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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

General Audience on Forgiveness from the cross

This morning's General Audience began at 9:30am in Saint Peter's Square.  Pope Francis met there 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: Forgiveness on the cross (cf Lk 23:39-43).

Following the summary of his catechesis, provided in various languages, the Holy Father offered greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  Then, he issued a call concerning the dramatic situation in Aleppo (Syria).

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!

The words that Jesus speaks during his Passion find their culmination in forgiveness.  Jesus forgives: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34).  These were not only words, for they became a concrete act of forgiveness offered to the good thief, who was beside him.  Saint Luke speaks of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus, who turned to him with opposing attitudes.

One of them insulted him, like everyone else did, like the leaders of the people did, but this poor man, driven by despair, says: Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us! (Lk 23:39).  This cry bears witness to the anxiety of mankind when faced with the mystery of death and the tragic awareness that only God can provide a liberating response: therefore it is unthinkable that the Messiah, the one sent by God, could stay on the cross without doing anything to save himself.  They did not understand this.  They did not understand the mystery of Jesus' sacrifice.  Instead, Jesus saved us by remaining on the cross.  We all know that it is not easy to stay on the cross, on our little crosses every day.  On that large cross, in that great suffering - and this is how he saved us - he demonstrated his omnipotence and he forgave us.  There, he gave us his gift of love, constantly pouring forth our salvation.  Dying on the cross, innocent among the criminals, He attested to the fact that God's salvation can reach every person in every circumstance, even the most negative and the most painfully suffering person.  God's salvation is for everyone, no one is excluded.  It is offered to everyone.  This is the reason why the Jubilee is a time of grace and of mercy for everyone, good and bad, those who have been saved and those who are suffering.  Remember the parable that Jesus told on the occasion of the wedding of the son of one of the most powerful men on earth; when those who had been invited did not want to attend, he said to his servants: Then go to the crossroads and call all those you find to come to the wedding (Mt 22:9).  Everyone is invited: good and bad.  The Church is not only for the good or for those who seem to be good, or who believe themselves to be good; the Church is for all people, and even preferably for the bad, because the Church is mercy.  This time of grace and of mercy helps us to remember that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! (cf Rm 8:39).  To those who are nailed to a hospital bed, to those who live enclosed in a prison, to those who are entrapped by war, I say: look to the Crucifix; God is with you, he remains with you on the cross and all that it offers, he offers to us, for he is our Saviour.  To you who suffer so much, I say, Jesus is crucified for you, for us, for everyone.  Let the power of the gospel penetrate your hearts and console you, allow it to give you hope and the intimate certainty that no one is excluded from his forgiveness.  You may ask: Tell me, Father, all that I have done, the most terrible things in life, can they be forgiven? - Yes! Yes!  No one is excluded from God's forgiveness.  A penitent needs only to draw close to Jesus and to have the desire to be embraced by him.

This was the first bandit.  The other one is the so-called good thief.  His words are a marvellous model of repentance, a catechesis focused on helping us to learn to ask Jesus for forgiveness.  First, he speaks to his companion: Have you no fear of God, you who have received the same condemnation? (Lk 23:40).  In this way, he emphasizes the starting point for all penitence: fear of God, but not fear of God, rather a filial respect for God.  This is not fear, but respect that is due to God, because He is God.  It is a filial respect because He is our Father.  The good thief recalls the fundamental attitude that opens our hearts and is the starting point for us to trust in God: knowledge of his omnipotence and of his infinite goodness.  This trusting respect helps us to make space for god and to trust in his mercy.

Then, the good thief declares Jesus' innocence and openly confesses his guilt: We, rightly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our actions; but he has done nothing wrong (Lk 23:41).  Therefore, Jesus is there on the cross in order to be united with those who are guilty: through this closeness, He offers them salvation.  That which is a scandal for the leaders and for the first thief, for those who were there mocking Jesus, is te foundation of our faith.  In this way, the good thief became a witness of grace; the unthinkable has happened: God has loved me to the point of dying on a cross for me.  The same faith that this man had is the fruit of the grace of Christ: his eyes contemplate in Christ crucified, the love of God for him, a poor sinner.  It is true, he was a thief, he was a thief, he had stolen all his life.  But in the end, he regretted what he had done, he looked to Jesus, so good and merciful and he succeeded in making his way to heaven: he was a good thief!

Finally, the good thief speaks directly to Jesus, invoking his help: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Lk 23:42).  He calls him by name - Jesus - with confidence, and in this way he confesses all that this name indicates: the Lord saves.  This is the meaning of the name Jesus.  That man asked Jesus to remember him.  How much tenderness there was in this expression, how much humanity!  Every human being has a need to not be abandoned, to know that God will always be nearby.  in this way, even someone who is condemned to die becomes a model of Christianity, one who confides himself to Jesus.  One who is condemned to die is a model for us, a model for a man, for a Christian who relies on Jesus; and also a model of the Church who in the liturgy calls upon the Lord many times, saying: Remember ... remember your love ...

While the good thief spoke of the future: when you come into your kingdom, Jesus' response was immediate, he spoke in the present tense: today, you will be with me in paradise (Lk 23:43).  At the hour of the cross, Christ's salvation reaches its climax; and his promise to the good thief reveals the accomplishment of his mission: to save sinners.  At the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus had proclaimed: freedom to prisoners (Lk 4:18); in Jericho, in the house of the tax collector Zaccheus, he had said that: the Son of man - he himself - had come to seek out and to save those who were lost (Lk 19:9).  On the cross, his final act confirmed the fulfillment of this plan for salvation.  From beginning to end, He revealed himself as Mercy, he revealed himself as the definitive and unrepeatable incarnation of the Father's love.  Jesus is truly the face of the Father's mercy, and the good thief called him by name: Jesus.  This is a brief invocation, and all of us can repeat it many times during the day: Jesus.  Jesus.  It's simple.  We can repeat it all day long.
(Original text in Italian)

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages, and His Holiness offered particular greetings to each group of pilgrims in attendance.  To English-speaking visitors, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. I extend a special welcome to the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College and their families gathered here for the Ordination to the Diaconate to be celebrated tomorrow. May God bless you all!

Following the greetings offered to pilgrims of various languages, the Holy Father issued the following call for prayer:

My thoughts are focused once again on the beloved and martyred country of Syria.  Dramatic news concerning the people of Aleppo continue to reach me.  I feel that I am united with them in their suffering, through prayer and spiritual closeness.  Expressing profound sorrow and sincerely preoccupied with what is taking place in that already battered city, where children, the elderly, the sick, young adults, the elderly, many people are dying ... I renew to all people my call to engage with all our strength toward the protection of civilians, an obligation that is all the more imperative and urgent.  I appeal to the consciences of those who are responsible for the bombardment; they will have to account for their actions before God!
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