Sunday, January 31, 2016

Apostles for Today - February

Apostles for Today
February 2016

LENT 2016 - MERCY,

When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to the Mercy of God, different voices could be heard: there is nothing extraordinary in this, nothing new, the Church has been proclaiming this truth for two thousand years and, more recently, thanks to two saints - Sr. Faustina and John Paul II - it has become one of the dominant themes of Church teaching. In theory this might be true. In practice, we still have great problems with mercy. On the one hand, we fear that by placing the emphasis on mercy, we might run the risk of exaggerating absolution from the evil committed. On the other hand, for we who might prefer that the law court and justice prevail over grace and forgiveness, it is difficult to accept that, before God, the order is exactly the opposite.
God does not have a court that issues sentences, but rather a mother’s womb from which we are reborn, from which we can set off again with a new heart. Asking for forgiveness, therefore, is not a pleading of your own cause before a judge; it is much more: it is a receiving of life.
The experience of evil, of suffering which people inflict on each other, seems to mark the human adventure right from the beginning. Yet God is revealed as a God of mercy and compassion (Ex 34:5); mercy is the face of God that Jesus revealed to us.
Life with God in an increasingly uncertain world is not possible without forgiveness. The weakness of human nature leads to conflict, suffering and injuries which require proper medicine. Forgiveness is just such a balm on wounds. Human relationships are based on forgiveness. When forgiveness begins to fail, community loses its reason for existing. We are not angels, and will never be able to create an ideal community (spouses, family, religious, friends ...). In every community, sooner or later, conflicts, tensions or differences arise. They are natural, and could even be said to be necessary, because they help to stimulate and develop both the community and its individual members. However, the capacity to forgive and be reconciled is also essential.
The word “forgiveness” means “drawing a line under”, remitting or cancelling a debt. When we do an injustice to someone, we seek their forgiveness in order to restore the relationship. Forgiveness is not granted because a person deserves it. No one deserves to be forgiven. Forgiveness is an act of love, mercy and grace. It is the decision to no longer remain angry with a person, despite what they did to you.
It is necessary to recognize that the wounds inflicted by hatred and enmity can only be remedied by mercy and mutual forgiveness. But it is difficult to practise. Mercy often seems like a utopia, far from our daily reality. There is something in us that constantly tries to convince us that this is how things are, and that only dreamers can think that forgiveness and mercy are possible in our real world, in our communities. This happens because each of us harbours "antibodies ... that prevent us from experiencing 'mercy in the very depths of our being’" [literally ‘visceral mercy’] (Msgr. Nunzio Galantino, the participants of the XXIII Ecumenical Conference Bose). These antibodies try to convince us that forgiveness and mercy are a sterile exercise.
Instead, in forgiving we imitate God who is rich in mercy. God is a patient, good, compassionate Father, rich in mercy, in forgiveness and patiently waiting for those who have gone astray: “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults (Psalm 103); “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness“ (Ex 34: 6).
Each one of us is touched by the mercy of God, which knows no boundaries and does not differentiate between people. Jesus said to Sister Faustina: “The greater [one’s] misery ... the greater [the] right to my mercy (Diary, 1182). We should also imitate our Creator and learn from the mercy of God: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). Patience, compassion, mercy, willingness to forgive are signs of likeness to Jesus the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:37), and to God the Father.
John Paul II repeatedly wrote and talked about the fact that from the depths of human suffering in all continents rises a cry for mercy: “Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, there the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about peace. Wherever respect for life and human dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendour of truth” (Ɓagiewniki, 17 August 2002).
Showing mercy, and asking it of others, is to satisfy Christ’s wishes and is a form of participation in his salvific work. The apostle of Mercy seeks to convince sorrowing humankind that only Merciful Jesus can heal it, to convince contemporary people, tormented by sin and injustice, not to place their trust in human means and in the settling of scores, but to entrust themselves to the merciful Saviour. Those struck by their own misery and by sin, those who doubt the possibility of a decent life, those who suffer because of injustice and violence, who have lost the hope of living in peace and in humane conditions, only succeed in finding a sense of security and acceptance in God, discovering once more their own human dignity.
The message of Divine Mercy is also an obligation to live mercy according to our limits as human beings. Divine Mercy educates and sensitizes us, draws goodness out of us. Mercy is not tenderness or sentimentality, but is regaining our dignity in the splendour of God's love and bearing witness to this in everyday life. In our times we have gone back to forgetting the truth of God's love. Every person desires it, everyone wants to love and be loved, incomparably more than to be rich, healthy and famous. Only love makes people better. Shouting and threats do not serve to open the human heart. Only the certainty of God's love and forgiveness can restore hope and give the courage needed for conversion.
The Year of Mercy is therefore a call to conversion: to recognise one’s own sin, to do penance and repent, then confessing before the Church and having a firm purpose of amendment. Therefore, sincere confession should be the most important celebration of the Year of Mercy. Disciples of Jesus, confessing their fragility with humility and trust (“I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do”), experience the mercy of God. This transforms their hearts, making them merciful and compassionate towards all creatures. The humble and persevering request, “Jesus, have mercy on us and on the whole world”, opens the mind and heart and then, without too many instructions from others, we will see how, where, when and to whom we can show mercy “to us” (ourselves, our family, our work colleagues, our neighbours) and “to the whole world”.
Fr. Adam Golec SAC,
Segretariato Generale, Unione dell’Apostolato Cattolico

Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti 204, 00187 Roma, Italia

Friday, January 15, 2016

Apostles for Today - Jan 2016

Apostles for Today
January 2016

The Mercy of the Father in Our Apostolate

    "Ah my God, my infinite, immense, incomprehensible mercy!"."… And that notwithstanding that you have tolerated me until the present day and moment in your infinite mercy. Oh what love! Oh divine clemency! Oh incomprehensible mercy!".     We often read and repeat these and other words inspired by Saint Vincent. I often ask myself if I will ever be able to repeat them with his same passion and consciousness.  It seems impossible to me, looking at who I am now and my level of maturity. But in this, I am forgetting the gifts of God and think that I have to do everything by my own strength alone. So, what it the road to take? I cannot respond for everyone, but only look at the steps taken in my life and give my testimony, however slight it may be. 

    Very often I have heard it asked: "What must I do? What must we do?", questions which are asked in our Union. What is to be done? We all know that Saint Vincent did not leave a specific work to be developed, as did many other founders: he did not leave it to us to dedicate ourselves particularly to the relief of the poor, to education, to the foundation of schools or hospitals, to social progress. Even if all of these things were very much present in his life: he practised them all, along with many others. It seems to me that he left us, together with the witness of his life, only one thing to do. We often summarise it in the fundamental demand: revive Faith, spread Charity! The inspiration of 1835… the May Appeal, gather everyone ... all are apostles! It seems to me that this does not put before us a specific thing to be done: it places all of our life before us, because the apostle is always an apostle, day and night, in doing one thing or another, or even in impossibility. Perhaps it is precisely for this that many asked themselves what must they do, disorientated regarding how to commit their own lives. What to do, for example, after having made the Act of Apostolic Commitment (how many times I have heard asked: "And now?"). I have also heard religious asking themselves the same thing, despite living lives already characterised by many aspects typical of their vocation.

    I must confess that I have also asked this question, many years ago when I asked it of the person who had guided me in the footsteps of Faith (a Pallottine, imbued with the Founder's experience of the Spirit); I seemed to have met God, to have reflected on the Gospel, to also have reflected deeply on it and studied it, to have read spiritual writings profitably and to have listened to people who spoke to me of God. But even with all of this, I asked myself how I should live and in what should I commit myself. The Lord helped me, and I still thank Him, making me open my eyes a little: I saw that the one who bore witness to me of Faith lived an active charity, not just in words, but in life. At the service of everyone, in the most ordinary and everyday things, the simplest just as the more demanding, those which presented themselves every moment, but always in love towards the person. I saw others who were striving to live in the same manner and then understood that I had to undertake the same journey. I was struck by that apostolic, that authentically apostolic testimony, and wanted to live in the same manner myself, following that same Jesus who had been working in all of these people.  The saints used to ask themselves: "If they can do it, why not I?". All of this had a name, which turned out to be a verb: to love. The Commandment of Jesus. Charity, the substantial constituent of the Pallottine Work.  Then, slowly, the path opened: in order to be an apostle, strive to love. These words penetrated within and began to form the person I was. Without any merit on my part, I (we) had encountered a reality which filled my life (our lives). This Commandment of Jesus was not only able to fill one life, but a thousand lives, all lives. We could still have asked ourselves what we must do. Even when we can no longer do anything, Saint Vincent suggests to us how to live. Just recently in my place of work I had an experience which made me understand how much I am still only at the beginning of this path: I had an argument with one of my colleagues regarding a work matter on which there wasn't agreement. I was convinced of my good reasons and we discussed the matter. In the end my contention prevailed, and I was convinced of it. What I thought was correct, but I damaged my relationship with my colleague. I asked myself what mattered more for me: to be right or to maintain my friendship with my colleague? Afterwards it seemed evident to me: I preferred to have the person, rather than right, on my side, that faced with a person, being right no longer had much importance. In the following days I tried to repair the relationship, saying to him that we could reconsider the matter. 

      Afterwards we returned to being good colleagues, even if it was not easy. I was taught not to be right, but to strive to love. What use to me is my work ability, my expertise, if I go on to alienate someone? A person to whom Christian life could be communicated? 

    How then can we ask ourselves what we should do, since from when we open our eyes in the morning, in all of the many occasions which present themselves in which to love concretely, to serve others, whoever they may be, therefore to be apostles? In the evening perhaps we may seem not to have achieved anything, to have lost ourselves in many gestures towards many people, and not to have built anything. But perhaps we are slowly becoming apostles. 

     This does not mean that it is not necessary to organise the apostolate; an ordered apostolate, in collaboration. This too was a precise desire of the Founder. But he well understood that without the substantial constituent there was no apostolate and whatever was done would be harmful. 

     In this I sense the great Mercy which surrounds us, that of God. At the end of the day it is in this that I place my life again, which only in this way has meaning. Saint Vincent's life was completely suffused by mercy. Something which always struck people was his continual protestation of being the greatest sinner; this, however, did not make him doubt the mercy of the Father. He never thought of himself as not being the object of such love: and thus he was in turn towards everybody. In this way in his life he lived something which remained: it has remained in us, who follow his footprints, and it has remained in the Church - his charism. The Church has received it in a particular way in that great event of mercy which was the Second Vatican Council. The original inspiration, the holiness of the two Popes who conducted it (expressed in the opening and closing messages), all of the Council Fathers, all who worked with them and who prayed and participated in whatever way were, it seems to me, a witness of mercy towards the whole world. This was translated into a desire for dialogue, for encounter and reciprocal understanding with the world. For proclamation and for listening. For reciprocal forgiveness between those who had been divided. 

     It seems to me that to be apostles, people who strive in their lives to place charity in the first place in every situation and who, after failure, take up the path again, placing themselves in this path which is so much greater than ourselves, being part of a much larger plan which we do not see completely. We begin again every day to love (with those who are closer to us) in our concrete lives, we put ourselves again on the same path, begun long before us. We place ourselves on a track and are part of a plan of mercy. In this long journey I seemed to sense that my life is not mine alone; my answer to the Lord is certainly personal, but not only: what happens in life is of God and for this reason I have to share it with others, placing this fragile treasure alongside that of all others, of those who walk with me, in the constant desire of receiving the same from all, so that a great treasure may be created, a common heritage, and we may carry our joys and sorrows together.

     Mercy in the first place. This is the inspiration which comes to us from Pope Francis. It is to be translated into concrete actions, towards all, in the duty of being reconciled with God and with others, since God, who was also offended by us, did not withdraw from love for us. Begin again therefore in our Union to cover everything with Mercy: it is not a concession on our part, but a commandment of Jesus. To live it between all of the components of the Union, every day. I like the expression: bet on God: it is an expression which was used much in the mission in Rome to young people. Bet your own life, and do not take it back, in following Jesus precisely in the path which the Jubilee is proposing to us; otherwise, sadly, we will go away like the rich young man. I would now like to offer for the reflection, some short passages of the Founder, of the Pope and of a witness of our times.

    From the Lumi of Saint Vincent Pallotti (n. 12): "I will endeavour to exercise the virtue of mercy toward all in the most perfect way that I possibly can". This is also our desire.When Saint Vincent calls all to spread Faith and rekindle Charity he becomes the (conscious) instrument of the Lord to bring all to Him, to Love, to Salvation. In this the Mercy of the Father is realised. In this the fundamental intention of the Second Vatican Council, which resound in the words of Pope Francis, is anticipated: "The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. … The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father's love in the world" (MV, n. 4). In this they imitated the Master. And again: "Jesus, seeing the crowds of people who followed him, realized that they were tired and exhausted, lost and without a guide, and he felt deep compassion for them" (MV, n. 8).   

    Finally, I would like to share a short passage from one of the most effective witnesses of our times, Cardinal F.X. Nguyen Van Thuan, Vietnamese, who from his long imprisonment wrote: "I am in prison. If I am waiting for the opportune moment to do something truly great, how many times in my life will similar occasions present themselves? No, I will seize the occasions that every day presents, to fulfil out ordinary actions in an extraordinary way. Jesus, I will not wait, I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love" (from: Five loaves and two fish, p. 20). 

     This is how witnesses live, how our Founder lived, how we wish to live every day. A heartfelt greeting to all for a good year in the Lord.

Corrado Montaldo, 

Segretariato Generale, Unione dell'Apostolato Cattolico
Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti 204, 00187 Roma, Italia