Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

            The Lord is risen, alleluia!  He is risen, indeed, alleluia!
            This morning we celebrate the greatest event of all time—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I ask you—did Jesus really rise from the dead?
            Here I am not so much asking if you believe Jesus rose again.  Just because we believe something does not necessarily make it true.  For instance, for centuries people believed the world was flat, but that did not change the fact that the world is round.  So did Jesus rise from the dead?
            In the seminary one of my professors asked this question in a slightly different way.  He asked, “If someone discovered Jesus’ tomb with his bones inside, and this was proved beyond a doubt, would your faith change?”  My answer, “Yes!”  I was the first to raise my hand in class and said, “If they find the bones of Jesus, there is no way I would be a priest.”  Being a priest is a nice job, and I enjoy the opportunities to be with you and your families and to walk with people in their joys and sufferings.  Yet there is one aspect of priesthood that is not worth living out if Jesus did not actually rise from the dead—priestly celibacy.  I would never have given up a wife and children if the resurrection of Christ did not happen.  Do you think I would choose to live with Fr. Rich?  If the bones of Jesus are found, I would be chasing the ladies immediately.
            The fact that Jesus rose from the dead leads to several conclusions.  First, we have a profound insight into who Jesus is.  Now everyone agrees that Jesus of Nazareth walked this earth.  And many, even secular historians, recognize he was a great teacher, man of peace and in some sense a revolutionary.  Yet if Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus is not merely a teacher, prophet or good man.  He is God.  This is either true or false.
            And if Jesus is God, we have every reason to believe in the Church he founded.  You could expect that if a normal guy established a church, no matter how great he was, it would eventually crumble.  Yet if Jesus rose from the dead and is God, and promised he would be with us until the end, we can trust that the Catholic Church is led by him to this day.  Every teaching of the Church, then, comes from the man who rose from the dead.  While some of these teachings may be difficult for us to understand—and there are some that are difficult for me too—we can trust they are not invented by us, but taught by God.
            Finally, if Jesus rose from the dead, we have all the reason to live in hope.  No matter what struggles we face in life—and God only knows what some of you may be suffering with now—unemployment, divorce, cancer, the death of a child—we know the crucified one walks with us.  We can live out St. Paul’s teaching to “think of what is above, not what is on earth.”  Life is short, heaven is eternal.  By rising from the dead Jesus opened the gates to heaven for us.
            I encourage you to truly ask yourself—did Jesus really rise from the dead?  I submit he did, and it is that fact alone that caused me to become a priest.  I pray that this reality will transform your life.  After all, following the resurrected Christ is worth founding your life on.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

            Isaiah’s prophecy is dead on.  It is remarkable to think that this reading, which fits perfectly to the passion of Christ, was written 550 years before Jesus was born.  Let me read some of the lines from this text again.  As I do, look at or imagine the crucifix on which Jesus hung:
·      “…he shall be raised high…
·      “…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…
·      “…there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him…
·      He was spurned and avoided by people…
·      “…it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured…
·      “…he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.”
·      “…through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”
Isaiah’s prophecy has been perfectly fulfilled by Christ crucified.
            In the midst of his passion Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”  And we can see this by gazing at the cross.  No king of this earth is beaten, spit on, mocked or nailed to a tree.  But his kingdom is not here.
            Is yours?
            Is your kingdom with Christ, the king on the cross?  Or is it your family, career, sports, popularity, retirement or elsewhere?
            If your kingdom is with anything but Christ this world makes no sense.  Just look at a newspaper.  Our world is full of violence, death, darkness and debauchery.  There is no answer in this world to why good people suffer, cancer exists or wars ravaging all over the place.
            Living in God’s kingdom, while not providing clear answers to such questions here on earth, helps us endure them.  Jesus has gone through anything we can, and leads the way carrying the cross.  We have only to follow as we offer whatever sufferings we face in our lives.
On this Good Friday we commit ourselves to being faithful members of Christ’s kingdom.  And we dare proclaim with the Psalmist: “But my trust is in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.  In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.’”

Holy Thursday

            I love the line in our Gospel, which is also included in one of the Eucharistic prayers priests may pray: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”  Here John has in mind the end of Jesus life as a man.  He knew he had to suffer and die for us, and he persevered in following his Father’s will.
            Yet we know Jesus promised to be with us after he returned to the Father.  In his last words recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus promises, “Lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the age.”  Tonight we are asked by Holy Mother Church to reflect on two gifts Christ gives us to fulfill this promise: the priesthood and the Eucharist.
            I am so grateful for the priests in my life.  I thank God for Fr. Jude—who baptized me—for Fr. John—who was my pastor for twenty-four years, heard my first Confession, gave me first Communion and confirmed me—for priests who showed me the awesome call to the priesthood and led me along the path to discern God’s call in my life.
            And now, on my twenty-ninth feast of the Last Supper, here I am, myself a priest.  I want you to know I have been given no greater gift in my life.  Even as a baby priest, I have seen more in eight or nine months than I had my whole life prior.  I often experience in a day what many undergo in a lifetime because we are invited into the sacred moments of peoples’ lives.  These cover the joyful—births, baptisms, first communions, confirmations and weddings—and the sorrowful—sickness, sinfulness, death and grieving.
            I also want to thank you for your prayers as I was in seminary and now as your priest.  This journey would not be possible without them.  I humbly ask you to continue praying for me, Fr. Rich and all priests that we may be nothing more than good and faithful servants of God.
            We celebrate the priesthood tonight in light of the second great gift God gives us to continue to be present in our lives—the Eucharist.  Jesus commands the disciples, “Do this in memory of me,” and in so doing entrusts them with his body and blood.  We call this night the Last Supper—and indeed it was Jesus’ last meal.  Yet it is also the first Eucharist.
            The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives.  Is it in yours?  It is the fulfillment of the Old Testament notion that only through shedding blood can sins be forgiven.  It is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb that was sacrificed so the Israelites could be spared.  Jesus, in, shedding his own blood, frees us from sin and death and allows us to pass over into holiness and eternal life.
            This Lent we have been given another great gift—Pope Francis.  He inspires us to use the gifts God has given us—including the priesthood and the Eucharist—to serve.  He shows us that we must help the poorest of the poor because that is what Christ did.  I, in communion with our Holy Father and priests around the world, will wash the feet of our parishioners this evening.  In so doing we emulate what Christ did for his disciples.  As the washing of feet takes place, I would ask that you consider how you are called to wash feet in our world by service in our community.
            On this night, please pray in thanksgiving for the priests in your life and pray they may be bridges to Christ.  Thank God for the gift of the Eucharist and make Jesus’ body and blood the center of your lives.  Then take these gifts and inspire those who need them too.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Daily Mass Homily: Wednesday of Holy Week

           We are in the middle of the most important week of the year: Holy Week.  It is the week in which we reflect on the central mysteries of our faith and lives.
            Holy Week culminates with the Sacred Triduum—or three days.  On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper and first Eucharist, as well as the institution of the priesthood.  Jesus promised us that he would be with us until the end of time, and these two great gifts are two ways he fulfills these promises.  On Good Friday we reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus in his passion and on the cross.  During the Easter Vigil we rejoice in his resurrection from the dead.
            This morning we hear again that Judas betrayed Jesus.  After so many times reading or hearing the story of Jesus’ passion, I often think—“Judas, how can you be so dumb?!  This isn’t just a friend—it is God!”  Once more I must remind myself that my sins betray Jesus in a similar way Judas handed him over.  Our sin always involves such a choice, and while we may not receive money for turning Jesus over we may betray him for fleeting pleasure, gossip, notoriety or pride.
            Please come to our Triduum liturgies this weekend.  These celebrations are the fundamental answer to our sinfulness—our betraying of Jesus.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Daily Mass Homily: Tuesday of Holy Week

           There is a poignant line in our Gospel that is only four words long: “And it was night.”  John frequently uses the images of light and darkness to contrast life and death, righteousness and sinfulness. 
            Jesus was betrayed by two of his apostles and friends.  Judas turned him over to the enemies for a mere sum of money.  Peter denied he knew him.  He wasn’t asked if he was a believer in Jesus, but simply knowing him.  And it was night.”
            If you’re like me, having heard the passion story many times in your life, you may be tempted to think, “What idiots!  How could Jesus’ closest followers reject him to that degree?”  Yet we must remember that we have darkness in our own souls.  We may not deny we know Jesus, or take money to betray him, but when we lust, gossip, or judge we, too, betray Jesus—and it is night in our soul.
            Jesus, as the light of the world, wants us to step out of the darkness—our sins, failures and shortcomings—and walk into the day.  That is what Holy Week is all about.  This week I pray that you will have the courage to bring your darkness into the light as we reflect on Christ acting as the light of the world. 
            God promises through the prophet Isaiah: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  He calls us to be a light for the world.  But before we can be light we must give him our darkness.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday

           When it comes to preaching I believe the longer the readings, the longer the homily.  So buckle up everyone!
            I’ve been thinking about the importance of stories in our lives.  In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly argues that we all have stories which range from casual to critical in our lives.  But we all love them.  A couple weeks ago one of the third graders came up to me after Mass.  He said, “Fr. Ben, I have a fish story to tell you!”  I would have loved to hear it, but his whole class had left him behind chatting with me.  After telling him to catch up with his class a first grader called out to him, “I’d LOVE to hear your fish story!”  Then there were the bedtime stories my Mom and Dad read to me.  By the time I was three or four I had most of them memorized.  Mom would try to skip pages, but she learned early you couldn’t fool soon-to-be Fr. Ben.
            In celebrating Palm Sunday we are entering into the greatest story ever told—the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And like any good story it shares a few key aspects.  First, the Gospel captures our imagination.  As we just read the Passion narrative I hope you pictured the scenes.  What was it like during the Last Supper?  In the angry mob?  At the Cross? 
Second, the Gospel places several characters before us to compare and contrast our own lives.  Would I have sold Jesus for a mere sum of money like Judas?  Would I have denied Jesus, like Peter, or have had the courage to admit I knew him?  What would I have done while the crowd was screaming for Jesus’ blood? 
Finally, every good piece of literature needs a hero.  Our hero is the greatest of them all—Jesus Christ.  We hear some of the most important readings in the whole Bible about Jesus today and are reminded that he emptied himself, facing a brutal passion and death.  He was beaten.  His beard was plucked.  He was slandered in public.  Holes were torn in his hands and feet.
Yet unlike other narratives, the Gospel is true.  It is as real as the palms we hold or the pews on which we sit.
These palms…they were held by the crowds as they hailed his entry to Jerusalem.  They shouted “Hosanna!” at the coming of the savior and son of David.  This same crowd screamed only a few days later, “Release Barabbas!  Take him away!  Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  In holding these palms we are reminded that we, too, glorify God.  Yet we, too, call for his death.  Whenever we sin, we yell, “Crucify him!”
The only answer for this paradox of our sinful nature is to let God—the author of life—and not ourselves to write the end of our story.  And in this holiest week of the year we have the chance to let the Author write our stories anew.  Please enter into this week by increasing your prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Come to the great feast of the Triduum and celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus’ passion and resurrection.
Know of my prayers for you this holy week.  Enter into the greatest story and allow it to change your life.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Daily Mass Homily: Friday, March 22nd, 2013

            The Gospel of John was written to inspire belief.  Now this may seem obvious, but John explicitly uses the words belief or believe more than all of the other Gospels combined.  Today the Gospel ends: “And many there began to believe in him.”
            Jesus points to the works he has been doing to encourage the doubters to believe: “If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
            There is an old saying said about atheists—“If you can’t see God, you can’t see God.”  Think about this.  If you can’t see God behind our intricate universe (in a sunset, tree, lake, animals, etc.), loved ones and a whole lot more, you won’t see God, period.
            We are on the brink of the holiest week of the year.  I pray that Holy Week will afford you the opportunity to grow in your belief of God as you respond to His works in your life.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Daily Mass Homily: Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

            First, let’s review the great news from last week.  What happened?  [New pope!]  And what is his name?  [Francis!]  Where is he from?  [Argentina.] 
Next, excellent work to our lector this morning.  Some of our adults would be afraid to say “Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” in public! 
            The basic theme of the first reading was choosing God before everything else.  Nebuchadnezzar had a golden statue that was made that all the Israelites were supposed to worship.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose God over worshiping a false god.
            Now I bet you wouldn’t worship a golden statue if someone told you to.  You know that we are to love God before something so silly.  Yet, think about this—what does the NBA trophy look like?  NFL?  NHL?  And think of how the players treat this trophy, kissing, hugging and nearly bowing down to it. 
            What else in our society are we tempted to put before God?  Fame, fortune, possessions, food, technology to name a few.  We are to place God before each of these, including our very lives.
            We are blessed to have a new Holy Father, and should follow his witness of holiness and service.  Over everything else, Pope Francis is a modern day Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who places God before everything else.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Daily Mass Homily: Tuesday, March 19th (Solemnity of St. Joseph, given at CSS)

            It is very fitting that we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph, on this, the day that Pope Francis was officially installed as our 266th pope.  St. Joseph is a model to all of us of following God’s will in a silent way.  He didn’t try to prove himself and he didn’t try to make a statement.  He simply did what God asked.
            This flies in the face of our culture which is made up of “either/or”.  “Either/or” permeates our political system, government and is sadly present in the Church.  Anyone watching the secular news can observe this first hand as they have to find a way to label this new pope.  One commentator even asked a politician, “He is conservative in his morals but progressive in his service to the needy.  Is it fair to call him a conservative progressive?”  The politician answered wisely, “No.  He is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.”
On this day we must remember that St. Joseph is the patron saint of the universal Church.  He is the patron saint of liberals and conservatives.  Already, we see Pope Francis striving to unite the Church and his own example of living out the faith ought to inspire us.  I’ve mentioned this before here, but I continue to reflect on the “either/or” Catholics in our area.  It seems either people serve the poor or they pray.  Social workers or church mice!  Pope Francis shows that we need both because Jesus did both.  I confess, my background is more on the spiritual side of things and my faith grew through experiences in prayer and the sacraments.  The Holy Father is inspiring me to go forth from Church to help those in need.  And I hope those of you who are drawn by service to learn about and remain steadfast in the beautiful teachings and spirituality of our Church.
On this great solemnity we pray for unity in our Church, especially in Duluth and at the College.  We pray also for our Holy Father and seek to follow his example of humility, faithfulness to Church teaching and service in our lives.

Monday, March 18, 2013

2 Maccabees

Thoughts on the last book of the OT, 2 Maccabees, can be found here.  On to the New!

Daily Mass Homily: Monday, March 18th, 2013

            Our lengthy first reading contains a very practical teaching about temptation.
The elders faced the temptation to lust after a beautiful woman.  In a telling manner, Daniel reports, “They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.”
Susanna was tempted to save face, or to not trust in God.  Yet she proclaimed both, “it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord,” and, “O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be: you know that they have testified falsely against me.”
Note the dramatic difference.  The elders turned to themselves, desiring momentary pleasure.  Susanna turned to God, trusting in His deliverance.
Each of us face temptations every day of our lives.  Some are particular to us as men or as women, and others to us as an individual with a unique personality.  It is at the moment of temptation we walk “in the valley of the shadow of death”.  May we, like Susanna, bring these temptations to the light of Jesus.  Just like he did with Susanna, He will walk with us and we may confidently say, “you are at my side.”

Church: Conform or Reform? (Bulletin Article: 3-17-13)

                 Amidst the excitement of the conclave and election of our new Holy Father (which I hope we have by the time you read this!) I have heard a consistent desire from the secular world for us: the Church needs to get with the times.
                  Stop and think—would it actually be a good thing for our Church to “get with” our society?  Remember our society has taken God out of public places and schools, accepts abortion (while seeking justice for the environment), glamorizes infidelity, neglects the poor, encourages individualism and lives by its own golden rule—“He who has the most gold makes the rules”.  Open up any newspaper or watch any news broadcast and ask—is THIS what our Church should conform to? 
                  Shouldn’t it be the other way around? 
      In dark times like these I am so grateful for the gift of the Church.  God has given us the Mystical Body of Christ, not to conform with culture, but to transcend and transform culture.  Imagine if every individual in our society lived according to the two great commandments—to love God above all and (the real Golden Rule) our neighbor as ourselves.  The Church, like the North Star, is a reference point for us to follow that shines above the world in which we may find ourselves lost.  And in a sense, we SHOULD feel lost in our worldly society.  Remember our Lord’s warning: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 17:19). 
      Admittedly, the transcendent Church must always evangelize in a particular time, place and culture.  Thus it is good to speak through the languages and traditions of many different cultures.  And the Church HAS examined such questions in the best way possible—through the Ecumenical Council of Vatican II.  Anyone questioning the Church in relationship to the modern world ought to read about this Council and the writings produced therein. 
                 As we welcome our new Holy Father we thank God for the gift of His Church to us all.  We praise Him for this, our anchor to reality and guide to life, as we strive to live in but not of our world.

Exercise! (Bulletin Article: 3-3-13)

                While we are at least three to four blizzards away from winter’s end in Duluth, this warmer weather has reminded me how much I love spring.  After a long, dark, cold and snowy northland winter, it is exciting to see the sun shine again and the snow begin to melt.  One of my favorite moments of each year is the first time I get to run in shorts again after the long months of cold and snow. 
                  Running has been an important activity in my life.  I love competing, but more importantly enjoy getting outside to exercise on a regular basis.  And I have learned a lot about my faith over the years on the road and trail.
                  Did you know that running is alluded to in the Bible several different times?  St. Paul appeals to running in three of his letters, and running also appears in 2 Samuel, Isaiah, Hebrews and more.  As one example, St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).  I would argue this helps make running the best sport of them all as hockey, baseball, soccer, volleyball and basketball are not in the Bible!
                  In all seriousness, exercise in general is both a gift and a responsibility for us.  Regular periods of exercise help us physically, mentally, psychologically and even spiritually.  And it helps us take care of our bodies, which St. Paul tells us “is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
                  If you have not exercised in a while, this is a perfect time to start.  The days are getting longer and the weather will be getting warmer.  Plus we are in Lent, so if exercise is difficult for you consider it a penance! 
                  Put down that cell phone and television remote, lace up your shoes and get out there.  There are all sorts of ways to incorporate various forms of physical fitness into your life to meet your personal needs.  If you are able, get out for a jog and maybe I’ll run into you (no pun intended) along the way!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

5th Sunday in Lent

            God says in the prophet Isaiah, “…see, I am doing something new.”  I can’t think of a better line to describe this week’s events in which God raised up the 266th Pope.
            At 1:10 on Wednesday afternoon white smoke billowed from the world’s most famous chimney.  The bells in St. Peter rung, indicating the election of our next Pope.  I was in the school when mayhem erupted and we gathered the kids into two classrooms.  Kevin and I ran around the school ringing bells.  The students were exuberant and we all waited for an hour before we found out who was elected.  I told them they could go nuts until those drapes opened and the cardinal came out.  When he finally did, the kids were silent and we all listened.  “Habemus papam!” the cardinal announced.  Then I, with the rest of the crowd in St. Peter’s, had no idea what was happening!  No one recognized the name of the cardinal who had been elected.
            After a 15 second pause, the commentators announced, “It’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina—Pope Francis!”  Talk about God doing something new.  Pope Francis is the first pope from the Western hemisphere and the first pope from Latin America.  He is the first Jesuit to ascend to the Chair of Peter and for the first time a pope has taken the name Francis.  And this name is especially significant as it refers to St. Francis of Assisi who served the poor par excellence.
And this is just the lifestyle St. Paul encourages: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” 
Already we are hearing many stories about Pope Francis’ devotion to the poor.  He sold the Cardinal-Archbishop’s mansion in Buenos Aires and moved into a one-room apartment.  He gave up a driver and limo to ride the city transportation to be with his people.  The day after he was appointed the Archbishop he worked in a soup kitchen.  And, as I’ve pointed out to Fr. Rich, he bought his own groceries and cooked his own meals.
            The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”  The Lord has truly done great things for us and we should rejoice in the election of our new pastor.  What pleases me the most is the wonderful blend he is in his path to holiness.  I like this because we live in a polarized society—one that is either/or.  For instance, in my experience at college one was either a pray-er or someone who served the poor. 
In fact, I was listening to a newscast in which a broadcaster pointed out that Cardinal Bergoglio was “conservative when it came to morals” but “progressive in social action”.  He then asked, “Could we call Pope Francis a conservative progressive?”  With a chuckle, the politician said something profound: “No.  He is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.”
We praise God for His latest gift to the Church.  As we near the end of Lent let us strive to follow Pope Francis as he serves Christ and His poor.  As we do so, may we remain steadfast in Christ’s teaching while reaching out to our brothers and sisters.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Daily Mass Homily: Friday, March 15th, 2013

           Some prophecies in the Old Testament are spot on.  We have one of them from the book of Wisdom this morning as we see an almost perfect prediction of Jesus’ arrest, suffering and death.  Listen again to some of the lines from this text and compare them to the enemies of Jesus who eventually had him arrested: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training…He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.  He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father.”  This last charge was the reason why Jesus was arrested and condemned to death by the Jewish leaders.
            Jesus was betrayed by certain individuals in early Palestine.  But we must not forget that our sins led to his arrest, scourging and crucifixion.  If you were the only one on earth, your sins alone would have put him on the cross.  Yet at the same time, if you were the only person in the world he would have died just for you.
            The answer to the reality of our sinfulness and Christ’s gift of salvation is to grow in holiness.  I have already been inspired to grow in holiness in my own faith and priesthood by Pope Francis.  As he begins his papacy, may we follow his example to grow in our relationship with God to renounce sin and serve our brothers and sisters. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Buckle Up Catholics!

Check out a Lenten letter from Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis).  If this doesn't make you want to serve the poor, I don't know what will!

And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. (Joel 2:13)

Little by little we become accustomed to hearing and seeing, through the mass media, the dark chronicle of contemporary society, presented with an almost perverse elation, and also we become [desensitized] to touching it and feeling it all around us [even] in our own flesh.  Drama plays out on the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our homes and -- why not? -- even in our own hearts.  We live alongside a violence that kills, that destroys families, that enlivens wars and conflicts in so many countries of the world.  We live with envy, hatred, slander, the mundane in our heart.

The suffering of the innocent and peaceable buffets us nonstop; the contempt for the rights of the most fragile of people and nations is not so distant from us; the tyrannical rule of money with its demonic effects, such as drugs, corruption, trafficking in people -- even children -- along with misery, both material and moral, are the coin of the realm [today].  The destruction of dignified work, painful emigrations and the lack of a future also join in this [tragic] symphony. 

Our errors and sins as Church are not beyond this analysis.  Rationalizing selfishnesses, does not diminish it, lack of ethical values within a society metastisizes in [our] families, in the environment of [our] neighborhoods, towns and cities, [this lack of ethical values] testifies to our limitations, to our weaknesses and to our incapacity to transform this innumerable list of destructive realities.

The trap of powerlessness makes us wonder:  Does it make sense to try to change all this?  Can we do anything against this?  Is it worthwhile to try, if the world continues its carnival merriment, disguising all [this tragedy] for a little while?  But, when the mask falls, the truth appears and, although to many it may sound anachronistic to say so, once again sin becomes apparent, sin that wounds our very flesh with all its destructive force, twisting the destinies of the world and of the history. 

Lent is presented us as a shout of truth and certain hope that comes us to say "Yes, it is possible to not slap on makeup, and not draw plastic smiles as if nothing happened."  Yes, it is possible that all is made new and different because God remains "rich in kindness and mercy, always willing to forgive" and He encourages us to begin anew time and again.  Today, again, we are invited to undertake a Paschal road toward Life, a path that includes the cross and resignation; a path that will be uncomfortable but not fruitless.  We are invited to admit that something inside us is not going well, (in society or in the Church) to change, to turn around, to be converted.

Today, the words of the prophet Joel are strong and challenging: Rend your heart, not your clothing: be converted to the Lord, your God.  These [words] are an invitation to all people, nobody is excluded.
Rend your heart, not the clothing of artificial penance without [an eternal] future. 
Rend your heart, not the clothing of technical fasting of compliance that [only serves to keep us] satisfied. 
Rend your heart, not the clothing of egotistical and superficial prayer that does not reach the inmost part of [your] life to allow it to be touched by God. 

Rend your heart, that we may say with the Psalmist:  "We have sinned." 

"The wound of the soul is sin: Oh, poor wounded one, recognize your Doctor!  Show him the wounds of your faults.  And, since from Him our most secret thoughts cannot hide themselves, make the cry of your heart felt [to Him].  Move him to compassion with your tears, with your insistence ¡beg him!  Let Him hear your sighs, that your pain reaches Him so that, at the end, He can tell you:  The Lord has forgiven your sins."  (St. Gregory the Great)

This is the reality of our human condition.  This is the truth that approaches authentic reconciliation between God and men.  This is not a matter of discrediting [one's] self-worth but of penetrating, to its fullest depth, our heart and to take charge of the mystery of suffering and pain that had tied us down for centuries, for thousands of years, [in fact,] forever. 

Rend your hearts so that through this opening we can truly see. 

Rend your hearts, open your hearts, because only with [such a] heart can we allow the entry of the merciful love of the Father, who loves us and heals us. 

Rend your hearts the prophet says, and Paul asks us -- almost on his knees -- "be reconciled with God."  Changing our way of living is both a sign and fruit of a torn heart, reconciled by a love that overwhelms us.
This is [God's] invitation, juxtaposed against so many injuries that wound us and can tempt us temptation to be hardened:  Rend your hearts to experience, in serene and silent prayer, the gentle tenderness of God.

Rend your hearts to hear the echo of so many torn lives, that indifference [to suffering] does not paralyze us. 

Rend your hearts to be able to love with the love with which we are beloved, to console with the consolation with which we are consoled and to share what we have received. 

The liturgical time the Church starts today is not only for us, but also for the transformation of our family, of our community, of our Church, of our Country, of the whole world.  They are forty days so that we may convert to the same holiness as God's; that we become collaborators who receive the grace and the potential to reconstruct human life so that everyone may experience the salvation which Christ won for us by His death and resurrection. 

Next to prayer and penitence, as a sign of our faith in the force of an all-transforming Easter, we also begin, as in previous years a "Lenten Gesture of Solidarity."  As Church in Buenos Aires, marching towards Easter and believing the Kingdom of God is possible we need that, in our hearts torn by the desire of conversion and by love, grace may blossom.  [We need] effective gestures to alleviate the pain of so many of our brothers who walk alongside.  "No act of virtue can be large if it does not also benefit another...  Therefore, no matter how you spend the day fasting, no matter how you may sleep on a hard floor, and how you may eat ashes and sigh continuously, if do not do good to others, you do not accomplish anything great."  (St. John Chrysostom)

This year of faith we are traversing is also an opportunity God gives us to grow and to mature in an encounter with the Lord made visible in the suffering face of so many children without a future, in the trembling hands of the elders who have been forgotten and in the trembling knees of so many families who continue to face life without finding anyone who will assist them. 

I wish you a holy Lent, a penitential and fruitful Lent and, please, I ask you all that you pray for me. 

May Jesus bless you and may the Blessed Virgin care for you. 


Card.  Jorge Mario Bergoglio S.J.