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The Holy Father’s Meditation
The Progress of Faith in the Life of a Priest
“Lord, increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). This question arose spontaneously in the disciples when the Lord was speaking to them of mercy and said that we must forgive seventy times seven. “Increase our faith,” we also ask, at the beginning of this conversation. We ask it with the simplicity of the Catechism, which says: “To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end, we must nourish it with the Word of God; we must ask the Lord to make it grow.” It is a faith that “must work through love” (Galatians 5:6; cf. James 2:14-26), be sustained by hope (cf. Romans 15:13) and be rooted in the faith of the Church” (n. 162).
It helps me to lean on three firm points: memory, hope and discernment of the moment. As the Catechism says, memory is rooted in the faith of the Church, in the faith of our fathers; hope is what sustains us in the faith; and I have discernment of the moment at the moment of acting, of putting into practice that “faith that works through love.” I formulate it thus:
-I have a promise – it is always important to remember the promise of the Lord who has put me on the way –.
-I am on the way – I have hope –: hope points out the horizon, it guides me: it is the star and also what sustains me; it is the anchor, anchored in Christ.
– And, in the specific moment, at every crossroads of the road I must discern a concrete good, the step forward in love that I can take, and also the way in which the Lord wants me to do it.
To remember past graces confers on our faith the solidity of the Incarnation; it places it within a history, the history of the faith of our fathers, who “died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar” (Hebrews11:13).  We, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, looking where they looked, have our gaze “fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
For its part, hope is what opens faith to God’s surprises. Our God is always greater than all that we can think and imagine of Him, of what belongs to Him and of His way of acting in history. Openness to hope confers freshness and a horizon on our faith. It is not the openness of an unrealistic imagination that would project one’s fantasies and desires, but the openness that makes us see the spoliation of Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Paradoxically, the hope that attracts is not generated by the image of the transfigured Lord, but by His ignominious image. “I will draw all men to myself” (John12:32). It is the Lord’s total giving of Himself that attracts us, because it reveals the possibility of being more authentic. It is the spoliation of Him who does not seize God’s promise but, as a true testator, passes the torch of inheritance to His children: “For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established” (Hebrews 9:16).
Finally, discernment is what concretizes faith, what makes it “work through love” (Galatians 5:6), what enables us to give credible witness: “I by my faith will show you my works” (James 2:18). Discernment looks in the first place at that which pleases our Father, “who sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4.6), it does not look at models of perfection of cultural paradigms. Discernment is “of the moment” because it is attentive, as Our Lady at Cana, to the good of the neighbor, which can make the Lord anticipate “His hour,” or “skip” over a Saturday to put one who was paralyzed back on his feet. Discernment of the opportune moment (kairos) is fundamentally rich in memory and hope: remembering with love, it points the gaze with lucidity to what leads best to the Promise.
And what leads best is always in relation with the cross. With the dispossessing of my will, with that interior drama of “not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39) that puts me in the Father’s hands and makes it so that He guides my life.
To Grow in Faith
I turn for a moment to the topic of “growing.” If you reread attentively Evangelii gaudium – which is a programmatic document – you will see that it always speaks of “growth” and of “maturation,” be it in faith be it in love, in solidarity as in understanding of the Word.Evangelii gaudium has a dynamic perspective. The Lord’s missionary mandate includes the appeal to growth in faith when He indicates: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20). Thus it seems clear that the first proclamation must give place also to a path of formation and maturation” (n. 160). I underscore this: path of formation and maturation in the faith. And to take this seriously implies that “it would not be correct to interpret this appeal to growth exclusively or primarily as (merely) doctrinal formation” (n. 161). Growth in the faith happens through encounters with the Lord in the course of life. These encounters are guarded as a treasure in the memory and they are our living faith, in a history of personal salvation.
In these encounters the experience is that of an unfulfilled fullness. Unfulfilled, because we must continue to walk; fullness, because, as in all human and divine things, the whole is found in every part This constant maturation is true for the disciple as well as the missionary, for the seminarian as well as the priest and the Bishop. At bottom, it is that virtuous circle to which the Aparecida Document refers, which coined the formula “missionary disciples.”
The Key Point of the Cross
When I speak of key points or of “being a pivot,” the image I have in mind is that of the basket or basketball player, who nails his foot as a “pivot” on the ground and does movements to protect the ball or to find a space to pass it, or to take courage and go to the basket. For us that foot nailed to the ground, around which we pivot is the cross of Christ. A phrase written on the wall of the chapel of the House of Exercises of San Miguel (Buenos Aires) said: While the world turns, the Cross is fixed” [“Stat crux dum volvitur orbis,” motto of Saint Bruno and the Carthusians]. The one moves, protecting the ball, with the hope of putting it in the basket and tries to understand to whom to pass it.
Faith – progress and growth in the faith – is always founded on the Cross: “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” for “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:21.234). As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” we move and exercise ourselves in the memory – remembering the “great cloud of witnesses” – and run with hope “in the race that is set,” discerning the temptations against the faith before us,” without growing weary or fainthearted” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-3).
In Evangelii gaudium I wished to highlight that dimension of the faith which I call Deuteronomic, in analogy with Israel’s memory: “The evangelizing joy always shines in the background of a grateful memory: it is a grace we are in need of requesting. The Apostles never forgot the moment in which Jesus touched their heart: “it was about the tenth hour” (John 1:39)” (n. 13).
Distinguished in the “great cloud of witnesses” [. . .] are some persons who impacted us in a special way so as to have our believing joy sprout: “Remember your leaders , those who spoke to you the word of God (Hebrews 13:7). Sometimes it is simple and close persons who initiated us in the life of faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice” (2 Timothy 1:5). A believer is fundamentally ‘one who remembers’” (Ibid.).
Faith is nourished and fed by the memory. The memory of the Covenant that the Lord made with us: He is the God of our fathers and grandfathers. He is not the god of the last moment, a God without a family history, a God who to respond to every new paradigm must reject the previous as old and ridiculous. The family history is “never unfashionable.” The clothes and hair of grandparents will seem old, the photos will have a brownish color, but the affection and the audacity of our fathers, who spent themselves so that we could be here and have what we have, are a lit flame in every noble heart.
Let us keep well present that to progress in the faith is not only a voluntary resolution to believe more henceforth: it is also an exercise to return with the memory to the fundamental graces. One can “progress by going back,” going to seek again treasures and experiences that were forgotten or that many times contain the keys to understand the present. This is the truly “revolutionary” thing: to go to the roots. The more lucid the memory of the past is, the clearer the future opens, because one can see the really new way and distinguish it from ways that were followed that led nowhere. The faith grows remembering, connecting things with the real history lived by our fathers and by the whole people of God, by the whole Church.
Therefore, the Eucharist is the Memorial of our faith, that which is always situated again daily in the fundamental event of our salvation, in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, center and pivot of history. To return always to this Memorial – actualizing it in a Sacrament which is prolonged in life – this is to progress in the faith. As Saint Albert Hurtado said: “The Mass is my life and my life is a prolonged Mass.” 
To go back to the sources of memory, it always helps me to reread a passage from the prophet Jeremiah and another from the prophet Hosea, in which they speak of what the Lord remembers of His People. For Jeremiah, the memory of the Lord is that of the beloved bride of his youth, who was then unfaithful to him. “I remember the devotion of your youth – he says to Israel –, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, [. . . ] Israel was holy to the Lord” (2:2-3). The Lord will reproach His people for their infidelity, which revealed itself an evil choice: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. [. . .] But you said, ‘It is hopeless, for I have loved strangers, and after them I will go” (2:13.25).
For Hosea, the memory of the Lord is that of the coddled and ungrateful child: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; [. . .] burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took him up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. [. . .] My people are bent on turning away from me (11:1-4.7) Today as then, the infidelity and ingratitude of Pastors has repercussions on the poorest of the faithful people, who remain at the mercy of strangers and idolaters.
Hope Not only in the Future
Faith is sustained and progresses thanks to hope. Hope is the anchor anchored in Heaven, in the transcendent future, of which the temporal future – considered in a linear way – is only an expression. Hope is that which dynamizes the look behind faith, which leads to find new things in the past – in the treasures of the memory – because it encounters God Himself, whom he hopes to see in the future. Moreover, hope extends itself to the limits, in all the width and thickness of the daily and immediate present, and sees new possibilities in one’s neighbor and in what can be done here, today. Hope is to know how to see, in the face of the poor I encounter today, the same Lord who will come one day to judge us according to the protocol of Matthew 25: “All that you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (v. 40).
Thus the faith progresses existentially in this transcendent “impulse,” which moves, which is active and operating – toward the future, but also toward the past and in all the breadth of the present moment. Thus we can understand Paul’s phrase to the Galatians, when he says that what has worth is “faith working through love” (5:6): a love that, when remembering, is activated confessing, in praise and in joy, that love was already given to it; a love that, when it looks ahead and towards on high, confesses its desire to dilate the heart in the fullness of the greatest Good; these two confessions of a faith rich in gratitude and in hope, are translated in present action: faith is confessed in practice, going out of itself, transcending itself in adoration and in service.
Discernment of the Moment
Thus we see how faith, dynamized by the hope of discovering Christ in the thickness of the present, is linked to discernment.
It is proper of discernment to first take a step backwards, as one who reverses a bit to see the scenery better. There is always a temptation in the first impulse, which leads to wanting to resolve something immediately. In this connection, I believe that there is a first discernment, great sand foundational, that is, which does not let itself be deceived by the force of evil, but which is able to see the victory of Christ’s Cross in every human situation. At this point I would like to reread with you an entire passage of Evangelii gaudium,because it helps to discern that insidious temptation that I call sterile pessimism: “One of the most serious temptations that suffocate fervor and audacity is the sense of defeat, which is transformed into the discontented and disenchanted pessimisms of the dark face. No on can undertake a battle if beforehand he does not trust fully in the triumph. One who begins without trust has lost beforehand half of the battle and buries his talents. Even with the painful awareness of one’s frailties, it is necessary to go forward without considering oneself defeated, and to remember what the Lord said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The Christian triumph is always a cross, but a cross that at the same time is ensign of victory, which is carried with a combative tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeat is brother of the temptation to separate before the time the grain from the darnel, product of an anxious and egocentric mistrust. [. . . ]In any case, in those circumstances we are called to be amphora-persons to give drink to others. At times the amphora is transformed into a heavy cross, but it is precisely on the Cross where, pierced, the Lord gave Himself to us as source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robed of hope!” (85-86).
These formulations, “let us not allow ourselves to be robbed . . .,” come to me from Saint Ignatius’ rules of discernment, which usually represents the devil as a thief. He behaves like a captain – says Ignatius – who to win and rob what he desires fights us in our weakest part (cf. Spiritual Exercises, 327). And in our case, at present, I believe he seeks to rob us of joy – which is like robbing us of the present  – and hope –the going out, the walking –, are the graces that I asked for most and that I ask for the Church in this time.
It is important at this point to take a step forward and to say that faith progresses when, in the present moment, we discern how to concretize love in the possible good, commensurate with the good of the other. The first good of the other is to be able to grow in faith. The communal supplication of the disciples “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:6) subtends the awareness that the faith is a communal good. Moreover, we must consider that to seek the good of the other makes us risk. As Evangelii gaudium says: “A missionary heart is aware [. . .] that it must grow in the understanding of the Gospel and in the discernment of the paths of the Spirit, and then it does not give up the possible good, rather, it runs the risk of getting soiled with the mud of the street” (45).
Implicit in this discernment is the act of faith in Christ present in the poorest, in the littlest, in the lost sheep, in the insistent friend. Christ present in one who encounters us – making himself seen, as Zacchaeus or the sinner who enters with her perfume vase, and almost not making herself noted, as the woman with the haemorrhage –; or Christ present in the one we ourselves approach, feeling compassion when we see him from afar, lying on the side of the street. To believe that Christ is there, to discern the best way to take a small step toward Him, for the good of that person, is progress in the faith. As praise is also progress in the faith, and to desire more is progress in the faith.
It might do us good to pause a while on this progress in the faith, which occurs thanks to the discernment of the moment. The progress of the faith in memory and in hope is more developed; instead, this key point of discernment, perhaps, not so much. It might seem perhaps that where there is faith there is no need of discernment: one believes and that’s it. But this is dangerous, especially if the renewed acts of faith are substituted in a Person – in Christ our Lord – which have all the dynamism that we just saw, with merely intellectual acts of faith, whose dynamism is exhausted in making reflections and elaborating abstract formulations. Conceptual formulation is a necessary moment of thought, as choosing a means of transport is necessary to reach an end. However, faith is not exhausted in an abstract formulation or charity in a particular good, but what is proper of the faith and of charity is to grow and progress, opening oneself to greater trust and to a greater common good. What is proper to faith is to be “operative,” active, and it is so for charity. And the paragon stone is discernment. In fact, faith can fossilize, in keeping the love received, transforming it into an object to close in a museum; and faith can also volatize, in the projection of the desired love, transforming it into a virtual object that exists only in the island of utopias. Discernment of real, concrete and possible love in the present moment, in favor of the most dramatically needy neighbor, makes faith become active, creative and effective.
[Original Text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT, by Virginia Forrester]