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Pope at Santa Marta: In praise of God

4 Nov 2014

(Vatican Radio) It’s easy to pray for a grace, it’s far more difficult to pray in praise of the Lord, but this is the prayer of true joy, said Pope Francis at Mass Thursday morning in Santa Marta.

Reflecting on St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which joyfully elevates a prayer of blessing to God, the Pope noted that this is something “we don’t normally do”: Instead giving “praise to God is pure gratuity” and in doing so we enter into “a great joy”.

“We know very well how to pray when we want to ask for things, even when we want to thank the Lord, but a prayer of praise is a bit more difficult for us: we are not used to praising the Lord. We can do this better by remembering all of the things that the Lord has done for us in our lives: ‘In Him – in Christ – He chose us before the creation of the world’. Blessed are you, Lord, because You chose me! It is the joy of a paternal and tender closeness”.

“Prayers of praise” – he continued – bring us this joy, [the joy of ] being happy before the Lord. Let’s make a real effort to rediscover this!”. However, continued Pope Francis the “starting point” is “remembering” this choice: “God chose me before the creation of the world”.

“This is impossible to understand or even imagine: The fact that the Lord knew me before the creation of the world, that my name was in the Lord’s heart.  This is the truth! This is the revelation! If we do not believe this then we are not Christian!  We may be steeped in a theist religiosity, but not Christian! The Christian is a chosen one, the Christian is someone who has been chosen in God’s heart before the creation of the world. This thought also fills our hearts with joy: I am chosen! It gives us confidence”.

“Our name – said the Pope – is in God’s heart, is in God’s bowels, just as the baby is inside its mother. Our joy lies in our being elected”. Pope Francis continued that we cannot understand this with our head alone. [We cannot understand this] even with our heart. To understand this we must enter into the Mystery of Jesus Christ. The Mystery of His beloved Son: ‘He has poured out his blood for us in abundance, with all wisdom and intelligence, making known to us the mystery of His will’. And this is a third attitude to have: entering into the Mystery “:

“When we celebrate the Eucharist, we enter into this Mystery, that one cannot fully understand: the Lord is alive, He is with us, here, in His glory, in all His fullness and gives His life for us once again. We must learn this attitude of entering into the Mystery every day. The Christian is a woman, a man, who endeavors to enter into the Mystery. The Mystery cannot be controlled: this is the Mystery! I enter [into it]”.

A prayer of praise – concluded the Pope – is therefore first and foremost a “prayer of joy”, then a “prayer of remembrance: ‘How much the Lord has done for me! How tenderly He has accompanied me, how he has lowered Himself: like a father bows down over a child to help him walk”.  And finally a prayer to the Holy Spirit that we may receive the grace “to enter into the Mystery, especially when we celebrate the Eucharist”.

27th Sunday in O. T.

5th October

Living in a small village on the edge of Dartmoor has its compensations: stunning moorland scenery. To us who live here we are indeed fortunate to be able to admire the beauty of it all and thank God for that.

We’ve been given another evocative rural scene in today’s readings. A vineyard. The prophet Isaiah presents us with a poem using the central image of a vineyard. We notice in the opening verses how God is the Lord of this vineyard which symbolises the House of Israel. We also notice how he regards this vineyard. God loves the vineyard. He refers to this vineyard as a friend. Other translations of the bible use the term beloved rather than friend. So this is a love song or poem for his beloved, Israel. The vineyard is planted on rich, fertile soil which is lovingly tended and the vine produces white grapes.

But something goes very wrong. The vine does not produce the expected harvest. The grapes turn out to be not sweet but sour. The poem is an allegory. Despite the love God has lavished on his vineyard, Israel, this has not been reciprocated by the beloved. Israel, through her actions, has rejected this love. The relationship is fractured. And there are consequences. Where there has been harmony, there is now disharmony. The friendship has been broken. Israel walks another path that leads away from God and his love. Instead of their lives and actions being ordered to God, it is ordered elsewhere and on themselves.

We see this played out in our world of today. The created world is indeed beautiful but it is marred by what takes place in it. If we take the distinctive beauty of a desert landscape we see an image of it despoiled and desecrated with the blood of the innocents who today are being slain for a perverse and morally bankrupt cause led by fundamentalist extremists. Those caught up in this brutal, murderous, fanatical hatred such as Christian minorities, aid workers who are kidnapped and taken hostage find themselves in the hands of those who have not an ounce of compassion, and mercy let alone love. This is the wild fruit, this is the corrupt fruit that yields a harvest of sickening violence and the worst kind of barbarism. It grotesquely disfigures the likeness and image of God that we have been created to be. This is what happens when humanity does not have God at its centre despite the outrageous claims by the fanatics that they do what they do in the name of God and religion.

The path set-out for us is very clear. It is the path that Christ showed us. Christ, the Son of God, the innocent one, the lamb of God who himself was rejected and slain as a result of sheer hatred. He did not respond in kind but showed us another way. His path is the way of love, compassion, mercy, gentleness, kindness, patience, humility. We suspect anyone who proposes another path of violence and destruction. We will know them by their fruit. We pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. We do not respond in kind. We respond as Christ did to his enemies, with love, not hate. Love does not mean, of course, that we condone the actions of our enemies but act with Godlike justice.

We ask Christ to guide and direct our hearts and thoughts. As Christ’s followers and believers we need to be very focused on keeping our eyes fixed on Christ. We need to inhabit and breathe in a very distinctive and wholesome atmosphere imbued with the Holy Spirit. As always, St Paul puts it concisely and beautifully in his letter to the Philippians and which is spot-on:

“Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.”

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

14th September

The feast we are celebrating today, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, has its origins in the 4th century. In 326 AD, Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman  Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem, ordered the excavations on the site where Christ was crucified. It was there that the True Cross was found. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of this discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross placed inside it. The date of the feast, 14th September, marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Cross was brought outside the church so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate it. So the cross became the object of veneration.

In essence, this feast is a celebration and commemoration of God’s greatest work: his salvific death on the Cross and His Resurrection, through which death was defeated and the doors to Heaven opened.

This feast focuses our mind on two bitter/sweet aspects of the Cross which is a great mystery of our faith.

The first, the bitter aspect, is that of sin, suffering and death. Christ suffered an horrendously painful and shameful death on the cross at the hands of a sinful humanity who reject the way of God and follow their own path of arrogance, pride and self-interest.

The other, the sweet aspect of the cross, is the very opposite: it is that of triumph and glory over sin and death. By the resurrection the instrument of the Cross becomes the symbol of life and hope. In the second reading, St Paul clearly sees the Cross as a triumph rather than a disaster, because through it, the suffering, human Jesus enters into his glory. The symbol of the Cross is central to our faith because it is the means through which Christ our Lord died for us and rose from the dead in glory. This is how we are to understand the gospel passage when John speaks of how Jesus, the Son of Man, must be lifted up. He is referring to the Cross on which Jesus is to be raised up. This passage then alludes not only to Jesus’ crucifixion but looks to his rising from the dead, his resurrection.

Pope Francis finds in the meaning of the cross the “story of God”. God has chosen to take up our story, the drama of our lives, and to journey with us by becoming man, assuming the condition of a slave, and making himself obedient unto death. God undertakes this path, say’s Pope Francis, for love. I quote him: “There is no other explanation: love alone does this.” So the Cross is the means through which Jesus Our Lord gave expression to his great love for us by his self-offering on His Holy Cross. In this way he gained for us our redemption from sin and death. This is why this feast is also called the Triumph of the Cross because Christ triumphed over sin, suffering and death. This is why we exalt – which means to raise on high – the Cross of Christ which is the symbol of our redemption and His overwhelming love for us.

Let us then with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, desire to understand more deeply and to feel more deeply the salvation of the mystery of this holy cross. We will only begin penetrate this mystery: on our knees in prayer and in tears.

We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, 
for by thy cross thou hast redeemed the world.