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home : bishop : columns

9/17/2015 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
What will the pope say?
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


So many people are asking me, "What do you think Pope Francis is going to say when he comes to the United States? What will he talk about?"

Pope Francis often speaks very spontaneously, it seems. I have no doubt that he has been asking the Holy Spirit the same questions, praying: "What, O Lord, shall I say to your people? What is your message to them?"

Time will tell, but some clues may be gleaned from messages Pope Francis has delivered in his morning meditations. He often speaks about hope and courage and joy in the presence of the Lord.

In one of his reflections (Nov. 22, 2013), he spoke of the importance of the temple -- or church -- not only as a gathering place for people of faith, but as a place of prayer and praise to the Lord, to give thanks and, above all, to adore. In our liturgies, "the songs, the rites, they are beautiful," he said, "but what is most important is the adoration: The whole community together looks at the altar where the sacrifice is celebrated, and adores."

In order to have the right disposition or "frame of soul," one might say, to approach God's altar this way, it is important that our own personal "temples" be purified so that God is at home there.

St. Paul tells us that we are "temples of the Holy Spirit," where God speaks to our inmost being - if we take the time to listen. "We, too, need to be continually purified through prayer, penance and through the sacraments of reconciliation (penance) and the Eucharist," the Holy Father adds.

As we approach the Dec. 8 start of the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has been emphasizing the need to recognize our personal need for healing and God's merciful forgiveness. He urges us to confess, and he himself goes to confession frequently. I have seen many photos of him approaching or kneeling at a confessional in St. Peter's -- often, before a liturgy he is about to celebrate.

Understanding our need to acknowledge the sins and sinful patterns in our lives -- and to ask the Lord to pardon and forgive us -- is essential for us to appreciate what God's mercy is all about. God is not giving out free candy! Mercy comes at a price. All of the evil, brokenness, abuse, cruelty and hatred that we witness in our world are the consequences of sin, which Jesus willingly and freely took upon Himself when He went to the cross for us. Though sinless, He endured the punishment that we deserved so that we could have the reward that He deserved, as famed author C.S. Lewis put it.

The point is that God's mercy is not cheap, but is very rich and life-transforming. Though it flows abundantly from the very heart of Jesus, it will only reach our hearts when we open them to be healed, changed and formed according to His, which is a heart full of love.

A "Teflon heart" that is obdurate or hardened with a spirit of anger, revenge, lust or greed will only repel the warm streams of God's grace, much like hardened soil that is unable to absorb the rain.

What Pope Francis says and does during his visit to the United States will no doubt make news. It may well be the subject of much further discussion, even debate. More importantly, however, we can see it as an occasion of grace -- not only for our country, but for each of us personally.

If we approach the week ahead with an open heart and, I would suggest, purified by receiving the sacrament of penance this weekend and praying a personal intention at Mass, we will increase the likelihood that this graced event will be more than a news event.

If you happen to have caught the "virtual audience" Pope Francis held with three different communities throughout the country (see www.rcda.org to watch it), you know firsthand the power of personal witness to the Lord, when a heart has been transformed by God's grace and a lives have been changed.

My prayer is that each of us will receive the presence and message of Pope Francis as a gift from God. May it bring the Gospel home to us and move us to become even more the evangelists that we are each called to be as disciples of Christ.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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