Presiding over vespers this evening with bishops, priests and religious of Cuba, Pope Francis praised those who care for people rejected by society, such as the disabled, and lamented that too often, when a disability is detected in an unborn child, the child is “sent back,” and not given the chance to be born.
The Pope left aside his prepared text to take up the theme of poverty and those rejected by society in response to the testimony of a young nun who recounted her experience of finding God’s presence in her work ministering to the mentally and physically disabled.
It was also in response to Havana’s archbishop speaking of the poverty of the Church in Cuba, saying that it’s a Church poor in resources, and that those who minister in the Church live daily lives in poverty. The cardinal expressed his wish that the Pope’s personal example would encourage them to embrace this poverty and inspire missionaries to join them in the joyful task of evangelization.
The Holy Father drew from the Gospel account of the rich young man to encourage the priests and religious to be poor in their hearts. He spoke of how Christ emptied himself, became “nothing,” humiliated himself to become one of us.
“The spirit of the world doesn’t like the path of the Son of God,” Francis said.
“I think what St. Ignatius said might help you,” he suggested, adding in jest that quoting the founder of the Jesuits wasn’t meant to be propaganda for his own spiritual family. According to St. Ignatius, “poverty is the wall and the mother of consecrated life,” he said. “It is the mother because it gives life to a greater confidence in God. And it is the wall because it protects one from worldliness.”
He suggested that the consecrated ask themselves how lively is their spirit of poverty and detachment.
It is the first of the Beatitudes, he recalled: Blessed are the poor in spirit.
“When one seeks in his interior preferences the smallest, the most abandoned, the sickest, the one no one pays attention to, who no one loves, the smallest one, and serves the smallest one, he is serving Jesus in a superlative manner,” the Pontiff affirmed.
Referring to where the young nun was sent to do her ministry, the House of Mercy, he said there is “where the tenderness and the mercy of the Father become more tangible. Where the tenderness and the mercy of God become a caress.”
He praised the religious dedicated to this type of work, saying, “How many women and men religious consume — and I repeat the verb, consume — their lives caressing ‘rubbish,’ caressing those that the world throws away, that the world despises, that the world wishes didn’t exist, those who the world today — with methods and new analyses that we have, when it’s foreseen that one can come with a degenerative illness, it’s proposed to ‘send them back’ before they’re born. The smallest.”
This ministry to those rejected by the world gives life to the mercy of God, the Holy Father said, even when those who receive it cannot fully understand.
The Pope’s examples reflected his own experience in ministering to the disabled, as he mentioned someone who tries to give a kiss but gets spittle on the face, or one who lashes out when angry and strikes his or her caregiver.
“This is the tenderness of God. This is the mercy of God,” he said.
And consuming one’s life in this way, Pope Francis continued, with those who are rejected by the world, “this speaks to us of only one Person, of Jesus,” who out of the pure mercy of the Father, made himself nothing, emptied himself. “These people to whom you have dedicated your life imitate Jesus,” he said, “not because they wanted to but because the world has treated them this way. Because they are nothing.”
“And [people of the world] hide them, they don’t show them, they don’t visit them, and if they can and there’s still time, they ‘send them back,'” the Pope lamented, adding, “thank you for what you do,” and through you thanks to so many consecrated dedicated to this service.
Changing then to address the priests, who might say, but I don’t care for the sick, I work in a parish, the Pope said that for them, they can find the “smallest” in the confessional.
“Please, priests,” he said, “don’t get tired of forgiving. Be forgivers. Don’t get tired of forgiving, as Jesus did.”
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full translation of transcription: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-s-off-the-cuff-homily-at-vespers