the Forgotten


Pope Francis      21.09.19  Holy Mass, Piazza Pia, Albano      Luke 19: 1-10
Pope Francis 21.09.19  Albano

The reading we heard Luke 19: 1-10 takes place in Jericho, the famous city destroyed in Joshua's time which, according to the Bible, should no longer have been rebuilt (Joshua 6: 26): It should have been the forgotten city. But Jesus, the Gospel says, enters and crosses Jericho. And this city, which is below sea level, is not afraid to reach the lowest level, represented by Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector, indeed the chief the tax collector, that is, of those Jews and was hated by the people as he collected the tributes for the Roman Empire. He was "a wealthy man" (v. 2) and it is easy to see how he had become: at the expense of his fellow citizens, exploiting his fellow citizens. In their eyes Zacchaeus was the worst, the unsalvaible. But not in the eyes of Jesus, who calls, Zacchaeus, by name his own, which means "God remembers". In the forgotten city, God remembers the greatest sinner.

The Lord, first of all, remembers us. He does not forget us, he does not lose sight of us despite the obstacles that can keep us away from Him. Obstacles that were not missed in the case of Zacchaeus: his short stature, physical and moral, but also his shame, for which he tried to see Jesus hidden among the branches of the tree, probably hoping not to be seen. And then the external criticisms: in the city because of that meeting "everyone grumbled" (v. 7) - but I believe that in Albano it is the same: murmurings... Limits, sins, shame, gossip and prejudice: no obstacle makes Jesus forget the essential, to love and save people.

What does this gospel tell us on the anniversary of your Cathedral? That
every church, that the Church with capital letters exists to keep alive in the hearts of men the memory that God loves them. It exists to say to each one, even to the most distant: "You are loved and you are called by name by Jesus; God doesn't forget you, he cares about you." Dear brothers and sisters, like Jesus, do not be afraid to "cross" your city, to go to those who are most forgotten, to those who are hiding behind the branches of shame, fear, loneliness, to tell them: "God remembers you".

I would like to emphasize a second action of Jesus. In addition to remembering, recognizing Zacchaeus, He anticipates. We see it in the game of looks with Zacchaeus. He "tried to see who Jesus was" (v. 3). It is interesting that Zacchaeus was not only trying to see Jesus, but to see who Jesus was: that is, to understand what kind of teacher he was, what his distinctive trait was. And he discovers it not when he looks at Jesus, but when he is looked at by Jesus. Because while Zacchaeus tries to see him, Jesus sees him first; Before Zacchaeus speaks, Jesus speaks to him; before inviting Jesus, Jesus comes to his house.

This is who Jesus is: the one who sees us first, the one who loves us first, the one who welcomes us first. When we discover that his love anticipates us, that he reaches us first, life changes. Dear brother, dear sister, if like Zacchaeus you are looking for meaning in life but, not finding it, you are throwing yourself away with "surrogates of love", such as riches, career, pleasure, some addiction, let yourself be watched by Jesus. Only with Jesus will you discover that you have always been loved and will you make the discovery of life. You will feel touched within by the invincible tenderness of God, who moves and moves the heart. So it was for Zacchaeus and so it is for each of us, when we discover the "first" of Jesus: Jesus who anticipates us, who looks at us first, who speaks to us first, who waits for us first.

I would like to highlight one last action of Jesus, which makes you feel at home. He says to Zacchaeus, "Today I must stay at your house" (v. 5). At your house. Zacchaeus, who felt like a stranger in his city, returns to his home as a loved one. And, loved by Jesus, he rediscovers his neighbours and says, "I give half of what I have to the poor, and if I stole from someone – and this man had stolen so much – I shall repay four times as much" (v. 8). The Law of Moses asked a fifth to be returned, Zacchaeus gives four times as much: he goes far beyond the Law because he has found love. Feeling at home, he opened the door to his neighbour.

How beautiful it would be if our neighbours and acquaintances felt the Church as their home! Unfortunately, it happens that our communities become alien to so many and unattractive. Sometimes we too are tempted to create closed circles, intimate places among the chosen. We feel electable, we feel elite... But there are many brothers and sisters who are homesick, who do not have the courage to approach, perhaps because they have not felt welcomed; perhaps because they knew a priest who treated them badly or kicked them out, wanted to make them pay for the sacraments – a bad thing – and walked away. The Lord wants his Church to be a house between houses, a hospitable tent where every man, the traveller of existence, meets Him, who has come to live among us (cf. John 1:14).

Brothers and sisters, the Church may be the place where we never look at others from top to bottom but, like Jesus with Zacchaeus, from the bottom up. Remember that the only time it is permissible to look down on a person is to help them get up, otherwise it is not permissible. Only in that moment: look at a person like this, because they fell. We should never look at people as judges, always as brothers. We are not inspectors of the lives of others, but promoters of the good of all. And to be promoters of the good of all, one thing that helps so much is to keep your tongue still: not to speak of others. But sometimes, when I say these things, I hear, "Father, look, it's a bad thing, but it comes to me, because I see something and I want to criticize." I suggest good medicine for this – apart from prayer –; effective medicine is: bite your tongue. It will swell in your mouth and you won't be able to talk! 

"The Son of Man," the Gospel concludes, "has come to seek and save what was lost"(Luke 19:10). If we avoid those who seem lost to us, we are not like Jesus. We ask for the grace to meet each one as a brother and not to see anyone as an enemy. And if we've been hurt, we're returning good. Jesus' disciples are not slaves to past evils but, forgiveness by God, they do like Zacchaeus: they think only of the good they can do. We give for free, if we love the poor and those who have nothing to give back to us: we will be rich in the eyes of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope that your Cathedral, like every Church, will be the place where everyone feels remembered by the Lord, anticipated by his mercy and welcomed home. So that the most beautiful thing happens in the Church: to rejoice because salvation has entered life (cf. 9). Amen.