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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

General Audience on being merciful

This morning's General Audience began at 10:00am in Saint Peter's Square, where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from every corner of the world.

In his speech, the Pope continued his catechesis on mercy, adding a meditation on the theme: Merciful like the Father (cf Lk 6:36-38).

Following the customary summaries of his catechesis presented in various languages, the Holy Father addressed particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  Then, he issued an appeal for the XXIII World Day for Alzheimers which is being observed today.

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We have heard the passage from the Gospel of Luke (Lk 6:36-38) which inspired the theme for the current Extraordinary Holy Year: Merciful like the Father.  The complete expression is: Be merciful as your Father is merciful (Lk 6:36).  This is not a slogan to be used merely for effect, but a commitment to life.  In order to understand this expression well, we can compare it with the parallel from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus said: Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).  In the so-called sermon on the mount, which begins with the Beatitudes, the Lord teaches that perfection is found in love, the fulfillment of all the precepts of the Law.  In this same perspective, Saint Luke explains that perfection is merciful love: to be perfect means to be merciful.  Does this mean that a person who is not merciful is not perfect?  No!   Does this mean that a person who is not merciful is not good?  No!  Goodness and perfection are rooted in mercy.  Certainly, God is perfect.  However, if only God can be perfect, it is impossible for any human being to aim for absolute perfection.  Instead, portraying himself as merciful in our eyes, allows us to better understand how he defines perfection and also urges us to be like he is: full of love, compassion and mercy.

But I wonder: are Jesus' words realistic?  Is it really possible to love like God loves and to be merciful like He is?

If we look t the history of salvation, we see that the entire revelation of God is an unceasing and untiring gift of love for mankind: God is like a father or like a mother who loves with unfathomable love and pours it out in abundance upon every creature.  The death of Jesus on the cross is the culmination of the history of God's love for mankind.  A love that is so great that only God can bring it to fruition.  It is clear that, compared with this love that has no measure, our love will always fall short.  But when Jesus calls us to be merciful like the Father, he is not thinking of it in terms of an amount.  He asks his disciples to become signs, channels, witnesses of his mercy.

The Church cannot stop being a sacrament of God's mercy in the world, in every time and for the sake of all of humanity.  Every Christian, however, is called to be a witness of mercy, and this takes place along the path to holiness.  We can think about the many saints who became merciful because they were allowed to enter into the heart of divine mercy.  They gave substance to the love of the Lord by pouring themselves out in service to the many needs of suffering humanity.  In this flourishing of many forms of charity, we can see the reflection of the merciful face of Christ.

Let us ask ourselves: What does it mean for the disciples to be merciful?  This is explained by Jesus in two words: to forgive (Lk 6:37) and to give (Lk 6:38).

Mercy is expressed, first of all, in forgiveness: Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven (Lk 6:37).  Jesus does not intend to pervert the course of human justice, however he reminds the disciples that in order to maintain fraternal relationships, they must suspend judgments and condemnations.  In fact, forgiveness is the pillar that holds up the Christian community, because it shows the gratuitous love with which God has first loved us.  A Christian must forgive!  But why?  Because he himself has been forgiven.  All of us who are here today in the Square have been forgiven.  None of us, in our own lives, is not in need of God's forgiveness.  And since we have been forgiven, we should forgive.  We say every day in the words of the Our Father: Forgive us our sins; forgive our sins as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.  That is to say, forgive offenses, forgive many things, because we have been forgiven of many things, of many sins.  And therefore it is easy to forgive: if God has forgiven me, why should I not forgive others?  Am I greater than God? This pillar of forgiveness shows us the free gift of the love of God, who loved us first. It is a mistake to judge and condemn a brother who sins, not because we do not want to recognize the sin, but because to condemn the sinner breaks the bond of fraternity with him and scorns God’s mercy, who, instead, does not want to give up on any of His children. We do not have the power to condemn our brother who errs; we are not above him: instead we have the duty to restore him to the dignity of a child of the Father and to accompany him on his journey of conversion.

To His Church, to us, Jesus points out a second pillar: give. To forgive is the first pillar; to give is the second pillar. Give, and it will be given to you … For the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Lk 6:38). God gives well beyond our merits, but He will be even more generous with all those who were generous on earth. Jesus does not say what will happen to those that do not give, but the image of the measure constitutes an admonition: with the measure of love we give, it is we ourselves who decide how we will be judged, how we will be loved. If we look well there is a coherent logic: in the measure that one receives from God, one gives to a brother, and in the measure in which one gives to a brother, one receives from God!

Therefore, merciful love is the only way to go. How we all need to be more merciful, to not run down others, to not judge, to not pluck at others with criticism, envy and jealousy. We must forgive, be merciful, live our life in love. This love enables Jesus’ disciples to not lose the identity received from Him, and to recognize themselves as children of the same Father. Thus, in the love they practice in life, Mercy reverberates, mercy that will have no end (cf 1 Corinthians 13:1-12). But do not forget this: mercy and gift; forgiveness and gift, thus the heart widens, it widens in love. Instead, egoism and anger make the heart small, and eventually it hardens like a stone. What do you prefer, a heart of stone or a heart full of love? If you prefer a heart full of love, be merciful!

The above catechesis was then summarized in various languages, and the Holy Father offered greetings to each group of pilgrims in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Japan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. May you open your lives to the Lord’s gift of mercy, and share this gift with all whom you know. As children of our Heavenly Father, may you be missionaries of his merciful love. May God bless you all!

Following the individual greetings offered to each group of pilgrims in attendance, the Holy Father made the following appeal for prayer:

Today is the XXIII World Day for Alzheimers, which has as its theme: Remember me.  I invite all those present to remember, with the attention of Mary and with the tenderness of the merciful Jesus, those who are suffering from this terrible disease and their families in order to help them to be aware of our closeness to them.  Let us also pray for those who are standing near to the sick, knowing how to respond to their needs, even the most subtle of needs, that they may be seen with eyes full of love.
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