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Pope Francis and the Pathway to Easter

March 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Catholic Spirituality, Conversion, Sin

Pope Francis was just elected and we look forward to his message to the Universal Church in the coming days.  He iStock_000021368013Smallis a man of deep prayer and a man of profound concern for the poor.  At the beginning of Lent, he made an impassioned plea to the clergy and religious of Argentina, “The Kingdom of God may need our hearts torn by the desire for conversion and for the love, the breaking forth of grace and the effective gesture to ease the pain of our brothers and sister who walk together with us.”

His message is poignant against indifference and grave social evil caused by sin.  Sin has caused moral decadence of our society that has destroyed families, neighborhoods, communities – our whole culture. Against a culture that is cold to the most vulnerable, we must allow the plight of our brothers and sisters to pierce us to the heart by returning to the love of God.  We cannot grow close to Christ and remain unconcerned about the corruption and social alienation sin has caused to on even the most fundamental level of our society – the family, the bond between husband and wife, the bond between children and their parents. Yet this fabric of our humanity is threatened today more than ever because of our own personal sin, sin that we do not take seriously, not only the things we have done but also the things we have failed to do.

This wound of sin is too deep to be addressed by merely external actions and gestures. If we are concerned for society, the depths of our hearts must be torn by the fact we have sin. Sin makes us hard of heart.  It is a callous heart that sees the unborn, traditional marriage, the elderly, the sick and the poor as inconveniences we can ignore. We are not effectively protecting and loving the most vulnerable in our society because we do not take seriously the reality of sin in our lives.

So that the wound of sin in us can be healed, we must to allow the love of God to stir us and to wake us up out of our spiritual slumber.  His message was a reflection on Joel 2:13, “Rend your hearts and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.”

What a refreshing perspective!  So often there is an unquestioned prejudice among those who work for social justice. Namely, that Catholicism is out of touch with the real human situation and because of this, traditional piety no longer has a place in the lives of those who are caring for the poor. Some even suppose that living a devotional life is a kind of escapism from the real world. But our future Pope does not see it this way and neither does our whole tradition.

For him, as was true for the Fathers of the Church, the contemporary explosion of social evil in the media, in our cities, in our neighborhoods, and in our families is the fruit of personal sin. Sin is the wound that threatens human existence on the most global and most personal levels. Like the great Bishops of Rome in the past, He is convinced that our Catholic faith knows how to deal with sin.  For indeed, we have the antidote for death and for social evil: God's merciful love revealed in Christ Jesus.

We are so blessed to have Pope Francis to preach the Gospel of Christ to us from the Chair of Peter.  He will help us see that as we allow the love of God to pierce our hearts and move us to repent of sin, God has the power to turn us back to Him.  It is through this conversion of heart to the love of God that we begin to really love one another – in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities and beyond. Here, putting our hearts in God's hands, a life giving warmth is born in our actions and we begin to enjoy an effectiveness in building up the Kingdom of God that unaided social efforts simply lack. This conversion of the heart is the pathway to life, the pathway to Easter.

Note from Dan: Anthony’s fantastic book on prayer, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, can be found HERE in print, and HERE in Kindle format

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About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

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  • micaelisn

    And as for who he is, who he was, all I can say is that it might seem God has seen him in this Chair all along, seen him as an apostle of humility and uncompromising rectitude.  He rides the bus.  He cooks his own meals.  He’s not afraid to tell the president of his country that she is so very wrong when the fates of defenseless children are involved and those fashionably-connected same-sex couples who want to make of the children they adopt examples of what same-sex love can conjure (Can it be anything less than an empty posturing, for without the solidity which biological rightness provides there can be nothing substantial).  He’s not afraid to do what’s right in the eyes of the Lord and to forsake approval in the eyes of the world.

    So, he’s not afraid to tie his own shoes (now they are the shoes of the Fisherman).  Will he not be afraid to cleanse the house of God (the Curia), to cleanse the People of God (all those politicians whose votes protect and provide for the aborters and their apologists in print, on stage and screen and at the lecterns of the educators), be not afraid to say to the broken world ‘you err, but the love of Christ can lead you to rightness, if not righteousness? Will he have the courage to show the vainly powerful the nature and source of their poisonous illusions and for those can he say to them ‘Reform your ways or bid the Church you profess to love farewell?

    He needs to clean house.  Does he have the will to write well-reasoned writs of excommunication of those whose words have flouted the Church and its Holy Word, send the Kungs and Pelosis and Bidens and Currys and Kanes and Kennedys and Greeleys of the world out of the Church they have scorned into the wilderness they have earned?  Will he have the courage to go beyond his predecessor, who recognized (but did not act) that it might be necessary for the Church to be smaller in order for it to become greater?  Will he have a courage to go beyond describing the illness and, instead, lance the boil and allow the infection to drain?  Will he call out those who err while claiming they act in the name of Christ?  After all it is he who now can bind or loosen.  Will he, in fact, accept and embrace the power of his position and use it to enforce the word and will of God?

    We need a Pope who, like the adolescent Christ, will cleanse the temple.  Will Francis be the one?  If not, let there be another conclave soon, for in looking at the state of the Church and of the world, time is in short supply.

    • LizEst

      Hmm, I do believe he has the courage of his convictions. He appears to be a very self-disciplined man. He is also a man of compassion and has been known to personally take care of aging clergy in his diocese and personally spend nights in the hospital helping there. So, we will see very quickly, I think, how he will govern. May God give him wisdom and grace.

      I am sorry to hear you wish, in a thinly veiled way, for his death if he does not do what you want. Yes, the Church, the Pope and our world need our prayers and there is much difficult and challenging work to be done. Christ promised he would never leave us orphans. He is with us until the end of the world and the gates of hell will never prevail. He has also commanded us not to be afraid. Won’t you join me in praying for our Holy Father and praying for God’s grace and His will to be done in Pope Francis’ life and ours as well?

      My prayers that God will also bless you, Micaelisn.

      ps. Christ did not cleanse the temple as an adolescent. He was among the elders listening to them and asking them questions. You’ve, inadvertently I presume, conflated two temple scenes from Scripture. He cleansed the temple as an adult.

      • Anthony_Lilles

        Thank you for this encouragement not to be afraid or heavy hearted — What you are encouraging is filled with hope that we need to make a new beginning. The struggle of the Christian life is to see the truth about sin but not to lose heart – but always in the midst of our failures, to dare to stand by faith again. Indeed we must raise our hearts and not allow sadness of our own weaknesses or even those of others to eclipse our joy. This takes great courage. So there is a lot of work to do in terms of submitting our decadent attitudes to the poverty of Christ in the era of Francis. But we do this work with the hope and love of Christ to sustain us – He is the fullness of the Father’s joy and even in our poverty He lavishes us with inexhaustible riches.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      There is no doubt a lot of work ahead for the Holy Father – but He is a man who loves the Lord and loves God’s people, especially the poor and the vulnerable. So we live in privileged times where God’s love at work in the world will amaze us again in new ways. May the Lord bless us with the faith we need to discern what He is doing and to respond with all our hearts to the wonderful things He calls us to!

    • rjk123

      Micaelism, I read your last line as asking whether Pope Francis can say to the Catholics who criticize the Church’s stand on abortion, same-sex marriage etc., can Pope Francis say to them: “reform your ways” and, if they don’t, then they can leave the Church and quit calling themselves Catholics. I read your comment as hoping and believing that Pope Francis will take a strong stand against those who follow secular ideas. I want to encourage you. Jesus loves you and loves your love of the Church. We are all seekers and I believe the Pope is leading us in ways that will challenge us all–and bring us closer to the source of all our hope: Jesus Christ. God bless you. Rachel

  • “So often there is an unquestioned prejudice among those who work for social justice.  Namely, that Catholicism is out of touch with the real human situation and because of this, traditional piety no longer has a place in the lives of those who are caring for the poor. Some even suppose that living a devotional life is a kind of escapism from the real world. But our future Pope does not see it this way and neither does our whole tradition.”
    This is so very true! Often times, people who long to serve others drift away from the very faith where God planted the desires for service in their hearts. Joining leftist groups, in the vain hopes of some utopia on earth. They become disillusioned, losing their faith and frustrated with society, lose hope. For our only true hope lies in God, not in man. Piety and social justice should go hand in hand. Ora et Labora, Contemplatives in Action…

    This is really important to me because I hope to serve others, working for human rights someday. But right now, my foundations still need building. Both spiritually and legally. I am so grateful that this will be during the era of Pope Francis!

    May we never forget “When I have done all that I could, and there are hearts I cannot move, Lord give me hope, that I may be Your Heart today.” – Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ

    • rjk123

      Thank you for all that you share on this site. it is always encouraging and inspiring. I appreciate that as a young person you have God-given dreams to serve and a willingness to learn. Like you, although I am at the other end of life, I am grateful to be living during the pontificate of Pope Francis. I believe that he will inspire us and, yes, may, even painfully, challenge us to follow and serve Jesus more purely and effectively. Rachel

      • Anthony_Lilles


      • Gosh! I’m grateful to God they helped you. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words! Its final exam week so I really need encouragement right now. 🙂 Yes, less than a week and Pope Francis’ example is already so inspiring!

        • LizEst

          Still praying for you Mary. I will pray also for that your exams go well.

          • Thank you! Praying for you too!

          • LizEst

            Thank you Mary.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      I hope that the dreams the Lord has put in your heart are realized in your life!
      Thank you for your faith and love of God and His children!

      • Thank you for your kind words! And for these wonderful articles! They are so deep and uplifting! Hope I could buy your book someday!

  • carl641

    I like the story about him in the press relating him chastising the priests who would not baptize children of unwed mothers. As I recall, he called them the pharisee’s of the church. I also like what he said about better for the church to go out into the world wounded than to stay within itself and die. I think that’s a reasonable quote, it at least captures the sense of what he said. He also is very familiar with government oppression. I’m thrilled, encouraged, energized at his selection. 

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Me too!

  • Nice column…thanks you! This is a little awkward, but according to the Vatican you have the Pope’s name wrong. There is no Roman number one in his name. It is simply Pope Francis.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Yes, I wrote this in a hurry – like within thirty minutes after the election. It was not until a few hours later that the announcement was made that there would be no Roman numeral after the name. I corrected the title, but not the first sentence. I appreciate your attention to details.

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