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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Lent Letter from Fr Alvaro Corcuera, LC
“I would like to reflect with you on a central aspect of Christian spirituality: mercy.”

Un Dios que es Padre amoroso, que busca a la oveja perdida, que espera al hijo que se marcha de casa, que sale al encuentro del hijo que no se alegra por su misericordia.
"That is how God is with each one of us. He looks at us with infinite love."

February 17, 2010. This year’s Lent letter from the general director offers a reflection on mercy as the touchstone of a truly Christian life. After an introduction on the mercy of God and the example of the Good Samaritan, Fr Alvaro focuses on three works of mercy: patiently suffering our neighbor’s defects, forgiving offenses, and consoling the afflicted.

He writes, “Dear friends and Regnum Christi members, God wants these days of Lent to bring us to live more united than ever in Christ, the source of true mercy. Only in Him will we learn to be merciful like our heavenly Father and become capable of showing mercy to our brothers and sisters, like the Good Samaritan.”

To download a pdf version of the letter, click here.

Thy Kingdom Come!



Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To all members and friends of Regnum Christi,
as we begin Lent
Dear friends in Christ:
 It is my pleasure to write to you, taking this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks for your prayers and friendship, your Christian  witness and the way you give yourselves to God and your neighbor, all of which are signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in your souls. It is a blessing to be with each one of you and, as members of the same family, share the experiences that draw us together in Christ’s love, which guides our lives.
 The beginning of Lent provides me another opportunity to send you some lines on the various virtues we find in the Gospel, and which shape our lives. This liturgical season is a time of prayer, penance, and works of mercy according to the tradition of the Church. We accompany Christ who goes up to Jerusalem, and who loves and trusts us so much that he invites us to follow him intimately by way of the cross, with our eyes always set on the Resurrection. Our life is a continual via crucis in which we walk with him from station to station, accompanying him step by step, driven by the force of love.
 In this context, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect with you on a key element of Christian spirituality, which is mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt. 5:7). I believe that this fifth beatitude contains the entire Gospel in a nutshell..
The source of mercy

 God is the source of mercy. The Father was moved with pity for us in  our wretched state and sent us his Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only-begotten Son, so that anyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). And Christ was the very face of mercy during his earthly life: forgiving, healing, feeding; but above all, he dying on the cross and rising again for us. Thus we can behold how “in Christ and through Christ, God also becomes especially visible in his mercy” (John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, n. 2). St Paul tells us that “the love of God has been poured in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). That Spirit, poured out into our hearts, is the one who inspires our feelings of mercy. Our life is a gift of God’s mercy. Therefore we owe so great a debt of gratitude to the one who created us out of love and leads us by the hand with love. How often John Paul II reminded us that love is stronger than fear, and God’s mercy is the limit placed on sin and evil!
  When Christ asks us to be merciful, he also provides us with the reason and model of mercy: “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36). If we want to live this beatitude, we must first experience it. Being a witness of mercy means knowing firsthand the face of the merciful God who is slow to anger and rich in mercy. How helpful it is to take the parables of mercy in the gospel of St Luke and discover the hidden face of God! (cf. Lk. 15). God who is a loving Father, who searches for the lost sheep, waits for the son who left home, and reaches out to the other son who is not happy with his mercy…
 That is how God deals with each one of us. He looks on us with infinite love. He cares for us tenderly. He patiently follows us. And if we get lost he goes out to find us to place us on his shoulders and carry us safely home again. He is the model of and reason for all mercy. Mercy is God’s most distinctive attribute. St Paul had personally experienced the mercy of God who went out to meet him on the road to Damascus, not because of Paul’s merits, but out of God’s sheer goodness. He proclaimed to the Galatians, “He loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).  He told the Ephesians “God is rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4) . And to the Romans, he explained that “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God´s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Rom. 11:30-32). A person who has experienced the mercy of God cannot keep it to himself or stay silent about it. He or she becomes an apostle of God’s mercy.
  Now, God’s looking on us with love ought to lead us to view our neighbor just as Christ does. A Christian learns to view people from Christ’s perspective. As Pope Benedict XVI teaches us: “His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern.[…] Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. […] Only my readiness to help my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me” (Deus caritas est, n. 18).
 The good Samaritan
 In the Gospel, Christ tells us this parable to show us who our neighbor is, and to teach us what an attitude of true mercy ought to be like. It can be very fruitful for us to re-read it: 
 "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ´Look after him,´ he said, ´and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.´ "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:25-37)
 The Fathers of the Church have commented on this passage in various works. The man who was mugged is man himself. All of us, men and women, walk this same path from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Samaritan who stops and cares for the wounded man is Christ: he is moved to compassion, dresses his wounds, puts him on his horse, brings him to the inn, and pays for his care. The inn is the Church. There, they care for him and heal him. The conclusion of this parable is that all Christians are called to act like that Samaritan, feeling deep compassion for our fellowmen, our brothers and sisters, who are attacked and wounded by evil and sin.
 John Paul II told us that the Good Samaritan is “Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, whatever form it may take. This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability. […] The name ‘Good Samaritan’ fits every individual who is sensitive to the sufferings of others, who ‘is moved’ by the misfortune of another” (Salvifici doloris, n. 28). This parable is a call never to remain unmoved by our neighbor’s misfortune, never to grow used to seeing our brothers and sisters suffer physically or spiritually. How could we remain unaffected in the face of so much suffering?
 At times, giving can frighten us, above all when it is giving ourselves like the Good Samaritan in the parable. And yet, the really happy people are those who give themselves the most. Two years ago, in unrehearsed questions and answers with the clergy of Bolzano during his summer vacation, Pope Benedict XVI told them that “looking after our neighbor is the best way to be look after ourselves: in fact, thinking about our neighbor is the best way to think about ourselves” (Meeting with the clergy of Bolzano, August 6, 2008). All of this invites us to practice mercy. Mother Teresa of Calcutta composed a marvelous prayer which shows us that the best way to forget our own crosses is to help others carry theirs, like good Simons of Cyrene.
When I am hungry, send me someone in need of food;
When I am thirsty, send me someone in need of water;
When I am cold, send me someone in need of heat;
When I grieve, send me someone in need of consoling;
When my cross seems heavy, let me share my neighbor’s;
When I find I am poor, place someone in need at my side.
When I don’t have time, send me someone who needs my minutes.
When I suffer humiliation, give me the chance to praise someone.
When I am discouraged, give me someone to cheer up.
When I want to be understood, send me someone in need of my understanding.
When I feel in need of care, send me someone to care for;
When I think of myself, turn my thoughts to another.
Lord, make us worthy to serve our brothers and sisters. Through our hands give them not only their daily bread, but also our merciful love, as a reflection of yours.

The works of mercy
 "‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me’” (Mt. 25:34). Through the Church’s ongoing reflection and catechesis, these words of Christ in the Gospel developed into what we call the seven spiritual and seven corporal “works of mercy” that we all learned as children. Service to our neighbor is not an abstract idea, but something very concrete. The corporal works are: visit and care for the sick, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. The spiritual works are: teach the ignorant, give good counsel to those who need it, correct the erring, forgive wrongs, console the afflicted, patiently suffer our neighbor’s shortcomings, and pray to God for the living and the dead.
  As we can see, the works of mercy are not theories, feelings, or words; they are works. If you are moved to compassion at your neighbor’s misfortune you become more human, more Christian, happier. “The merciful does good to himself; the hardhearted damages himself” (Pr. 11:17). Christ himself teaches us when he describes the judgment that “whatever you did to the least of these my brothers, you did to me” (Mt. 25:40). What do these works of mercy mean to us today?  That my neighbor is Christ who crosses my path and offers me the opportunity to repay his understanding with mine, his mercy with mine, his forgiveness with mine, his consolation with mine….
 Since it would take many pages to reflect on all of these, I would like to focus on just a few.
Suffer patiently our neighbor’s shortcomings
 In life, we all feel the effects of our neighbor’s shortcomings. In our daily life, it is up to each one to either suffer them patiently and let them make us holy, or to bear them with anger or mere resignation. You can say that the one who bears them patiently lives charity quite perfectly. “Charity is patient…” (1 Cor. 13:4). Authentic patience springs from love. As a father leads his child by the hand and prepares him for the difficulties and trials of life, so God leads us by the hand and shapes our hearts to be like his own, the heart of the Good Shepherd. Unfortunately, we also face situations that cannot be termed simply “shortcomings” but are really behaviors that directly wound our neighbor’s dignity. In these cases, we also have the duty to do everything possible to forestall the damage, help people overcome it, and prudently distance ourselves so to minimize our risk.

 If we understood the sanctifying power of patience, we would gratefully embrace the people whose shortcomings and temperaments cause us suffering. Our Lord generously serves us the opportunities to suffer our neighbors’ shortcomings patiently! God surrounds us with them. As a prayer attributed to St Francis says: “Lord, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change those I can, and wisdom to tell the difference.” This would also lead us to examine ourselves and see what aspects of our personality my cause our neighbor to suffer, and as a result, live more to serve and love others than ourselves.
  Last Saturday, priests read in the breviary a passage that spoke of the preeminence of charity. It said: “Let us be compassionate, charitable with our brothers and sisters; let us bear with their weaknesses; let us try to make their vices disappear” (Sermon of Blessed Isaac of Stella, PL 194, 1292). St Therese of the Child Jesus felt a strong dislike for one of the sisters in her community. She had not chosen which nuns would be her companions. In her autobiography, the saint herself tells us how she tried to do for this sister what she would do for the person she loved most: she prayed to God for her, she tried to offer her whatever services she could, and when she felt tempted to be brusque in her answers, she gave her a kind smile. If the temptation to be impatient was very violent, she tells us that she would run “like a deserting soldier.” Thus, little by little, she gained ground in her relationship with this sister. Such examples teach us not to live on the defensive. If all you want is merely not to be impatient or externally rude, you set your sights too low. The saint of Lisieux opted to go on the offensive and show special kindness and affection, so much so that the nun in question began to believe St Therese was her best friend. This is a concrete and practical way to conquer evil with good. Our neighbor’s weaknesses can help us overthrow the slavery of our own selfishness. They draw us out of ourselves and our own way of being, and they set us on the path where we no longer think of ourselves. This is the path of interior peace.
 Sometimes we meet up with difficulties or situations that we cannot change and which mortify us and make us suffer. If we look on this with the eyes of Christ and the Gospel, we see that they are not so much misfortunes as gifts from God. He invites us to discover his loving hand in all that happens to us. He has everything under control. If he knows the number of hairs on our head how much more won’t he be aware of the people and situations that make us suffer!  The best ingredients for a holy and authentic life are patience, constancy and understanding in real, daily life. We need to make a firm resolution to be patient with everyone and in everything, to interiorly accept our neighbor’s shortcomings, character, faults, and temperament. Accepting and loving our neighbor just as he is, not as I wish he were. If God has placed him there beside me, if God has allowed him to work and live near me, then he will give me the graces I need to accept and love him as he is. This also implies knowing ourselves, accepting our own qualities and shortcomings, and im-proving ourselves every day in the work of daily conversion. Virtues are not static; rather, they are meant to grow. God created us to be saints, we have all received a calling to holiness, and our difficulties provide us with the opportunities to answer our call to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. What moves us to do so is our passion for holiness, not as a private endeavor but as our love-driven response to the infinite and tender love for the God who created us in his own image.
Forgive wrongs
 One of the most significant gestures of Pope John Paul II during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 was the day of forgives he convoked on the first Sunday of Lent that year. It was not the first time that John Paul II asked forgiveness for the sins of the children of the Church, but it was the first time he dedicated a solemn celebration to it. I remember that the ceremony at St Peter’s began with Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who prayed for a purification of memory among Christians. Next, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger confessed the failings of men of the Church who at times had recourse to non-Gospel methods. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray asked forgiveness for the division of Christians. And similarly, several cardinals went on to ask forgiveness for these sins: “As we ask forgiveness, we forgive,” said the Holy Father in his homily. “May this jubilee day bring all believers the fruit of forgiveness, reciprocally granted and welcomed! In this way, with purified memory and reconciled with each other, Christians will be able to enter the third millennium as more credible witnesses of hope” (John Paul II, Day of Pardon, March 12, 2000). It was a ceremony full of deep significance. He asked forgiveness and offered forgiveness for all those who have attacked, persecuted and martyred Christians in every age.
 For John Paul II, forgiveness was not an idea or a theory, nor was it a ploy to superficially avoid truth or justice. Forgiveness was a necessity, an imperative for a Christian, and a consequence of the new commandment of love. He himself set us an example by sincerely forgiving the man who tried to take his life on May 13, 1981. When he was able to leave the hospital, he visited him in prison and embraced him. We saw a similar gesture repeated a few weeks ago when Benedict XVI received the woman who tried to accost him at the start of the last Christmas Mass. These gestures of forgiveness, however, cannot be improvised. Rather, they are prepared for through little actions, with the repeated forgiveness of daily offenses. How will we be capable of forgiving grave offenses if we don’t learn to excuse the little ones from our heart?
 Forgiveness is one of love’s most authentic expressions. If God is Love, we can also say that God is Forgiveness. Nothing makes God happier than forgiving. He forgives always. He forgives everyone. He forgives everything. He forgives and forgets. His only condition is that we welcome his forgiveness through our repentance. That is why the Compendium of the Catechism teaches that accepting God’s mercy “requires that we admit our faults and repent of our sins. God himself by his Word and his spirit lays bare our sins and gives us the truth of conscience and the hope of forgiveness” (n. 391). All men and women have to ask forgiveness for our sins, and forgive as Christ did. Without forgiveness, our Christian faith loses its very purpose.
  Opening ourselves to mercy means admitting our faults, accepting them with a humble spirit, and standing before God and our neighbor with a repentant heart, open to the greatest gift one can receive: the forgiveness of God, who is rich in mercy. When the Lord Jesus taught us the Our Father, he chose to unite always God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness of our neighbor: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” How can someone who has experienced God’s gratuitous forgiveness not forgive his neighbor for offending him? In the Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the servant whose master took pity on him and forgive a debt of ten thousand talents; yet, when it was his turn, he would not agree to forgive his coworker the small debt he owed him. Grabbing hold of him, he throttled him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” He turned a deaf ear to the man’s pleas and put him in jail till he paid what he owed. We all feel revulsion toward him. Had he not been forgiven himself, should he not have forgiven in turn? And so the parable ends very clearly: “Wicked servant, I forgave you your entire debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had compassion on you?” (cf. Mt. 18:23-35).
 I believe all of us benefit from considering God’s mercy toward each one of us personally. We need to feel that we have a debt that is impossible to pay. We need to experience the joy of having been redeemed for free. It will be very difficult for the soul that rejoices with the joy of forgiveness to shut his heart against the neighbor who offends him. The best path to forgiving is to know we are forgiven. By not forgiving we not only offend God and our neighbor, but we also do great damage to ourselves. Rancor is to the soul as cancer to the body. We have to cut it away, remove it as soon as possible if we don’t want it to spread everywhere. Internally accepted resentment feeds day after day, it grows, and it spawns greater ill-will and animosity. If you internally close yourself off from your neighbor you close yourself in your own world, pride takes over your soul and produces deep sadness and dissatisfaction in your heart. Man finds his peace in sincerely asking for pardon and forgiving with all his heart. Without this attitude, he is not very likely to turn to God humbly and simply, in order to admit his misery and obtain mercy. By not forgiving, he unintentionally closes himself off from the liberating experience of forgiveness. How moving it is to see people who have suffered wrongs express their forgiveness! And how we see the presence of God reflected in those who humbly approach everyone to ask forgiveness!
 As regards rancor, as with any illness, prevention beats any cure. We mustn’t allow it to take hold. It is natural for it to arise spontaneously when we are hurt by an offense, but Christ frees us from this desolation of the soul. The Christian way is to forgive and ask forgiveness. “Not seven times, but seventy times seven times” (Mt. 18:22). A Christian draws strength from prayer, from contemplating Christ his model; he draws strength from the Eucharist, from the sacrament of penance, and from the intercession of Mary, Virgin Most Clement. It is a marvelous thing to forgive from your heart. It is difficult always to be kind and compassionate, but it sets your conscience at ease and your soul at peace. It opens us to God’s forgiveness, which is the most valuable thing we have. And in the long run… who knows, often goodness and compassion also open the hardened heart of our neighbor, who repents and asks forgiveness. A Christian is called not to let himself be conquered by evil, but to “conquer evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).
Console the afflicted
 Man’s life, from his birth to his death, can be accompanied by physical and moral sufferings. There are painkillers and pills for physical pain, but what relief can be prescribed for moral pain? St Augustine tells us in the fourth book of his Confessions that, when his friend died, he “became a great enigma for himself.” How could he soothe the lack of meaning? When God is not present in man’s heart, the pain is even more tremendous: suffering without God.
  We can say that sadness is a mood that is the result of the thoughts and feelings we allow to enter or which we even cultivate in our heart. We will never have absolute control over our emotional world, but it is true that if we cultivate thoughts full of hope we will live a joyful life; if we let thoughts of discouragement and pessimism grow we will be sad. So we see that in a certain measure it is possible to “educate” our own moods by being careful as regards the thoughts we make room for in our heart. Generally speaking, we can “choose” joy and “reject” sadness. There are also states of sadness or depression that cannot be overcome simply by good desires and require medical treatment. We must be particularly close to, understanding of, and patient with these people, our brothers and sisters, whom we love with all our heart.
 God knew that man easily tends to sadness. Therefore, St Paul left us what we could call “the commandment of joy.” In his letter to the Philippians, he orders them: “Always rejoice in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). And the Church, sensitive to man’s sadness and afflictions, included consoling the afflicted among the works of mercy. Every Christian ought to become an angel of consolation, like the angel that came to Jesus in the Garden, like Simon of Cyrene or Veronica who relieved his sufferings on the Way of the Cross. It is so easy to console! A word, a smile, a hug is enough. At times, we don’t even have to speak. It is enough to be there, like Mary, consoling her Son with her presence at the foot of the cross. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that “the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Is. 25:8). We too can dry the tears on the faces of our brothers and sisters!
  On the other hand, consolation is most lasting and effective when we bring the suffering person to Jesus. There, it is no longer we who speak, it is Christ who speaks to their heart through our words. Martha of Bethany did this with her sister Mary when she wept disconsolately after her brother Lazarus’ death. “The master is here and is asking for you” (Jn. 11:28). We have to show all who suffer that Christ is there and  is calling for them. He wants them to come to him and open their heart to him. There is no problem that cannot be solved in front of the Blessed Eucharist. There is no sadness that cannot be consoled in the tabernacle.
 The litany of Loreto, which we normally pray after the Rosary, invokes Mary as the “comforter of the afflicted.” She wants to hear us pray fervently the Hail, Holy Queen, which we pray to her “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” She can and wants to relieve all bitterness and pain. Is there anyone who does not experience peace and consolation in his Mother’s arms? For a Christian, life can be full of crosses and sufferings, but it is not a sad life. This is the great paradox. St Paul teaches us that “all the sufferings of this life cannot be compared with the joy that awaits us” (Rom. 8:18). Without hope, pain is unbearable. But thanks to the virtue of hope we can turn our pain into prayer, and in prayer we find consolation. That is why St Paul exudes hope with the Corinthians, and speaks of Christians as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).
  This interior richness is the power that enables us to console the downcast, and invite them to enjoy in advance the future realities. This past year, Father Jesús Rodríguez and Fr Joan Coady passed away. Both suffered greatly and nevertheless, we all saw them dedicate their last days to consoling, encouraging, strengthening, and accompanying those who were with them. This is the marvelous mystery of the power of love, which can do all things, endure without limit, bear without limit, and gives itself without limit (cf. 1 Cor. 13:7). Many times, we experience sadness that seems to invade our soul. But, like Jesus in Gethsemane, our life is to encourage, strengthen, and console others. Supernatural hope fills us with a joy so real that no present sadness can darken it. How Christ strove to console the disciples during the Last Supper! He wanted to make them discover that they were the bearers of a joy that no one could ever take from them: “Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. […] Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will be able to take away your joy” (Jn. 16:20-22). Joy is a distinctive sign of Christianity. We can say that it is like our faith’s garment. That is why the saints were always joyful people. I am very impressed by the joy expressed by so many people who keep their heart always set on God. When you have God you have everything.
  Dear friends and Regnum Christi members, please God these days of Lent will bring us to live more united than ever in Christ, the source of true mercy. Only in Him will we learn to be merciful like our heavenly Father, and will we be capable of showing mercy to our brothers and sisters, like the Good Samaritan. There would be much more to reflect upon regarding this beautiful virtue, and I am sure that each one of you will be able to draw some concrete fruit from these reflections. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your fervor and surrender, which are so edifying. How I would like to express my gratitude to you! Words cannot express it. The more a family suffers, the more it loves. We answer greater pain with greater love. May Mary most holy, Mother of Mercy, always bless you and make your homes true hubs of peace, love, forgiveness and understanding. Assuring you of a constant remembrance in my prayers, I remain your affectionate servant in Christ.

Fr Álvaro Corcuera, LC



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