A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where do we belong?

Many people feel lost nowadays.

Once-solid companies are failing.

Politicians who inspired hope now generate doubt.

Fads that promised a happy life now gather dust.

As always, the words and example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in today's Gospel (John 8:21-30) give us true hope and direction in an uncertain world.

He said to them, "You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins."

By the grace of Christ, may we believe more fully in Him and keep our hearts set on things of heaven as we continue to labor faithfully for Him on earth.

He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me - a sinner.

Saint Mary in Via Lata

Monday, March 30, 2009

Elders who know better

One of the advantages of growing older is having learned many things.

Yet with knowledge comes responsibility.

Today’s readings present us with two sets of elders.

In the first reading (Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62), two elders use what they know regarding human power and connivance to try to take advantage of other people.

In the Gospel (John 8:1-11), the elders are the first to recognize their own sinfulness and limitations.

Young or old, may you and I be as wise (or wiser) than the elders in the Gospel, recognize our limitations, and draw closer to God in search of forgiveness.

Obedience through suffering

Son though he was,
he learned obedience from what he suffered...

These words from yesterday’s second reading (Hebrews 5:7-9) should resonate strongly with us, especially in these days when many of us are suffering (in one way or another).

What is being described here is not obedience being learned by the imposition of corporeal punishment.

Rather, part of what is being described here has to do with a fundamental reality of suffering.

We like to think that we are masters of our universe and that we can ensure for ourselves a pleasant and pain-free existence by entitlement and prudence.

Eventually, however, we hit obstacles, set-backs, unpleasant circumstances, and pain.

Thus we suffer.

Even our Lord Himself, in the mystery of the Incarnation, experienced suffering and knew the limitations of human existence (although remaining infinite and one with the Father).

Suffering reminds us that we are not masters of our universe.

Suffering should remind us that God alone is the true and only Master of the Universe.

Thy will be done, O God.
and have mercy on me.

Saint Chrysogonus

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saint Peter's Basilica

Today's Station Church (for the second time in the season of Lent).

Inside this grandest of Basilicas, tucked in a corner just inside the door all the way to the right, is one of the most famous of statues, depicting a mystery we shall celebrate in a very special way, beginning seven days from now.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


We live in a hard and dangerous world: a world even harder and more difficult in these days of financial and economic turmoil.

Today’s readings come to us from times and places that were very hard and dangerous: where holy men (even the Holiest) are the target of deadly plots.

The first reading (Jeremiah 11:18-20) begins with the prophet Jeremiah lamenting these deadly plots and it ends with his desire to see the Lord’s vengeance brought down on those who have plotted against him.

But, you, O LORD of hosts, O just Judge,
searcher of mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause!

It is likely that Jeremiah feels the desire for “old fashioned” vengeance: the death and/or physical punishment of his enemies. We see this desire expressed and carried out at many times and places in the Old Testament and elsewhere.

Often – in Scripture, in history, and in our own lives – that vengeance goes tragically awry. That is but one reason why, although we must protect ourselves and other people, vengeance is best left to God.

God is indeed just, all-knowing, and all powerful. In the end, we will all see the justice of God and we will then see how, in the mystery of His eternal plan, what we may have thought “justice delayed” will be a key element of justice perfectly fulfilled.

We will also then see how God’s justice is as one with God’s mercy.

We will be grateful for that mercy, for we are keenly, painfully aware of how much we need that mercy ourselves.

On that day we will realize that the vengeance of God is infinite justice and infinite mercy.

And on that day we will rejoice.

But, you, O LORD of hosts, O just Judge,
searcher of mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause!

Saint Nicholas "in prison"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Haters of good people

Sometimes it can be very apparent that the world does not like God's faithful people.

Today’s readings involve wicked people trying to destroy good ones.

In the Gospel (John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30), it is the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that is being sought.

The first reading (Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22) explains the murderous motivation of many who seek to destroy righteous people.

The wicked said among themselves,
thinking not aright:
"Let us beset the just one,

because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
Reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.

He professes to have knowledge of God
and styles himself a child of the LORD.
To us he is the censure of our thoughts;
merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.

He judges us debased;
he holds aloof from our paths

as from things impure.

Sometimes the pressure that they put upon us can be very great, but infinitely greater is the power and protection and ultimate safety of God.

With revilement and torture
let us put him to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.

Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words,

God will take care of him."

These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they knew not the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense of holiness
nor discern the innocent souls' reward.

Saint Eusebius

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Punishment and mercy

In today’s first reading (Exodus 32:7-14), the Lord appears to be focused on punishment while Moses seems to push God in the direction of mercy.

A few verses after this passage, however, Moses himself is filled with wrath and inflicts deadly punishment on the people, whereupon the Lord reserves punishment to Himself.

Of course, God is the true source of mercy and also the ultimate source of justice.

Even as Moses pleaded for mercy, he himself was acting as God’s instrument of God’s mercy.

In our own lives, as individuals and as a society, we must always try to act with justice, even though justice ultimately can only be established by God Himself in the mysterious working of His eternal wisdom.

Yet also, like Moses, we must always seek to act as instruments of God’s mercy, mindful of how we ourselves are so dependent on that eternal mercy: poured out for us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Saint Martin in the Hills

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Trying to weary God

Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?

Thus says Isaiah in today’s first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10c).

The same may be said of many of us.

God is infinite, omnipotent, and eternal, of course, and cannot truly weary.

But we certainly do try.

May we follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s humility and obedience in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38):

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

May it be done to me according to your word.

Saint Paul's Outside the Walls

Today's Station Church. Traditional burial place of Saint Paul the Apostle. Mosaics of all the Popes are displayed inside.

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae

The Annunciation by Luca GiordanoEt concepit de Spiritu Sancto.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum; benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Ecce ancilla Domini,
Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

Ave Maria...

Et Verbum caro factum est.
Et habitavit in nobis.

Ave Maria...

Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genitrix.
Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Gratiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde; ut, qui, angelo nuntiante, Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus, per passionem ejus et crucem, ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum.
R. Amen.

* * *

V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
R. And she conceived of the Holy Ghost.

Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord,
R. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary...

V. And the Word was made flesh,
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary...

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Your Son,
was made known by the message of an angel,
may by His passion and cross
be brought to the glory of His resurrection,
through the same Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Today the Church celebrates
the Solemnity of the Annunciation

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

“The man who made me well”

In today’s Gospel (John 5:1-16), our Lord cures a man who has been seriously ill for 38 years.

The man subsequently betrays Him.

Christ has forgiven our sin and has given us so much more besides.

And yet, so very often, we too go on to betray Him: trying to please people with earthly power rather than serve faithfully the One who makes us well.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Saint Lawrence in Damaso

Today's Station Church.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Losing houses and jobs

The people who first heard the prophecy in today’s first reading (Isaiah 65:17-21) had lost their homes and their livelihoods.

Thus the word of the Lord promises “They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.”

These are only a few of the words of comfort God offers us in this prophecy.

No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying.

Powerful words of comfort for difficult days.

Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create.

May we be faithful to God in our lives - no matter what.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Delayed vocation

He wasn't ordained a priest until he was forty, but he would accomplish much in the years of ministry that followed: including establishing the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, fighting for the rights of native Americans, and becoming an Archbishop.

Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo - Archbishop of Lima, Peru - died 401 years ago today.

(adapted from an earlier post)

The Four Holy Crowned Ones on the Caelian Hill

Santi Quattro Coronati al Celio -dedicated to the memory of four brothers, Severus, Severinus, Carpophorus, and Victorius, all Roman officials who were scourged to death under thei ancient Roman emperor Diocletian - today's Station Church.

“Fitting in”

Many of us want to “fit in”.

There is comfort in doing things the way everyone else does them.

Yesterday’s first reading (2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23) reminded us of how the People of God did the same thing in ancient times, “practicing all the abominations of the nations”.

It was the cause of their ruin.

May the Lord Jesus Christ give us the gift of constant fidelity to the ways of God.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem

Today's Station Church.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Unrepentant penitence

A cruel slap in the face.

A deep and unexpected stab in the heart.

A terrifying rebuff from eternity itself.

That is what today’s first reading (Hosea 6:1b-6) may sound like, especially to those of us who find resonance in the words right before this passage:

In their affliction, they shall look for me:

How many times have we done the same? How many times, when life has taken a bad turn, have we sought help and comfort from the Lord?

"Come, let us return to the LORD,
For it is he who has rent, but he will heal us;
he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds."

Perhaps we too may sometimes blame God (wrongly) for the evil we suffer, even as we express confidence in his mercy.

"He will revive us after two days;
on the third day he will raise us up,
to live in his presence."

(We wish that we could express confidence in the Lord so beautifully.)

"Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD... "

The hesitation in this expression is striking, as if they are tempering their confidence (let us know) with intellectual humility (let us strive to know the Lord) or realizing the effort required. (Older translations structure this part of the verse differently, but a number of well-regarded translations structure this sentence the same way as the Lectionary).

"...as certain as the dawn is his coming,
and his judgment shines forth like the light of day!
He will come to us like the rain,
like spring rain that waters the earth."

Ah! Again, beautiful, beautiful words…

How eloquently they reach out to God for the warm breath of his mercy.

But God replies with a sigh of exasperation and what comes from the mouth of the Lord is cold justice.

What can I do with you, Ephraim?
What can I do with you, Judah?
Your piety is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that early passes away.
For this reason I smote them through the prophets,
I slew them by the words of my mouth…

They looked to God for help and found death instead.

But, of course there is much more to this.

As human beings, struggling with our own troubles and striving to live as people of faith, we look at the words of today’s first reading and see ourselves.

We look at words, but God sees into the heart and none can hide from his gaze, as they themselves should have known.

His judgment shines forth like the light of day!

Their fair-sounding words could not conceal their faithlessness.

Your piety is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that early passes away.

Even their request for help is presumptive and not only lacking in true penitence, but actually blaming God!

Come, let us return to the LORD,
For it is he who has rent, but he will heal us.

Their hope was a false hope and their presumption the flip side of deadly despair.

They effectively slapped the face of God; the stab in the heart was their own; and their own feet walked them into the pit of despair.

It is not enough just to go through the motions or speak nice words of turning to God.

For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.

We must be penitent not just in word and ceremony, but in heart, deed, and attitude and remember that God’s forgiveness, healing, and mercy are his gift, not our right.

May our hope be true hope, founded on God's truth, God's grace and true penitence, so that we may live always the life of Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to us sinners.

Fulfill your vows to the Most High;
Then call upon me in time of distress;
I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.

(Psalm 50:14b-15)

(adapted from an earlier post)

La Chiesa di Santa Susanna

L'odierna Chiesa Stazionale (e la parrocchia statunitense 'in urbe')

Friday, March 20, 2009

“Sinners stumble”

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.

We hear these words today’s first reading (Hosea 14:2-10).

We experience this reality all too often.

We know, especially in retrospect, that so many of the stumbles in our lives were directly caused by specific sins.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Return to the LORD;
Say to him, "Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good....”

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Saint Lawrence in Lucina

Thursday, March 19, 2009

“He believed, hoping against hope..."

Today’s readings feature two men in impossible situations.

In the second reading (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22), Abraham has no hope and yet, as Saint Paul says here, “He believed, hoping against hope...”

Likewise, in the Gospel selection from Matthew (1:16, 18-21, 24a – one of the choices available on today’s Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Saint Joseph faces an impossible situation (the pregnancy of the chaste woman who is the love of his life) and very, very difficult choices.

Yet, like Abraham, “He believed, hoping against hope…”

As we face the impossible situations and difficult choices of our own days, may God give us ever more powerful portions of his mighty gifts of faith and hope.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me - a sinner.

Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian

“She’s pregnant.”

"Pregnant? But, I... I mean, she... I mean, we never..."

"There must be something going on you don't know about."

"I can't believe it. No, she wouldn't."

"Look, she's pregnant. There's no doubt about it. She's pregnant."

"I just can't..."

"Come on! Focus! You've got some decisions to make."

"I... what...?"

"If the child's not yours, that means she cheated on you."

"No, no, she wouldn't..."

"Hey, face reality. If you didn't do it, that means somebody else did. I know you love her, but it's obvious: she cheated on you. And you know what that means."

"I... oh, no. No, not that. I'm not letting that happen to her."

"Listen, it's the way it has to be."

"No! Absolutely not. There's got to be another way."

"Umm.... well... there's a legal thing we can do quietly. That way you can go on with your life and she can go on to... whatever."

"But she doesn't get hurt."

"No, she doesn't get hurt."

"Well, I guess... but, I... I just don't know..."

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying,

"Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins."

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

"Behold, a virgin shall be with child,
and shall bring forth a son,
and they shall call his name Emmanuel,
which being interpreted is, 'God with us.'"

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife....
cf Matthew 1:20-24

Today is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph
Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Do not forget... teach!

For some of us, it has been a long time since we were schooled in the faith.

In the busy world of conflicting messages, it is perilous to lose track of the truth.

Today’s first reading (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9) reminds us not only to remember what we have learned and experienced in faith, but to be diligent in passing that faith on.

Take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children
and to your children's children.

Old Saint Sixtus'

Challenges for the bishop

He was a native of the city, a priest of the Diocese, and well thought of by the bishop and others, so it was no surprise that he was picked to be the new bishop upon his mentor’s death.

But he had enemies, who accused him of many things – not the least of which was heresy. He was forced to leave town more than once.

In the end, he ended up on the right side of the many theological and political controversies that were buffeting the Church. Indeed, his writings on theological and liturgical matters would become widely read and treasured.

One of the interesting pastoral problems he faced was an influx of pilgrims that would come into his diocese, more and more every year, especially during the week before Easter.

The reasons for this were twofold:

First of all, his diocese (and hometown) was Jerusalem.

Second, the open practice of Christianity had just been legalized a few decades before by the Emperor Constantine.

Some say that it was Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem during the middle decades of the fourth century, who shaped the celebrations for Holy Week at Jerusalem’s holy sites (e.g., the procession with palms) and that returning pilgrims spread these practices throughout Christendom.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop of the Holy City, great writer of Catecheses, and Doctor of the Church, is said to have died on this very day in the year 386.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

“Be patient with me and I will pay you back”

These words from today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:21-35) resonate painfully in these days when unemployment and foreclosure fill the news.

The news is also full of selfishness and the very worst of ill feelings (as is today’s Gospel).

Financial crises are generally very difficult to solve.

Resentment and sin can also be very difficult to overcome.

Yet, with the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can.

Saint Pudentiana

Civilization itself was coming apart

That is how a middle-class kid with good parents ended up being kidnapped by a roving band of criminals who took him out of the country and sold him into slavery.

The young boy, named Succat, found himself watching animals for a local chieftain. He learned his captors’ language as well as their religion, although he held on to his own Christian faith and kept his prayers private.

After six years, he escaped and after many adventures found himself back home.

The experience of captivity, however, had awakened something deep within Succat. He resolved to devote his life to God.

He went to different monasteries to pray and study for some years. A charismatic bishop took Succat under his wing, ordained him a priest and gave him important assignments in teaching people the truth of Christ and his grace.

Yet Succat could not forget the people who had held him captive. He felt called to bring the Gospel of Christ to them. After many consultations, he was consecrated as a bishop and sent as a missionary.

Returning to the land of his captivity, Succat met fierce opposition and endured many trials, but he held firm and many miracles took place at his hands. He baptized thousands, built churches, and established dioceses throughout the land.

Succat, better known by his religious name of Patrick, the great Apostle of Ireland, died in the latter half of the fifth century. The feast of St. Patrick is celebrated today around the world.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reaching out

Not everyone believes as we believe.

Not everyone treats us well.

Yet today’s readings remind us that, with prudence, we must minister in faith to everyone.

In today’s first reading (2 Kings 5:1-15ab), a kidnapped girl shares her faith with those who have enslaved her and a prophet of Israel heals the commander of a foreign army.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 4:24-30), our Lord points to the prophet’s example (to the murderous consternation of the people of his hometown).

In a world where even neighbors can turn against one another, we must be prudent with friend and foe alike, but we also must reach out continually in faith and prayer to everyone.

Basilica of Saint Mark

Today's Station Church.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Human wisdom

Human wisdom made the atomic bomb.

Human wisdom made murdering children in the womb (or ordering up 6-8 babies at once) a lifestyle choice.

Human wisdom created derivatives and bundled securities that brought down the economies of whole nations.

Human wisdom uses men, women, and children – born and unborn – as means to an end.

Today’s human wisdom usually contradicts yesterday’s human wisdom (until the cycle turns back again).

True human wisdom – whether in science, government, finance, or personal lives – is humble about human wisdom.

All the more reason to be thankful for Saint Paul’s message in today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 1:22-25):

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

And so, you and I, together with Saint Paul, in a world of confusion and darkness...

We proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called,
Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Now that's wisdom.

The Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls

Today's Station Church.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

God will forgive

Many of us live in despair.

We ask ourselves: How can things ever be right again?

Today’s readings remind us that things can be right again, because God is a forgiving Father.

The first reading (Micah 7:14-15, 18-20) fairly sings of God’s forgiveness:

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins...

And then there is the Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) with the wonderful parable of the prodigal son and the forgiving father:

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,

and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son,

embraced him and kissed him.

God is a forgiving Father, giving us the courage to go on with our lives in new and better ways of faithfulness.

Saint Marcellinus and Saint Peter

Friday, March 13, 2009

Renting and owning

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46) gives us a parable about renters who disrespect their landlord.

Renting is a serious matter for some today, especially those reached for the dream of home ownership only to have it end in the nightmare of foreclosure.

The metaphor of renting is also a serious matter in today’s Gospel.

On one level, what is being rented in the parable can be interpreted to be a faith relationship with God: a relationship that is a gift, not a right – a gift that can take only so much abuse.

(Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.)

On another level, what is being rented is life itself: our life was created by God and remains owned by God, who also wrote the terms of the lease.

Our lives are not our own: our lives are owned by God.

May we live that way.

Saint Vitalis

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pope Benedict's letter

concerning the remission of the excommunication
of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre

"Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!

The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time.

"Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today.

"Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time.

"Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment.

"I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.

"An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication.

"The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path.

"A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council – steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support.

"That this overlapping of two opposed processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the Church, is something which I can only deeply deplore.

"I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.

"I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility.

"Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.

"Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of 21 January 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication.

"The excommunication affects individuals, not institutions. An episcopal ordination lacking a pontifical mandate raises the danger of a schism, since it jeopardizes the unity of the College of Bishops with the Pope. Consequently the Church must react by employing her most severe punishment – excommunication – with the aim of calling those thus punished to repent and to return to unity.

"Twenty years after the ordinations, this goal has sadly not yet been attained. The remission of the excommunication has the same aim as that of the punishment: namely, to invite the four Bishops once more to return.

"This gesture was possible once the interested parties had expressed their recognition in principle of the Pope and his authority as Pastor, albeit with some reservations in the area of obedience to his doctrinal authority and to the authority of the Council.

"Here I return to the distinction between individuals and institutions. The remission of the excommunication was a measure taken in the field of ecclesiastical discipline: the individuals were freed from the burden of conscience constituted by the most serious of ecclesiastical penalties.

"This disciplinary level needs to be distinguished from the doctrinal level. The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons.

"As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.

"There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved.

"In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.

"In light of this situation, it is my intention henceforth to join the Pontifical Commission 'Ecclesia Dei' – the body which has been competent since 1988 for those communities and persons who, coming from the Society of Saint Pius X or from similar groups, wish to return to full communion with the Pope – to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"This will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes.

"The collegial bodies with which the Congregation studies questions which arise (especially the ordinary Wednesday meeting of Cardinals and the annual or biennial Plenary Session) ensure the involvement of the Prefects of the different Roman Congregations and representatives from the world’s Bishops in the process of decision-making.

"The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society.

"But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church.

"Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.

"I hope, dear Brothers, that this serves to clarify the positive significance and also the limits of the provision of 21 January 2009.

"But the question still remains: Was this measure needed? Was it really a priority? Aren’t other things perhaps more important?

"Of course there are more important and urgent matters. I believe that I set forth clearly the priorities of my pontificate in the addresses which I gave at its beginning.

"Everything that I said then continues unchanged as my plan of action.

"The first priority for the Successor of Peter was laid down by the Lord in the Upper Room in the clearest of terms: 'You... strengthen your brothers' (Lk 22:32).

"Peter himself formulated this priority anew in his first Letter: ' Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you ' (1 Pet 3:15).

"In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God.

"Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses 'to the end' (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

"The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

"Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time.

"A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers.

"Their disunity, their disagreement among themselves, calls into question the credibility of their talk of God.

"Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith – ecumenism – is part of the supreme priority.

"Added to this is the need for all those who believe in God to join in seeking peace, to attempt to draw closer to one another, and to journey together, even with their differing images of God, towards the source of Light – this is interreligious dialogue.

"Whoever proclaims that God is Love 'to the end' has to bear witness to love: in loving devotion to the suffering, in the rejection of hatred and enmity – this is the social dimension of the Christian faith, of which I spoke in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

"So if the arduous task of working for faith, hope and love in the world is presently (and, in various ways, always) the Church’s real priority, then part of this is also made up of acts of reconciliation, small and not so small.

"That the quiet gesture of extending a hand gave rise to a huge uproar, and thus became exactly the opposite of a gesture of reconciliation, is a fact which we must accept.

"But I ask now: Was it, and is it, truly wrong in this case to meet half-way the brother who 'has something against you' (cf. Mt 5:23ff.) and to seek reconciliation? Should not civil society also try to forestall forms of extremism and to incorporate their eventual adherents – to the extent possible – in the great currents shaping social life, and thus avoid their being segregated, with all its consequences? Can it be completely mistaken to work to break down obstinacy and narrowness, and to make space for what is positive and retrievable for the whole?

"I myself saw, in the years after 1988, how the return of communities which had been separated from Rome changed their interior attitudes; I saw how returning to the bigger and broader Church enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole.

"Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church?

"I think, for example, of the 491 priests. We cannot know how mixed their motives may be. All the same, I do not think that they would have chosen the priesthood if, alongside various distorted and unhealthy elements, they did not have a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim him and, with him, the living God. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them?

"Certainly, for some time now, and once again on this specific occasion, we have heard from some representatives of that community many unpleasant things – arrogance and presumptuousness, an obsession with one-sided positions, etc.

"Yet to tell the truth, I must add that I have also received a number of touching testimonials of gratitude which clearly showed an openness of heart.

"But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles?

"At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate.

"And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.

"Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15.

"I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: 'Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself". But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.'

"I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case.

"But sad to say, this 'biting and devouring' also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom.

"Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?

"The day I spoke about this at the Major Seminary, the feast of Our Lady of Trust was being celebrated in Rome.

"And so it is: Mary teaches us trust. She leads us to her Son, in whom all of us can put our trust. He will be our guide – even in turbulent times.

"And so I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many Bishops who have lately offered me touching tokens of trust and affection, and above all assured me of their prayers.

"My thanks also go to all the faithful who in these days have given me testimony of their constant fidelity to the Successor of Saint Peter.

"May the Lord protect all of us and guide our steps along the way of peace.

"This is the prayer that rises up instinctively from my heart at the beginning of this Lent, a liturgical season particularly suited to interior purification, one which invites all of us to look with renewed hope to the light which awaits us at Easter.

"With a special Apostolic Blessing, I remain

Yours in the Lord,


In a time of drought

Perhaps few of us have fully and personally experienced what it is like to live in a time and place afflicted by drought: to be caught in a place where every bit of food and nearly everything else depends on what is grown locally, but what is grown locally is little more than emptiness and dust.

Perhaps some of us think we feel something a little bit like that in the difficult times in which we now live.

Today’s readings are tailor-made for these difficult times: the Gospel (Luke 16:19-31), which tells a rich man who fails to help a poor neighbor, and the first reading (Jeremiah 17:5-10), which warns us about trusting in men and calls us to seek and to trust the justice and mercy of God – even in a time of drought.

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.

He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.

More tortuous than all else is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it?

I, the LORD, alone probe the mind
and test the heart,
To reward everyone according to his ways,
according to the merit of his deeds.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me - a sinner.

Saint Mary in Trastevere