Pope’s homily at the penitential ceremony and consecration of Russia and Ukraine to Mary

25 Mar. 22 (ACI Prensa).- This Friday, March 25, Pope Francis presides in the Vatican the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the penitential celebration "24 hours for the Lord".

Below is the homily delivered by the Holy Father

In the Gospel of the solemnity that we celebrate today, the angel Gabriel speaks three times and addresses the Virgin Mary.

The first time, when greeting her, he tells her: “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). The reason for this joy, the cause of this jubilation, is revealed in a few words: the Lord is with you. Brother, sister, today you can hear these same words addressed to you; you can make them yours every time you approach God’s forgiveness, because there the Lord tells you: “I am with you”. Too often we think of Confession as presenting ourselves to God with our heads down. But, to begin with, it is not we who return to the Lord; it is He who comes to visit us, to fill us with his grace, to fill us with his joy. To confess is to give the Father the joy of getting up again. At the center of what we will experience is not our sins but His forgiveness. Let us imagine that our sins were at the center of the Sacrament: almost everything would depend on us, on our repentance, on our efforts, on our eagerness. But no, in the center is He, who frees us and puts us back on our feet.

Let us restore the primacy to grace and ask for the gift of understanding that Reconciliation is not primarily a step that we take towards God, but his embrace that surrounds us, amazes us and moves us. It is the Lord who, as with Mary in Nazareth, enters our house and brings us an amazement and a joy that were previously unknown. Let us bring God’s perspective to the fore: we will rediscover the importance of Confession. We need it, because every inner rebirth, every spiritual turning point begins here, in God’s forgiveness. Let us not neglect Reconciliation, but let us rediscover it as the Sacrament of joy. Yes, of joy, where the evil that makes us ashamed becomes an occasion to experience the warm embrace of the Father, the sweet strength of Jesus who heals us and the “maternal tenderness” of the Holy Spirit. This is the essence of Confession. And so, dear brothers who administer God’s forgiveness, be the ones who offer the joy of this announcement to those who approach you: Rejoice, the Lord is with you. No stiffness, no hindrance, no discomfort; doors open to mercy! In Confession, we are especially called to embody the Good Shepherd who takes his sheep in his arms and caresses them; to be channels of grace, pouring the living water of the Father’s mercy into the aridity of the heart.

The angel speaks to Mary a second time. To her, surprised by the greeting received from her, he says: «Do not be afraid» (v. 30). We see in the Scripture that, when God presents himself to those who welcome him, he likes to pronounce these two words: do not fear. He tells Abram (cf. Gn 15,1), he repeats it to Isaac (cf. Gn 26,24) and to Jacob (cf. Gn 46,3), and so on, until Joseph (cf. Mt 1, 20) and Maria. In this way he gives us a clear and consoling message: every time life opens up to God, fear can no longer hold us hostage. Sister, brother, if your sins frighten you, if your past worries you, if your wounds do not heal, if your continuous falls demoralize you and it seems that you have lost hope, fear not. God knows your weaknesses and he is bigger than your mistakes. He asks you only one thing: that your frailties, your miseries, do not keep them within you; but take them to Him, place them before Him, and from causes of desolation they will become opportunities for resurrection. Do not worry!

The Virgin Mary accompanies us; she herself gave her bewilderment to God. The angel’s announcement gave him serious reason to fear. He was proposing something unthinkable, that was beyond her strength and that she alone would not have been able to handle; Too many difficulties would have arisen: problems with the Mosaic Law, with Joseph, with the people of her town, and with her people. But Maria did not object. She was enough for her that fear not, God’s guarantee was enough for her. She clung to Him, like we want to do this afternoon. Because we often do the opposite: we start from our certainties and only when we lose them do we turn to God. Our Lady, on the other hand, teaches us to start from God, with the confidence that in this way everything else will be given to us (cf. Mt 6:33). She invites us to go to the source, to the Lord, who is the radical remedy against fear and the pain of living. She reminds him of a beautiful phrase, placed on a confessional here in the Vatican, which addresses God with these words: “To separate from you is to fall; turn to you, get up; to remain in you is to be firm” (cf. St. Augustine, Soliloquies I,3).

These days news and images of death continue to enter our homes, while bombs destroy the homes of so many of our defenseless Ukrainian brothers and sisters. The atrocious war that has fallen on many and makes everyone suffer, provokes in each one fear and affliction. We experience within ourselves a sense of helplessness and inability. We need to hear them tell us “fear not”. But human security is not enough, the presence of God is necessary, the certainty of divine forgiveness, the only one who eliminates evil, disarms resentment and restores peace to the heart. Let us return to God, to his forgiveness.

The angel speaks again for the third time. He now tells the Virgin: «The Holy Spirit will descend on you» (Lk 1,35). This is how God intervenes in history: giving his own Spirit to him.

Because in what is important our forces are not enough. We alone cannot resolve the contradictions of history, and not even those of our hearts. We need the wise and peaceful strength of God, which is the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit of love that dissolves hatred, extinguishes resentment, extinguishes greed and awakens us from indifference. We need God’s love because our love is precarious and insufficient. We ask the Lord for many things, but often we forget to ask for the most important thing, and that He wants to give us: the Holy Spirit, the strength to love. Without love, indeed, what can we offer the world? Someone has said that a Christian without love is like a needle that does not sew: it punctures, it hurts, but if it does not sew, if it does not weave and if it does not join, it is useless. That is why it is necessary to obtain from God’s forgiveness the strength of love, that same Spirit that descended on Mary.

Because, if we want the world to change, our hearts must first change. For this to happen, let us today let Our Lady take us by the hand. Let us contemplate her Immaculate Heart, where God reclined, the only Heart of a human creature without shadows. She is “full of grace” (v. 28) and therefore void of sin; there is no trace of evil in her and that is why God was able to begin with her a new history of salvation and peace. It was there that the story took a turn. God changed history knocking at the door of the Heart of Mary.

And today we too, renewed by God’s forgiveness, let us knock on the door of that Heart. In union with the bishops and the faithful of the world, I solemnly wish to bring to the Immaculate Heart of Mary all that we are experiencing; renew to her the consecration of the Church and of all humanity and consecrate to her, in a particular way, the Ukrainian people and the Russian people, who with filial affection venerate her as her Mother. It is not a magic formula, but a spiritual act. It is the gesture of full trust of the children who, in the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens the world, turn to the Mother, depositing fear and pain in her Heart, and giving themselves totally to her. It is to place in that clean, immaculate Heart, where God is reflected, the precious goods of fraternity and peace, all that we have and all that we are, so that she may be the Mother that the Lord has given us, the protect us and take care of us.

Mary’s lips pronounced the most beautiful phrase that the angel could bring to God: “Let what you say be done to me” (v. 38). Mary’s acceptance is not passive or resigned, but the lively desire to adhere to God, who has “plans of peace and not of misfortune” (Jr 29,11). It is her most intimate participation in her project of peace for the world. We consecrate ourselves to Mary to enter into this plan, to place ourselves at the full disposal of God’s projects. The Mother of God, after having pronounced her yes, faced a long and winding journey to a mountainous region to visit her pregnant cousin (cf. Lk 1,39). May She today take our path in her hands; may she guide him, through the steep and tiring paths of fraternity and dialogue, on the path of peace.

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