political power sufficient to begin implementing allegedly “moral” visions: in one case, of a human society “free of class divisions” (Communism); in another, of a society “free of racial impurity” (Nazism).
The fevered dreams of a classless world, or of a racially pure nation, awakened into militant ideologies which devoured millions.
All those who opposed these ideologies were mocked, arrested, incarcerated, executed.
Now our Western societies are increasingly marching under a new banner, the banner of a “gender-neutral” ideology, where gender is a choice, not a given, and where all traditional gender roles and institutions are open to question, and to criticism.
Precisely at this moment, the Pope and the Church should take special care so that no word spoken concerning marriage — marriage as the source of the family, marriage as a sacrament initiated by a sacred oath spoken freely, marriage as an image of the love of Christ for the Church, his Bride — is open to being distorted or reinterpreted or exploited so as to support the new ideology of gender freedom now rising so powerfully in the post-Christian West.
Here is the official Vatican Press Office report on the Pope’s homily this evening.
On the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of the Lord, Pope Francis presided this afternoon, January 1, 2016, at 5:00 p.m. (Rome time) at Mass and the Rite of the Opening of the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
After the rite of introduction and penitential rite in the atrium of the Basilica, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door and paused in prayer in its threshold.
He then entered first into the Basilica, followed by the concelebrants and several representatives of religious and the lay faithful and processed to the main altar for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Below find the homily pronounced by the Holy Father following the proclamation of the Gospel:
HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
Salve, Mater Misericordiae! [“Hail, Mother of Mercy!”]
With this invocation we turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Basilica dedicated to her under the title of Mother of God.
It is the first line of an ancient hymn which we will sing at the conclusion of this Holy Eucharist.
Composed by an unknown author, it has come down to us as a heartfelt prayer spontaneously rising up from the hearts of the faithful: “Hail Mother of mercy, Mother of God, Mother of forgiveness, Mother of hope, Mother of grace and Mother full of holy gladness.”
In these few words we find a summary of the faith of generations of men and women who, with their eyes fixed firmly on the icon of the Blessed Virgin, have sought her intercession and consolation.
It is most fitting that on this day we invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary above all as Mother of mercy.
The door we have opened is, in fact, a Door of Mercy.
Those who cross its threshold are called to enter into the merciful love of the Father with complete trust and freedom from fear; they can leave this Basilica knowing that Mary is ever at their side.
She is the Mother of mercy, because she bore in her womb the very Face of divine mercy, Jesus, Emmanuel, the Expectation of the nations, the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5).
The Son of God, made incarnate for our salvation, has given us his Mother, who joins us on our pilgrimage through this life, so that we may never be left alone, especially at times of trouble and uncertainty.
Mary is the Mother of God who forgives, who bestows forgiveness, and so we can rightly call her Mother of forgiveness.
This word – “forgiveness” – so misunderstood in today’s world, points to the new and original fruit of Christian faith.
A person unable to forgive has not yet known the fullness of love.
Only one who truly loves is able to forgive and forget.
At the foot of the Cross, Mary sees her Son offer himself totally, showing us what it means to love as God loves.
At that moment she heard Jesus utter words which probably reflected what he had learned from her as a child: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:24).
At that moment, Mary became for all of us the Mother of forgiveness.
Following Jesus’ example and by his grace, she herself could forgive those who killed her innocent Son.
For us, Mary is an icon of how the Church must offer forgiveness to those who seek it.
The Mother of forgiveness teaches the Church that the forgiveness granted on Golgotha knows no limits.
Neither the law with its quibbles, nor the wisdom of this world with its distinctions, can hold it back.
The Church’s forgiveness must be every bit as broad as that offered by Jesus on the Cross and by Mary at his feet.
There is no other way.
It is for this purpose that the Holy Spirit made the Apostles the effective ministers of forgiveness, so what was obtained by the death of Jesus may reach all men and women in every age (cf. Jn 20:19-23).
The Marian hymn continues: “Mother of hope and Mother of grace, Mother of holy gladness.”
Hope, grace and holy gladness are all sisters: they are the gift of Christ; indeed, they are so many names written on his body.
The gift that Mary bestows in offering us Jesus is the forgiveness which renews life, enables us once more to do God’s will and fills us with true happiness.
This grace frees the heart to look to the future with the joy born of hope.
This is the teaching of the Psalm: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. […] Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (51:10,12).
The power of forgiveness is the true antidote to the sadness caused by resentment and vengeance.
Forgiveness leads to joy and serenity because it frees the heart from thoughts of death, whereas resentment and vengeance trouble the mind and wound the heart, robbing it of rest and peace.
Let us, then, pass through the Holy Door of Mercy knowing that at our side is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God, who intercedes for us.
Let us allow her to lead us to the rediscovery of the beauty of an encounter with her Son Jesus.
Let us open wide the doors of our heart to the joy of forgiveness, conscious that we have been given new confidence and hope, and thus make our daily lives a humble instrument of God’s love.
And with the love and affection of children, let us cry out to Our Lady as did the faithful people of God in Ephesus during the historic Council: “Holy Mother of God!”
What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.