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Today’s News Dispatch: Dec. 16, 2015

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GENERAL AUDIENCE: On Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

‘When we acknowledge our sins and ask for forgiveness, there is a celebration in Heaven. Jesus celebrates: this is His mercy: let us not be discouraged.’

Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ address during this morning’s weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square:

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Last Sunday, the Holy Door was opened in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Cathedral of Rome, and a Door of Mercy was opened in the Cathedral of every diocese of the world, as well as in shrines and churches indicated by bishops. The Jubilee is in the whole world, not only in Rome. I wanted this sign of the Holy Door to be present in every particular Church, so that the Jubilee of Mercy could become a shared experience by every person. Thus the Holy Year got underway in the whole Church and is celebrated in every diocese as at Rome. Moreover, the first Holy Door was opened in fact in the heart of Africa. And Rome, see, is the visible sign of the universal communion. May this ecclesial communion become ever more intense, so that the Church is a living sign of the Father’s love and mercy in the world.

The date of December 8 was also intended to stress this need, linking — 50 years later — the beginning of the Jubilee with the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. In fact, the Council contemplated and presented the Church in the light of the mystery of communion. Spread throughout the world and articulated in so many particular Churches, it is, however, always and only the one Church of Jesus Christ, the one He desired and for which He offered Himself. The “one” Church that lives of the communion itself of God.

This mystery of communion, which renders the Church sign of the Father’s love, grows and matures in our heart, when the Love, which we recognize in the Cross of Christ and in which we immerse ourselves, makes us love as we ourselves are loved by Him. It is a love without end, which has the face of forgiveness and mercy.

However, mercy and forgiveness must not remain beautiful words, but be realized in daily life. To love and to forgive are the concrete and visible signs that faith has transformed our hearts and they enable us to express in ourselves the very life of God — to love and forgive as God loves and forgives. This is a program of life that knows no interruptions or exceptions, but which pushes us to always go beyond without ever tiring, with the certainty of being supported by God’s paternal presence.

This great sign of Christian life is then transformed into many other signs that are characteristics of the Jubilee. I am thinking of all those who will cross one of the Holy Doors, which in this Year are true Doors of Mercy. The Door indicates Jesus Himself who said: “I am the door; if any one enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). To cross the Holy Door is the sign of our trust in the Lord Jesus, who did not come to judge, but to save (cf. John 12:47). Be careful that you do not come across someone who is a bit fast or too crafty who tells you that you must pay: no! Salvation cannot be paid for; salvation is not purchased. Jesus is the Door, and Jesus is free! He Himself spoke about those that make one go in as they shouldn’t, and He says simply that they are thieves and bandits. Again, be careful: salvation is free. To cross the Holy Door is the sign of a true conversion of our heart. When we cross that Door it is good to remember that we must also have the door of our heart wide open. I stand before the Holy Door and I ask: “Lord, help me to open wide the door of my heart!” The Holy Year will not be very effective if the door of our heart does not let Christ pass, who pushes us to go to others, to bring Him and his love. Therefore, as the Holy Door remains open, because it is the sign of the welcome that God Himself gives us, so our door also, that of our heart, must remain wide open not to exclude anyone, not even he or she who annoys me: no one.

Confession is also an important sign of the Jubilee. To approach the sacrament with which we are reconciled with God is equivalent to having a direct experience of His mercy. It is to meet the Father who forgives: God forgives everything. God understands us also in our limitations, He also understands us in our contradictions. Not only this, with His love He says to us that precisely when we acknowledge our sins He is still closer and spurs us to look ahead. He says more: that when we acknowledge our sins and ask for forgiveness, there is a celebration in Heaven. Jesus celebrates: this is His mercy: let us not be discouraged. Forward, forward with this!

How many times I’ve heard it said to me: “Father, I am unable to forgive my neighbor, my work companion, the lady next door, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law.” We have all felt this” “I am unable to forgive.” But how can we ask God to forgive us, if we are unable to forgive? And to forgive is something great, yet it’s not easy to forgive, because our heart is poor and it cannot do so on its own. However, if we open ourselves to receive God’s mercy for us, we in turn become capable of forgiving. I’ve heard it said so many times: “I couldn’t stand that person: I hated her. But one day I approached the Lord and asked him to forgive my sins, and I also forgave that person.” These are everyday things. And we have this possibility close to us.

Therefore, courage! Let us live the Jubilee by beginning with these signs that imply a great force of love. The Lord will accompany us to lead us to experience other important signs for our life. Courage and forward!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

Greeting in English 

Speaker: Dear Brothers and Sisters: The Jubilee of Mercy was inaugurated this past week by the opening of the Holy Door, not only here in Rome but in dioceses worldwide, as a visible expression of our communion in the universal Church. Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council reminded us that the Church is called to be, in Christ, the visible sign of God’s merciful love for the entire human family. Each of us, by practicing charity, mercy and forgiveness, can be a sign of the power of God’s love to transform hearts and to bring reconciliation and peace. By passing through the Door of Mercy during this Holy Year, we show our desire to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s redemptive love. Jesus tells us that he himself is the door to eternal life (cf. Jn 10:9), and he asks us, through genuine conversion, to open the doors of our hearts to a more sincere love of God and neighbour. A special sign of grace in this Jubilee of Mercy is the sacrament of Penance, in which Christ invites us to acknowledge our sinfulness, to experience his mercy, and to receive the grace which can make us ever more effective signs of his reconciling love at work in our world.

Speaker: I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Ukraine, Indonesia and the United States of America. With prayerful good wishes that the present Jubilee of Mercy will be a moment profound spiritual renewal, I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all!

[Original text: English]

Greeting in Italian

In the joyful atmosphere of vigilant expectation of the Birth of Jesus, Face of the Father’s mercy, I am pleased to greet affectionately the Italian-speaking faithful. I am happy to receive the new priests of the Legionaries of Christ with their relatives; the Community of the Sain
t Francis Villa; the “Integra” Association and the military men of the Aviation Training Center and of the Commando of the Forces of Defense. I exhort all in these days to intensify their prayer and good works, so that the encounter with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God will fill hearts with the joy that only He can give.

A special greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Let us entrust ourselves to Mary, teacher of faith and model of obedience to the Lord. Dear young people, be able to live Christmas with the same faith with which Mary received the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel. Dear sick, ask Her to obtain for you that profound peace that Jesus brought to the world. Dear newlyweds, imitate the example of God’s Mother with prayer and virtues.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]



Leader of US Bishops: Fear Can’t Lead to Policies of Discrimination

This week, the president of the US episcopal conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, released this statement to reflect on the Advent message in the context of violence and hate in our world.

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In this blessed Advent season, we sing hopeful carols anticipating the miracle of Christmas. We have reason to announce the need for peace and goodwill throughout the world with even stronger voices this year, in light of the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino. Violence and hate in the world around us must be met with resolve and courage.

We pray that family and friends facing the pain of loss and the journey of recovery find strength in the compassion of their community. We draw especially close to the local Church, which has borne the burden of mourning the loss of those who died and of comforting their families, yet has the strength to reach out in love.

We are also reminded of those recovering from the shooting in Colorado Springs. Here, too, the Christmas story inspires us to give of ourselves, as Jesus gave up his body, so we may bring comfort and joy to those in need. We must not respond in fear. We are called to be heralds of hope and prophetic voices against senseless violence, a violence which can never be justified by invoking the name of God.

Watching innocent lives taken and wondering whether the violence will reach our own families rightly stirs our deepest protective emotions. We must resist the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination. Instead, we must channel our emotions of concern and protection, born in love, into a vibrant witness to the dignity of every person. We should employ immigration laws that are humane and keep us safe, but should never target specific classes of persons based on religion.

When we fail to see the difference between our enemies and people of good will, we lose a part of who we are as people of faith. Policies of fear and inflammatory rhetoric will only offer extremists fertile soil and pave the way toward a divisive, fearful future. As Pope Francis reminded us in his speech to Congress: “The yardstick by which we measure others is the yardstick by which time will measure us.”

Confident in what Jesus asks of us, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops remains steadfast in our commitment to refugees, who are often escaping severe persecution. We will continue to support strengthening social services for persons with mental illness, but we must remember that only a small number of those suffering with these challenges pose a risk to themselves or others. We encourage responsible firearms regulation. And we will advocate on behalf of people facing religious discrimination, including our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Let us confront the extremist threat with courage and compassion, recognizing that Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many other religions are united in opposition to violence carried out in their name.



FORUM: The Spiritual Master Pope Francis Wants You to Read

This year marks the 750th anniversary of the birth of the great Catholic poet Dante Alighieri. Michelangelo reverenced Dante, as did Longfellow, Dorothy Sayers, and T.S. Eliot. In fact, it was Eliot who commented, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third.” One of Bob Dylan’s finest songs, “Tangled Up in Blue,” contains a reference to Dante: “She opened up a book of poems, handed it to me/ It was written by an Italian poet from the 13th century/ And every one of those words rang true and glowed like burning coal/ Pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul.”

I first read Dante’s masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in the summer of 1990, when I was studying German in Freiburg in Breisgau. The experience changed my life. Almost every book I’ve written contains some reference to the poet, and I’ve used him extensively in my preaching for twenty-five years. Just this past summer, while filming with my Word on Fire team in Ravenna, I had the opportunity to visit Dante’s tomb, which I found incomparably moving.


There is so much to admire in The Divine Comedy: its architectonic structure, its lyrical language, its unforgettable metaphors, its cadences and rhythms (impossible to convey in translations), its psychological perceptiveness, its deep humanity, etc. But I would like to focus on its extraordinary spiritual power. How wonderful that arguably the most significant poem in the Western tradition is all about sin and redemption and is suffused through and through with a distinctively Catholic sensibility.


The epic poem opens in the year 1300, when its protagonist was thirty-five, mid-life by a Biblical reckoning: “The measure of our life is seventy years…” (Ps. 90:10). As psychologists and spiritual teachers over the centuries have testified, mid-life is often a time of crisis and breakthrough. The justly celebrated opening lines of the Comedysignal this truth: “Midway on the journey of our life, I woke to find myself alone in a dark wood, having wandered from the straight path.” Though he was a massively accomplished man, renowned in both the artistic and political arenas, Dante was, by his mid-thirties, spiritually lost. That he realized this — that he woke up to it, to use his metaphor — was a signal virtue and the impetus for his journey, much as “hitting bottom” and “turning one’s life over to a higher power” are essential for those who undertake a Twelve-Step process.


He meets the ghost of the Roman poet Virgil, who functions as his psychopomp, mystagogue, and spiritual director. One of the most important truths in the spiritual order is that one should never commence the journey alone: things get complicated fairly quickly, and a skilled guide is essential. Virgil tells the troubled Dante that there is a way forward but that it involves a journey through Hell. In our “I’m okay and you’re okay” culture, this is a very difficult message to take in, but every authentic spiritual master acknowledges its indispensability. We have to confront our sin and dysfunction with complete honesty; otherwise we will get stuck. The Twelve-Step program speaks of doing “a searching moral inventory” as a non-negotiable prerequisite to dealing with an addiction. So Virgil leads Dante on a thorough-going tour of the underworld.


As the pilgrim takes in the sufferings of the damned, he is so
metimes so overwhelmed that he faints dead away, but Virgil brings him back around, for the point is to see what sin does to the soul. In watching the pains endured by the denizens of Hell, Dante is seeing his own sin and appreciating, perhaps for the first time, precisely what it has done to him.
At the very bottom of Hell, Virgil and Dante confront Satan. Unlike any other depiction of the devil in the great tradition, Dante presents Satan, not as ensconced in flames, but as buried in ice. The more one muses on it, the more this seems an apt image of the coldness, immobility, and isolation that follow from rejecting God’s love. Moreover, Dante imagines the devil as possessing three faces — a twisted imitation of the Trinity. Deep down, every sinner, in making himself the center of the universe, is aping God. From all six eyes, Satan weeps, signaling that, in the final analysis, sin is sad. Unlike Milton’s Satan or even Al Pacino’s version of the prince of darkness in the film The Devil’s Advocate, Dante’s devil has nothing glamorous or romantic about him. He is just stuck, pathetic, and sad. 


Having gone all the way down, Dante is now ready to rise. Moving through the center of the earth, he comes out the other side (interestingly, the 13th century poet somehow intuited the roundness of the earth) and commences a journey up Mt. Purgatory. On each level of that seven-storey mountain (the title, by the way, of Thomas Merton’s autobiography), one of the deadly sins — pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust — is punished, usually through some version of enantiodromia, or moving in the direction opposite of one’s sin. So the prideful, who elevated themselves in their earthly lives, are forced to carry huge boulders that press them to the ground; and the envious, who spent their lives looking resentfully at others, have their eyelids sown shut; and the slothful, who could muster no spiritual energy in this world, are made to run, etc.  Dante thereby takes in the two essential steps in the process of conversion: seeing and acting.


Having then been purified, Dante is ready to fly. At the top of Mt. Purgatory, now accompanied by the blissful Beatrice, he commences a flight through the various levels of heaven. What he sees are, in essence, different modalities and dimensions of love, for heaven is nothing but love. One of the most memorable examples of this is that the Franciscan St. Bonaventure introduces St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order, and the Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas introduces St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscans. Rivalries and jealousies are absent in heaven; all that remains is courtesy. Finally, at the very end of his pilgrimage, the poet is permitted to look into the face of God, which he appreciates as “the love that moves the Sun and the other stars.” 


The itinerary through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven is not a bit of medieval fantasy; instead, it is a vivid description of the process by which we find salvation. Hence, it is as relevant now (probably more so) than it was in the thirteenth century. Pope Francis has said that, especially in this Year of Mercy, we should read and reread this magnificent spiritual teacher. I think he’s right.

Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.

50 Vatican Journalists, Authors Join in Creating ‘The Vocabulary of Pope Francis’

Wouldn’t it be great to look up a word in the dictionary to see its significance and application during a pontificate? Well, this was the vision behind Salesian Father Antonio Carriero’s creation, “The Vocabulary of Pope Francis,” published by Elledici on the eve of the Jubilee Year.

This work also includes presentations by the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Mgr. Nunzio Galantino, secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference; and Father Antonio Spadaro, director of la Civita Cattolica.

The 300-page work, available in Italian, examines words which apply to Pope Francis’ work as Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome. Looking at 50 words, Carriero brought together 50 Vatican journalists and writers who encounter the Holy Father’s discourses, homilies and documents almost daily.

The creators of the book hope to give some clarity to those who wish to have a better understanding of how each of these words relates to the Holy Father. 

ZENIT correspondent Deborah Castellano Lubov was one of the 50 Vatican journalists asked to contribute to the book, and wrote the chapter on Creation. Through reflecting on the Pope’s attention to the environment, reflected in his encyclical Laudato Si’ and his words and gestures stressing the importance of creation, she said the process was enlightening as she sought to draw together the most critical points to give a good overview.

“The Vocabulary of Pope Francis” is available in bookstores for less than 10 Euro.

Fr. Carriero had expressed that he felt a work giving this sort of letter by letter overview was needed, but would have been too ambitious for one person to do alone, so he engaged these journalists to contribute. He also stressed how this book will also serve as a tool to understand Francis’ everyday language, including words we hear so often from him, like “normal,” “mercy,” “periphery.”

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