Can prayer change the direction of history? Are prayer and acts of penance capable of preventing nuclear annihilation? Can prayers and penance increase our freedom? “Yes, yes and yes.”
A hundred years ago, on the 13th day of every month from May through October of 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three children near Fatima in Portugal, bringing them an urgent message, calling for repentance and prayer, a message that has no less urgency today.
On Dec. 30, 2016, the Feast of the Holy Family, a revised Rite for Marriage began to be used throughout the English-speaking Church. It is called The Order of Celebrating Matrimony. Though much of the Rite remains the same, the changes serve to deepen the beauty of the symbolic expression of marriage, as well as to radiate the unchanging truth of marriage in our culture.
My mother and father’s 73-year marriage came full circle several weeks ago as Mom and the rest of our family lovingly ushered my father to the goal of their union from the beginning: the merciful encounter with our heavenly Father when this earthly life is done. The little church where we celebrated the funeral Mass was filled to overflowing with those touched by the truth, goodness and beauty of my parents’ deeply loving and fruitful, even if not perfect, union.
Today I wish to consider the shepherding work of priests, who, in spiritual guidance and in confession, seek to help others to encounter the Amoris Laetitia, the “Joy of Love.” Earlier this year, Pope Francis, who has made Confession a constant theme of his pontificate, wrote in his recent book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” “It is important that I go to Confession, that I sit in front of a priest who embodies Jesus, that I kneel before Mother Church, called to dispense the mercy of Christ. There is objectivity in this gesture of genuflection before the priest; it becomes the vehicle through which grace reaches and heals me.”
As CEO of Catholic Charities, I travel from northern Pinal County to the Nevada-border town of Bullhead City to meet with Catholic Charities staff, community partners and the people we serve in central and northern Arizona.
Married love “advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God” (#122), says Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Joy of Love in the Family. There is no limit to the spouses’ ability to participate in the infinite charity which is the Holy Spirit (cf. #134). “Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives and to continue loving and forgiving. Each progresses along the path of personal growth and development. On this journey, love rejoices at every step and in every new stage” (#163). On this journey to full maturity in Christ, the Church accompanies married couples and assists them in the lifelong task of formation of conscience which, as the Catechism says (#1784), “guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.”
“We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth.” With these words in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reminded us that his own teaching on marriage and the family builds on the teaching of his papal predecessors; in this particular case when it comes to contraception and the gift of new human life, he draws our attention to the prophetic voice of Blessed Paul VI.
The love of a father for his children and his wife is captured in a four-letter word: with. We see this in the life of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. Even though he is mentioned a number of times in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, no words of his are recorded. What mattered was that Joseph was there, present to Mary and Jesus, always ready to listen and to encourage, to protect and to provide.
Among the keys to understanding Pope Francis are the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In the first of the four-week exercises, you discover yourself to be a sinner, who is unconditionally forgiven and loved by God. This perspective leads the Holy Father to see the Church as a field hospital, as a mother and teacher, and as a fountain of mercy. It is within this Ignatian perspective that the teaching of Pope Francis is best understood, including his latest Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family.