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Pope Francis had a prepared speech to give at the Celebration of Vespers with priests, religious and seminarians at the Cathedral of Havana Sunday evening. But after hearing introductory remarks by Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega and a religious sister, he decided to put it aside and speak extemporaneously.
Cardinal Ortega said that there is one thing “that unites all” members of the Church “in service to our people. And that, Holy Father, is poverty. Cuba is home to a poor Church and the silent and abnegated testimony of poverty of our diocesan priests and religious, of our deacons and our consecrated people, is admirable.” Poverty “contributes strongly to the solidarity and fraternity among us. There is no easy space here for competition and emulation unless these are in service to others and in aid of selfless giving.”
As well, Sister Yaileny Ponce Torres, a nun from the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity, told some moving stories from “La Edad de Oro,” an institution that cares for 200 patients between the ages of 12 and 71, who are totally dependent on others as a result of chronic encephalopathy disorders, La Stampa’s Vatican Insider reported. “How the good Lord surprised me by granting me happiness among them. Today, I say with certainty: the place where I live is beautiful, those who know it will know what I mean. It is beautiful because it is God who dwells here, among his weakest children.” They too “are merciful towards us, they patiently teach us to understand them, forgiving our abrupt ways at times or reminding us with their lives of what is really important.”
She concluded saying that when they “give us a smile, a smile of happiness,” I know it is worth dedicating my life to them, fulfilling the Kingdom: “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Here is a ZENIT transcription and translation of the unscripted address Pope Francis gave in response to the two introductory speeches:
Cardinal Jaime [Ortega] spoke to us about poverty and Sister Yaileny spoke to us about the smallest, about the smallest. They are all children. I had a homily prepared to give now, based on the biblical texts, but when the prophets speak — and every priest is a prophet, all the baptized are prophets, every consecrated person is a prophet — we are going to pay attention to them. So I’m going to give the homily to Cardinal Jaime so that he sends it to you and publishes it and afterward you can meditate on it. And now let us talk a bit about what these two prophets said.
It occurred to Cardinal Jaime to speak a very uncomfortable word, extremely uncomfortable, that even goes against the cultural structure, so to speak, of the world. He said poverty. And he repeated it various times. I think that the Lord wanted us to hear it various times and to receive it in our hearts. The spirit of the world doesn’t know this word, doesn’t like it, hides it — not out of purity, but out of disdain. And if one has to sin and offend God so that one isn’t hit by poverty, he does it. The spirit of the world doesn’t love the path of the Son of God, who emptied himself, made himself poor, made himself nothing, humiliated himself to be one of us.
The poverty that frightened that young man who was so generous, who had fulfilled all the commandments. And when Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor, he got sad. He was scared of poverty. We always try to conceal poverty, perhaps because of good reasons, but I’m speaking of concealing it at the heart. One has to know how to administer his resources; this is an obligation. Resources are a good from God. But when these resources enter into the heart and begin to direct your life, then you’re lost. You’re no longer like Jesus. You have your securities placed where the sad young man had them, the one who went away sad.
Priests, men and women consecrated, I think that what St. Ignatius said could be of use to you. … He said that poverty was the wall and the mother of consecrated life. It is the mother because it gives life to a greater confidence in God. And it is the wall because it protects from all worldliness. How many destroyed souls there are, generous souls like that of the sad young man, who began well, and then gradually they became attached to the love of this rich worldliness and they ended badly. That is, mediocre—they ended up without love because riches make us paupers. But they make us paupers in a bad way. They take away the best that we have and make us poor in the only richness that is worthwhile, so as to put our securities in the other one.
The spirit of poverty, the spirit of detachment, the spirit of leaving everything to follow Jesus. This leaving everything is not something I made up. It’s found various times in the Gospel. In the call of the first ones, who left their boat, their nets and followed him. Those who left everything to follow Jesus.
Once an old wise priest told me, speaking of when the spirit of richness, of rich worldliness enters into the heart of a consecrated person or a priest or a bishop, or a pope, or whoever. When one begins to save up money and to ensure his future — isn’t it true? — then his future is not in Jesus, it’s in a type of spiritual insurance company that I manage, no? When, for example, a religious congregation, to give an example as he said, begins to gather money and save, God is so good that he sends them a terrible financier who brings them to bankruptcy. These are among the greatest blessings of God for his Church. Disastrous financiers, because they make the person free, they make him poor. Our Holy Mother Church is poor. God wants her poor as he wanted our Mother Mary poor.
Love poverty as a mother. I simply suggest to you, if one of you would like to ask himself, “How is my spirit of poverty? How is my interior detachment?” I think this can be good for our consecrated life, our priestly life.
After all, let us not forget that it is the first of the Beatitudes. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who are not attached to riches, to the powers of this world.
And the Sister spoke to us of the last ones, of the smallest ones. Who, though they are already old, they end up treating them as children because they act like children. The least ones. This is a phrase of Jesus. A phrase that is in the criteria on which we will be judged. What you did to the least of these brothers, you did to me. There are pastoral services that can be more gratifying, from the human point of view, without being bad or worldly. But when one seeks in his interior preferences the smallest, the most abandoned, the sickest, the one no one pays attention to, who no one loves, the smallest one, and serves the smallest one, he is serving Jesus in a superlative manner.
You were sent where you didn’t want to go, and you cried. You cried because you didn’t like it — which doesn’t mean that you are a “crybaby nun.” God free us from crybaby nuns who are alway lamenting. This phrase isn’t mine. St. Theresa said this to her nuns. It’s a phrase of hers. Woe to that nun who goes about all day lamenting because I suffered an injustice. In the Spanish of the day, she said, guai to the nun who goes about saying that they treated me unjustly.
You cried because you are young, you had other dreams, perhaps you thought that in a school you could do more, that you could organize a future for the youth. And they sent you there, to the house of mercy, where the tenderness and the mercy of God are made more visible. Where the tenderness and the mercy of God become a caress. How many women and men religious consume — and I repeat the verb, consume — their lives caressing ‘rubbish,’ caressing those that the world throws away, that the world despises, that the world wishes didn’t exist, those who the world today — with methods and new analyses that we have, when it’s foreseen that one can come with a degenerative illness, it’s proposed to “send them back” before they’re born. The smallest.
And a young woman full of dreams begins her consecrated life giving life to the tenderness of God, to his mercy. Sometimes they don’t understand, they don’t realize, but, how wonderful it is for God, and how much good it does to a person, for example the smile of someone with muscle spasms who doesn’t know how to do it. Or when they want to kiss you and they slobber on your face. This is the tenderness of God. This is the mercy of God. Or when they are mad and they strike you. Consume my life like this? With this “rubbish” in the eyes of the world. This speaks to us only of one person. It speaks to us of Jesus, who because of the pure mercy of the Father made himself nothing. He emptied himself, says Philippians, chapter 2. He made himself nothing. And these people to whom you dedicate your life imitate Jesus, not because they wanted to, but because the world brought them here like this. They are nothing. And they hide them and they don’t show them or they don’t visit them. And if they can and there’s still time, they “send them back.”
Thank you for what you do and in you, thank you to all the women and all the women consecrated to the service of the useless, because with them you can’t start a business, you can’t make money, absolutely nothing constructive is brought forward, so to speak, with these brothers and sisters of ours, with these least ones, with the smallest. There Jesus shines forth and there my decision for Jesus shines forth. Thank you and thank you to all men and women consecrated who do this.
Father, I’m not a nun. I don’t take care of sick people. I’m a priest. And I have a parish, or I help the pastor of a parish. Which one is my Jesus of predilection? Which one is the least one? Which one most shows me the mercy of the Father? Where do I have to find him?
Obviously I continue following the protocol of Matthew 25, there you have all of them: the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick, there you will find them. But there is a privileged place for the priest where this last one, this least one, this smallest one is found — and it is the confessional. And there, when this man or this woman shows you his misery — careful because it’s the same misery that you have and from which God saved you, eh? from getting to that point. When he or she shows you his misery, please, don’t scold him. Don’t scold him, don’t punish him. If you don’t have sin, throw the first stone. But only under that condition. If not, think of your sins and think that you could be that person and think that you could potentially fall even lower, and think that you in this moment have in your hands a treasure, which is the mercy of the Father. Please, priests, don’t get tired of forgiving. Be forgivers. Don’t get tired of forgiving, like Jesus did. Don’t hide in fears or in rigidities. Just like this nun and all of those who are in the same ministry as she is, they don’t get furious when they find a sick person who is dirty, but instead serve him, clean him, take care of him. Just like this, you, when a penitent comes, don’t react badly, don’t get neurotic, don’t cast him out of the confessional, don’t scold him. Jesus embraced them. Jesus loved them. Tomorrow, we celebrate St. Matthew. He was a thief and beyond that, betrayed his people. And the Gospel says that at night, Jesus went to dine with him and others like him. St. Ambrose has a phrase that moves me a lot: “where there is mercy, the Spirit of Jesus is there; where there is rigidity, merely his ministers are there.”
Brother priest, brother bishop, do not be afraid of mercy, allow it to flow out of your hands and through your embrace of forgiveness. Because this person or that person who is there are the least ones, and therefore it is Jesus. This is what occurred to me to say after having heard these two prophets. May the Lord give us these graces that the two of them have sown in our hearts. Poverty and mercy, because that is where Jesus is.