Once, a poor man went to church to complain to God that he has no shoes to wear. But in front of the church he saw a man with no legs. Then our man, ashamed of his thoughts gave thanks to the Lord for his healthy legs.
Our holy fathers have listened to the Lord who said that from the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander [Mt 15:19] and how these are the things that make a man unclean. [Mt 15:20] Further, they have listened to the part of the gospel where we are ordered to clean the inside of cup and dish first so that the outside may become clean as well. [Mt 23:26] They therefore left aside any other spiritual work and concentrated exclusively on guarding the heart, being confident that through this they would easily achieve all other virtues, whilst without it no virtue can be preserved. This practice was called by some fathers ‘serenity of the heart,’ whilst others named it ‘attention,’ others ‘sobriety’ and ‘detainment,’ others ‘examination of the thoughts’ and ‘guarding of the mind;’ for they were all absorbed in this, and by this they were found worthy to accept the divine virtues.
Understand two thoughts, and fear them. One says, ‘You are saint,’ the other, ‘You won’t be saved.’ Both of these thoughts are from the enemy, and there is no truth in them. But think this way: I am a great sinner, but the Lord is merciful. He loves people very much, and He will forgive my sins.
“I love you because you are you.” Have you ever thought about the message this sentence conveys? I love you, and I am able to love you because you aren’t me. This is the first interpretation. Essentially I do not love you, if I want you to be like me. Through the diversity of each person, with love, there is achieved a constant enrichment of a relationship. Otherwise, as they say in the world and society: “Relationships and marriage get old.” But it gets old because we allow it to get old. If you do not consider the possibility of each human being to be sanctified and to share more and more in the glory of God and His Grace, then we can never have a new man. But we try to correct the works of God, thinking that we know how to do things better. We will even see the tragedy of this issue when we get to another very basic and daily relationship.
The relationship of children with their parents. The relationship of parents with their children. It is a difficult relationship. Many times it is without freedom, in the name of love. The majority of times our ego replaces love, and it is easy to come into conflict. Truly, when we raise our children, what vision do we have for our lives? Do we raise children to live freely and stand on their own feet, or do we “praise” them because they listen to us? If we rejoice because they listen to us about everything, in actuality we have recognized and pronounced ourselves infallible, and we believe we are always right, and we are pleased that our children listen to us[…] They want our love, but not at the expense of their freedom. And there is no freedom without responsibility. And we know this from experience.
* Με παρρησία… translated by John Sanidopoulos
I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.
How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.
Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.
[…]We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.
I warn you, my children, not to be so ready to mock, or judge, the acts of other people. For we have often seen the sin of the fornicator, but his repentance, which he made in secret, we did not see, and we may have seen a man steal, but we know nothing of the groanings and tears which he has offered to God. We still think of him as we saw him, a thief, a fornicator or a perjurer, but in the sight of God his secret repentance and confession has been accepted, and in His eyes he is honourable.