.- Pope Francis told Brazil’s bishops that people will be drawn to the Church only through God’s beauty, recounting how God worked simply through three fishermen and a statue of the Virgin Mary to enrich the Christian faith of the country.
“Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure,” Pope Francis said during a lengthy address to the bishops of Brazil July 27 at the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro’s John Paul II building.
The Pope said that Catholics need to learn how to be “a Church which makes room for God’s mystery, a Church which harbors that mystery in such a way that it can entice people, attract them,”
The Pope added that God “awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbors in order to make known his beauty. Mission is born precisely from this divine allure, by this amazement born of encounter.”
The Pope based his remarks on the story of the origins of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s patron saint.
One day in 1717, three Brazilian fishermen struggled for hours to catch any fish. They discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary entangled in their nets and, inspired, they prayed to the Blessed Virgin. Soon they had caught an abundance of fish.
The fishermen began to venerate the statue and told others about it. Devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida grew as more miracles were attributed to her.
“There is much we can learn from the approach of the fishermen,” Pope Francis said, adding that their story also offers a lesson about how God acts in the world.
“We speak about mission, about a missionary Church. I think of those fishermen calling their neighbors to see the mystery of the Virgin. Without the simplicity of their approach, our mission is doomed to failure.”
Pope Francis painted a picture of fishermen with “a dilapidated, ill-fitted boat,.” Their nets are “old and perhaps torn” and after a long day “for all their work, the nets are empty.”
But it is through situations like this that God can work, the Pope said.
“(W)hen God wills it, he enters the scene. The waters are deep and yet they always conceal the possibility of a revelation of God. He appeared out of the blue, perhaps when he was no longer expected.”
God’s “own beauty, reflected in his Mother conceived without original sin, emerges from the darkness of the river. In Aparecida, from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided.”
Pope Francis reflected that “God always enters clothed in poverty, littleness.” The statue of Our Lady of Aparecida “appears with a black face,” in a nation that had been “divided by the shameful wall of slavery.”
The Pope reminded his fellow bishops that the Church is alwys called to be a means of reconciliation. He added that God’s plan is revealed “slowly, quietly,” and that the Church also “has to learn how to wait.”
He said the fishermen “bring the mystery home,” adding “ordinary people always have room to take in the mystery.”
He cautioned against Catholics reducing “our way of speaking about mystery” to merely “rational explanations.”
“For ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart,” he said. “In the homes of the poor, God always finds a place.”
Pope Francis recounted that the fishermen “bundled up” the statue of Our Lady “as if she were cold and needed to be warmed.”
“God asks for shelter in the warmest part of ourselves: our heart. God himself releases the heat we need, but first he enters like a shrewd beggar.”
The fishermen were drawn by God’s beauty and mystery, the Pope said, and “they call their neighbors” to see the “rediscovered beauty” of the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida.
“The Church needs constantly to relearn the lesson of Aparecida,” Pope Francis reflected. “She must not lose sight of it. The Church’s nets are weak, perhaps patched … yet God wants to be seen precisely through our resources, scanty resources, because he is always the one who acts.”
The Pope said that pastoral work depends not on “a wealth of resources,” but rather “on the creativity of love.” While affirming the necessity of work and planning, “first and foremost we need to realize that the Church’s power does not reside in herself.”
“It is hidden in the deep waters of God, into which (the Church) is called to cast her nets.”
He added that if the Church will not speak of Mystery with simplicity, not only will “she herself remain outside the door of the mystery … she proves incapable of approaching” those who seek God in her.
“At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people,” the Pope reflected.
“Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible ‘to fish’ for God in the deep waters of his Mystery.”