· The Pope's Mass at Santa Marta ·
Slander destroys God's work because it is spawned by hatred. It is a daughter of the “father of lies” and wants to wipe out man and distance him from God. “Slander is a little breeze”, Basilio sings in the Barber of Seville; for Pope Francis it is a gale. He said so on Monday morning, 15 April, at the customary Mass which he celebrates in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Among those taking part were the employees and directors of the Telephone and Internet Services of Vatican City State, led by Fr Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, Director of the Telecommunications Department of the Governorate (and who concelebrated), and by several relatives of the Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio, who died in 1998.
Slander is as old as the world and it is already mentioned in the Old Testament. It suffices to think of the episode of Queen Jezabel with the vineyard of Naboth, or that of Susanna with the two judges. When it is impossible to obtain something “in the right way, in a holy way”, people have recourse to slander which destroys. “This reminds us”, the Pope commented, that “we are sinners: all of us. We have sinned. But slander is something else”. It is a sin but it is also something more, because “it wants to destroy God's work and is spawned by something very nasty: it is spawned by hatred. And the person who generates hatred is Satan”. Falsehood and slander go hand in hand since in order to make headway they need each other. And there is no doubt, the Pope added, “wherever there is slander there is Satan, Satan himself”.
Pope Francis then drew inspiration from Psalm 119  of the day's Liturgy to explain the state of mind of the righteous man who has been calumnied: “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. Your testimonies are my delight”. The just man in this case is Stephen, the Proto-Martyr mentioned in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen “gazed at the Lord and obeyed the law”. He was the first in the long series of witnesses of Christ who spangle the history of the Church. Martyrs abound, not only in the past but also in our day. “Here in Rome”, the Holy Father added, “we have a great many witnesses of martyrs, starting with Peter; but the season of martyrs is not over. We can truly say that today too the Church has more martyrs than she had in the early centuries”. Indeed, the Church “has so many men and women who are slandered, persecuted and killed, in hatred of Jesus, in hatred of the faith”. Several are killed for “teaching the Catechism”; others, for “wearing the cross”. Calumny finds room in the large number of countries where Christians are persecuted. “They are our brothers and sisters”, Pope Francis emphasized, “who are suffering today, in this age of martyrs. This must give us food for thought”. Persecuted by hatred: it is actually the devil who sows hatred in those who instigate persecution.
In our epoch, marked by “so many forms of spiritual turbulence”, the Pope asked those present to reflect on a medieval icon of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady who “spreads her mantle over the People of God”. The first Latin Antiphon of the Virgin Mary is “ Sub tuum praesidium ”. “Let us pray Our Lady to protect us”, he said, “and in times of spiritual turbulence the safest place is beneath Our Lady's mantle”. Indeed, she is the Mother who cares for the Church. And in this season of martyrs, she is, as it were, the protagonist of protection. She is Mother.
The Pope therefore asked the faithful to trust in Mary, to address to her the prayer that begins with the words “Under your protection”, and to remember the ancient icon showing her “covering her people with her mantle: she is Mother”. This is the most useful thing: in this time of “hatred, of spiritual turbulence, the safest possible place is beneath Our Lady's mantle”.
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