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Archive of March 24, 2013

St. Francis' poverty often misunderstood, priest explains

Berkeley, Calif., Mar 24, 2013 (CNA) - Saint Francis of Assisi's concern with poverty was secondary in his life and stemmed from his utter reliance on and love for God, a priest familiar with the saint said.

“The usual image of Francis and poverty is skewed...poverty is important, but it is secondary to something else for Francis, which is absolute dependence on God,” Dominican priest Father Augustine Thompson told CNA March 21.

While many associate the 13th century saint with poverty, he wrote little about it and when he did, he was pointing to the humility of the Incarnation and the death of Christ, said the Berkeley, Calif.-based priest.

“The one time he talks about poverty itself – he mentions it very rarely in his own writings – he gives as the perfect example of poverty that the second person of the Blessed Trinity became a human being and took on the lowliness of the human condition, and then offered himself on the cross, and offers his body to us in the Eucharist.”

“The Eucharist and poverty for St. Francis are two parts of the same thing,” said Fr. Thompson, author of the 2012 book “Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.”

While believing in service to the lowest of the poor, St. Francis also “sees the Eucharist as worthy of the utmost respect, as it is itself the greatest act of humility and poverty when God gives himself as food to ordinary people.”

Thus the saint “had very strong opinions” about “proper celebration” of Mass, and also “was concerned that the chalices, corporals and altar cloths be fitting and beautiful.”

Rather than being offended by the use of precious materials in relation to Mass and the Eucharist, Saint Francis actually wanted to ensure that his friars would have silver vessels to bring to priests “who didn't have suitable things to keep the Eucharist in.”

Fr. Thompson explained that “there's no evidence anywhere in any of the early writing about Francis, or in any of his own writings, that he was critical of the papacy for having big buildings, for example. His ideas about poverty are not political in that sense, and they're often made that way today.”

It was in this context that Fr. Thompson explained how he understood Pope Francis' comment to media representatives March 16 saying, “how I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor.”

“I think that's his gloss on the title 'servus servorum Dei.'”

This title – usually translated as 'servant of the servants of God' – originated with Pope Gregory the Great around the year 600. Fr. Thompson said that a better translation of 'servus' is the more radical “slave.”

“The slave is the poorest, the lowest you can get; and Christians, no matter what their material resources are, are called to be ultimately slaves of God. St. Paul says this, that freedom comes from being a slave of Christ, being subject in every way to him.”

“That's how I think Pope Francis understands poverty, and he wants to be slave of the slaves of God. He's using Franciscan-style language, but I think it's just a gloss on how he understands one of the papal titles.”

“I don't think it means something like he's going to sell the Vatican art collections, although I suspect he'll feel very uncomfortable living in a building built by the Renaissance Popes.”

Father Thompson concluded that “if there's anything about Pope Francis' entire life, it's his attempt to put himself at the service of others, and that expresses itself in his simplicity of life too.”

For St. Francis, the reason for embracing poverty was not poverty itself, but that with no resources of your own, you are “totally dependent on God.”

He explained that “human poverty can only reflect the great condescension of Jesus, who is God and yet dies for us, and then offers his body.”

Fr. Thompson said that for St. Francis, “poverty and service are part of a subordination of himself to God, through the service of others.”

St. Francis' encounter of service to lepers was “the point that changed his life, not giving up his property,” Fr. Thompson explained.

In his Testament, which he dictated on his deathbed, St. Francis said that “when I was in my sin, just to see lepers was very bitter for me. And the Lord himself took me among them, and I showed mercy to them. And on leaving them, what had seemed bitter to me had turned for me into sweetness of soul and body.”

Brother Charles Sammons, a priest of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor who serves in the order's General Curia, agreed that this passage shows that “Franciscan poverty isn't only about money.”

“So for Francis poverty was also about going to the place of social poverty and serving, accepting that one might himself be rendered unfit to rejoin respectable society,” Brother Charles told CNA March 21.

“In this way it was also for him a following of the poor and humble Christ...the poverty of Christ is a footstep to follow,” explained the Capuchin Franciscan.

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Pope Francis urges Christians to have joy over Cross

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis declared on Palm Sunday that Christians must not be sad or discouraged but filled with joy because Jesus conquered evil and every sin “with the force of God’s love.”

“Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection,” he said March 24.

“Dear friends,” Pope Francis told the thousands of pilgrims filling St. Peter’s Square and the street leading to it, “we can all conquer the evil that is in us and in the world: with Christ, with the force of good!”

The liturgy began with the Pope touring through the crowd in the open-air popemobile and finishing at the obelisk that stands in the middle of St. Peter’s Square.

Accompanied by cardinals, bishops and laity holding palms, he listened as the readings were proclaimed. The group of clergy and faithful then made their way to the altar in front of the basilica and heard the reading of the Passion of Christ from Matthew’s Gospel.

Pope Francis reflected on three elements in his Palm Sunday homily: the joy that comes from meeting and knowing Christ; the fact that Jesus entered Jerusalem to redeem the world with his loving sacrifice on the Cross; and that young people can teach everyone to embrace the Cross with joy and to live lives of self-sacrifice.

The first word that came to the Pope’s mind as he reflected on the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem was joy.

“Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement!

“Ours is not a joy that comes from having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable,” he said.

The Pope then turned to his second point of reflection – the way Jesus entered Jerusalem, as a king who was received “by humble people, simple folk.”

But even more, he entered “to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision.

“And this brings us to the second word: Cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross.

“And it is here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross,” he underscored.

What Jesus did, Pope Francis said, was to take upon himself “the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including our own sin,” and cleanse it “with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God.”

He then recalled how the world is filled with the effects of evil and sin:

“Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money, power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbor and towards the whole of creation.”

In the face of all this, he asked, “Do we feel weak, inadequate, powerless?”

“But,” he responded, “God is not looking for powerful means: it is through the Cross that he has conquered evil! We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us: you can do nothing to counter violence, corruption, injustice, your sins!”

“We must never grow accustomed to evil!” he insisted.

“With Christ,” he declared, “we can transform ourselves and the world. We must bear the victory of Christ’s Cross to everyone everywhere, we must bear this great love of God.”

Pope Francis dedicated his final words to the youth, who were in St. Peter’s Square today because Palm Sunday is traditionally the day on which World Youth Day is celebrated at the diocesan level.

“Dear young people,” he said, you have “an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always, even at the age of seventy or eighty.”

“And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves that we have true joy and that God has conquered evil through love,” he told the youth.

Pope Francis also looked ahead to this coming July, when he will participate in his first World Youth Day as Pope.

“Dear friends,” he said, “I too am setting out on a journey with you, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

“We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of Christ’s Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro!” he told the young people in St. Peter’s Square.

“I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.”

Following Palm Sunday Mass, Pope Francis spent around 25 minutes moving through the piazza greeting the faithful – an unusually long time for a segment that typically takes about 10 minutes.

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Pope Francis delights Palm Sunday crowd

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Although his remarks were few before praying the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis pleased the crowd of 250,000 by spending almost half an hour greeting them afterward.

Once the final blessing for Palm Sunday Mass was given, Pope Francis went straight into his pre-Angelus address and the recitation of the Marian prayer that he normally presides over at noon every Sunday. 

“At the end of this celebration,” the Pope said, “we invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that she may accompany us during Holy Week. May she, who followed her Son with faith all the way to Calvary, help us to walk behind him, carrying his Cross with serenity and love, so as to attain the joy of Easter.”

His homily for the Mass contained many of the same themes, focusing on the need for Christians to joyfully embrace the Cross and to live lives of generosity.

Pope Francis then proceeded to spend almost 30 minutes in the square, taking his time as he went up and down each aisle, sometimes stopping the popemobile and walking over to the crowd barriers to shake hands, hug people and kiss children.

The faithful warmly received his signs of closeness and his familiarity, which at one point included him giving thumbs-up to a man he passed in the popemobile.

At the end of his exuberant trip through the crowd, a blind young man was brought to him. He hugged Pope Francis and spoke with him for a few moments.

Some members of the Pope’s security detail then lifted up a few people in wheelchairs so they could receive blessings from the Holy Father.

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