Pope Francis: ‘We are meant to make God’s dream a reality and to love’

Pope Francis ushered in the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday by exhorting Catholics not to “turn our hopes into dust”.

The 83-year-old pope began the 40-day penitential season with an evening Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill, the first of the traditional Lenten station churches.

“Let us not turn our hopes and God’s dream for us into dust and ashes,” the pope told those gathered in the 5th century basilica.

He urged them to “not grow resigned” in the face of difficulties.

Before being marked with ashes by Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, cardinal-priest of Santa Sabina, Francis dedicated his homily to “dust”, which reminds us “we are weak, frail and mortal”.

We are dust loved by God

“We are dust in the universe. Yet we are dust loved by God,” he said. “We are thus a dust that is precious, destined for eternal life.”

“We are dust, earth and clay. But if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wondrous,” the pope continued.

“We are worth so much more. We live for so much more, for we are meant to make God’s dream a reality and to love,” he stressed.

He then admitted that “how many times do we extinguish the fire of God with the ashes of hypocrisy”.

By ourselves, we cannot remove the dust that sullies our hearts

“Hypocrisy is the filth that Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that we have to remove,” Francis then explained.

“Indeed, the Lord tells us not only to carry out works of charity, to pray and to fast, but also to do these without pretense, duplicity and hypocrisy,” he continued.

And we must “be cleansed of all the dust that has sullied our hearts”, Francis said, recalling Paul’s words in the first reading: “be reconciled to God”.

“Holiness is not achieved by our efforts, for it is grace! By ourselves, we cannot remove the dust that sullies our hearts. Only Jesus, who knows and loves our heart, can heal it,” the Argentine pope said.

‘God raises us up from our ashes’ at Easter

Francis said that in order to live this Lent well as “a time of healing” and not “a time for useless sermons”, we have to make two passages. First of all, that “from dust to life, from our fragile humanity to the humanity of Jesus, who heals us”.

Then, “once we have received his love… we can make the second passage, by determining never to fall again from life into dust” and on the way “receive God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance, because there the fire of God’s love consumes the ashes of our sin”.

“May we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in order to live as beloved children, as forgiven and healed sinners, as wayfarers with him at our side,” the pope said.

“Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return. Let us allow ourselves to stand up and walk towards Easter. Then we will experience the joy of discovering how God raises us up from our ashes,” Francis said in conclusion.

**

Domination and Abuse

(They) use their position in the Church or their spiritual authority to satisfy their own self-centered needs or desires.

It is probably no coincidence that in a Church (and a society) that is male-dominated, the vast majority of those who sexually or spiritually take advantage of others are men.

The desire of men to manipulate or even abuse those who are weaker or under their authority – women, other men, teens or children – is probably also reinforced, even unwittingly, by the simple fact that men have always been able to do so in a patriarchal system like that of the Church.

Patriarchy and its first-born son, clericalism, have allowed men of God to violate the true meaning of the Second Commandment, probably from the days when the giants of our faith walked the earth.

They will continue to do so until women truly become equal members of the Church, equal to men at every level of decision-making authority and at every level of ministerial service.

We will not get to the root of the Church’s crisis of abuse until that happens.

It is probably no coincidence that in a Church (and a society) that is male-dominated, the vast majority of those who sexually or spiritually take advantage of others are men.

The desire of men to manipulate or even abuse those who are weaker or under their authority – women, other men, teens or children – is probably also reinforced, even unwittingly, by the simple fact that men have always been able to do so in a patriarchal system like that of the Church.

Patriarchy and its first-born son, clericalism, have allowed men of God to violate the true meaning of the Second Commandment, probably from the days when the giants of our faith walked the earth.

They will continue to do so until women truly become equal members of the Church, equal to men at every level of decision-making authority and at every level of ministerial service.

** by Robert Mickens, La Croix, Feb 2020

We continue to hear of incidents that more than suggest that Catholics – and, in particular, their bishops – have learned very little from the clergy sex abuse crisis.

This is quite alarming and depressing, because the Church in North America has been dealing with issues regarding priests who abuse children and teenagers for at least thirty, if not forty years.

Catholics in Great Britain, Ireland and Australia have been facing this “plague” for almost as long. And those in the countries of northern Europe began reckoning more openly with abuse among the clerical ranks shortly after the turn of the millennium.

In the last several years, Catholics in the rest of the world have also been forced to admit that there are recurrences of priest sex abuse in their countries, too.

This includes places in the former Catholic bastions of Latin America and southern Europe, the largely homophobic continent of Africa and the mostly non-Christian expanse of Asia.

It seems like wherever 2 or 3 (hundred thousand) people are gathered in the name of Catholicism, there is clergy sexual abuse in their midst.

Sex makes Catholics go blind

As Catholics, we don’t like to hear that. And we don’t want to admit it, either. But what is worse is that many of us do not want to see – or maybe we’re too blinded by culture and history to see – what sexual abuse is really all about.

It is not about sex.

I repeat, and ask you to pause and think about it for a moment. It is not about sex.

For most Catholics, this is probably even harder to hear, because we don’t deal with sexual things very well. Our confused Church teachings on the subject tend to either make human sexuality an idol or (and, thankfully, this is less common today) something that’s dirty.

Reactions to recent revelations that Jean Vanier sexually abused several women prove the point.

The French-Canadian layman, who was seen as something of a living saint for his extraordinary work with mentally disabled people, was not guilty of committing sins against the Sixth Commandment.

At least not principally, so it seems clear to me.

‘Encroaching intimacy’ and the false spiritualization of sex

The women say Vanier abused them sexually. But they also say he did this under the pretext of some sort of mystical spirituality.

As much as this was sexual abuse in the physical sense, it was even more a spiritual abuse of these women, in the way he used the things of God to manipulate or control them.

Jean Vanier used spirituality – what I have learned to call from my own painful experience “encroaching intimacy” – as a way to obtain what the other person would not or could not offer freely.

I’ve never heard any theologian or preacher speak of it this way, but I am convinced that this is what it means to violate the Second Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

There are people in the Church, especially among the ordained ministers (deacons, priests and bishops) or even lay leaders with a certain charism (like Vanier), who do this in a variety of ways.

Using one’s religious status

They use their position in the Church or their spiritual authority to satisfy their own self-centered needs or desires.

They do so – and often with little self awareness, it seems to me – by convincing people in the name of God to give them money, sex, honors, private information about others and all sorts of things.

Tele-evangelists who get rich peddling the so-called “prosperity Gospel” are the most obnoxious and blatant example of this. Certain scandal-stained Catholic religious orders that bilk widows and other wealthy people are no better.

We tend to look disapprovingly on them and rightly so.

Yet we fail to see how our own good priests and bishops – and other charismatic spiritual leaders – can fall prey to the same temptation to use their religious status (and, often unconsciously!) to feed their own personal needs.

And when I say “we”, I mean all of us Catholics. We tend to be blinded to this reality. We don’t want to see it.

In the name of the father

It is probably no coincidence that in a Church (and a society) that is male-dominated, the vast majority of those who sexually or spiritually take advantage of others are men.

The desire of men to manipulate or even abuse those who are weaker or under their authority – women, other men, teens or children – is probably also reinforced, even unwittingly, by the simple fact that men have always been able to do so in a patriarchal system like that of the Church.

Patriarchy and its first-born son, clericalism, have allowed men of God to violate the true meaning of the Second Commandment, probably from the days when the giants of our faith walked the earth.

They will continue to do so until women truly become equal members of the Church, equal to men at every level of decision-making authority and at every level of ministerial service.

We will not get to the root of the Church’s crisis of abuse until that happens.

We will not get to the root of the Church’s crisis of abuse until that happens.

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