Beginning Triduum, Francis tells priests: God is mercy, not 'complicated theology'

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis began the global Catholic church’s celebration of the days leading to Easter with a call Thursday for people to “break out of our set ways” to be more merciful towards others and telling priests they have sometimes become blind to God’s will “because of an excess of complicated theology.”

In a solemn Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for the celebration of Holy Thursday, the pontiff said Jesus had fought not for his own glory but to break down walls “to open the flood gates of mercy … that he wants to pour out upon our world.”

“The mercy of our God is infinite and indescribable,” said the pope. “The Lord prefers something to be wasted rather than one drop of mercy be held back.”

God, said Francis, “would rather have many seeds be carried off by the birds of the air than have one seed be missing, since each of those seeds has the capacity to bear abundant fruit -- thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold.”

Speaking directly to thousands of priests in attendance for the liturgy, the pontiff later said that Jesus had called for ministers “who are poor, hungry, prisoners of war, without a future, cast to one side and rejected.”

“As priests, we identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves,” said the pope. “We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.”

Francis then encouraged priests to remember “the extent to which we too are often blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology.”

“We feel that our soul thirsts for spirituality -- not for a lack of Living Water which we only sip from -- but because of an excess of ‘bubbly’ spirituality, a ‘light’ spirituality,” he said.

The pontiff was speaking Thursday in a homily for the Vatican’s Chrism Mass, an annual celebration held on Holy Thursday during which the pope blesses the sacramental oils to be used throughout the following liturgical year.

The celebration is usually attended by many priests, as during the Mass the pope also leads the ministers present in making a renewal of their priestly promises.

Holy Thursday is the day celebrated by Christians around the world to mark when Jesus had his last supper. It begins the three days leading to Easter Sunday, known as the Paschal Triduum.

Francis will continue the celebration of the day later in the afternoon by heading to a center for refugees outside Rome, where he will symbolically wash the feet of male and female refugees in the example of Jesus, who is said to have washed the feet of his disciples.

In one of the only liturgical changes made so far during his three year pontificate, the pope last January changed Catholic church law to allow priests to wash the feet of both women and men during such ceremonies, held in churches around the world on Holy Thursday.

During his homily Thursday morning, the pope again stressed his frequent emphasis on the nature of God’s mercy. He said that people should look to God’s example and “should not hesitate in showing excess” mercy towards others.

The pontiff said that after God grants someone forgiveness through God’s mercy they are immediately restored to their full dignity.

“God does not only forgive incalculable debts … he also enables us to move directly from the most shameful disgrace to the highest dignity without any intermediary stages,” said Francis.

In his words directly to priests, the pontiff said they sometimes also feel trapped “by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click.”

“We are oppressed not by threats and pressures like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters, to the Lord’s flock, to the sheep who wait for the voice of their shepherds,” he said.

Francis ended the homily by mentioning his ongoing Jubilee year of mercy, asking that God will “let us commit ourselves anew to bringing God’s mercy to all men and women, and performing those works which the Spirit inspires in each of us for the common good of the entire faithful People of God.”

Later on Thursday afternoon, the pontiff will head to the refugee center about 16 miles north of Rome to celebrate the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper with some 892 migrants who have requested asylum in Europe.

Once there, the pope will wash the feet of eight men and four women, the Vatican said. Five of the people are expected to be Catholic; three Orthodox Christian; three Muslim; and one a Hindu.

The refugee center, which has been in operation since 2007 and helps refugees from 25 different countries, said that Francis’ visit “calls us to a renewed commitment to help migrants.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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