During his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis re-calls “Mercy” as the first theme he chose to discuss as Pope, adding that as the new Bishop of Rome, he felt its message had to be transmitted.
The fifth beatitude, began Pope Francis, is different than the others: it is the only one “in which the cause and effect of happiness coincide”. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”, he read. Those who exercise mercy, explained the Pope, “will be shown mercy”.
The theme of reciprocity we see here is not only a characteristic of this beatitude, continued the Pope. It is repeated throughout the entire Gospel. “How could it be otherwise? Mercy is the very heart of God!” he said.
The Pope then went on to mention a few examples of this reciprocity. In Luke’s Gospel, for example, Jesus teaches us that if we do not judge, we shall not be judged.
This theme is also very clear in the Lord’s Prayer, continued the Pope, when we say “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Then, picking up on the Gospel of Matthew, the Pope explained: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”.
The forgiveness that we give and we receive are two things which cannot be separated, said Pope Francis. But there are many people who find themselves unable to forgive. Often the evil we have received is so great that forgiveness appears as arduous as climbing a mountain, he said.
Alone, he continued, we cannot mirror God’s mercy. “We need the grace of God”, he said, and we must ask for it. “If the Fifth Beatitude promises that we will find mercy, and in the Lord’s Prayer we ask for our trespasses to be forgiven, it means that we are in debt, and in need of mercy!” said the Pope.
In fact, continued Pope Francis, we are all in debt to God, Pope Francis said, and it is this weakness that becomes the strength we need to forgive.
“Where does our mercy come from?” asked the Pope. Mercy is not one of many realities, “There is no Christianity without mercy. If all our Christianity does not lead us to mercy, we are on the wrong path, because mercy is the only true goal of every spiritual journey. It is one of the most beautiful fruits of charity.”
Finally, Pope Francis reminded the faithful following his catechesis that “God’s mercy is our liberation and our happiness”, emphasising, “it is the air that we must breathe”.
Pope appeals for 24 Hours for the Lord initiative
“24 Hours for the Lord” is an initiative organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and held annually on the Friday and Saturday preceding the fourth Sunday of Lent.
A church in every diocese around the world is kept open for 24 consecutive hours. The faithful are encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to pray in spiritual union with the Holy Father.
At the Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis called the initiative “an important Lenten appointment for prayer” and a good opportunity to go to Confession.
This year’s recurrence will take place under restricted circumstances, due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Many countries have banned public gatherings and limited some freedom of movement to stem the virus’ spread.
“Unfortunately in Rome, Italy, and in other nations this initiative cannot be held under its traditional format due to the coronavirus emergency,” said the Pope.
Pray to participate
But he urged Catholics in countries without restrictions on gatherings to continue “this beautiful tradition.”
“I encourage the faithful to draw near sincerely to the mercy of God in Confession and to pray especially for those suffering due to the pandemic.”
For those who are unable to participate directly in the 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, Pope Francis said he is certain they will be able to experience “this penitential moment through personal prayer.”
Pope Francis on facing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic
“I asked the Lord to stop the epidemic: ‘Lord, stop it with your hand’. That is what I prayed for”. Pope Francis revealed the content of his prayer in an interview with Italian journalist, Paolo Rodari, published in Wednesday’s edition of “La Repubblica” newspaper. Pope Francis made this prayer when he visited the Roman churches of Saints Mary Major and Marcello on the Via del Corso last Sunday.
In the interview, Pope Francis offers advice about how to face the daily challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic: “We need to rediscover the concreteness of small things, the small acts of kindness shown to those who are close to us, family, friends. We need to realize that our treasure lies in small things. There are tiny gestures that sometimes get lost in the routine of everyday life, gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion, that are nevertheless decisive, important”, he says. The Pope gives the examples of sharing “a hot plate of food, a caress, a hug, a phone call… These are familiar, attentive gestures regarding everyday details that make life meaningful, and create communion and communication amongst us”.
Pope Francis observes that many time communication is only “virtual”. “Instead we should discover a new closeness”, he says. “Real relationships made of attentiveness and patience”. The Pope describes how some families eat together at home in silence – not because they are listening to one another, but because “the parents are watching television while they eat, and their children are on their mobile phones”. Pope Francis describes this kind of family as “monks isolated from one another”. There is no communication here, he says. “Instead, listening to one another is important because we understand one another’s needs, struggles, desires”. “There is a language made of concrete gestures that must be safeguarded”, continues the Pope. The suffering people are enduring at this time should make us open to this language.
In the interview, Pope Francis expresses his appreciation for healthcare personnel and volunteers. He thanks those who dedicate themselves to helping others in this way, and describes them as “an example” of the concreteness of small acts of kindness. The Pope invites “everyone to be close to those who have lost loved ones, to try to accompany them in every way possible”. We must all be dedicated to consoling others, he adds. Pope Francis mentions that he was particularly struck by an article he read recently. In it, the author indicates how “our behaviour always affects others’ lives”. The example cited was that of how not paying our taxes, leads to lack of healthcare services.
Finally, Pope Francis invites everyone to hope — even those who do not believe. “We are all children of God, and He watches over us”, says the Pope. “Even those who have not yet met God, those who do not have the gift of faith, can find their way through the good things that they believe in. They can find strength in their love for their children, their family, their brothers and sisters. Someone might say: ‘I cannot pray because I do not believe’. But at the same time”, concludes Pope Francis, “we can believe in the love of the people we have around us, and there we can find hope”.