April 1, 2016, Friday – These Days
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” —St. Peter, 1st Letter, 4:12-14.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” —St. Paul, Letter to the Galations, 5:24
“How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! It is the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: “I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.” (II Corinthians 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!” —St. Nektarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 1 (link) St. Nektarios (1846-1920), was the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Pentapolis. He was officially recognized as an Orthodox saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961.
“Just as people do not enter a war in order to enjoy war, but in order to be saved from war, so we do not enter this world in order to enjoy this world, but in order to be saved from it. People go to war for the sake of something greater than war. So we also enter this temporal life for the sake of something greater: for eternal life. And as soldiers think with joy about returning home, so also Christians constantly remember the end of their lives and their return to their heavenly fatherland.” —St. Nicholas of Serbia, Thoughts on Good and Evil (link) Saint Nicholas of Serbia, “the Serbian Chrysostom,” was born in Lelich in western Serbia on January 4, 1881 (December 23, 1880 Old Style). He died on March 18, 1956 in St Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, USA.
“Whoever with fear of God corrects and directs a sinner gains virtue for himself, that of opposition to sin. But whoever insults a sinner with rancor and without good will falls, according to a spiritual law, into the same passion with the sinner.” —St. Mark the Ascetic, Homilies, 2.183 (link) Mark the Ascetic was born in Athens in the 400s, and lived in the Egyptian desert as a monk. He was a student of St. John Chrysostom. It is said that he knew all the Holy Scriptures by heart. He was very merciful and kind, and wept much for the misfortunes that had befallen all of God’s creation.
“To judge sins is the business of one who is sinless, but who is sinless except God? Whoever thinks about the multitude of his own sins in his heart never wants to make the sins of others a topic of conversation. To judge a man who has gone astray is a sign of pride, and God resists the proud. On the other hand, one who every hour prepares himself to give answer for his own sins will not quickly lift up his head to examine the mistakes of others.” —St. Gennadius of Constantinople, The Golden Chain, 53-55 (link) St. Gennadius was the 21st Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 471). His feast is celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church on November 17, but is not listed in the Roman Martyrology.
“It is so obvious that the first victims of divorce are always the children, because the parents are their parents.
“They have not only a father, but also a mother. They have a mother, but also a father.
“If they separate, something is always broken in the life of the child.
“Therefore, I fully agree we have to speak about mercy and be merciful to the divorced and remarried, who often experience many sufferings and troubles.
“But before speaking about the suffering of the parents, we must speak about the suffering of the children.” —Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, who will present the Pope’s long-awaited letter on the family, divorce and remarriage on April 8 in Rome, in one weeks time, speaking on August 10, 2015 (link)
Mercy, Love, Joy: Awaiting the Pope’s Message
These last days in Rome have been peaceful and beautiful. The sun has been shining, there has been no rain, the temperature has been cool, but not cold, the air crisp and clear.
The Holy Week celebrations were extraordinary.
There were enormous crowds, hundreds of thousands of people over the Triduum, but not a single violent incident of any type to mar the atmosphere of reverence and piety that marked these days.
Everywhere, in St. Peter’s, in St. Mary Major, in St. John Lateran, in St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, in Santo Spirito in Sassia (the church here dedicated to Divine Mercy by Pope John Paul II), Italians and pilgrims from around the world seemed to be engaged in a quiet search for a deeper connection with the Risen Lord who was executed as a criminal in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago.
There was even no pushing in the crowds — rarely have huge numbers of people been so patient and generous to each other as they waited to enter and exit St. Peter’s Square.
The peace Pope Francis has been calling for in all of his homilies and prayers seemed tangible in Rome in these days.
Days as beautiful, perhaps, as any have ever been in Rome.
And Now, the Pope’s Message…
We now know several things for certain about the long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis on the family — his “wrap-up” of the two Bishops’ Synods on the family held in October 2014 and October 2015.
And already the media is beginning to publish stories to try to “spin” the message of Pope Francis.
Yet there is still no leak of any aspect of this text, not even one sentence, so nothing that is being written is nothing more than prologue.
Perhaps that is incorrect. We do know some things already.
We know the text was signed by Pope Francis on March 19, Feast of St. Joseph (head of the Holy Family) and the 3rd anniversary of Francis’ papacy.
We know (because the Vatican has announced it) that the text will be presented to the world in one week’s time, on April 8, next Friday.
We know that it will be presented at a Vatican Press Conference at which the principal presenter will be Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, Austria. Schoenborn, a Dominican, was the head of the committee that drafted the Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1993. (Schoenborn is in Rome in these days, and has spoken at a conference on mercy. Some are trying to parse his words for an indication of what he may say next week when he presents the Pope’s letter.link and link)
And we know the title of the document, drawn from the first two words, in the official Latin text: “Amoris laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).
Here is an image of the cover of the letter, from the website Il Sismografo.
So this will be an encyclical letter about love.
About the “joy” of love.
About this joy in the context of daily human life and, clearly, in the context of the family.
About how love, the love of a husband for a wife, of a wife for her husband, of the spouses for their children, of the children for their parents, brings joy to human life.
Obviously, the very fact that this letter will speak about “the joy of love” implies, logically, that it will also speak about the impediments, the dangers, the obstacles to that joy.
That is, it will also speak about “the sorrow of the lack of love.”
And, in that context, it will speak about the overcoming and healing of any and all of those impediments, dangers, obstacles, to joy.
It will speak in this context about mercy and forgiveness.
Mercy and forgiveness in order to restore the possibility of joy.
In this context, I thought it fitting to return once again to the wisdom of St. Francis, that saint whose name Pope Francis chose to be his own as Pope.
What did St. Francis understand true joy to be.
Not what most of us think.
His understanding was not our understanding.
St. Francis once said: “Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt.”
In other words, loving another, or others, more than oneself.
This is the secret of finding true joy, St. Francis tells us.
Here below is the famous story which gives us the context of this conclusion by the great saint from Assisi, perhaps the greatest saint the Church has ever produced.
Perfect joy according to Saint Francis of Assisi
How Saint Francis, walking one day with brother Leo, explained to him what things are perfect joy.
One day in winter, as Saint Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to Saint Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.”
A little further on, Saint Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.”
Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.”
After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters – write that this would not be perfect joy.”
Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.”
Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy.”
Saint Francis answered:
“If, when we shall arrive at Saint Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren,’ he should answer angrily, ‘What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall — then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.
“And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers! to to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ — and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.
“And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, ‘These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick — if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.
“And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’
“But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”
To the praise and glory of Jesus Christ and his poor servant Francis. Amen. (link)
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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.