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Friday, September 25, 2015

Vespers with the clergy and religious of the Cathedral of New York: gratitude and hard work are the two pillars of spiritual life

Vatican City, 25 September 2015 (VIS) – Pope Francis arrived at John Kennedy Airport in New York at 5 p.m. (11 p.m. in Rome), where he was received by the cardinal archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan and Bishop Nicholas A. Di Marzio of Brooklyn, accompanied by Archbishop Bernardito C. Auza. The governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo and the mayor of the city, Bill de Blasio, were also present. The Holy Father transferred by helicopter to Manhattan, where he boarded the popemobile to travel to Cathedral of St. Patrick, where he celebrated Vespers with clergy and men and women religious.

“I have two thoughts today for my Muslim brothers and sisters. First, my good wishes as you celebrate today the day of sacrifice. I wish my greetings could have been warmer. Second, my closeness, on account of the tragedy which your people experienced today in Mecca. In this moment of prayer, I join, and all of us join, in praying to God, our almighty and merciful Father” he said.

He went on to refer to the Cathedral of St. Patrick, “built up over many years through the sacrifices of many men and women, can serve as a symbol of the work of generations of American priests and religious, and lay faithful who helped build up the Church in the United States. ... Many did so at the cost of extraordinary sacrifice and with heroic charity. I think for example of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the first free Catholic school for girls in America, or St. John Neumann, the founder of the first system of Catholic education in the United States.

“This evening, my brothers and sisters, I have come to join you – priests and men and women of consecrated life – in praying that our vocations will continue to build up the great edifice of God’s Kingdom in this country. I know that, as a presbyterate in the midst of God’s people, you suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalised the Church in the most vulnerable of her members. In the words of the Book of Revelation, I say that you 'have come forth from the great tribulation' I accompany you at this moment of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to His people”.

Then, “in the hope of helping you to persevere on the path of fidelity to Jesus Christ”, he offered reflections on two aspects: the spirit of gratitude and of hard work.

Regarding gratitude, he observed that “the joy of men and women who love God attracts others to Him; priests and religious are called to find and radiate lasting satisfaction in their vocation. Joy springs from a grateful heart. Truly, we have received much, so many graces, so many blessings, and we rejoice in this. It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance. … Remembrance of the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts. … Let us seek the grace of remembrance so as to grow in the spirit of gratitude”.

“A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work”, he continued. “Once we come to realise how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for Him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love. Yet, if we are honest, we know how easily this spirit of generous self-sacrifice can be dampened. There are a couple of ways that this can happen; both ways are examples of that 'spiritual worldliness' which weakens our commitment … to serve, and diminishes the wonder, the amazement, of our first encounter with Christ”.

“We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. Not that these things are unimportant! We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us. But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it calls for great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labours. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus, and His life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross”.

“The other danger comes when we become jealous of our free time, when we think that surrounding ourselves with worldly comforts will help us serve better”, he warned. “The problem with this reasoning is that it can blunt the power of God’s daily call to conversion, to encounter with Him. Slowly but surely, it diminishes our spirit of sacrifice, our spirit of renunciation and hard work. It also alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves, without being consecrated. Rest is needed, as are moments of leisure and self-enrichment, but we need to learn how to rest in a way that deepens our desire to serve with generosity. Closeness to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners and all God’s other poor, will teach us a different way of resting, one which is more Christian and generous”.

Gratitude and hard work: these are two pillars of the spiritual life which I have wanted, this evening, to share with you priests and religious. I thank you for prayers and work. … In a special way I would like to express my esteem and my gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say … a big thank you, and to tell you that I love you very much”.

“I know that many of you are in the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape”, he concluded. “Whatever difficulties and trials you face, I ask you, like St. Peter, to be at peace and to respond to them as Christ did: He thanked the Father, took up His cross and looked forward!”.

This brought to a close the Pope's first day in New York. Today, 25 September, Francis will address the Assembly of the United Nations, will attend an interreligious meeting at Ground Zero, will visit migrant families in Brooklyn and will celebrate Mass in Madison Square Garden.

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