Holy Thursday

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.

The readings and the Psalm of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm 133: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (v. 2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.

The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs who are numerous in these times.

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn now to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. My dear brothers, the ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me Father”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into a prayer of supplication, the supplication of the People of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from haemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.

We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

The priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, the people take the oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests - in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odour of the sheep”. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.

Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.


Pope Francis   


28.03.13  Mass of the Lord's Supper     Holy Thursday

Prison for Minors "Casal del Marmo", Rome

John 13:12-15 

This is moving. Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples. Peter didn’t understood it at all, he refused. But Jesus explained it for him. Jesus – God – did this! He himself explains to his disciples: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:12-15).

It is the Lord’s example: he is the most important, and he washes feet, because with us what is highest must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign, right? Washing feet means: “I am at your service”. And with us too, don’t we have to wash each other’s feet day after day? But what does this mean? That all of us must help one another. Sometimes I am angry with someone or other … but… let it go, let it go, and if he or she asks you a favour, do it.

Help one another: this is what Jesus teaches us and this what I am doing, and doing with all my heart, because it is my duty. As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty which comes from my heart: I love it. I love this and I love to do it because that is what the Lord has taught me to do. But you too, help one another: help one another always. One another. In this way, by helping one another, we will do some good.

 Now we will perform this ceremony of washing feet, and let us think, let each one of us think: “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?”. Let us think about this, just this. And let us think that this sign is a caress of Jesus, which Jesus gives, because this is the real reason why Jesus came: to serve, to help us. 


Pope Francis       

02.04.15  Mass of the Lord's Supper  Holy Thursday  

"Our Father" Church Rebibbia New Complex District Prison, Rome  


 John 13: 1-15

On this Thursday, Jesus was at table with the disciples, celebrating the feast of Passover. And the passage of the Gospel which we heard contains a phrase that is the very core of what Jesus did for us: “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). Jesus loved us. Jesus loves us. Without limit, always, to the end”. Jesus’ love for us knows no limits: always more and more. He never tires of loving anyone. He loves us all, to the point of giving his life for us. Yes, giving his life for us; yes, giving his life for all of us, giving his life for each one of us. And every one of us can say: “He gave his life for me”. Everyone: He gave His life for you, for you, for you, for you, for me, for him... [pointing to the inmates] for each person, by first and last name. His love is like that: personal. Jesus’ love never disappoints, because He never tires of loving, just as He never tires of forgiving, never tires of embracing us. This is the first thing that I wanted to say to you: Jesus loved us, every one of us, to the end.

And then, He does something that the disciples don’t understand: washing the feet. In that time, this was usual, it was customary, because when the people arrived in a home, their feet were dirty with the dust of the road; there were no cobblestones at that time.... There were dusty roads. And at the entrance to the house, they washed their feet. It was not done by the master of the house but by the slaves. That was the task of a slave. And like a slave, Jesus washes our feet, the feet of his disciples, and that is why He says: “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand” (Jn 13:7). Jesus’ love is so great that He became a slave to serve us, to heal us, to cleanse us.

Today, in this Mass, the Church would like the priest to wash the feet of 12 people, in memory of the 12 Apostles. But in our hearts we must be certain, we must be sure that, when the Lord washes our feet, He washes us entirely, He purifies us, He lets us feel his love yet again. There is a very beautiful phrase in the Bible, the prophet Isaiah says: “Can a mother forget her child? But even if a mother could forget her child, I will never forget you” (cf. 49:15). God’s love for us is like this.

And today I will wash the feet of 12 of you, but all of you are in these brothers and sisters, all of you, everyone. Everyone who lives here. You represent them. But I too need to be washed by the Lord, and for this you pray during the Mass, that the Lord also wash away my impurities, that I might become a better servant to you, a better slave at the service of the people, as Jesus was. Now let us begin this part of the celebration.


After hearing Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah and say: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21), the congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth might well have burst into applause.  They might have then wept for joy, as did the people when Nehemiah and Ezra the priest read from the book of the Law found while they were rebuilding the walls.  But the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ townspeople did the opposite; they closed their hearts to him and sent him off.  At first, “all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (4:22).  But then an insidious question began to make the rounds: “Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?” (4:22).  And then, “they were filled with rage” (4:28).  They wanted to throw him off the cliff.  This was in fulfilment of the elderly Simeon’s prophecy to the Virgin Mary that he would be “a sign of contradiction” (2:34).  By his words and actions, Jesus lays bare the secrets of the heart of every man and woman.

Where the Lord proclaims the Gospel of the Father’s unconditional mercy to the poor, the outcast and the oppressed, is the very place we are called to take a stand, to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12).  His battle is not against men and women, but against the devil (cf. Eph 6:12), the enemy of humanity.  But the Lord “passes through the midst” of all those who would stop him and “continues on his way” (Lk 4:30).  Jesus does not fight to build power.  If he breaks down walls and challenges our sense of security, he does this to open the flood gates of that mercy which, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he wants to pour out upon our world.  A mercy which expands; it proclaims and brings newness; it heals, liberates and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour.

The mercy of our God is infinite and indescribable.  We express the power of this mystery as an “ever greater” mercy, a mercy in motion, a mercy that each day seeks to make progress, taking small steps forward and advancing in that wasteland where indifference and violence have predominated.

This was the way of the Good Samaritan, who “showed mercy” (cf. Lk 10:37): he was moved, he drew near to the wounded man, he bandaged his wounds, took him to the inn, stayed there that evening and promised to return and cover any further cost.  This is the way of mercy, which gathers together small gestures.  Without demeaning, it grows with each helpful sign and act of love.  Every one of us, looking at our own lives as God does, can try to remember the ways in which the Lord has been merciful towards us, how he has been much more merciful than we imagined.  In this we can find the courage to ask him to take a step further and to reveal yet more of his mercy in the future: “Show us, Lord, your mercy” (Ps 85:8).  This paradoxical way of praying to an ever more merciful God, helps us to tear down those walls with which we try to contain the abundant greatness of his heart.  It is good for us to break out of our set ways, because it is proper to the Heart of God to overflow with tenderness, with ever more to give.  For the Lord prefers something to be wasted rather than one drop of mercy be held back.  He would rather have many seeds be carried off by the birds of the air than have one seed be missing, since each of those seeds has the capacity to bear abundant fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold.

As priests, we are witnesses to and ministers of the ever-increasing abundance of the Father’s mercy; we have the rewarding and consoling task of incarnating mercy, as Jesus did, who “went about doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38) in a thousand ways so that it could touch everyone.  We can help to inculturate mercy, so that each person can embrace it and experience it personally.  This will help all people truly understand and practise mercy with creativity, in ways that respect their local cultures and families.

Today, during this Holy Thursday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I would like to speak of two areas in which the Lord shows excess in mercy.  Based on his example, we also should not hesitate in showing excess.  The first area I am referring to is encounter; the second is God’s forgiveness, which shames us while also giving us dignity.

The first area where we see God showing excess in his ever-increasing mercy is that of encounter.  He gives himself completely and in such a way that every encounter leads to rejoicing.  In the parable of the Merciful Father we are astounded by the man who runs, deeply moved, to his son, and throws his arms around him; we see how he embraces his son, kisses him, puts a ring on his finger, and then gives him his sandals, thus showing that he is a son and not a servant.  Finally, he gives orders to everyone and organizes a party.  In contemplating with awe this superabundance of the Father’s joy that is freely and boundlessly expressed when his son returns, we should not be fearful of exaggerating our gratitude.  Our attitude should be that of the poor leper who, seeing himself healed, leaves his nine friends who go off to do what Jesus ordered, and goes back to kneel at the feet of the Lord, glorifying and thanking God aloud. 

Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person.  This is why effusive gratitude is the proper response: we have to go the party, to put on our best clothes, to cast off the rancour of the elder brother, to rejoice and give thanks…  Only in this way, participating fully in such rejoicing, is it possible to think straight, to ask for forgiveness, and see more clearly how to make up for the evil we have committed.  It would be good for us to ask ourselves: after going to confession, do I rejoice?  Or do I move on immediately to the next thing, as we would after going to the doctor, when we hear that the test results are not so bad and put them back in their envelope?  And when I give alms, do I give time to the person who receives them to express their gratitude, do I celebrate the smile and the blessings that the poor offer, or do I continue on in haste with my own affairs after tossing in a coin?

The second area in which we see how God exceeds in his ever greater mercy is forgiveness itself.   God does not only forgive incalculable debts, as he does to that servant who begs for mercy but is then miserly to his own debtor; he also enables us to move directly from the most shameful disgrace to the highest dignity without any intermediary stages.  The Lords allows the forgiven woman to wash his feet with her tears.  As soon as Simon confesses his sin and begs Jesus to send him away, the Lord raises him to be a fisher of men.  We, however, tend to separate these two attitudes: when we are ashamed of our sins, we hide ourselves and walk around with our heads down, like Adam and Eve; and when we are raised up to some dignity, we try to cover up our sins and take pleasure in being seen, almost showing off.

Our response to God’s superabundant forgiveness should be always to preserve that healthy tension between a dignified shame and a shamed dignity.  It is the attitude of one who seeks a humble and lowly place, but who can also allow the Lord to raise him up for the good of the mission, without complacency.  The model that the Gospel consecrates, and which can help us when we confess our sins, is Peter, who allowed himself to be questioned about his love for the Lord, but who also renewed his acceptance of the ministry of shepherding the flock which the Lord had entrusted to him.  

To grow in this “dignity which is capable of humbling itself”, and which delivers us from thinking that we are more or are less than what we are by grace, can help us understand the words of the prophet Isaiah that immediately follow the passage our Lord read in the synagogue at Nazareth: “You will be called priests of the Lord, ministers of our God” (Is 61:6).  It is people who are poor, hungry, prisoners of war, without a future, cast to one side and rejected, that the Lord transforms into a priestly people.

As priests, we identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves.  We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.  But we too remember that each of us knows the extent to which we too are often blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology.  We feel that our soul thirsts for spirituality, not for a lack of Living Water which we only sip from, but because of an excessive “bubbly” spirituality, a “light” spirituality. We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click.  We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters, to the Lord’s flock, to the sheep who wait for the voice of their shepherds. 

Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation.  He says to us, using the words the prophet Ezekiel spoke to the people who sold themselves and betrayed the Lord:  “I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth…  Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you.  I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God” (Ezek 16:60-63).

In this Jubilee Year we celebrate our Father with hearts full of gratitude, and we pray to him that “he remember his mercy forever”; let us receive, with a dignity that is able to humble itself, the mercy revealed in the wounded flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us ask him to cleanse us of all sin and free us from every evil.  And with the grace of the Holy Spirit let us commit ourselves anew to  bringing God’s mercy to all men and women, and performing those works which the Spirit inspires in each of us for the common good of the entire People of God.

24.03.16  cm

Pope Francis   

24.03.16  C.A.R.A. Auxilium,  Castelnuovo di Porto, Rome  

Mass of the Lord's Supper

Holy Thursday   

John 13: 1-15

Actions speak louder than images and words. Acts.... There are, in this Word of God that we have read, two acts: Jesus who serves, who washes feet.... He, who was the “master”, washes the feet of others, his [disciples], of the least. An act. The second act: Judas who goes to Jesus’ enemies, to those who do not want peace with Jesus, in order to take the money for which he betrayed Him, 30 pieces of silver. Two acts. Today too, here, there are two acts: this one, all of us, together: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals, but brothers and sisters, children of the same God, who want to live in peace, integrated. An act. Three days ago, an act of war, of destruction in a European city, by people who do not want to live in peace. But behind that act, as behind Judas, there were others. Behind Judas were those who paid money for Jesus to be delivered. Behind “that” act [in Brussels] are weapons producers and traffickers who want blood, not peace; who want war, not brotherhood.

Two parallel acts: on the one hand, Jesus washes the feet, while Judas sells Jesus for money; and on the other hand, you, we, everyone together, different religions, different cultures, but children of the same Father, brothers and sisters, while those unfortunate ones buy weapons to destroy brotherhood. Today, at this moment, as I perform the same act as Jesus by washing the feet of you twelve, we are all engaged in the act of brotherhood, and we are all saying: “We are diverse, we are different, we have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and sisters and we want to live in peace”. This is the act that I carry out with you. Each of us has a history on our shoulders, each of you has a history on your shoulders: so many crosses, so much pain, but also an open heart that wants brotherhood. Each one, in your own religious language, pray the Lord that this brotherhood infect the world, that there be no 30 pieces of silver to kill a brother, that there always be brotherhood and goodness. Amen.

I now greet you one by one, with all my heart. I thank you for this encounter. Let us just remember and show that it is beautiful to live together as brothers and sisters, with different cultures, religions and traditions: we are all brothers and sisters! And this is called peace and love. Thank you.

24.03.16  m ls

Pope Francis   

13.04.17  Chrism Mass, Vatican Basilica      

Holy Thursday    

Luke 4: 16-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk 4:18). Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, brings good news to the poor. Everything he proclaims, and we priests too proclaim, is good news. News full of the joy of the Gospel – the joy of those anointed in their sins with the oil of forgiveness and anointed in their charism with the oil of mission, in order to anoint others in turn.

Like Jesus, the priest makes the message joyful with his entire person. When he preaches – briefly, if possible! –, he does so with the joy that touches people’s hearts with that same word with which the Lord has touched his own heart in prayer. Like every other missionary disciple, the priest makes the message joyful by his whole being. For as we all know, it is in the little things that joy is best seen and shared: when by taking one small step, we make God’s mercy overflow in situations of desolation; when we decide to pick up the phone and arrange to see someone; when we patiently allow others to take up our time…

The phrase “good news” might appear as just another way of saying “the Gospel”. Yet those words point to something essential: the joy of the Gospel. The Gospel is good news because it is, in essence, a message of joy.

The good news is the precious pearl of which we read in the Gospel. It is not a thing but a mission. This is evident to anyone who has experienced the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing” (Evangelii Gaudium, 10).

The good news is born of Anointing. Jesus’ first “great priestly anointing” took place, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of Mary. The good news of the Annunciation inspired the Virgin Mother to sing her Magnificat. It filled the heart of Joseph, her spouse, with sacred silence, and it made John leap for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, his mother.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth and the joy of the Spirit renews that Anointing in the little synagogue of that town: the Spirit descends and is poured out upon him, “anointing him with the oil of gladness” (cf. Ps 45:8).

Good news. A single word – Gospel – that, even as it is spoken, becomes truth, brimming with joy and mercy. We should never attempt to separate these three graces of the Gospel: its truth, which is non-negotiable; its mercy, which is unconditional and offered to all sinners; and its joy, which is personal and open to everyone. Truth, mercy and joy: these three go together.

The truth of the good news can never be merely abstract, incapable of taking concrete shape in people’s lives because they feel more comfortable seeing it printed in books.

The mercy of the good news can never be a false commiseration, one that leaves sinners in their misery without holding out a hand to lift them up and help them take a step in the direction of change.

This message can never be gloomy or indifferent, for it expresses a joy that is completely personal. It is “the joy of the Father, who desires that none of his little ones be lost” (Evangelii Gaudium, 237). It is the joy of Jesus, who sees that the poor have the good news preached to them, and that the little ones go out to preach the message in turn (ibid., 5)

The joys of the Gospel are special joys. I say “joys” in the plural, for they are many and varied, depending on how the Spirit chooses to communicate them, in every age, to every person and in every culture. They need to be poured into new wineskins, the ones the Lord speaks of in expressing the newness of his message. I would like to share with you, dear priests, dear brothers, three images or icons of those new wineskins in which the good news is kept fresh – for we have to keep it fresh – never turning sour but rather pouring forth in abundance.

A first icon of the good news would be the stone water jars at the wedding feast of Cana (cf. Jn 2:6). In one way, they clearly reflect that perfect vessel which is Our Lady herself, the Virgin Mary. The Gospel tells us that the servants “filled them up to the brim” (Jn 2:7). I can imagine one of those servants looking to Mary to see if that was enough, and Mary signaling to add one more pailful. Mary is the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy. Without her, dear priests, we cannot move forward in our priesthood! She is “the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises” (Evangelii Gaudium, 286), Our Lady of Prompt Succour, who, after conceiving in her immaculate womb the Word of life, goes out to visit and assist her cousin Elizabeth. Her “contagious fullness” helps us overcome the temptation of fear, the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim and even overflowing, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy. This cannot be, for “the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (ibid., 1)

A second icon of the good news that I would like to share with you today is the jug with its wooden ladle that the Samaritan woman carried on her head in the midday sun (cf. Jn 4:5-30). It speaks to us of something crucial: the importance of concrete situations. The Lord, the Source of Living Water, had no means of drawing the water to quench his thirst. So the Samaritan woman drew the water with her jug, and with her ladle she sated the Lord’s thirst. She sated it even more by concretely confessing her sins. By mercifully shaking the vessel of that Samaritan women’s soul, the Holy Spirit overflowed upon all the people of that small town, who asked the Lord to stay with them.

The Lord gave us another new vessel or wineskin full of this “inclusive concreteness” in that Samaritan soul who was Mother Teresa. He called to her and told her: “I am thirsty”. He said: “My child, come, take me to the hovels of the poor. Come, be my light. I cannot do this alone. They do not know me, and that is why they do not love me. Bring me to them”. Mother Teresa, starting with one concrete person, thanks to her smile and her way of touching their wounds, brought the good news to all. The way we touch wounds with our hands, our priestly way of caressing the sick and those who have lost hope. The priest must be a man of tender love. Concreteness and tenderness!

The third icon of the good news is the fathomless vessel of the Lord’s pierced Heart: his utter meekness, humility and poverty which draw all people to himself. From him we have to learn that announcing a great joy to the poor can only be done in a respectful, humble, and even humbling, way. Concrete, tender and humble: in this way our evangelization will be joyful. Evangelization cannot be presumptuous, nor can the integrity of the truth be rigid, because truth became flesh, it became tenderness, it became a child, it became a man and, on the cross, it became sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). The Spirit proclaims and teaches “the whole truth” (cf. Jn 16:3), and he is not afraid to do this one sip at a time. The Spirit tells us in every situation what we need to say to our enemies (cf. Mt 10:19), and at those times he illumines our every small step forward. This meekness and integrity gives joy to the poor, revives sinners, and grants relief to those oppressed by the devil.

Dear priests, as we contemplate and drink from these three new wineskins, may the good news find in us that “contagious fullness” which Our Lady radiates with her whole being, the “inclusive concreteness” of the story of the Samaritan woman, and the “utter meekness” whereby the Holy Spirit ceaselessly wells up and flows forth from the pierced heart of Jesus our Lord.

13.04.17 m

Pope Francis       

13.04.17 Paliano House of Detention (Frosinone)

Mass of the Lord's Supper 

Holy Thursday 

John 13: 1-15

Jesus was having supper with them, the Last Supper, and as the Gospel says, he “knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1). He knew he had been betrayed and that he would be handed over by Judas that very night. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (ibid.). This is how God loves: to the end. He gives His life up for each one of us, and he is proud of this and wants to do this because He has love”; “to love to the end”. It is not easy because we are all sinners. We all have shortcomings, defects, many things. We all know how to love but we are not like God who loves without thinking of the consequences; to the end. And he gives an example. To show this, He who was the “boss”, who was God, washed his disciples’ feet. It was a custom of that time to wash feet before lunch and supper because there was no asphalt and people walked about in the dust. Therefore, one of the gestures to receive someone at home, also for a meal, was to wash their feet. This was done by slaves, those who were enslaved. But Jesus overturns this and does this Himself. Simon did not want him to do it, but Jesus explained that it was so, that he had come into the world to serve, to serve us, to make himself a slave for us, to give his life for us, to love until the end.

Today, as I was arriving, there were many people on the street who were hailing [my arrival]; “the Pope is coming, the boss. The head of the Church...”. The head of the Church is Jesus, no joking around! The Pope represents Jesus and I would like to do the same as He did. In this ceremony, the parish priest washes the feet of the faithful. There is a reversal of roles. The one who appears to be the greatest must do the work of the slave in order to sow love; to sow love among us. I do not say to you today to go and wash each other’s feet. That would be a joke. But the symbol, the example yes: I would say that if you can offer some help, provide a service here in prison to your companion, do so.

Because this is love. This is the way to wash feet; it is being at the service of others. Once, the disciples were arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest, the most important one. And Jesus said: “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves”. And this is what He did. This is what God does with us. He serves us. He is the servant. All of us who are “poor things“. Everyone! But he is great. He is good. And he loves us as we are. For this reason, let us think about God, about Jesus, during the ceremony. It is not a ceremony of folklore. It is a gesture to remember what Jesus gave. Following this, he took bread and he gave us His body. He took wine and he gave us His blood. This is how God’s love is. Today, let us only think of God’s love.

13.04.17 ls

Pope Francis       

29.03.18  Mass of the Lord's Supper, Holy Thursday 

“Regina Coeli” Prison in Rome          

John 13: 1-15

Jesus concludes his discourse by saying: “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15). Washing the feet. At that time, feet were washed by slaves: it was a slave’s task. People travelled by road. There was no asphalt. There were no cobblestones. At that time the roads were dusty and people’s feet got dirty. So at the entrance to the house there were slaves who washed one’s feet. It was slaves’ work. But it was a service: a service carried out by slaves. And Jesus wanted to offer this service, to set us an example of how we should serve one another.

Once, as they were walking along, two of the disciples who were opportunists asked Jesus if they could take up important positions, one on his right and the other on his left (cf. Mk 10:35-45). And Jesus looked at them with love — Jesus always looked with love — and said: “You do not know what you are asking” (v. 38). The leaders of the nations — Jesus says — command; they are served, and they are fine (cf. v. 42). Let us think of that era of kings, of such cruel emperors, who made the slaves serve them.... But among you — Jesus says — this must not be so; rulers must be servants. Your leader must be your servant (cf. v. 43).

Jesus overturns the historical and cultural customs of that epoch, and those of today too: in order to be a good leader, one who leads, wherever he may be, must serve. I often think — not of these times, because everyone is still alive and has the opportunity to change their way of life and we cannot judge, but let us think of history — if many kings, emperors, heads of state had understood this teaching of Jesus and if, instead of commanding, of being cruel, of killing people, they had done this, how many wars would not have been waged!

Service: there really are people who do not accept this attitude, arrogant people, odious people, people who perhaps do not wish us well; but we are called to serve them all the more. And there are also people who suffer, who are discarded by society, at least for a period, and Jesus goes there to tell them: ‘You are important to me’. Jesus comes to serve us, and the sign that Jesus serves us here today, in the ‘Regina Coeli’ prison, is that he wanted to choose 12 of you, like the 12 Apostles, to wash your feet. Jesus takes a chance with each of us. Understand this: Jesus is called Jesus; he is not called Pontius Pilate. Jesus does not know how to wash his hands of people: he only knows how to take a risk! Look at this beautiful image: Jesus bent down among the thorns, risking to hurt himself by picking up the lost sheep.

Today I, who am a sinner like you, but represent Jesus, am Jesus’ ambassador. Today, when I bend down before each of you, may you think: “Jesus took a risk with this man, a sinner, to come to me and tell me that he loves me”. This is service; this is Jesus: he never abandons us; never tires of forgiving us. He loves us so much. See how Jesus takes risks!

And thus, with these feelings, we continue this ceremony that is symbolic. Before giving us his Body and Blood, Jesus takes risks for each one of us, and takes risks in serving us because he loves us so much.


Pope Francis   

18.04.19    Holy ThursdayChrism MassVatican Basilica         

Luke 4: 16-21 

The Gospel of Luke, which we just heard, makes us relive the excitement of that moment when the Lord made his own the prophecy of Isaiah, as he read it solemnly in the midst of his people. The synagogue in Nazareth was filled with his relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, friends… and not only. All had their eyes fixed on him. The Church always has her eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, whom the Spirit sends to anoint God’s people.

The Gospels frequently present us with this image of the Lord in the midst of a crowd, surrounded and pressed by people who approach him with their sick ones, who ask him to cast out evil spirits, who hear his teachings and accompany him on the way. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” (Jn 10:27-28).

The Lord never lost that direct contact with people. Amid those crowds, he always kept the grace of closeness with the people as a whole, and with each individual. We see this throughout his public life, and so it was from the beginning: the radiance of the Child gently attracted shepherds, kings and elderly dreamers like Simeon and Anna. So it was on the cross: his Heart draws all people to himself (Jn 12:32): Veronicas, Cyreneans, thieves, centurions…

The term “crowd” is not disparaging. Perhaps to some people’s ears, it can evoke a faceless, nameless throng… But in the Gospel we see that when the crowd interacts with the Lord – who stands in their midst like a shepherd among his flock – something happens. Deep within, people feel the desire to follow Jesus, amazement wells up, discernment grows apace.

I would like to reflect with you on these three graces that characterize the relationship between Jesus and the crowd.

The grace of following

Saint Luke says that the crowds “looked for Jesus” (4:42) and “travelled with him” (14:25). They “pressed in on him” and “surrounded him” (8:42-45); they “gathered to hear him” (5:15). Their “following” is something completely unexpected, unconditional and full of affection. It contrasts with the small-mindedness of the disciples, whose attitude towards people verges on cruelty when they suggest to the Lord that he send them away, so that they can get something to eat. Here, I believe, was the beginning of clericalism: in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people. The Lord cut short that temptation: “You, give them something to eat!” was Jesus’ response. “Take care of the people!”

The grace of amazement

The second grace that the crowd receives when it follows Jesus is that of joy-filled amazement. People were amazed by Jesus (Lk 11:14), by his miracles, but above all by his very person. People loved to meet him along the way, to receive his blessing and to bless him, like the woman in the midst of the crowd who blessed his Mother. The Lord himself was amazed by people’s faith; he rejoiced and he lost no opportunity to speak about it.

The grace of discernment

The third grace that people receive is that of discernment. “The crowds found out [where Jesus had gone], and followed him” (Lk 9:11). They “were astounded by his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority” (Mt 7:28-29; cf. Lk 5:26). Christ, the Word of God come in the flesh, awakens in people this charism of discernment, which is certainly not the discernment of those who specialize in disputed questions. When the Pharisees and the teachers of the law debated with him, what people discerned was Jesus’ authority, the power of his teaching to touch their hearts, and the fact that evil spirits obeyed him (leaving momentarily speechless those who tried to trap him by their questions; the people liked that; they were able to distinguish this and they liked it).

Let us take a closer look at the way the Gospel views the crowd. Luke points out four large groups who are the preferred beneficiaries of the Lord’s anointing: the poor, the blind, the oppressed and captives. He speaks of them in general terms, but then we are glad to see that, in the course of the Lord’s life, these anointed ones gradually take on real names and faces. When oil is applied to one part of the body, its beneficial effect is felt throughout the entire body. So too, the Lord, taking up the prophecy of Isaiah, names various “crowds” to whom the Spirit sends him, according to what we may call an “inclusive preferentiality”: the grace and the charism given to one individual person or a particular group then redounds, like every action of the Spirit, to the good of all.

The poor (in Greek, ptochoi) are those who are bent over, like beggars who bow down and ask for alms. But poor too (ptochè) was that widow who anointed with her fingers the two small coins which were all she had to live on that day. The anointing by the widow to give alms went unnoticed by the eyes of all except Jesus, who looks kindly on her lowliness. Through her, the Lord can accomplish fully his mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the poor. Paradoxically, the disciples heard the good news that people like her exist. She – the generous woman – could not imagine that she would “make it to the Gospel”, that her simple gesture would be recorded in the Gospel. Like all those men and women who are the “saints next door”, she lives interiorly the joyful fact that her actions “carry weight” in the Kingdom, and are worth more than all the riches of the world.

The blind are represented by one of the most likable figures in the Gospel: Bartimaeus (cf. Mt 10:46-52), the blind beggar who regained his sight and, from that moment on, only had eyes to follow Jesus on his journey. The anointing of the gaze! Our gaze, to which the eyes of Jesus can restore the brightness which only gratuitous love can give, the brightness daily stolen from us by the manipulative and banal images with which the world overwhelms us.

To refer to the oppressed (in Greek, tethrausmenoi), Luke uses a word that contains the idea of “trauma”. It is enough to evoke the parable – perhaps Luke’s favourite – of the Good Samaritan, who anoints with oil and binds the wounds (traumata: Lk 10:34) of the man who had been beaten by robbers and left lying at the side of the road. The anointing of the wounded flesh of Christ! In that anointing we find the remedy for all those traumas that leave individuals, families and entire peoples ignored, excluded and unwanted, on the sidelines of history.

The captives are prisoners of war (in Greek, aichmalotoi), those who had been led at the point of a spear (aichmé). Jesus would use the same word in speaking of the taking of Jerusalem, his beloved city, and the deportation of its people (Lk 21:24). Our cities today are taken prisoner not so much at spear point, but by more subtle means of ideological colonization.

Only the anointing of culture, built up by the labour and the art of our forebears, can free our cities from these new forms of slavery.

As for us, dear brother priests, we must not forget that our evangelical models are those “people”, the “crowd” with its real faces, which the anointing of the Lord raises up and revives. They are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint. We have been taken from their midst, and we can fearlessly identify with these ordinary people. Each of us has our own story. A little bit of memory will do us much good. They are an image of our soul and an image of the Church. Each of them incarnates the one heart of our people.

We priests are the poor man and we would like to have the heart of the poor widow whenever we give alms, touching the hand of the beggar and looking him or her in the eye. We priests are Bartimaeus, and each morning we get up and pray: “Lord, that I may see”. We priests are, in some point of our sinfulness, the man beaten by the robbers. And we want first to be in the compassionate hands of the good Samaritan, in order then to be able to show compassion to others with our own hands.

I confess to you that whenever I confirm and ordain, I like to smear with chrism the foreheads and the hands of those I anoint. In that generous anointing, we can sense that our own anointing is being renewed. I would say this: We are not distributors of bottled oil. We have been anointed to anoint. We anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart. When we anoint others, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and the affection of our people. We anoint by dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people. We anoint by perfuming our hands in touching their faith, their hopes, their fidelity and the unconditional generosity of their self-giving, which many significant figures describe as superstition.

The one who learns how to anoint and to bless is thus healed of meanness, abuse and cruelty.

Let us pray, dear brothers; being with Jesus in the midst of our people is the most beautiful place to be. May the Father renew deep within us the Spirit of holiness; may he grant that we be one in imploring his mercy for the people entrusted to our care and for all the world. In this way, the multitude of the peoples, gathered in Christ, may become the one faithful people of God, which will attain its fullness in the Kingdom (cf. Prayer of Priestly Ordination). 

18.04.19 cm

Pope Francis       

18.04.19  Mass of The Lord's Supper   

Velletri Prison, Coena Domini, Rome       

Holy Thursday    

John 13: 1-15 

I greet everyone and I thank you for the welcome.

I received a nice letter a few days ago from some of you who are not here today, but who said such beautiful things and I thank them for what they wrote.

I am closely united with everyone in this prayer: with those who are here and with those who are not.

We heard what Jesus did. It is interesting. The Gospel says: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands”; in other words Jesus had all the power, all of it. And then he begins to perform this gesture of washing feet. It is an act that slaves did at that time, because there was no asphalt on the roads and when people arrived, their feet were dusty; when they arrived at a house for a visit or for lunch, there were slaves who washed their feet. And Jesus makes this gesture: he washes feet. He performs the act of slaves: he who was all powerful, he who was Lord, performs this act of slaves. And then he advises everyone: “You also ought to wash one another’s feet”. That is, serve one another, be brothers in service, not in ambition, as one who dominates others or who oppresses others, no. Be brothers in service. Do you need something, a service? I will do it for you. This is fraternity. Fraternity is humble, always: it is serving. And I will make this gesture — the Church wants the Bishop to do it every year, once a year, at least on Holy Thursday — to imitate Jesus’ gesture and also to do good for himself with the example, because the Bishop is not the most important one, but he should be the greatest servant. And each of us must be servants of others.

This is Jesus’ rule and the rule of the Gospel: the rule of service, not of dominating, of doing harm, of humiliating others. Service! Once, when the Apostles were arguing amongst themselves, they were debating “which of us is the greatest”, Jesus took a child and said: “The child. If your heart is not a childlike heart, you will not be my disciples”. A childlike heart, simple, humble but a servant. And there he adds something interesting that we can connect to this gesture today. He says: “Pay heed: those who are supposed to rule over nations, lord it over them ... but it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave”. We too must all be servants. It is true that there are problems in life: we argue amongst ourselves ... but this must be something that passes, something fleeting, because in our heart there must always be this love of serving others, of being at the service of others.

And may this gesture that I will perform today help us to be greater servants to one another, better friends, more like brothers in service. With these sentiments let us continue the celebration with the washing of feet.

18.04.19 Ls

Pope Francis       

09.04.20 St Peter's Basilica      

Mass of the Lord's Supper,     

Holy Thursday    

John 13: 1-15 

Eucharist, Service, Anointing

This is what we experience in today’s celebration: the Lord who wants to remain with us in the Eucharist. And we become the Lord’s tabernacles, carrying the Lord with us; to the point that he himself tells us: if we do not eat his body and drink his blood, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This is a mystery, bread and wine, the Lord with us, within us, inside us.

Service. This gesture is the condition to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, to serve... everyone. But the Lord, in the words he exchanged with Peter (cf. Jn 13:6-9), makes him realize that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must let the Lord serve us, that the servant of God be our servant. And this is hard to understand. If I do not let the Lord be my servant, do not let allow the Lord wash me, help me grow, forgive me, then I will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

And the priesthood too. Today I would like to be close to priests, to all priests, from the most recently ordained right up to the Pope. We are all priests. The bishops too, all of us... we are anointed, anointed by the Lord; anointed to confect the Eucharist, anointed to serve. 

There is no Chrism Mass today – I hope we can have it before Pentecost, otherwise it will have to be postponed to next year – but I cannot let tonight’s Mass pass by without remembering priests. Priests who offer their lives for the Lord, priests who are servants. In these days many of them have died, more than sixty here in Italy, while tending to the sick in hospital, together with doctors and nurses... They are “saints next door”, priests who have given their lives in serving.

I think too of those who are far away. Today I received a letter from a priest, a chaplain in a prison far away, who told me how he was spending this Holy Week with the prisoners. A Franciscan priest. Priests who travel far to bring the Gospel and who die far away. A bishop told me once that the first thing he did on arriving in these mission posts was to go to the cemetery, to the graves of priests who gave their lives there, young priests who died from local diseases because they were not prepared, they didn’t have the antibodies; and no one knew their names: anonymous priests. Then there are the parish priests in the countryside, pastors of four, five, seven little villages in the mountains, who go from one to the other, who know the people. One of them once told me that he knew the name of every person in his villages. I asked him, “Really?” And he told me “I even know the dogs’ names!”. They know everyone. Priestly closeness. Good, good priests.

Today I carry you in my heart and I carry you to the altar. Also priests who are slandered. This happens often today; they cannot walk about freely because people say bad things about them, referring to the scandal from discovering priests who have done bad things. Some of them have told me that they cannot go out wearing clerics because people insult them. Yet they carry on. Priests who are sinners, together with bishops and the Pope who is also a sinner, must not forget to ask forgiveness and learn how to forgive because they know that they need to ask forgiveness and to forgive. We are all sinners. Priests who suffer from crises, who do not know what to do, who live in darkness... 

Today you are all with me, brother priests, at the altar, you who are consecrated. I say to you just one thing: do not be stubborn like Peter. Let your feet be washed, the Lord is your servant, he is close to you, and he gives you strength to wash the feet of others.

 In this way, conscious of the need to be washed clean, you will be great dispensers of forgiveness. Forgive! Have a big heart that is generous in forgiving. This is the measure by which we will be judged. As you have forgiven, so you will be forgiven, in the same measure. Do not be afraid to forgive. Sometimes we have doubts; look to Christ [he looks to the Crucifix]. There, there is forgiveness for all. Be courageous, also in taking risks, in forgiving, in order to bring consolation. And if you cannot give sacramental pardon at this moment, then at least give the consolation of a brother to those you accompany, leaving the door open for people to return. 

I thank God for the grace of the priesthood, we all give thanks. I thank God for you, priests. Jesus loves you! He asks only that you let him wash your feet.


Pope Francis   

01.04.21  Holy Chrism Mass, Vatican Basilica          

Holy Thursday             

Luke 4: 16-30 

The Gospel shows us a change of heart among the people who were listening to the Lord. The change was dramatic, and it reveals the extent to which persecution and the cross are linked to the proclamation of the Gospel. The admiration aroused by the grace-filled words spoken by Jesus did not last long in the minds of the people of Nazareth. A comment that someone murmured went insidiously viral: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22).

It was one of those ambiguous expressions that are blurted out in passing. One person can use it approvingly to say: “How wonderful that someone of such humble origin speaks with this authority!” Someone else can use it to say in scorn: “And this one, where did he come from? Who does he think he is?” If we think about it, we can hear the same words spoken on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to preach the Gospel. Some said: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” (Acts 2:7). While some received the word, others merely thought that the apostles were drunk.

Strictly speaking, those words spoken in Nazareth might go either way, but if we look at what followed, it is clear that they contained a seed of violence that would then be unleashed against Jesus.

They were “words of justification”,[1] as, for example, when someone says: “That is altogether too much!” and then either attacks the other person or walks away.

This time, the Lord, who at times said nothing or simply walked away, did not let the comment pass. Instead, he laid bare the malevolence concealed in the guise of simple village gossip. “You will quote me the proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here also in your own country!” (Lk 4:23). “Heal yourself…”

“Let him save himself”. There is the poison! Those same words will follow the Lord to the cross: “He saved others, let him save himself” (Lk 23:35). “And save us”, one of the thieves will add (cf. v. 39).

As always, the Lord refuses to dialogue with the evil spirit; he only replies in the words of Scripture. The prophets Elijah and Elisha, for their part, were accepted not by their own countrymen but by a Phoenician widow and a Syrian who had contracted leprosy: two foreigners, two people of another religion. This is itself striking and it shows how true was the inspired prophecy of the aged Simeon that Jesus would be a “sign of contradiction (semeion antilegomenon)” (Lk 2:34)[2].

Jesus’ words have the power to bring to light whatever each of us holds in the depths of our heart, often mixed like the wheat and the tares. And this gives rise to spiritual conflict. Seeing the signs of the Lord’s superabundant mercy and hearing the “beatitudes” but also the “woes” found in the Gospel, we find ourselves forced to discern and decide. In this case, Jesus’ words were not accepted and this made the enraged crowd attempt to kill him. But it was not yet his “hour”, and the Lord, so the Gospel tells us, “passing through the midst of them, went away”.

It was not his hour, yet the swiftness with which the crowd’s fury was unleashed, and the ferocity of a rage prepared to kill the Lord on the spot, shows us that it is always his hour. That is what I would like to share with you today, dear priests: that the hour of joyful proclamation, the hour of persecution and the hour of the cross go together.

The preaching of the Gospel is always linked to the embrace of some particular cross. The gentle light of God’s word shines brightly in well-disposed hearts, but awakens confusion and rejection in those that are not. We see this over and over again in the Gospels.

The good seed sown in the field bears fruit – a hundred, sixty and thirty-fold – but it also arouses the envy of the enemy, who is driven to sow weeds during the night (cf. Mt 13:24-30.36-43).

The tender love of the merciful father irresistibly draws the prodigal son home, but also leads to anger and resentment on the part of the elder son (cf. Lk 15:11-32).

The generosity of the owner of the vineyard is a reason for gratitude among the workers called at the last hour, but it also provokes a bitter reaction by one of those called first, who is offended by the generosity of his employer (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

The closeness of Jesus, who dines with sinners, wins hearts like those of Zacchaeus, Matthew and the Samaritan woman, but it also awakens scorn in the self-righteous.

The magnanimity of the king who sends his son, thinking that he will be respected by the tenant farmers, unleashes in them a ferocity beyond all measure. Here we find ourselves before the mystery of iniquity, which leads to the killing of the Just One (cf. Mt 21:33-46).

All this, dear brother priests, enables us to see that the preaching of the Good News is mysteriously linked to persecution and the cross.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola – excuse the “family advertising” – expresses this evangelical truth in his contemplation on the Nativity of the Lord. There he invites us “to see and consider what Saint Joseph and Our Lady did in setting out on their journey so that the Lord could be born in extreme poverty and after many labours – experiencing hunger, thirst, heat and cold, injuries and indignities – die on the Cross, and all this for me”. He then invites us, “in reflecting on this, to draw some spiritual profit” (Spiritual Exercises, 116). The joy of the Lord’s birth; the pain of the Cross; persecution.

What reflection can we make to “draw some profit” for our priestly life by contemplating this early appearance of the cross – of misunderstanding, rejection and persecution – at the beginning and at the very heart of the preaching of the Gospel?

Two thoughts occur to me.

First: we are taken aback to see the cross present in the Lord’s life at the very beginning of his ministry, even before his birth. It is already there in Mary’s initial bewilderment at the message of the angel; it is there in Joseph's sleeplessness, when he felt obliged to send Mary away quietly. It is there in the persecution of Herod and in the hardships endured by the Holy Family, like those of so many other families obliged to live in exile from their homeland.

All this makes us realize that the mystery of the cross is present “from the beginning”. It makes us understand that the cross is not an afterthought, something that happened by chance in the Lord’s life. It is true that all who crucify others throughout history would have the cross appear as collateral damage, but that is not the case: the cross does not appear by chance. The great and small crosses of humanity, the crosses of each of us, do not appear by chance.

Why did the Lord embrace the cross fully and to the end? Why did Jesus embrace his entire Passion: his betrayal and abandonment by his friends after the Last Supper, his illegal arrest, his summary trial and disproportionate sentence, the gratuitous and unjustifiable violence with which he was beaten and spat upon...? If mere circumstances conditioned the saving power of the cross, the Lord would not have embraced everything. But when his hour came, he embraced the cross fully. For on the cross there can be no ambiguity! The cross is non-negotiable.

A second thought: true, there is an aspect of the cross that is an integral part of our human condition, our limits and our frailty. Yet it is also true that something happens on the Cross that does not have to do with our human weakness but is the bite of the serpent, who, seeing the crucified Lord defenceless, bites him in an attempt to poison and undo all his work. A bite that tries to scandalize – and this is an era of scandals – a bite that seeks to disable and render futile and meaningless all service and loving sacrifice for others. It is the venom of the evil one who keeps insisting: save yourself.

It is in this harsh and painful “bite” that seeks to bring death, that God’s triumph is ultimately seen. Saint Maximus the Confessor tells us that in the crucified Jesus a reversal took place. In biting the flesh of the Lord, the devil did not poison him, for in him he encountered only infinite meekness and obedience to the will of the Father. Instead, caught by the hook of the cross, he devoured the flesh of the Lord, which proved poisonous to him, whereas for us it was to be the antidote that neutralizes the power of the evil one.[3]

These are my reflections. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to profit from this teaching. It is true that the cross is present in our preaching of the Gospel, but it is the cross of our salvation. Thanks to the reconciling blood of Jesus, it is a cross that contains the power of Christ’s victory, which conquers evil and delivers us from the evil one. To embrace it with Jesus and, as he did before us, to go out and preach it, will allow us to discern and reject the venom of scandal, with which the devil wants to poison us whenever a cross unexpectedly appears in our lives.

“But we are not among those who shrink back (hypostoles)” (Heb 10:39), says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. “We are not among those who shrink back”. This is the advice that the author gives us. We are not scandalized, because Jesus himself was not scandalized by seeing that his joyful preaching of salvation to the poor was not received wholeheartedly, but amid the shouts and threats of those who refused to hear his word or wanted to reduce it to legalisms such as moralism or clericalism.

We are not scandalized because Jesus was not scandalized by having to heal the sick and to set prisoners free amid the moralistic, legalistic and clerical squabbles that arose every time he did some good.

We are not scandalized because Jesus was not scandalized by having to give sight to the blind amid people who closed their eyes in order not to see, or looked the other way.

We are not scandalized because Jesus was not scandalised that his proclamation of a year of grace of the Lord – a year that embraces all of history - provoked a public scandal in matters that today would barely make the third page of a local newspaper.

We are not scandalized because the preaching of the Gospel is effective not because of our eloquent words but because of the power of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:17).

The way we embrace the cross in our preaching of the Gospel – with deeds and, when necessary, with words – makes two things clear. That the sufferings that come from the Gospel are not ours, but rather “the sufferings of Christ in us” (2 Cor 1:5), and that “we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants of all for the love of Jesus” (2 Cor 4:5).

I would like to end by sharing one of my memories. “Once, at a dark moment in my life, I asked the Lord for the grace to free me from a difficult and complex situation. A dark moment. I had to preach the Spiritual Exercises to some women religious, and on the last day, as was customary in those days, they all went to confession. One elderly Sister came; she had a clear gaze, eyes full of light. A woman of God. At the end of the confession, I felt the urge to ask her a favour, so I said to her, ‘Sister, as your penance pray for me, because I need a particular grace. Ask the Lord for it. If you ask the Lord, surely he will give it to me’. She paused in silence for a moment and seemed to be praying, then she looked at me and said, ‘The Lord will certainly give you that grace, but make no mistake about it: he will give it to you in his own divine way’. This did me much good, hearing that the Lord always gives us what we ask for, but that he does so in his divine way. That way involves the cross. Not for masochism. But for love, love to the very end”.[4]

[1] A master of the spiritual life, Father Claude Judde speaks of expressions that accompany our decisions and contain “the

final word”, the word that prompts a decision and moves a person or a group to act. Cf. C. JUDDE, Oeuvres spirituelles, II, 1883 (Instruction sur la connaissance de soi-même), pp. 313-319), in M. Á. FIORITO, Buscar y hallar la voluntad de Dios, Buenos Aires, Paulinas, 2000, 248 s.

[2] “Antilegomenon” means they would speak in different ways about him: some would speak well of him and others ill.

[3] Cf. Cent. I, 8-13.

[4] Homily at Mass in Santa Marta, 29 May 2013. 


Pope Francis   

14.04.22 Holy Chrism Mass, St Peter's Basilica   

Holy Thursday   

Isaiah 61: 1-3A,6A,8B-9,  

Revelations 1: 5-8,  

Luke 4: 16-21 

In the reading from the Prophet Isaiah that we have heard, the Lord makes a promise full of hope, one that concerns us at first hand: “You shall be called priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God… I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them” (61:6.8). Being priests, dear brothers, is a grace, a very great grace, yet it is not primarily a grace for us, but for our people. [1] The fact that the Lord chooses, from among his flock, some who devote themselves exclusively to the care of his flock as fathers and shepherds is a great gift for our people. The Lord himself pays the priest’s salary: “I will faithfully give them their recompense” ( Is 61:8). And, as we all know, he is a good paymaster, even if he has his own particular way of doing things, like paying the last ones before first ones: this is his way.

The reading from the Book of Revelation tells us what the Lord’s recompense is. It is his love and the unconditional forgiveness of our sins at the price of his blood shed on the Cross: “He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). There is no recompense greater than friendship with Jesus, do not forget this. There is no peace greater than his forgiveness, and we all know that. There is no greater price than his precious Blood, and we must not allow it to be devalued by unworthy conduct.

If we think about it, dear brother priests, the Lord is inviting us to be faithful to him, to be faithful to his covenant, and to let ourselves be loved and forgiven by him. They are invitations addressed to us, so that in this way we can serve, with a clear conscience, the holy and faithful people of God. Our people deserve this and they need it. The Gospel of Luke tells us that, after Jesus read the passage from the prophet Isaiah in the presence of his townspeople and sat down, “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (4:20). The Book of Revelation also speaks to us today of eyes fixed on Jesus. It speaks of the irresistible attraction of the crucified and risen Lord that leads us to acknowledge and worship him: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, everyone who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen!” (1:7). The ultimate grace, at the return of the risen Lord, will be that of immediate recognition. We will see him and his wounds. We will recognize who he is, and who we are, as poor sinners.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus” is a grace that we, as priests, need to cultivate. At the end of the day, we do well to gaze upon the Lord, and to let him gaze upon our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we have encountered. Not as an accounting of our sins, but as a loving act of contemplation, in which we review our day with the eyes of Jesus, seeing its graces and gifts, and giving thanks for all that he has done for us. But also to set before him our temptations, so as to acknowledge them and reject them. As we can see, this requires knowing what is pleasing to the Lord and what it is that he is asking of us here and now, at this point in our lives.

And perhaps, if we meet his gracious gaze, he will also help us to show him our idols. The idols that, like Rachel, we have hidden under the folds of our cloak (cf. Gen 31: 34-35). Allowing the Lord to see those hidden idols - we all have them; all of us! - and to strengthens us against them and takes away their power.

The Lord’s gaze makes us see that, through them we are really glorifying ourselves [2], for there, in those spaces we mark out as exclusively ours, the devil insinuates himself with his poison. He not only makes us self-complacent, giving free rein to one passion or nurturing another, but he also leads us to replace with those idols the presence of the divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit who dwell within us. This happens. Even though we might tell ourselves that we know perfectly well the difference between God and an idol, in practice we take space away from the Trinity in order to give it to the devil, in a kind of oblique worship. The worship of one who quietly yet constantly listens to his talk and consumes his products, so that in the end not even a little corner remains for God. He is like that, he works quietly and slowly. In another context I spoke about “educated” demons, those that Jesus said are worse than the one who was cast out. They are “polite”, they ring the bell, they enter and gradually take over the house. We must be careful, these are our idols.

There is something about idols that is personal. When we fail to unmask them, when we do not let Jesus show us that in them we are wrongly and unnecessarily seeking ourselves, we make room for the Evil One. We need to remember that the devil demands that we do his will and that we serve him, but he does not always ask us to serve him and worship him constantly; but beware, he is a great diplomat. Receiving our worship from time to time is enough for him to prove that he is our real master and that he can feel like a god in our life and in our heart.

Having said that, in this Chrism Mass, I want to share with you three spaces of hidden idolatry in which the Evil One uses our idols to weaken us in our vocation as shepherds and, little by little, separate us from the benevolent and loving presence of Jesus, the Spirit and the Father.

One space of hidden idolatry opens up wherever there is spiritual worldliness, which is “a proposal of life, a culture, a culture of the ephemeral, of appearances, of the cosmetic”. [3] Its criterion is triumphalism, a triumphalism without the cross. Jesus prayed that the Father would defend us against this culture of worldliness. This temptation of glory without the cross runs contrary to the very person of the Lord, it runs contrary to Jesus, who humbled himself in the incarnation and, as a sign of contradiction, is our sole remedy against every idol. Being poor with Christ who was poor and “chose to be poor”: this is the mindset of Love; nothing else. In today’s Gospel, we see how the Lord chose a simple synagogue in the small village where he spent most of his life, to proclaim the same message he will proclaim at the end of time, when he will come in his glory, surrounded by angels. Our eyes must be fixed on Christ, on the concrete reality of his history with me, now, even as they will be then. The worldly attitude of seeking our own glory robs us of the presence of Jesus, humble and humiliated, the Lord who draws near to everyone, the Christ who suffers with all who suffer, who is worshiped by our people, who know who his true friends are. A worldly priest is nothing more than a clericalized pagan.

A second space of hidden idolatry opens up with the kind of pragmatism where numbers become the most important thing. Those who cherish this hidden idol can be recognized by their love for statistics, numbers that can depersonalize every discussion and appeal to the majority as the definitive criterion for discernment; this is not good. This cannot be the sole method or criterion for the Church of Christ. Persons cannot be “numbered”, and God does not “measure out” his gift of the Spirit (cf. Jn 3:34). In this fascination with and love of numbers, we are really seeking ourselves, pleased with the control offered us by this way of thinking, unconcerned with individual faces and far from love. One feature of the great saints is that they know how to step back in order to leave room completely for God. This stepping back, this forgetting of ourselves and wanting to be forgotten by everyone else, is the mark of the Spirit, who is in some sense “faceless”, - the Spirit is “faceless” - simply because he is completely Love, illuminating the image of the Son and, in him, that of the Father. The idolatry of numbers tries to replace the person of the Holy Spirit, who loves to keep hidden - because he is “faceless” - it tries to make everything “apparent”, albeit in a way abstract and reduced to numbers, without a real incarnation.

A third space of hidden idolatry, related to the second, comes from functionalism. This can be alluring; many people “are more enthusiastic about the roadmap than about the road”. The functionalist mindset has short shrift for mystery; it aims at efficiency. Little by little, this idol replaces the Father’s presence within us. The first idol replaces the Son's presence, the second one the Spirit's, and the third one the Father's. Our Father is the creator, but not simply a creator who makes things “function”. He “creates” us, as our Father, with tender love, caring for his creatures and working to make men and women ever more free. “Functionaries” take no delight in the graces that the Spirit pours out on his people, from which they too can “be nourished” like the worker who earns his wage. The priest with a functionalist mindset has his own nourishment, which is his ego. In functionalism, we set aside the worship of the Father in the small and great matters of our life and take pleasure in the efficiency of our own programmes. As David did when, tempted by Satan, he insisted on carrying out the census (cf. 1 Chron 21:1). These are the lovers of the route plan and the itinerary, and not of the journey itself.

In these last two spaces of hidden idolatry (the pragmatism of numbers and functionalism), we replace hope, which is the space of encounter with God, with empirical results. This shows an attitude of vainglory on the part of the shepherd, an attitude that weakens the union of his people with God and forges a new idol based on numbers and programmes: the idol of “my power, our power”, [4] our programmes, of our numbers and pastoral plans. Concealing these idols (as Rachel did), and not knowing how to unmask them in our daily lives, detracts from our fidelity to our priestly covenant and makes our personal relationship with the Lord become lukewarm. But what does this Bishop want? Instead of talking about Jesus he is talking about today’s idols. Someone can think like that…

Dear brothers, Jesus is the only “way” to avoid being mistaken in knowing what we feel and where our heart is leading us. He is the only way that leads to proper discernment, as we measure ourselves against him each day. It is as if, even now, he is seated in our parish church and tells us that today all we have heard is now fulfilled. Jesus Christ, as a sign of contradiction – which is not always something harsh and painful, for mercy and, even more, tender love, are themselves signs of contradiction – Jesus Christ, I repeat, forces these idols to show themselves, so that we can see their presence, their roots and the ways they operate, and allow the Lord to destroy them. This is the proposal: allow the Lord to destroy those hidden idols. We should keep these things in mind and be attentive, lest the weeds of these idols that we were able to hide in the folds of our hearts may spring up anew.

I want to end by asking Saint Joseph, as the chaste father, free of hidden idols, to liberate us from every form of possessiveness, for possessiveness is the fertile soil in which these idols grow. May he also obtain for us the grace to persevere in the arduous task of discerning those idols that we all too often conceal or that conceal themselves. Let us ask too, whenever we wonder if we might do things better, that he intercede for us, so that the Spirit may enlighten our judgement, even as he did when Joseph was tempted to set Mary aside “quietly” ( lathra). In this way, with nobility of heart, we may be able to subordinate to charity what we have learned by law. [5]

[1] For the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. The Lord has chosen certain men “in order that they might exercise the priestly office publicly on behalf of men and women in the name of Christ” (SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2; cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 10). “Ministers, invested with a sacred power, are at the service of their brothers and sisters” ( Lumen Gentium, 18).

[2] Cf. General Audience, 1 August 2018.

[3] Homily, Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, 16 May 2020.

[4] J. M. BERGOGLIO, Meditaciones para religiosos, Bilbao, Mensajero, 2014, 145.

[5] Cf. Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, 4, note 18.


Pope Francis   

06.04.23 Holy Chrism Mass, St Peter's Basilica  

Holy Thursday  

Isaiah 61: 1-3,6, 8-9,  

Luke 4: 16-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Lk 4:18). Jesus began his preaching with this verse, which also begins today’s first reading (cf. Is 61:1). At the beginning, then, the Spirit of the Lord is present.

Dear brothers in the priesthood, today I would like to reflect with you on the Holy Spirit. For without the Spirit of the Lord, there can be no Christian life; without his anointing, there can be no holiness. He is at the centre and it is fitting that today, on the birthday of the priesthood, we acknowledge his presence at the origin of our own ministry, and the life and vitality of every priest. Holy Mother Church teaches us to profess that the Holy Spirit is the “giver of life”. [1] Jesus told us: “it is the Spirit that gives life” ( Jn 6:63). His teaching was taken up by the apostle Paul, who wrote that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” ( 2 Cor 3:6) and who spoke of the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” ( Rom 8:2). Without the Holy Spirit, the Church would not be the living Bride of Christ, but, at most, a religious association – more or less good, not the Body of Christ, but a temple built by human hands. How then are we to build up the Church, if not beginning with the fact that we are “temples of the Holy Spirit” who “dwells in us” (cf. 1 Cor 6:19; 3:16)? We cannot lock the Spirit out of the house, or park him in some devotional zone, no, he has to be at the centre! Each day we need to say: “Come, for without your strength, we are lost”. [2]

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Every one of us can say this, not out of presumption, but as a reality. For all Christians, and priests in particular, can apply to themselves the words that follow: “because the Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1). Dear brothers, apart from any merit of our own, and by sheer grace, we have received an anointing that has made us fathers and shepherds among the holy People of God. Let us reflect, then, on this aspect of the Spirit: his anointing.

After his initial anointing, which took place in the womb of Mary, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the Jordan. Following that, as Saint Basil explains, “every act [of Christ] was performed with the co-presence of the Holy Spirit”. [3] In the power of that latter anointing, Jesus preached and worked signs; thanks to that anointing, “power came out from him and healed all” ( Lk 6:19). Jesus and the Spirit always work together, like two hands of the Father [4] – as Irenaeus said – that reach out to embrace us and raise us up. By those hands, our own hands were sealed, anointed by the Spirit of Christ. Yes, brothers, the Lord has not only chosen us and called us to go to that place or another: he has poured out upon us the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who descended upon the apostles. Brothers, we are “the anointed”.

Let us now turn our attention to them, to the apostles. Jesus chose them and at his call, they left their boats, their nets and their homes and so on… The anointing of the Word changed their lives. With great enthusiasm, they followed the Master and began to preach, convinced that they would go on to accomplish even greater things. Then came the Passover. Everything seemed to come to a halt: they even denied and abandoned their Master. We should not be afraid. We are courageous when reading about our life and our failures, even denying and abandoning the Master, as Peter did. They came to grips with their own failure; they realized that they had not understood him. The words uttered by Peter in the courtyard of the high priest following the Last Supper – “I do not know this man” (Mk 14:71) – were not only an impulsive attempt at self-defense, but an admission of spiritual ignorance. He and the others perhaps expected a life of triumph behind the Messiah who drew crowds and worked wonders, but they failed to understand the scandal of the cross, which caused their certainties to collapse. Jesus knew that, on their own, they would not have succeeded, and so he promised to send them the Paraclete. It was precisely that “second anointing”, at Pentecost, that changed the disciples and led them to shepherd no longer themselves but the Lord’s flock. Here is the conflict to resolve: Am I a pastor of the Lord’s flock or of myself? The Spirit is there to show us the way. It was that anointing with fire that extinguished a “piety” focused on themselves and their own abilities. After receiving the Spirit, Peter’s fear and wavering dissipated; James and John, with a burning desire to give their lives, no longer sought places of honour (cf. Mk 10:35-45) which is careerism, brothers; the others who had huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, went forth into the world as apostles. The Spirit changes our heart and points it in a different direction.

Dear brothers, something similar happens in our own priestly and apostolic lives. We too experienced an initial anointing, which began with a loving call that captivated our hearts and set us out on the journey; the power of the Holy Spirit descended upon our genuine enthusiasm and consecrated us.  Later, in God’s good time, each of us experienced a Passover, representing the moment of truth. A time of crisis which took various forms. Sooner or later, we all experience disappointment, frustration and our own weakness; our ideals seem to recede in the face of reality, a certain force of habit takes over, and difficulties that once seemed unimaginable appear to challenge our fidelity.  For the anointed, this stage – this temptation, this trail which we have experienced, we are experiencing or will experience – is a watershed. We can emerge from it badly, drifting towards mediocrity and settling for a dreary routine, in which three dangerous temptations can arise. The temptation of compromise, where we are content just to do what has to be done; the temptation of surrogates, where to find satisfaction we look not to our anointing, but elsewhere; and the temptation of discouragement – which is very common – where dissatisfaction leads to inertia. This is the great danger: while outward appearances remain intact –“I am a priest, I am priest” – we close in upon ourselves and are content just to get by. The fragrance of our anointing no longer wafts through our lives; our hearts no longer expand but shrivel, disillusioned and disenchanted. This is the problem, you know? When the priesthood slowly degenerates into clericalism and the priest forgets that he is a pastor of the people and becomes instead a cleric of the state.

Yet this crisis also has the potential to be a turning point in our priesthood, the “decisive stage of the spiritual life, in which the ultimate choice has to be made between Jesus and the world, between heroic charity and mediocrity, between the cross and comfort, between holiness and dutiful fidelity to our religious obligations”. [5] At the end of this celebration, they will give you a gift, a classic, a book that talks about this problem: “The second calling”. It is a classic by Father Voillaume who touches on this problem. Read it. All of us need to reflect on this moment in our priesthood. It is that grace-filled moment when, like the disciples at Easter, we are called to be “sufficiently humble to admit that we have been won over by the suffering and crucified Christ, and to set out on a new journey, that of the Spirit, of faith and of a love that is strong, yet without illusions”. [6] It is the kairos that enables us to realize that “it is not enough to abandon boat and nets in order to follow Jesus for certain time; it also demands going to Calvary, learning its lesson and receiving its fruit, and persevering with the help of the Holy Spirit to the end of a life meant to conclude in the perfection of divine charity”. [7] With the help of the Holy Spirit: for us as for the apostles, it is the time of a “second anointing”, the time of our second calling, to which we have to listen; the second anointing in which the Spirit is poured out no longer on the enthusiasm of our hopes and dreams, but on the freedom of our concrete situation. An anointing that penetrates to the depths of our reality, where the Spirit anoints our weaknesses, our weariness, our inner poverty. An anointing that brings a new fragrance: that of the Spirit, not of ourselves. At this very moment, inwardly, I am thinking of some of you who are in crisis – let’s say – who are disoriented and do not know how find their way, how to get back on the road of this second anointing of the Spirit. To these brothers – of whom I am thinking – I simply say: courage, the Lord is greater than your weaknesses, your sins. Trust the Lord and let yourself be called a second time, this time with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. A double life will not help you; not a chance, throw everything out the window. Look ahead, let yourself be caressed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

This happens when we take the mature step of admitting the reality of our own weakness. That is what “the Spirit of truth (Jn 16:13) tells us to do; he prompts us to look deep within and to ask: Does my fulfilment depend on my abilities, my position, the compliments I receive, my promotions, the respect of my superiors or coworkers, the comforts with which I surround myself? Or on the anointing that spreads its fragrance everywhere in my life? Dear brothers, priestly maturity comes from the Holy Spirit and is achieved when he becomes the protagonist in our lives. Once that happens, everything turns around, even disappointments and bitter experiences – and also sins – since we are no longer trying to find happiness by adjusting details, but by giving ourselves completely to the Lord who anointed us and who wants that anointing to penetrate to the depths of our being. Brothers, let us rediscover that the spiritual life becomes liberating and joyful, once we are no longer concerned to save appearances and make quick fixes, but leave the initiative to the Spirit and, in openness to his plans, show our willingness to serve wherever and however we are asked. Our priesthood does not grow by quick fixes but by an overflow of grace!

If we allow the Spirit of Truth to act within us, we will preserve his anointing, because the various untruths – the hypocrisy of clericalism – with which we are tempted to live will come to light immediately. And the Spirit who “cleanses what is unclean”, will tirelessly suggest to us “not to defile our anointing”, even in the least. We think of that phrase of the Preacher, who says that “dying flies spoil the sweetness of the ointment” (10:1). It is true, every form of duplicity – especially clerical duplicity – that insinuates itself is dangerous: it must not be tolerated, but brought into the light of the Spirit. For “the heart is devious above all else; it is perverse, and who can heal it?” ( Jer 17:9). The Holy Spirit, he alone, heals our infidelities (cf. Hos 14:4). For us, this an unavoidable struggle: it is indispensable, as Saint Gregory the Great wrote, that “those who proclaim the word of God, must first be concerned with their own way of life; then, based on his own life, he can learn what to say and how to say it… Let no one presume to say more than what first he heard within”. [8] The Spirit is that interior teacher to whom we must listen, recognizing that he desires to anoint every part of us. Brothers, let us preserve our anointing, invoking the Spirit not as an occasional act of piety, but as the breath of each day. Come, come, and preserve our anointing. Consecrated by him, I am called to immerse myself in him, to make his life penetrate my darkness – and we all have this darkness – so that I can rediscover the truth of who and what I am.  Let us allow ourselves to be impelled by him to combat the untruths that struggle within us. And let us allow ourselves to be reborn from him through adoration, for when we adore the Lord, he pours forth into our hearts his Spirit.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me”, so the prophecy continues, to bring good news, liberty, healing and grace (cf. Is 61:1-2; Lk 4:18-19): in a word, to bring harmony wherever it is lacking. As Saint Basil said: “the Spirit is harmony”, he is the one that brings harmony. After speaking to you about anointing, I would like to say something to you about the harmony that is its consequence. Because the Holy Spirit is harmony. Above all in heaven: Saint Basil notes that “all supercelestial and unspeakable harmony in the service of God and in the mutual symphony of the supercosmic powers, would be impossible to preserve, if not for the authority of the Spirit”. [9] As well as on earth: in the Church, the Spirit is that “divine and musical harmony” [10] that binds everything together. Let us think of a Presbyterate without harmony, without the Spirit: it would not work. He awakens the diversity of charisms and brings them into unity; he creates concord based not on uniformity, but on the creativity of charity. In this way, he creates harmony from multiplicity. In this way, he creates harmony in the Presbyterate. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, itself a gift of the Spirit, a theologian published a study in which he spoke of the Spirit not as individual, but as plural. He suggested thinking of the Spirit as a divine person who is not only singular but “plural”, as the “We of God”, the “We” of the Father and of the Son, since he is their bond. The Holy Spirit is in himself concord, communion and harmony. [11] I remember when I read this theological treatise – it was when I was studying theology – I was scandalized: it seemed like heresy, because in our training we did not quite understand who the Holy Spirit was.

To create harmony is what the Spirit desires, above all through those upon whom he has poured out his anointing. Brothers, building harmony among ourselves is not simply a good way of improving the functioning of ecclesial structures, it is not the minuet dance, or a matter of strategy or politeness: it is an intrinsic demand of the life of the Spirit. We sin against the Spirit who is communion whenever we become, even unintentionally, instruments of division. For example, I would mention again the topic of gossip. When we become instruments of division we sin against the Spirit. And whenever we play the game of the enemy, who never comes out into the open, who loves gossip and insinuation, foments parties and cliques, fuels nostalgia for times past, distrust, pessimism and fear. Let us take care, please, not to defile the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the robe of Holy Mother Church with disunity, polarization or lack of charity and communion. Let us remember that the Spirit, as “the We of God”, prefers the “shape” of community: willingness with regard to one’s own needs, obedience with regard to one’s own tastes, humility with regard to one’s own claims.

Harmony is not one virtue among others; it is something more. As Saint Gregory the Great writes: “the worth of the virtue of concord is shown by the fact that without it, the other virtues have no value whatsoever”. [12] Let us help one another, brothers, to preserve harmony – this is the task – starting not from others but each of us from himself. Let us ask ourselves: In my words, in my comments, in what I say and write, is there the seal of the Spirit or that of the world? Do I think about the kindness of the priest – but more often than not, we priests, we are rude – let us think about the kindness of the priest: if people see, in us too, people who are dissatisfied and discontented bachelors, who criticize and point fingers, where else will they find harmony? How many people fail to approach us, or keep at a distance, because in the Church they feel unwelcomed and unloved, regarded with suspicion and judged? In God’s name, let us be welcoming and forgiving, always! And let us remember that being irritable and full of complaints does not produce good fruits, but spoils our preaching, since it is a counter-witness to God, who is communion in harmony. Above all, it displeases greatly the Holy Spirit, whom the apostle Paul urges us not to grieve (cf. Eph 4:30).

Dear brothers, I leave you with these thoughts that come from my heart, and I conclude with two simple and important words: Thank you. Thank you for your witness and for your service. Thank you for the hidden good you do, and for the forgiveness and consolation that you bestow in God’s name. Always forgive, please, do not withhold forgiveness. Thank you for your ministry, which is often carried out with great effort, with little recognition and is not always understood. Brothers, may the Spirit of God, who does not disappoint those who trust in him, fill you with peace and bring to conclusion the good work he began in you, so that you may be prophetic witnesses of his anointing and apostles of harmony.

[1] Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

 [2] Cf. Sequence for the Solemnity of Pentecost.

 [3] De Spiritu Santo, 16, 39.

 [4] Cf. IRENAEUS, Adv. Haer., IV, 20, 1.

 [5]R. VOILLAUME, “La seconda chiamata”, in S. STEVEN, ed. La seconda chiama. Il coraggio della fragilità, Bologna. 2018, 15.

 [6] Ibid., 24.

 [7] Ibid., 16.

 [8]  Homilies on Ezekiel, I, X, 13-14.

 [9]  De Spiritu Sancto, XVI, 38.

 [10]  In Ps. 29, 1.

 [11] Cf. H. MÜHLEN, Der Heilige Gest als Person. Ich-Du-Wir, Münster in W., 1963.

 [12]  Homilies on Ezekiel, I, VIII, 8.

06.04.23 cm

Pope Francis       

06.04.23 Mass of the Lord's Supper, 

Prison for Minors "Casal del Marmo", Rome  

Holy Thursday 

John 13: 1-15

What attracts our attention is how Jesus, just the day before is crucified, accomplishes this deed. Foot washing was customary at that time because the streets were dusty. People would come in from outside and, on entering a house, before dining, before gathering, they would wash their feet. But who would wash their feet? The slaves, the slaves – because this was work relegated to slaves.

Let us imagine how the disciples were astonished when they saw Jesus beginning to perform this task fit for slaves… He wanted to make them understand the message for the next day when he would die like a slave to pay the debt for all us. If we were to listen to these things from Jesus, life would be so beautiful because we would hurry to help each other out instead of getting the best of others, to take advantage of each other, the way con artists teach us. It is very beautiful to help each other, to give a hand – these are human universal gestures that are born from a noble heart. And with this celebration today, Jesus wants to teach us this: the nobility of the heart. Each one of us could say: “But if the Pope only knew the things I have inside….” But Jesus knows that, and he loves us just like we are! And he washes each of our feet. Jesus is never shocked at our weaknesses. He is never astonished, because he has already paid. He just wants to accompany us; he wants to take us by the hand so that life won’t be so harsh for us.

I will perform the same deed of the washing of the feet, which is not something folkloric, no. We can all think of it as a gesture that tells us how we should treat each other. In society, we see how many people take advantage of others; how many people are in a corner and can’t get out…. How many injustices, how many people are without jobs, how many people work and are paid half, how many people have no money to purchase medicine, how many families are destroyed, so many awful things….

And none of us can say, “Thanks to God I am not like, you know”. “If I am not like that it is because of the grace of God!” Each one of us can slip, every one of us. And this awareness, this certainty that each of us can slip, is what gives us the dignity – listen to the word – the “dignity” of being sinners. And Jesus wants us like this, and because of this he wanted to wash his disciples’ feet and say: “I came to save you, to serve you”.

Now, I will do the same thing as a memory of what Jesus taught us, to help each other and in this way, life is more beautiful and we can carry on like this. During the washing of the feet – I hope I succeed in doing it because I cannot walk that well – but during the washing of the feet, think about this: “Jesus has washed my feet. Jesus has saved me, and I have this difficulty now”. But it will pass, but the Lord is always next to you, he never abandons, never. Think about all this.

06.04.23 Ls

Pope Francis   

28.03.24 Holy Chrism Mass, St Peter's Basilica  

Holy Thursday  

Isaiah 61: 1-3,6, 8-9,  

Luke 4: 16-21

“The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Lk 4:20). This passage of the Gospel is striking. It always makes us imagine that moment of silence when every eye was on Jesus, in a mixture of wonder and hesitance. We know, however, what happened next. After Jesus had unmasked the false expectations of his townspeople, they were “filled with rage” (Lk 4:28), got up and drove him out of town. They had indeed looked upon Jesus, but their hearts were not prepared to change at his word. They lost the occasion of a lifetime.

Tonight, Holy Thursday, will offer us a very different exchange of looks. It involves Peter, the first Pastor of our Church. Peter too initially refused to accept the “unmasking” words that the Lord had spoken to him: “You will deny me three times” (Mk 14:30). As a result, he “lost sight” of Jesus and denied him at the cock’s crow. Then, however, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” and he “remembered the word of the Lord… and went out and wept bitterly” (Lk 22:61-62). His eyes were flooded with tears that, rising up from a wounded heart, liberated him from his false notions and his self-assurance. Those bitter tears changed his life.

Jesus’ words and actions in the course of those years had not altered Peter’s expectations, so similar to those of the people of Nazareth. He too was expecting a political Messiah, powerful, forceful and decisive. Scandalized at the sight of Jesus, powerless and submitting passively to his arrest, he said, “I do not know him!” (Lk 22:57). How true that was: Peter did not know Jesus. He would only begin to know him when, at the dark moment of his denial, he yielded to tears of shame and tears of repentance. And he would know Jesus in truth when, “hurt because Jesus said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’”, he would let the Lord’s gaze penetrate his entire being. Then, from saying, “I do not know him”, he was able to say, “Lord, you know everything” (Jn 21:17).

Dear brother priests, the healing of the heart of Peter, the healing of the apostle, the healing of the pastor, came about when, grief-stricken and repentant, he allowed himself to be forgiven by Jesus. That healing took place amid tears, bitter weeping, and the sorrow that leads to renewed love. For this reason, I have felt the need to share with you a few thoughts on an aspect of the spiritual life that has been somewhat neglected, yet remains essential. Even the word I am going to use today is somewhat old-fashioned, yet well worthy of reflecting on. That word is compunction.

The origin of the term has to do with piercing. Compunction is “a piercing of the heart” that is painful and evokes tears of repentance. Here, another episode from the life of Saint Peter can help us. His heart having been pierced by Jesus’ gaze and his words, Peter, now purified and set afire by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed on the day of Pentecost to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (cf. Acts 2:36). His hearers, recognizing both the evil that they had done and the salvation that the Lord was offering them, were themselves “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).

That is what compunction is: not a sense of guilt that makes us discouraged or obsessed with our unworthiness, but a beneficial “piercing” that purifies and heals the heart. Once we recognize our sin, our hearts can be opened to the working of the Holy Spirit, the source of living water that wells up within us and brings tears to our eyes. Those who are willing to be “unmasked” and let God’s gaze pierce their heart receive the gift of those tears, the holiest waters after those of baptism. [1] This is my desire for you, dear brother priests.

Yet we need to understand clearly what it means to weep for ourselves. It does not mean weeping in self-pity, as we are so often tempted to do. As, for example, when we are disappointed or upset that our hopes are frustrated, when we feel misunderstood, perhaps even by our fellow priests and our superiors. Or when we take an odd and morbid pleasure in brooding over wrongs received, feeling sorry for ourselves, convinced that we were not treated as we deserved or fearing that the future will hold further unpleasant surprises. This, as Saint Paul teaches us, is “worldly grief”, as opposed to “Godly grief”. [2]

Weeping for ourselves, on the other hand, means seriously repenting for saddening God by our sins; recognizing that we always remain in God’s debt, admitting that we have strayed from the path of holiness and fidelity to the love of the One who gave his life for us. [3] It means looking within and repenting of our ingratitude and inconstancy, and acknowledging with sorrow our duplicity, dishonesty and hypocrisy. Clerical hypocrisy, dear brothers, is something we fall into all too often. We need to be attentive to this reality. And turning our gaze once more to the crucified Lord and letting ourselves be touched by his love, which always forgives and raises up, never disappointing the trust of those who hope in him. Tears thus well up and, in flowing down our cheeks, descend to purify our heart.

Compunction demands effort, but bestows peace. It is not a source of anxiety but of healing for the soul, since it acts as a balm upon the wounds of sin, preparing us to receive the caress of the Lord, who transforms the “broken, contrite heart” (Ps 51:19), once it has been softened by tears. Compunction is thus the antidote to “sclerocardia”, that hardness of heart so often condemned by Jesus (cf. Mk 3:5; 10:5). For without repentance and sorrow, the heart hardens: first, it becomes stiff, impatient with problems and indifferent to persons, and then cold, impassive and impenetrable, then finally turns to stone. Yet just as drops of water can wear down a stone, so tears can slowly soften stony hearts. In this way, a “good sorrow” miraculously leads to sweetness.

Here we can begin to see why the masters of the spiritual life insist on the importance of compunction. Saint Benedict says that, “in tears and groaning daily we should confess in prayer to God the sins of our past”, [4] and observes that in prayer, “it is not by many words that we are graciously heard, but by our purity of heart and tears of compunction”. [5] Saint John Chrysostom notes that a single tear can extinguish a blaze of sins, [6] while the Imitation of Christ tells us: “Give yourself to compunction of heart”, since “through levity of heart and neglect of our shortcomings, we do not feel the sorrows of our soul”. [7]  Compunction is the remedy for this, since it brings us back to the truth about ourselves, so that the depths of our being sinners can reveal the infinitely greater reality of our being pardoned by grace – the joy of being pardoned. It is not surprising, then, that Isaac of Nineveh could say: “The one who forgets the greatness of his sins forgets the greatness of God’s mercy in his regard”. [8]

To be sure, dear brothers and sisters, all interior renewal is born of the encounter between our human misery and God’s mercy, and it develops through poverty of spirit, which allows the Holy Spirit to enrich us. Here too, we can think of the clear teaching of many spiritual masters, including, once again, Saint Isaac: “Those who acknowledge their sins… are greater than those who by their prayers raise the dead. Those who weep for an hour over their sins are greater than those who serve the whole world by contemplation… Those who are blessed with self-knowledge are greater than those blessed with the vision of angels”. [9]

Brother priests, let us look to ourselves and ask ourselves what part compunction and tears play in our examination of conscience and our prayers.  Let us ask whether, with the years that pass, our tears increase. In nature, the older we become, the less we weep. In the life of the spirit, however, we are asked to become like children (cf. Mt 18:3): if we fail to weep, we regress and grow old within, whereas those whose prayer becomes simpler and deeper, grounded in adoration and wonder in the presence of God, grow and mature. They become less attached to themselves and more attached to Christ. Made poor in spirit, they draw closer to the poor, those who are most dear to God. As Saint Francis of Assisi wrote in his testament, those whom we used to keep at a distance now become our dear companions. [10] So it is that those who feel compunction of heart increasingly feel themselves brothers and sisters to all the sinners of the world, setting aside airs of superiority and harsh judgments, and filled with a burning desire to show love and make reparation.

Dear brothers, another aspect of compunction is solidarity. A heart that is docile, liberated by the spirit of the Beatitudes, becomes naturally prone to practice compunction towards others. Rather than feeling anger and scandal at the failings of our brothers and sisters, it weeps for their sins. There occurs a sort of reversal, where the natural tendency to be indulgent with ourselves and inflexible with others is overturned and, by God’s grace, we become strict with ourselves and merciful towards others. The Lord seeks, above all in those consecrated to him, men and women who bewail the sins of the Church and the world, and become intercessors on behalf of all. How many heroic witnesses in the Church have shown us this way! We think of the monks of the desert, in East and West; the constant intercession, in groaning and tears, of Saint Gregory of Narek; the Franciscan offering for unrequited Love; and those many priests who, like the Curé of Ars, lived lives of penance for the salvation of others. Dear brothers, this is not poetry, but priesthood!

Dear brother priests, from us, his shepherds, the Lord desires not harshness but love, and tears for those who have strayed. If our hearts feel compunction, the difficult situations, the sufferings and the lack of faith that we encounter daily will make us respond not with condemnation, but with perseverance and mercy. How greatly we need to be set free from harshness and recrimination, selfishness and ambition, rigidity and frustration, in order to entrust ourselves completely to God, and to find in him the calm that shields us from the storms raging all around us! Let us pray, intercede and shed tears for others; in this way, we will allow the Lord to work his miracles. And let us not fear, for he will surely surprise us!

Our ministry will help in this. Today, in our secular societies, we run the risk of being hyperactive and at the same time feeling inadequate, with the result that we lose enthusiasm and are tempted to “pull up the oars”, to take refuge in complaining and we forget that God is infinitely greater than all our problems. When that happens, we become bitter and prickly, always badmouthing and complaining about things. Whereas if bitterness and compunction are directed not to the world but to our own hearts, the Lord will not fail to visit us and raise us up. That is exactly what the Imitation of Christ tells us to do: “Busy yourself not about the affairs of others, and do not become entangled in the business of your superiors. Keep an eye primarily on yourself, and admonish yourself instead of your friends. If you do not enjoy the favour of men, do not let it sadden you; yet consider it a serious matter if you do not conduct yourself as well or as carefully as is becoming”. [11]

Lastly, let me emphasize another essential point: compunction is not so much our work but a grace, and, as such, it must be sought in prayer. Repentance is God’s gift and the work of the Holy Spirit. As an aid to cultivating a spirit of repentance, I would share two bits of advice. First, let us stop looking at our life and our vocation in terms of efficiency and immediate results, and being caught up in present needs and expectations; instead let us view things against the greater horizon of the past and the future. The past, by recalling God’s fidelity – God is faithful –, being mindful of his forgiveness and firmly anchored in his love. The future, by looking to the eternal goal to which we are called, the ultimate purpose of our lives. Broadening our horizons, dear brothers, helps to expand our hearts, to spend time with the Lord and to experience compunction. My second bit of advice follows from the first. Let us rediscover our need to cultivate prayer that is not obligatory and functional, but freely chosen, tranquil and prolonged. Brothers, how is your prayer life? Let us return to adoration. Have you been forgetting to adore the Lord? Let us return to the prayer of the heart.   Let us repeat: Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Let us sense God’s grandeur even as we contemplate our own sinfulness, and open our hearts to the healing power of his gaze. Then we will rediscover the wisdom of Holy Mother Church in having our prayer always begin in the words of the poor man who cries: God, come to my assistance!

Dear brothers, allow me to conclude by returning to Saint Peter and his tears. The altar we see above his tomb makes us think of how often we priests – who daily say: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you” – have disappointed and grieved the One who loved us so greatly as to make our hands the instruments of his presence. We do well, then, to repeat those prayers we say in silence: “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, Lord”, and “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. Yet in every way, brothers, we are comforted by the certainty spoken of in today’s liturgy: the Lord, consecrated by his anointing (cf. Lk 4:18), came “to bind up the brokenhearted” (Is 61:1). If hearts are broken, surely they can be bound up and healed by Jesus. Thank you, dear priests, for your open and docile hearts. Thank you for all your hard work and your tears. Thank you for bringing the miracle of God’s mercy. Always forgive. Be merciful. Bring God’s mercy to our brothers and sisters in today’s world. Dear priests, may the Lord console you, strengthen you and reward you. Thank you!

[1] “The Church possesses water and tears: the waters of Baptism and the tears of Penance (SAINT AMBROSE, Epistula extra collectionem, I, 12).

[2] “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings now regret, but worldly grief produces death” ( 2 Cor 7:10).

[3] Cf. SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, De compunctione, I, 10.

[4]  Rule, IV, 57.

[5] Ibid., XX, 3.

[6] Cf. De poenitentia, VII, 5.

[7] Ch. XXI.

[8]  Ascetical Homilies (III Coll.), XII.

[9]  Ascetical Homilies (I coll.), XXXIV (Greek).

[10] Cf. FF 110.

[11] Ch. XXI.

28.03.24 cm