Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In today’s liturgy we listen to these words from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). We must give special emphasis to this affirmation in this Year of Faith. Let us too, throughout this Year, keep our gaze fixed on Jesus because faith, which is our “yes” to the filial relationship with God, comes from him, comes from Jesus. He is the only mediator of this relationship between us and our Father who is in heaven. Jesus is the Son and we are sons in him.
This Sunday, however, the word of God also contains a word of Jesus which alarms us and must be explained, for otherwise it could give rise to misunderstanding. Jesus says to his disciples: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51). What does this mean? It means that faith is not a decorative or ornamental element; living faith does not mean decorating life with a little religion, as if it were a cake and we were decorating it with cream. No, this is not faith. Faith means choosing God as the criterion and basis of life, and God is not empty, God is not neutral, God is always positive, God is love, and love is positive! After Jesus has come into the world it is impossible to act as if we do not know God, or as if he were something that is abstract, empty, a purely nominal reference. No, God has a real face, he has a name: God is mercy, God is faithfulness, he is life which is given to us all. For this reason Jesus says “I came to bring division”. It is not that Jesus wishes to split people up. On the contrary Jesus is our peace, he is our reconciliation! But this peace is not the peace of the tomb, it is not neutrality, Jesus does not bring neutrality, this peace is not a compromise at all costs. Following Jesus entails giving up evil and selfishness and choosing good, truth and justice, even when this demands sacrifice and the renunciation of our own interests. And this indeed divides; as we know, it even cuts the closest ties. However, be careful: it is not Jesus who creates division! He establishes the criterion: whether to live for ourselves or to live for God and for others; to be served or to serve; to obey one’s own ego or to obey God. It is in this sense that Jesus is a “sign that is spoken against” (Lk 2:34).
This word of the Gospel does not therefore authorize the use of force to spread the faith. It is exactly the opposite: the Christian’s real force is the force of truth and of love, which involves renouncing all forms of violence. Faith and violence are incompatible! Instead, faith and strength go together. Christians are not violent; they are strong. And with what kind of strength? That of meekness, the strength of meekness, the strength of love.
Dear friends, even among Jesus’ relatives there were some who at a certain point did not share his way of life and preaching, as the Gospel tells us (cf. Mk 3:20-21). His Mother, however, always followed him faithfully, keeping the eyes of her heart fixed on Jesus, the Son of the Most High, and on his mystery. And in the end, thanks to Mary’s faith, Jesus’ relatives became part of the first Christian community (cf. Acts 1:14). Let us ask Mary to help us too to keep our gaze firmly fixed on Jesus and to follow him always, even when it costs what it may.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Good morning! In today’s Gospel Jesus insists on the conditions for being his disciples: preferring nothing to the love of Christ, carrying one’s cross and following him. Many people in fact drew near to Jesus, they wanted to be included among his followers; and this would happen especially after some miraculous sign which accredited him as the Messiah, the King of Israel. However Jesus did not want to disappoint anyone. He knew well what awaited him in Jerusalem and which path the Father was asking him to take: it was the Way of the Cross, the way of sacrificing himself for the forgiveness of our sins. Following Jesus does not mean taking part in a triumphal procession! It means sharing his merciful love, entering his great work of mercy for each and every man and for all men. The work of Jesus is, precisely, a work of mercy, a work of forgiveness and of love! Jesus is so full of mercy! And this universal pardon, this mercy, passes through the Cross. Jesus, however, does not want to do this work alone: he wants to involve us too in the mission that the Father entrusted to him. After the Resurrection he was to say to his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you”... if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (Jn 20:21-22). Jesus’ disciple renounces all his possessions because in Jesus he has found the greatest Good in which every other good receives its full value and meaning: family ties, other relationships, work, cultural and economic goods and so forth.... The Christian detaches him or herself from all things and rediscovers all things in the logic of the Gospel, the logic of love and of service.
To explain this requirement, Jesus uses two parables: that of the tower to be built and that of the king going to war. The latter says: “What king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace” (Lk 14:31-32). Jesus does not wish to address the topic of war here; it is only a parable. Yet at this moment in which we are praying intensely for peace, this word of the Lord touches us to the core, and essentially tells us: there is a more profound war that we must all fight! It is the firm and courageous decision to renounce evil and its enticements and to choose the good, ready to pay in person: this is following Christ, this is what taking up our cross means! This profound war against evil! What is the use of waging war, so many wars, if you aren't capable of waging this profound war against evil? It is pointless! It doesn’t work.... Among other things this war against evil entails saying “no” to the fratricidal hatred and falsehood that are used; saying “no” to violence in all its forms; saying “no” to the proliferation of weapons and to the illegal arms trade. There is so much of it! So much of it! And the doubt always remains: is this war or that war — because wars are everywhere — really a war to solve problems or is it a commercial war for selling weapons in illegal trade? These are the enemies to fight, united and consistent, following no other interests than those of peace and of the common good.
Dear brothers and sisters, today we are also commemorating the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, a Feast particularly dear to the Eastern Churches. And let all of us now send a beautiful greeting to all the brothers, sisters, bishops, monks and nuns of the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, a beautiful greeting! Jesus is the sun, Mary is the dawn that heralds his rising. Yesterday evening we kept vigil, entrusting to her intercession our prayers for peace in the world, especially in Syria and throughout the Middle East. Let us now invoke her as Queen of Peace. Queen of Peace pray for us! Queen of Peace pray for us!
Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, immediately after the Beatitudes, Jesus says to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). This surprises us a bit when we think of those who were before Jesus when he spoke these words. Who were these disciples? They were fishermen, simple people... But Jesus sees them with God’s eyes, and his assertion can be understood precisely as a result of the Beatitudes. He wishes to say: if you are poor in spirit, if you are meek, if you are pure of heart, if you are merciful... you will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world!
To better understand these images, we must keep in mind that Jewish Law prescribed that a little bit of salt be sprinkled over every offering presented to God, as a sign of the covenant. Light for Israel was a symbol of messianic revelation, triumph over the darkness of paganism. Christians, the new Israel, receive a mission to carry into the world for all men: through faith and charity they can guide, consecrate, and make humanity fruitful. We who are baptized Christians are missionary disciples and we are called to become a living Gospel in the world: with a holy life we will “flavour” different environments and defend them from decay, as salt does; and we will carry the light of Christ through the witness of genuine charity. But if we Christians lose this flavour and do not live as salt and light, we lose our effectiveness. This mission of giving light to the world is so beautiful! We have this mission, and it is beautiful! It is also beautiful to keep the light we have received from Jesus, protecting it and safeguarding it. The Christian should be a luminous person; one who brings light, who always gives off light! A light that is not his, but a gift from God, a gift from Jesus. We carry this light. If a Christian extinguishes this light, his life has no meaning: he is a Christian by name only, who does not carry light; his life has no meaning. I would like to ask you now, how do you want to live? As a lamp that is burning or one that is not? Burning or not? How would you like to live? [The people respond: Burning!] As burning lamps! It is truly God who gives us this light and we must give it to others. Shining lamps! This is the Christian vocation.
Jesus gave us the law of love: to love God and to love one another as brothers. And the Lord did not fail to explain it a bit further, with the Beatitudes which nicely summarize the Christian approach.
In the day’s Gospel passage, however, Jesus goes a step further, explaining in greater detail to those who surrounded Him to hear Him. Let us look first of all at the verbs Jesus uses: love; do good; bless; pray; offer; do not refuse; give. With these words, Jesus shows us the path that we must take, a path of generosity. He asks us first and foremost to love. And we ask, “whom must I love?”. He answers us, “your enemies”. And, with surprise, we ask for confirmation: “our actual enemies?”. “Yes”, the Lord tells us, "actually your enemies!"
But the Lord also asks us to do good. And if we do not ask him, to whom? He tells us straight away, “to those who hate us”. And this time too, we ask the Lord for confirmation: “But must I do good to those who hate me?”. And the Lord’s reply is again, “yes”.
Then he even asks us to bless those who curse us. And to pray not only for my mama, for my dad, my children, my family, but for those who abuse us. And not to refuse anyone who begs from you. The newness of the Gospel lies in the giving of oneself, giving the heart, to those who actually dislike us, who harm us, to our enemies. The passage from Luke reads: “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”. It would merely be an exchange: you love me, I love you. But Jesus reminds us that even sinners — and by sinners he means pagans — love those who love them. This is why, there is no credit.
The passage continues: “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same”. Again, it is simply an exchange: I do good to you, you do good to me!. And yet the Gospel adds: “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?”. No credit, because it’s a bargain. St Luke then indicates, “even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again”.
All of Jesus’ reasoning leads to a firm conclusion: “Love your enemies instead. Do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Without interest. And your reward will be great”. And thus you will be sons of the Most High.
It is therefore evident that the Gospel is a new message that is difficult to carry forward. In a word, it means “go behind Jesus”. Follow him. Imitate him. Jesus does not answer his Father by saying, “I shall go and say a few words, I shall make a nice speech, I shall point the way and then come back”. No, Jesus’ response to the Father is: “I shall do your will”. And indeed, in the Garden of Olives he says to the Father: “Thy will be done”. And thus he gives his life, not for his friends but for his enemies!
The Christian way is not easy, but this is it. Therefore, to those who say, “I don’t feel like doing this”, the response is “if you don’t feel like it, that’s your problem, but this is the Christian way. This is the path that Jesus teaches us. This is the reason to take the path of Jesus, which is mercy: be merciful as your Father is merciful. Because only with a merciful heart can we do all that the Lord advises us, until the end. And thus it is obvious that the Christian life is not a self-reflexive life but it comes outside of itself to give to others: it is a gift, it is love, and love does not turn back on itself, it is not selfish: it gives itself!
The passage of St Luke concludes with the invitation not to judge and to be merciful. However, it often seems that we have been appointed judges of others: gossiping, criticizing, we judge everyone. But Jesus tells us: “Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven”. And so, we say it every day in the Our Father: forgive us as we forgive. In fact if I do not first forgive, how can I ask the Father to forgive me?
There is also another really beautiful image in the Gospel reading: “Give and it will be given to you”. And here “Jesus’ heart can be seen to grow and he makes this promise which is perhaps an image of heaven. The Christian life as Jesus presents it truly seems to be “folly”. St Paul himself speaks of the folly the cross of Christ, which is not part of the wisdom of the world. For this reason to be a Christian is to become a bit foolish, in a certain sense. And to renounce that worldly shrewdness in order to do all that Jesus tells us to do. And, if we make an accounting, if we balance things out, it seems to weigh against us. But the path of Jesus is magnanimity, generosity, the giving of oneself without measure. He came into the world to save and he gave himself, he forgave, he spoke ill of no one, he did not judge.
Of course, being Christian isn’t easy and we cannot become Christian with our own strength; we need “the grace of God”. Therefore, there is a prayer which should be said every day: “Lord, grant me the grace to become a good Christian, because I cannot do it alone."
A first reading of Chapter Six of Luke’s Gospel is unnerving. But, if we take the Gospel and we give it a second, a third, a fourth reading, we can then ask the Lord for the grace to understand what it is to be Christian. And also for the grace that He make Christians of us. Because we cannot do it alone.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus during the Last Supper, in the moment He knows His death is close at hand. His ‘hour’ has come. For it is the last time He is with His disciples, and now He wants to impress firmly a fundamental truth in their minds: even when He will no longer be physically present in the midst of them, they will still be able to remain united to Him in a new way, and thus bear much fruit. Everyone can be united to Jesus in a new way. If, on the contrary, one should lose this unity with Him, this union with Him, would become sterile, or rather, harmful to the community. And to express this reality, this new way of being united to Him, Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches: Just “as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:4-5). With this image He teaches us how to abide with Him, to be united to Him, even though He is not physically present.
Jesus is the vine, and through Him — like the sap in the tree — the very love of God, the Holy Spirit is passed to the branches. Look: we are the branches, and through this parable, Jesus wants us to understand the importance of remaining united to him. The branches are not self-sufficient, but depend totally on the vine, in which the source of their life is found. So it is with us Christians. Grafted by Baptism in Christ, we have freely received the gift of new life from Him; and thanks to the Church we are able to remain in vital communion with Christ. We must remain faithful to Baptism, and grow in intimacy with the Lord through prayer, listening and docility to His Word — read the Gospel —, participation in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
When one is intimately united to Jesus, he enjoys the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are — as St Paul tells us — “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). These are the gifts that we receive if we remain united in Jesus; and therefore a person who is so united in Him does so much good for neighbour and society, is a Christian person. In fact, one is recognized as a true Christian by this attitude, as a tree is recognized by its fruit. The fruits of this profound union with Christ are wonderful: our whole person is transformed by the grace of the Spirit: soul, understanding, will, affections, and even body, because we are united body and soul. We receive a new way of being, the life of Christ becomes our own: we are able to think like Him, to act like Him, to see the world and the things in it with the eyes of Jesus. And so we are able to love our brothers, beginning with the poorest and those who suffer the most, as He did and love them with His heart, and so bear fruits of goodness, of charity, and of peace in the world.
Each one of us is a branch of the one vine; and all of us together are called to bear the fruits of this common membership in Christ and in the Church. Let us entrust ourselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, so that we might be able to be living branches in the Church and witness to our faith in a consistent manner — consistency of one’s own life and thought, of life and faith — knowing that all of us, according to our particular vocations, participate in the one saving mission of Christ.
The Gospel passage makes repeated references to a ‘multitude’: “a great multitude followed Jesus from all over”. The people in this crowd were throwing themselves at him, to touch him. It was a crowd warm with enthusiasm, which followed Jesus with warmth and came from all places: from Tyre and Sidon, from Idumea and from beyond the Jordan. A great multitude made this journey on foot to find the Lord. And in facing the insistent crowd, one might ask: “Why did this multitude come? Why this enthusiasm? What did they need?”. The Gospel itself tells us that there were sick people who sought to be healed but there were also many people who came to listen to him. Indeed, these people liked hearing Jesus, because he did not speak like their doctors, but instead, with authority. Certainly, it was a multitude of people who came spontaneously: they weren’t brought on buses, like we have seen often when protests are organized and many have to go ‘to verify’ the presence, so as not to lose their job.
These people went because they felt something. And they were so numerous that Jesus had to ask for a boat and set out from the shore so that the crowd did not crush him. But what was the real motive, the profound motivation? Jesus himself explains in the Gospel this sort of social phenomenon. He says: “No one can come to me if not drawn by the Father”. In fact, whether this multitude went to Jesus out of need or because some were curious, the true reason is seen in the fact that this crowd was drawn by the Father: it was the Father that drew the crowd to Jesus. And Christ was not indifferent, like a stagnant teacher who spoke his words and then washed his hands. No! This crowd touched Jesus’ heart. We read in the Gospel that “Jesus was moved, because he saw these people as sheep without a shepherd”.
Therefore, the Father, through the Holy Spirit, draws people to Jesus. It is useless to look for all the reasoning. Every reason can be necessary but is not enough to make one finger move. You cannot move or take a step with only apologetic reasoning. What is truly necessary and decisive, however, is “that the Father draws you to Jesus”.
It is curious, that while this passage speaks about Jesus, speaks of the crowd, of the enthusiasm and of the love with which Jesus received and healed them, there is also something extraordinary. It is written: “whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘Your are the Son of God’!”.
This, is precisely the truth; this is the reality that every one of us feels when we approach Jesus and what “the impure spirits try to impede; they wage war on us”.
Someone might object: “Father, I am very Catholic; I always go to Mass.... But I never have these temptations, thank God!”. But it isn’t so. The response is: “No! Pray, because you are on the wrong path!”, because “a Christian life without temptations is not Christian: it is ideological, it is gnostic, but it is not Christian”. In fact it happens that when the Father draws people to Jesus, there is another who draws in the opposite way and wages war within you!. Thus Saint Paul speaks of Christian life as a struggle: a struggle every day to win, to destroy Satan’s empire, the empire of evil. This is the reason, that Jesus came, to destroy Satan! To destroy his influence on our hearts.
This final notation in the Gospel passage highlights what is essential: “both Jesus and the crowd” seem to disappear, leaving “only the Father and the impure spirits, that is the spirit of evil. The Father who draws the people to Jesus and the evil spirit who tries to destroy, always!”.
In this way we understand that “Christian life is a struggle” in which either you let yourself be drawn to Jesus, through the Father, or you can say ‘I’m tranquil, at peace’.... But in the hands of this multitude, of these impure spirits. However, if you want to go forward you must fight! Feel the heart struggling, so that Jesus may win.
Therefore, all Christians must make this examination of conscience and ask themselves: “Do I feel this struggle in my heart?”. This conflict between comfort or service to others, between having a little fun or praying and adoring the Father, between one thing and the other? Do I feel the will to do good or is there something that stops me, turns me into an ascetic? And also, do I believe that my life moves Jesus’ heart? If I don’t believe this, “I must pray a lot to believe it, so that he may grant me this grace.”
I celebrate with you the first Sunday of the Word: the Word of God makes the heart burn (cf. Lk 24:32), because it makes us feel loved and comforted by the Lord. The icon of "Our Lady of St. Luke", the evangelist, can help us to understand the maternal tenderness of the "living" word, which is at the same time "knife-sharp", as in today's Gospel: in fact it penetrates the soul (cf. Heb 4:12) and brings to light the secrets and contradictions of the heart.
Today it challenges us with the parable of the two sons, who respond to the Father's invitation to go into his vineyard: One says no, but then goes; the second says yes, but then doesn't work. There is, however, a big difference between the first son, who is lazy, and the second, who is hypocritical. Let's try to imagine what happened inside them. In the heart of the first, after his no, the invitation of his father still rang out; in the second, however, despite his yes, the father's voice was buried. The memory of the father awakened the first child from laziness, while the second, although he knew the good, contradicted his word with his actions. In fact, he had become impervious to the voice of God and of conscience, and without any problems accepted the duplicity of life. Jesus with this parable places two paths before us. Experience shows that we are not always willing to say yes in word and deed, because we are sinners. But we can choose whether to be sinners on the way, who listen to the Lord, and when they fall they repent and rise, like the first child; or sitting sinners, ready to always justify themselves and only with words according to what suits them.
This parable Jesus was addressed to some religious leaders of the time, the Son with his double life, while ordinary people often behaved like the other son. These leaders knew and explained everything, in a formally flawless way, like true intellectuals of religion. But they did not have the humility to listen, the courage to question themselves, and no strength to repent. And Jesus is very strict: he says that even tax collectors are more likely to enter the Kingdom of God. It is a harsh rebuke, because the tax collectors were corrupt traitors of the homeland. So what was the problem with these leaders? They were not simply mistaken about something, but they were mistaken in the way of life before God: they were, in words and with others, unyielding guardians of human traditions, unable to understand that life according to God is on the way and requires the humility to open up, repent and start again.
What does that say to us? That there is no Christian life designed on the drawing board, scientifically built, where it is sufficient to fulfil a few commandments to soothe consciences: Christian life is a humble path of a conscience never rigid and always relates to God, who knows how to repent and rely on Him in his poverty, without ever assuming that it is sufficient to itself. Thus we overcome the revised and up-to-date versions of that ancient evil, denounced by Jesus in the parable: hypocrisy, duplicity of life, clericalism that is accompanied by legalism, detachment from the people. The key word is repentance: it is repentance that allows us not to harden, to turn no to God into yes, and yes to sin into no for the sake of the Lord. The will of the Father, who every day gently speaks to our conscience, is carried out only in the form of repentance and continuous conversion. In the end, everyone has two paths ahead of them: to be repentant sinners or hypocritical sinners. But what matters is not the reasoning that justifies and attempts to save appearances, but a heart that moves forward with the Lord, struggles every day, repents and returns to Him. Because the Lord seeks the pure of heart, not pure "on the outside".
Thus we see, dear brothers and sisters, that the Word of God goes into the depths, "discerns the feelings and thoughts of the heart"(Heb 4:12). But it is also current: the parable also reminds us of the relationships, not always easy, between fathers and children. Today, at the rate at which one generation changes to the next, we feel more strongly the need for autonomy from the past, sometimes to the point of rebellion. But, after the closures and the long silences on one side or the other, it is good to recover the encounter, even if there are still conflicts simmering, which can become the stimulus to find a new balance. As in the family, so in the Church and in society: never give up encounter, dialogue, seek new ways to walk together.
The question often comes in the journey of the Church: where to go, how to move forward? I would like to leave you, at the end of this day, three reference points, three "P's". The first is the Word, which is the compass for humble walking, so as not to fall away from the way of God and fall into worldliness. The second is Bread, the Eucharistic bread, because from the Eucharist everything begins. It is in the Eucharist that we encounter the Church: not in gossip and chronicles, but here, in the Body of Christ shared by sinful and needy people, but who feel loved and then desire to love. From here we set off and meet again every time, this is the indispensable beginning of our being as a Church. The Eucharistic Congress proclaims it "out loud": the Church gathers like this, is born and lives around the Eucharist, with Jesus present and alive to worship, to receive and to give every day. Finally, the third P: the poor. Unfortunately, so many people lack the necessities. But there are also so many poor people of affection, lonely people, and poor people of God. In all of them we find Jesus, because Jesus in the world followed the path of poverty, of annihilation, as St Paul says in the second Reading: "Jesus emptied himself by assuming a condition of servant" (Ph 2:7) From the Eucharist to the poor, let us meet Jesus. You have reproduced the inscription that the Card. Lercaro loved to see engraved on the altar: "If we share the bread of heaven, how can we not share the earthly bread?" It will do us good to remember that all the time. The Word, the Bread, the poor: let us ask for the grace never to forget these basic foods that support us on our way.
The parable we have heard speaks to us of the Kingdom of God as a wedding feast (cf. Mt 22,1-14). The protagonist is the son of the king, the groom, in which it is easy to catch a glimpse of Jesus. In the parable, however, we never talk about the bride, but about the many guests, invited and expected: they are the ones who wear the bridal wear. Those guests are us, all of us, because with each of us the Lord wishes to "celebrate the wedding". Marriage ushers in the communion of all life: it is what God desires with each of us. Our relationship with him, then, cannot be only that of subjects devoted to the king, of faithful servants with the master or of diligent schoolchildren with the master, but is above all that of the beloved bride with the groom. In other words, the Lord desires us, seeks and invites us, and is not satisfied that we fulfil good duties and observe his laws, but he wants with us a true communion of life, a relationship made of dialogue, trust and forgiveness.
This is Christian life, a love story with God, where the Lord takes the initiative for free and where none of us can boast the exclusive invitation: no one is privileged over others, but each one is privileged before God. From this free, tender and privileged love, Christian life is always born and reborn. We can ask ourselves whether, at least once a day, we confess our love for Him to the Lord; if we remember, among many words, to say to him every day: "I love you Lord. You are my life." Because, if love is lost, Christian life becomes sterile, it becomes a soulless body, an impossible morality, a set of principles and laws to make ends meet without a reason. Instead, the God of life awaits a response from life, the Lord of love waits for a response of love. Addressing a Church in the Book of Revelation, He makes a precise rebuke: "You have abandoned your first love" (2:4). Here is the danger: a routine Christian life, where we are content with "normality", without momentum, without enthusiasm, and with short memory. Instead, let us revive the memory of first love: we are the beloved, the wedding guests, and our life is a gift, because every day is the magnificent opportunity to respond to the invitation.
But the Gospel warns us: the invitation can be rejected. Many of the guests said no, because they were taken over by their own interests: "they did not care and went away, one to his farm, and another to his business", says the text (Mt 22.5). One word comes back: "his"; is the key to understanding the reason for rejection. The guests, in fact, did not think that the wedding was sad or boring, but simply "did not care": they were distracted by "their" interests, they preferred to have something rather than get involved, as love requires. This is how one distances oneself from love, not out of malice, but because one prefers one's own: security, self-affirmation, comforts... Then you lie in the armchairs of profits, pleasures, some hobby that makes you feel a little cheerful, but so you get old early and badly, because you get old inside: when your heart does not expand, it closes, it gets old. And when everything depends on the self – what I want, what I need, what I want – you become rigid and evil, you react in a bad way for nothing, like the guests of the Gospel, who came to insult and even to kill (cf. v. 6) those who brought the invitation, just because they bothered them.
Then the Gospel asks us which side we are on: on the side of oneself or on God's side? Because God is the opposite of selfishness, of self-reference. He, the Gospel tells us, in the face of the constant rejections he receives, in the face of the refusals of his invitations, he goes on, he does not postpone the feast. He does not resign, but he continues to invite. In the face of the "no's", he does not slam the door, but includes even more people. God, in the face of the injustices suffered, responds with a greater love. We, when we are wounded by wrongs and waste, often harbour dissatisfaction and resentment. God, while suffering for our "no's", continues to take the initiative again and again, he goes on to prepare good even for those who do evil. Because that's how love is, it makes love; because that's the only way evil can be defeated. Today this God, who never loses hope, invites us to act like Him, to live according to true love, to overcome the resignation and whims of our touchy and lazy self.
There is one final aspect that the Gospel emphasizes: the dress of the guests, which is indispensable. It is not enough to answer once the invitation, to say "yes" and that's it, but you have to put on the clothe, you need the habit of living love every day. Because one cannot say "Lord, Lord" without living and applying God's will (cf. Mt 7,21). We need to clothe ourselves every day with his love, to renew God's choice every day. The Saints canonized today, the many Martyrs above all, point us to this path. They did not say "yes" to love in words and for a while, but with life and to the end. Their daily clothing was the love of Jesus, that mad love that loved us to the end, who left his forgiveness and his robe to those who crucified him. We too received in Baptism the white robe, the bridal garment for God. Let us ask Him, through the intercession of these holy brothers and sisters of ours, for the grace to choose and wear this dress every day and to keep it clean. How do I do it? Above all, by going to receive without fear the Lord's forgiveness: this is the decisive step to enter the wedding hall to celebrate the feast of love with Him.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 22:15-21) presents to us a new face-to-face encounter between Jesus and his adversaries. The theme addressed is that of the tribute to Caesar: a “thorny” issue about whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, to whom Palestine was subject in Jesus’ time. There were various positions. Thus, the question that the Pharisees posed to him — “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17) — was meant to ensnare the Teacher. In fact, depending on how he responded, he could have been accused of being either for or against Rome.
But in this case too, Jesus responds calmly and takes advantage of the malicious question in order to teach an important lesson, rising above the polemics and the alliance of his adversaries. He tells the Pharisees: “Show me the money for the tax”. They present him a coin, and, observing the coin, Jesus asks: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”. The Pharisees can only answer: “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus concludes: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (cf. vv. 19-21). On the one hand, suggesting they return to the emperor what belongs to him, Jesus declares that paying tax is not an act of idolatry, but a legal obligation to the earthly authority; on the other — and it is here that Jesus presents the “thrust” of his response: recalling the primacy of God, he asks them to render to Him that which is His due as the Lord of the life and history of mankind.
The reference to Caesar’s image engraved on the coin says that it is right that they feel fully — with rights and duties — citizens of the State; but symbolically it makes them think about the other image that is imprinted on every man and woman: the image of God. He is the Lord of all, and we, who were created “in his image” belong to Him first and foremost. From the question posed to him by the Pharisees, Jesus draws a more radical and vital question for each of us, a question we can ask ourselves: to whom do I belong? To family, to the city, to friends, to work, to politics, to the State? Yes, of course. But first and foremost — Jesus reminds us — you belong to God. This is the fundamental belonging. It is He who has given you all that you are and have. And therefore, day by day, we can and must live our life in recognition of this fundamental belonging and in heartfelt gratitude toward our Father, who creates each one of us individually, unrepeatable, but always according to the image of his beloved Son, Jesus. It is a wondrous mystery.
Christians are called to commit themselves concretely in the human and social spheres without comparing “God” and “Caesar”; comparing God and Caesar would be a fundamentalist approach. Christians are called to commit themselves concretely in earthly realities, but illuminating them with the light that comes from God. The primary entrustment to God and hope in him do not imply an escape from reality, but rather the diligent rendering to God that which belongs to him. This is why a believer looks to the future reality, that of God, so as to live earthly life to the fullest, and to meet its challenges with courage.
May the Virgin Mary help us to always live in conformity with the image of God that we bear within us, inside, also offering our contribution to the building of the earthly city.
Forty days after Christmas, we celebrate the Lord who enters the Temple and comes to encounter his people. In the Christian East, this feast is called the “Feast of Encounter”: it is the encounter between God, who became a child to bring newness to our world, and an expectant humanity, represented by the elderly man and woman in the Temple.
In the Temple, there is also an encounter between two couples: the young Mary and Joseph, and the elderly Simeon and Anna. The old receive from the young, while the young draw upon the old. In the Temple, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their people. This is important, because God’s promise does not come to fulfilment merely in individuals, once for all, but within a community and throughout history. There too, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their faith, for faith is not something learned from a book, but the art of living with God, learned from the experience of those who have gone before us. The two young people, in meeting the two older people, thus find themselves. And the two older people, nearing the end of their days, receive Jesus, the meaning of their lives. This event fulfils the prophecy of Joel: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (2:28). In this encounter, the young see their mission and the elderly realize their dreams. All because, at the centre of the encounter, is Jesus.
Let us look to our own lives, dear consecrated brothers and sisters. Everything started in an encounter with the Lord. Our journey of consecration was born of an encounter and a call. We need to keep this in mind. And if we remember aright, we will realize that in that encounter we were not alone with Jesus; there was also the people of God, the Church, young and old, just as in today’s Gospel. It is striking too, that while the young Mary and Joseph faithfully observe the Law – the Gospel tells us this four times – and never speak, the elderly Simeon and Anna come running up and prophesy. It seems it should be the other way around. Generally, it is the young who speak enthusiastically about the future, while the elderly protect the past. In the Gospel, the very opposite occurs, because when we meet one another in the Lord, God’s surprises immediately follow.
For this to occur in the consecrated life, we have to remember that we can never renew our encounter with the Lord without others; we can never leave others behind, never pass over generations, but must accompany one another daily, keeping the Lord always at the centre. For if the young are called to open new doors, the elderly hold the keys. An institute remains youthful by going back to its roots, by listening to its older members. There is no future without this encounter between the old and the young. There is no growth without roots and no flowering without new buds. There is never prophecy without memory, or memory without prophecy. And constant encounter.
Today’s frantic pace leads us to close many doors to encounter, often for fear of others. Only shopping malls and internet connections are always open. Yet that is not how it should be with consecrated life: the brother and the sister given to me by God are a part of my history, gifts to be cherished. May we never look at the screen of our cellphone more than the eyes of our brothers or sisters, or focus more on our software than on the Lord. For whenever we put our own projects, methods and organization at the centre, consecrated life stops being attractive; it no longer speaks to others; it no longer flourishes because it forgets its very foundations, its very roots.
Consecrated life is born and reborn of an encounter with Jesus as he is: poor, chaste and obedient. We journey along a double track: on the one hand, God’s loving initiative, from which everything starts and to which we must always return; on the other, our own response, which is truly loving when it has no “ifs” or “buts”, when it imitates Jesus in his poverty, chastity and obedience. Whereas the life of this world attempts to take hold of us, the consecrated life turns from fleeting riches to embrace the One who endures forever. The life of this world pursues selfish pleasures and desires; the consecrated life frees our affections of every possession in order fully to love God and other people. Worldly life aims to do whatever we want; consecrated life chooses humble obedience as the greater freedom. And while worldly life soon leaves our hands and hearts empty, life in Jesus fills us with peace to the very end, as in the Gospel, where Simeon and Anna come happily to the sunset of their lives with the Lord in their arms and joy in their hearts.
How good it is for us to hold the Lord “in our arms” (Lk 2:28), like Simeon. Not only in our heads and in our hearts, but also “in our hands”, in all that we do: in prayer, at work, at the table, on the telephone, at school, with the poor, everywhere. Having the Lord “in our hands” is an antidote to insular mysticism and frenetic activism, since a genuine encounter with Jesus corrects both saccharine piety and frazzled hyperactivity. Savouring the encounter with Jesus is also the remedy for the paralysis of routine, for it opens us up to the daily “havoc” of grace. The secret to fanning the flame of our spiritual life is a willingness to allow ourselves to encounter Jesus and to be encountered by him; otherwise we fall into a stifling life, where disgruntlement, bitterness and inevitable disappointments get the better of us. To encounter one another in Jesus as brothers and sisters, young and old, and thus to abandon the barren rhetoric of “the good old days” – a nostalgia that kills the soul – and to silence those who think that “everything is falling apart”. If we encounter Jesus and our brothers and sisters in the everyday events of our life, our hearts will no longer be set on the past or the future, but will experience the “today of God” in peace with everyone.
At the end of the Gospels, there is another encounter with Jesus that can inspire the consecrated life. It is that of the women before the tomb. They had gone to encounter the dead; their journey seemed pointless. You too are journeying against the current: the life of the world easily rejects poverty, chastity and obedience. But like those women, keep moving forward, without worrying about whatever heavy stones need to be removed (cf. Mk 16:3). And like those women, be the first to meet the Lord, risen and alive. Cling to him (cf. Mt 28:9) and go off immediately to tell your brothers and sisters, your eyes brimming with joy (cf. v. 8). In this way, you are the Church’s perennial dawn. You, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, are the Church’s perennial dawn! I ask you to renew this very day your encounter with Jesus, to walk together towards him. And this will give light to your eyes and strength to your steps.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
May Mary, Queen of Saints and example of perfect communion with her Divine Son, help us. May she teach us to abide in Jesus, as branches in the vine, and to never distance ourselves from his love. Indeed, we can achieve nothing without him, because our life is the living Christ, present in the Church and in the world.
We who are born in a Christian society risk living out our Christianity as “a social habit", in a purely formal manner, with the “hypocrisy of the just,” who are afraid to allow themselves to love. And when Mass is over, we leave Jesus in the Church; He does come with us when we return home, or in our daily lives. Woe to us! When we do this, we cast Jesus from our hearts: “We are Christians, but we live as pagans.
Jesus is saddened at being rejected, Pope Francis explained, while the pagan cities like Tyre and Sidon, seeing His miracles, “surely would have believed.” And He wept, “because these people were not capable of loving,” although “He desired to reach all the hearts He met, with a message that was not a dictatorial message, but a message of love.
We, each of us, can put ourselves in the place of the inhabitants of these three cities, Pope Francis said: “I, who have received so much from the Lord, who was born in a Christian society, who have known Jesus Christ, who have known salvation,” I who was educated in the faith. Yet it is so easy for me to forget Jesus. On the other hand, “we think of the news of other people, who, as soon as they heard the proclamation of Jesus, converted and followed Him.” But we’ve grown used to it.
And this attitude is harmful to us, because it reduces the Gospel to a social or sociological fact, rather than a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus speaks to me, He speaks to you, He speaks to each one of us. Jesus’ preaching is meant for each one of us. How is it that those pagans, as soon as they heard the preaching of Jesus, went with him; and I who was born here, in a Christian society, have become accustomed to it, and Christianity has become like a social habit, a garment that I put on and then lay aside? And Jesus weeps over each one of us when we live out our Christianity formally, not really.
There is the hypocrisy of sinners, but the hypocrisy of the just is the fear of the love of Jesus, the fear of allowing ourselves to love. And in reality, when we do this, we try to take control of our relationship with Jesus. [We tell Him] “Yes, I go to Mass, but afterwards You stay in the Church while I go home.” And Jesus does not come home with us, does not come into our families, into the education of our children, into our school, into our neighbourhood.
"Who is my neighbour ?"
The brigands who "beat the man", leaving him half dead "; the priest who when he saw the wounded man "passed by", without taking into account his mission, thinking only of the imminent "hour of Mass". So did the Levite, "a cultured man of the Law". Dwell on “passing by", a concept which must enter our hearts today. It is that of two "officials" who, consistent with being who they are, said: "it is not for me" to help the injured person. On the contrary, those who "do not pass by" are the Samaritan, "who was a sinner, one excommunicated by the people of Israel": the "greatest sinner. He had compassion. Perhaps he was a merchant who was traveling for business, too.
He did not look at his watch, did not think about blood. He came close to him - he got off his donkey - he tied his wounds, pouring oil and wine. He got his hands dirty, got his clothes dirty. Then he loaded him on his mount, took him to a hotel, all dirty ... blood ... And so he had to get there. And he took care of him. He did not say: "But, I’ll leave him here, call the doctors who’ll come. I'm leaving, I've done my part. " No. He took care, saying: "Now you are mine, not for a possession, but to serve you". He was not an official, he was a man with a heart, a man with an open heart.
The innkeeper was stunned to see a foreigner, a pagan - so we say - because he was not of the people of Israel who stopped to rescue the man, paying two denari and promising to pay any expenses on his return. The innkeeper does not doubt that he will receive what is owed, adds, it is the reaction of one who lives a testimony, one open to the surprises of God, just like the Samaritan.
Both were not officials. "Are you a Christian? Are you Christian? ". "Yes, yes, yes, I go on Sundays to Mass and I try to do the right thing ... less talk, because I always like to talk, but the rest I do well". Are you open? Are you open to God's surprises or are you a Christian official, closed? "I do this, I go to Mass on Sunday, Communion, Confession once a year, this, this ... I am up standing". These are the Christian officials, those who are not open to the surprises of God, those who know so much about God but do not meet God. Those who never enter into amazement before a testimony. On the contrary: they are incapable of giving witness.
I therefore, urge everyone, "laymen and pastors", to ask ourselves if we are Christians open to what the Lord gives us every day, to the surprises of God that often, like this Samaritan, makes things difficult for us, or are we a Christian official, doing what we have to, feeling that we abide by "the rules" and then being constrained by the same rules. Some ancient theologians, said that in this passage "the whole Gospel" is contained.
Each of us is the man there, wounded, and the Samaritan is Jesus. And he healed our wounds. He drew near to us. He took care of us. He paid for us. And he said to his Church: "But if you need more, you pay, I will come back and I will pay". Think about this: in this passage there is the whole Gospel.
There are so many Christians, yes, they go to Mass on Sundays, but they are always busy. They have no time for their children, they don’t play with their children. This is bad. “I have so much to do, I’m so busy…” [they say]. And in the end they become worshippers of that religion which is busy-ness: they belong to the group of the busy, who are always doing things… But pause, gaze upon the Lord, take the Gospel, listen to the Word of the Lord, open your heart… No: always the language of the hands, always. And they do good, but not Christian good: a human good. These people lack contemplation. Martha lacked that. [She was] courageous, always going forward, taking things in hand, but lacking peace: losing time gazing upon the Lord.
On the other hand, Mary doesn’t sit around “doing-nothing.” She “gazed upon the Lord because the Lord had touched her heart; and it is from there, from that inspiration of the Lord, that there came the work that she had to undertake later.” This is the rule of St Benedict, “Ora et labora,” “pray and work,” which monks and nuns incarnate in the cloister, who certainly don’t spend the whole day gazing at the heavens. They pray and work.” And this was especially what St Paul incarnated, as he wrote in the day’s first Reading: “When God chose him,” the Pope said, “he didn’t go off to preach” immediately, but instead “went off to pray,” “to contemplate the mystery of Jesus Christ who was revealed”:
Everything Paul did, he did with this spirit of contemplation, of gazing upon the Lord. It was the Lord who spoke from his heart, because Paul was in love with the Lord. And this is the key for not going astray: “being in love.” In order to know which side we are on, or whether we are exaggerating because we are getting into an overly abstract, even gnostic, contemplation; or whether we are too busy; we must ask ourselves the question: “Am I in love with the Lord? Am I certain, certain that He has chosen me? Or do I live my Christianity like this, doing things… Yes, I do this, I do that; But what does my heart do? Does it contemplate?
The Pope said it is like a husband returning home from work, and finding his wife waiting to greet him: A wife that is truly in love does not make him comfortable, and then return to her chores; she “takes the time to be with him.” We too take time for the Lord in our service to others:
Contemplation and service: this is the path of our life. Each one of us can think to ourselves, “How much time each day do I give to contemplating the mystery of Jesus?” And then, “How do I work? Do I work so much that there seems to be an alienation? Or is my work consistent with my faith, work as a service that comes from the Gospel?” We would do well to consider this.
Let us look at three things Jesus does in today’s Gospel.
First: while it is still day, he “leaves”. He leaves the crowds at the height of his success, acclaimed for his multiplication of the loaves. Though the disciples wanted to bask in the glory, he tells them to go ahead and then dismisses the crowd (cf. Mt 14:22-23). Sought by the people, he goes off by himself; as the excitement was winding down, he goes up the mountain to pray. Then, in the dead of night, he comes down and goes to the disciples, walking on the wind-swept waters. In all of this, Jesus goes against the current: first, he leaves behind success, and then tranquillity. He teaches us the courage to leave: to leave behind the success that swells the heart and the tranquillity that deadens the soul.
To go where? To God by praying, and to those in need by loving. These are the true treasures in life: God and our neighbour. And this is the road Jesus tells us to take: to go up to God and to come down to our brothers and sisters. He tears us away from grazing undisturbed in the comfortable meadows of life, from living a life of ease amid little daily pleasures. His disciples are not meant for the carefree calm of a normal life. Like Jesus, they make their way travelling light, ready to leave momentary glories behind, careful not to cling to fleeting goods. Christians know that their homeland is elsewhere, that they are even now – as Saint Paul reminds us in the second reading – “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (cf. Eph 2:19). They are used to being wayfarers. We do not live to accumulate; our glory lies in leaving behind the things that pass away in order to hold on to those that last. Let us ask God to make us like the Church described in the first reading: always on the move, good at leaving and faithful in serving (cf. Acts 28:11-14). Rouse us, Lord, from our idle calm, from the quiet lull of our safe harbours. Set us free from the moorings of self-absorption that weigh life down; free us from constantly seeking success. Teach us, Lord, to know how to “leave” in order to set out on the road you have shown us: to God and to our neighbour.
The second thing: in the heart of the night, Jesus reassures. He goes to his disciples, in the dark, walking “on the sea” (v. 25). The “sea” in this case was really a lake, but the idea of the “sea”, with its murky depths, evokes the forces of evil. Jesus, in effect, goes to meet his disciples by trampling on the malign foes of humanity. And this is the meaning of the sign: rather than a triumphant display of power, it is a revelation of the reassuring certainty that Jesus, and Jesus alone, triumphs over our greatest enemies: the devil, sin, death, fear, worldliness. Today, and to us, he says: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (v. 27).
The boat of our life is often storm-tossed and buffeted by winds. Even when the waters are calm, they quickly grow agitated. When we are caught up in those storms, they seem to be our only problem. But the issue is not the momentary storm, but how we are navigating through life. The secret of navigating well is to invite Jesus on board. The rudder of life must be surrendered to him, so that he can steer the route. He alone gives life in death and hope in suffering; he alone heals our heart by his forgiveness and frees us from fear by instilling confidence. Today, let us invite Jesus into the boat of our life. Like the disciples, we will realize that once he is on board, the winds die down (cf. v. 32) and there can be no shipwreck. With him on board, there will never be a shipwreck! Only with Jesus do we then become capable of offering reassurance. How greatly we need people who can comfort others not with empty words, but with words of life, with deeds of life. In the name of Jesus, we are able to offer true comfort. It is not empty words of encouragement, but the presence of Jesus that grants strength. Reassure us, Lord: comforted by you, we will be able to bring true comfort to others.
The third thing Jesus does: in the midst of the storm, he stretches out his hand (cf. v. 31). He takes hold of Peter who, in his fear and doubt, was sinking, and cried out: “Lord, save me!” (v. 30). We can put ourselves in Peter’s place: we are people of little faith, pleading for salvation. We are wanting in true life and we need the outstretched hand of the Lord to draw us out from evil. This is the beginning of faith: to cast off the pride that makes us feel self-sufficient, and to realize that we are in need of salvation. Faith grows in this climate, to which we adapt ourselves by taking our place beside those who do not set themselves on a pedestal but are needy and cry out for help. This is why it is important for all of us to live our faith in contact with those in need. This is not a sociological option, the fashion of a single pontificate; it is a theological requirement. It entails acknowledging that we are beggars pleading for salvation, brothers and sisters of all, but especially of the poor whom the Lord loves. In this way, we embrace the spirit of the Gospel. “The spirit of poverty and of love – says the Council – is in fact the glory and witness of the Church of Christ” (Gaudium et Spes, 88).
Jesus heard the cry of Peter. Let us ask for the grace to hear the cry of all those tossed by the waves of life. The cry of the poor: it is the stifled cry of the unborn, of starving children, of young people more used to the explosion of bombs than happy shouts of the playground. It is the cry of the elderly, cast off and abandoned to themselves. It is the cry of all those who face the storms of life without the presence of a friend. It is the cry of all those forced to flee their homes and native land for an uncertain future. It is the cry of entire peoples, deprived even of the great natural resources at their disposal. It is the cry of every Lazarus who weeps while the wealthy few feast on what, in justice, belongs to all. Injustice is the perverse root of poverty. The cry of the poor daily grows louder but is heard less and less. Every day that cry gets louder, but every day heard less, drowned out by the din of the rich few, who grow ever fewer and more rich.
In the face of contempt for human dignity, we often remain with arms folded or stretched out as a sign of our frustration before the grim power of evil. Yet we Christians cannot stand with arms folded in indifference, or with arms outstretched in helplessness. No. As believers, we must stretch out our hands, as Jesus does with us. The cry of the poor finds a hearing with God. Yet I ask, does it with us? Do we have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands outstretched to offer help? Or do we keep repeating: “Come back tomorrow”? “Christ himself appeals to the charity of his disciples in the person of the poor” (Gaudium et Spes, loc. cit.). He asks us to recognize him in all those who are hungry and thirsty, in the stranger and those stripped of dignity, in the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:35-36).
The Lord stretches out his hand, freely and not out of duty. And so it must be with us. We are not called to do good only to those who like us. That is normal, but Jesus demands that we do something more (cf. Mt 5:46): to give to those who have nothing to give back, to love gratuitously (cf. Lk 6:32-36). Let us look around in our own day. For all that we do, do we ever do anything completely for free, something for a person who cannot repay us? That will be our outstretched hand, our true treasure in heaven.
Stretch out your hand to us, Lord, and take hold of us. Help us to love as you love. Teach us to leave behind all that is passing, to be a source of reassurance to those around us, and to give freely to all those in need. Amen.
We can learn about the Christian style by first knowing our attitudes that don’t belong to the Christian style. The "accusatory style", the "worldly style" and the "selfish style".
The accusatory style belongs to those who always try and live by accusing others, disqualifying others, acting as absent promoters of justice. But they don't realize that it's the style of the devil: in the Bible, the devil is called the "great accuser", who is always accusing others.
This was the same in the time of Jesus who in a few cases reproached the accusers: "Instead of looking at the speck in the eyes of others, look at the beam in yours"; or again: "Those who have not sinned can throw the first stone". Living by accusing others and looking for defects, is not Christian, not new wineskin.
Worldliness, is an attitude of Catholics who can recite the Creed, but live on vanity, pride and attachment to money, believing themselves to be self-sufficient.
The Lord has offered you the new wine but you did not change the wineskin, you did not change yourself. This worldliness is what ruins so many who are good but they enter into this spirit of vanity, of pride, of being seen... Humility that is part of the Christian style, like that of Our Lady and St. Joseph, is lacking.
The selfish spirit is the spirit of indifference that is common in our communities. One believes oneself to be a good Catholic but doesn’t worry about the problems of others – wars, illnesses and the suffering of our neighbours. This is the hypocrisy that Jesus reproached the doctors of the law for. What then is the Christian style?
The Christian style is that of the Beatitudes: meekness, humility, patience in suffering, love for justice, ability to endure persecution, not judging others... If a Catholic wants to learn the Christian style, so as not to fall into this accusatory style, the worldly style and the selfish style, he / she must read the Beatitudes. They are the wineskins, the path we must take. To be a good Christian one must have the ability not only to recite the Creed with the heart but also the Our Father with the heart.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The fruit of Pentecost, the mighty outpouring of the spirit of God upon the first Christian community, was that many people felt pierced in their hearts by the good news – the kerygma – of the salvation in Christ and they joined him freely, converting, receiving baptism in His name and in turn, welcoming the gift of the Holy Spirit. About three thousand people entered to become a part of that fraternity and that habitat of believers and the ecclesial ferment of the work of evangelisation.
The warmth of the faith of these brothers and sisters in Christ makes in their lives the scene of the work of God that is manifested with wonders and signs through the Apostles. The extraordinary becomes ordinary and everyday life becomes a space for the manifestation of the living Christ.
The evangelist Luke tells us showing us the church of Jerusalem as a paradigm of every Christian community, as the icon of a fraternity that fascinates and shouldn't be idealised but also should not be minimized. The account of the Acts allows us to look within the walls of the house where the first Christians gathered together as God's family, the space of koinonia, that is of communion and love between brothers and sisters in Christ. You can see that they live in a very specific way: "they are devoted to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life of the breaking of bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2.42). Christians listen assiduously to the "didache" or apostolic teaching; practicing high quality interpersonal relationships through the communion of spiritual and material goods; they make memory of the Lord through the "breaking of bread", that is, the Eucharist, and they dialogue with God in prayer. These are the attitudes of the Christian; the four tracks of a good Christian: First - assiduously listen to the apostolic teaching. Second, - practice a high quality of interpersonal relations also through communion of spiritual and material goods. Third, - make memory of the Lord through the breaking of bread the Eucharist. And Fourth, - the dialogue with God in prayer. Those are the signs of a good Christian.
Different from human society, where we tend to make our own interests and even overlook or even do things to the detriment of others, the community of believers banishes individualism to encourage sharing and solidarity. There is no room for selfishness in the soul of a Christian: If your heart is selfish you're not a Christian, you're a liar, that only looks for your favour, for what's in it for you. And Luke tells us that the Christians are together (cf. Acts 2.44). The closeness and unity are the style of the redeemed: they are close, concerned for each other, they do not speak poorly of others, no, they help them to be closer.
The grace of baptism is therefore the intimate connection between brothers in Christ who are called to share, to empathize with others and to give "according to the need of every one" (Acts 2.45), That is, generosity, charity, being concerned about the others, visiting the sick, visit those in need, those who need consolation.
And this is precisely because the fraternity chooses the path of communion and of attention to the needy. This fraternity that is the Church can live a true and authentic liturgical life. Luke says, that "every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and to breaking bread in their homes, they ate their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favour with all the people" (Acts 2.46 -47).
Finally, the account of the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that the Lord ensures the growth of the Community (cf. 2.47): perseverance and a genuine alliance with God and with our brothers and sisters becomes the attractive force that fascinates and captivates many (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 14), this is a principle to which the community of believers has lived to throughout all time.
Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to make our communities places which welcome and practice a new life, the work of solidarity and communion, places where the liturgy is an encounter with God that becomes communion with our brothers and sisters, places where the doors are open to the celestial Jerusalem.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!
The Christian community is born from the superabundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit and it grows thanks to the leaven of sharing among brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a dynamism of solidarity which builds up the Church as the family of God, for whom the experience of koinonia is central. What does this strange word mean? It is a Greek word which means “pooling one’s goods”, “sharing in common”, being a community, not isolated. This is the experience of the first Christian community, that is, “communality”, “sharing”, “communicating, participating”, not isolation. In the primitive Church, this koinonia, this communality, refers primarily to participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. This is why when we receive Holy Communion, we say that “we communicate”, we enter into communion with Jesus, and from this communion with Jesus we reach a communion with our brothers and sisters. And this communion in the Body and Blood of Christ that we share during Holy Mass translates into fraternal union and, therefore also into what is most difficult for us; pooling our resources and collecting money for the mother Church in Jerusalem (cf. Rm 12:13, 2 Cor 8-9) and the other Churches. If you want to know whether you are good Christians, you have to pray, try to draw near to Communion, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But the sign that your heart has converted is when conversion reaches the pocket, when it touches one’s own interests. That is when one can see whether one is generous to others, if one helps the weakest, the poorest. When conversion achieves this, you are sure that it is a true conversion. If you stop at words, it is not a real conversion.
Eucharistic life, prayer, the preaching of the Apostles and the experience of communion (cf. Acts 2:42) turn believers into a multitude of people who — the Book of the Acts of the Apostles says — are of “one heart and soul” and who do not consider their property their own, but hold everything in common (cf. Acts 4:32). It is such a powerful example of life that it helps us to be generous and not miserly. This is why the Book says, “there was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35). The Church has always had this gesture of Christians who stripped themselves of the things they had in excess, the things that were not necessary, in order to give them to those in need. And not just money: also time. How many Christians — you for example, here in Italy — how many Christians do volunteer work! This is beautiful. It is communion, sharing one’s time with others to help those in need. And thus: volunteer work, charity work, visits to the sick; we must always share with others and not just seek after our own interests.
In this way, the community, or koinonia, becomes the new way of relating among the Lord’s disciples. Christians experience a new way of being and behaving among themselves. And it is the proper Christian method, to such an extent that Gentiles would look at Christians and remark: “Look at how they love each other!”. Love was the method. But not love in word, not false love: love in works, in helping one another, concrete love, the concreteness of love. The Covenant with Christ establishes a bond among brothers and sisters which merges and expresses itself in the communion of material goods too. Yes this method of being together, of loving this way, ‘up to the pocket’, also brings one to strip oneself of the hindrance of money and to give it to others, going against one’s own interests. Being the limbs of the Body of Christ makes believers share the responsibility for one another. Being believers in Jesus makes us all responsible for each other. “But look at that one, the problem he has. I don’t care, it’s his business”. No, among Christians we cannot say: “poor thing, he has a problem at home, he is going through this family problem”. But “I have to pray, I take him with me, I am not indifferent”. This is being Christian. This is why the strong support the weak (cf. Rom 15:1) and no one experiences poverty that humiliates and disfigures human dignity because they live in this community: having one heart in common. They love one another. This is the sign: concrete love.
James, Peter and John, the three Apostles who were the “pillars” of the Church in Jerusalem, take a decision in common that Paul and Barnabas would evangelise the Gentiles while they evangelised the Hebrews, and they only asked Paul and Barnabas for one condition: not to forget the poor, to remember the poor (cf. Gal 2:9-10) Not only the material poor, but also the poor in spirit, the people with difficulty who need our closeness. A Christian always begins with him/herself, from his/her own heart and approaches others as Jesus approached us. This was the first Christian community.
A practical example of sharing and communion of goods comes to us from the testimony of Barnabas. He owns a field and sells it in order to give the proceeds to the Apostles (cf. Acts 4:36-37). But beside this positive example, there is another that is sadly negative: After selling their land, Ananias and his wife Sapphira decide to hand over only part of the proceeds to the Apostles and to keep part of the proceeds for themselves (cf. Acts 5:1-2). This deceit interrupts the chain of freely sharing, serene and disinterested sharing and the consequences are tragic. They are fatal (Acts 5:5-10). The Apostle Peter exposes Ananias and his wife’s deceit and says to them: “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? ... You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). We could say that Ananias lied to God because of an isolated conscience, a hypocritical conscience, that is due to an ecclesial belonging that is “negotiated”, partial and opportunistic. Hypocrisy is the worst enemy of this Christian community, of this Christian love: pretending to love each other but only seeking one’s own interests.
Falling short of sincere sharing, indeed, falling short of the sincerity of love means cultivating hypocrisy, distancing oneself from the truth, becoming selfish, extinguishing the fire of communion and choosing the frost of inner death. Those who behave in this manner move in the Church like a tourist. There are many tourists in the Church who are always passing through but never enter the Church. It is spiritual tourism that leads them to believe they are Christians whereas they are only tourists of the catacombs. No, we should not be tourists in the Church but rather one another’s brothers and sisters. A life based only on drawing gain and advantages from situations to the detriment of others, inevitably causes inner death. And how many people say they are close to the Church, friends of priests, of bishops, while they only seek their own interests. Such hypocrisy destroys the Church!
May the Lord — I ask this for all of us — pour over us his Spirit of tenderness which vanquishes all hypocrisy and generates that truth that nourishes Christian solidarity, which, far from being an activity of social work, is the inalienable expression of the Church, the most tender mother of all, especially of the poorest.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The ecclesial community described in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is full of so much richness made available by the Lord — the Lord is generous! It experiences a growth in numbers and great success, despite external attacks. In order to show us this vitality, Luke, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, also mentions significant places, such as Solomon’s Portico (cf. Acts 5:12), a meeting place for believers. The portico (stoà) is an open gallery that serves as a shelter, and as a place of encounter and witness. In fact, Luke makes a point of [narrating] the signs and wonders that accompany the Apostles’ words and the special care of the sick to whom they devote themselves.
In Chapter 5 of the Acts, the nascent Church shows that it is like a “field hospital” that welcomes the weakest, that is, the sick. Their suffering attracts the Apostles, who possess “no silver and gold” (Acts 3:6) — so says Peter to the cripple — but are strong in the name of Jesus. In their eyes, as in the eyes of Christians of all times, the sick are privileged recipients of the Good News of the Kingdom; they are brothers and sisters in whom Christ is present in a special way, so that they may be sought and found by all of us (cf. Mt 25:36, 40). The sick are privileged for the Church, for the priestly heart, for all the faithful. They are not to be discarded. On the contrary, they are to be healed, to be cared for. They are the object of Christian concern.
Among the Apostles, stands out Peter, who has pre-eminence in the apostolic group because of the primacy (cf. Mt 16:18) and mission received from the Risen One (cf. Jn 21:15-17). It is he who began preaching the kerygma on the Day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:14-41) and who plays a leading role at the Council of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10).
Peter approaches the stretchers and walks among the sick, as Jesus had done, taking their infirmities and diseases upon himself (cf. Mt 8:17; Is 53:4). And Peter, the fisherman from Galilee, passes through, but he lets Another manifest himself: that is the Christ alive and working! Indeed, the witness is whoever manifests Christ, both in words and with physical presence, who allows him to engage and to be an extension of the Verb made flesh in history.
Peter is the one who carries out the works of the Teacher (cf. Jn 14:12): looking to him with faith, one sees Christ himself. Filled with the Spirit of his Lord, Peter passes through and, without doing anything, his shadow becomes a healing “caress”, a communication of health, an effusion of the tenderness of the Risen One who bends over the sick and restores life, salvation and dignity. In this way, God manifests his proximity and makes his children’s wounds “the theological place of God’s tenderness” (Morning meditation, Domus Sanctae Marthae, 14 December 2017). In the wounds of the sick, in the illnesses that are a hindrance to going forward in life, there is always the presence of Jesus, the wound of Jesus. There is Jesus who calls each of us to care for them, support them and heal them.
The healing action of Peter stirs the hatred and envy of the Sadducees, who imprison the Apostles and, upset by their mysterious deliverance, forbid them to teach. These people saw the miracles the Apostles performed, not through magic, but in the name of Jesus, but they did not want to accept this and so they imprisoned and beat them. They were then miraculously freed, but the heart of the Sadducees was so hard that they did not want to believe what they saw. Peter then responds by offering a key [aspect] of Christian life: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Because they — the Sadducees — say: “You should not continue doing these things, you should not heal” — “I obey God before men”: it is the great Christian reply. This means listening to God without reserve, delay, calculation; adhering to Him in order to be able to have a Covenant with him and with those we meet on our journey.
Let us, too, ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to be unafraid when faced with those who order us to be quiet, who slander us and even make attempts against our lives. Let us ask him to strengthen us interiorly, to be certain of the loving and comforting presence of the Lord at our side.
The first liturgical reading of today (Jonah 3: 1-10 ), taken from the book of the prophet Jonah, continues the story that began yesterday, and which will end tomorrow, in which the conflicting relationship between God and Jonah is described.
In the previous passage we read that the Lord's first call was that he wanted to send the prophet to Ninevah to preach repentance to that city. But Jonah disobeyed the command and ran away from God, because that task was too difficult for him. He had then embarked for Tarshish, and during a storm aroused by the Lord he had been thrown overboard to calm the furious storm. A whale that swallowed him, threw him out on the shore after three days, an image that reminds us of Christ’s Resurrection on the third day.
In todays reading (Jonah 3: 1-10) there is the second call: God speaks to Jonah again and this time Jonah obeys God, goes to preach to the Ninevites who convert and God relents from punishing them. This time the "stubborn Jonah" did his job well and then he left.
Tomorrow we will see how the story ends and that Jonah is angry at the Lord because he is too merciful and because He does the opposite of what he had threatened to do.
Jonah scolds the Lord: "Lord, wasn't that what I said when I was in my country? This is why I fled at first to Tarshish. because I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, of great love, and that you reconsider threatened punishment. Therefore, Lord, take my life: I do not want to work with you anymore, because it is better for me to die than to live. It is better to die than to continue this work as a prophet with you, that in the end you do the opposite of what you sent me to do.
Saying this, Jonah goes out of the city and builds a hut from there waits to see what the Lord will do. Jonah hoped that God would destroy the city. The Lord then makes a gourd plant grow over the prophet to provide him shade. But soon God causes the plant to wither and die.
Jonah is once again outraged at God over the gourd plant. Do you have pity for a plant, the Lord tells him, for which you have made no effort and I should not have pity on a great city like Ninevah?
The heated exchange between the Lord and Jonah is between two hardheads.
Jonah is stubborn with his convictions of faith, and the Lord is stubborn in His mercy. He never leaves us, he knocks on the door of the heart till the end. He’s always there.
Jonah was stubborn because he put conditions on his faith. Jonah is the model of those Christians who always put conditions saying, "I am a Christian on condition that things are done this way." - " No, no, these changes are not Christian" - "This is heresy" - "This is not right" ...They are Christians who condition God, who condition the faith and the action of God.
It is this "as long as" that keeps so many Christians in their own ideas and end up in ideology: it is the bad path from faith to ideology. And today there are so many. These Christians are afraid: to grow up, to the challenges of life, of the challenges of the Lord, of the challenges of history, attached to their convictions, in their first convictions, in their own ideologies. They are Christians who prefer ideology to faith and distance themselves from the community, are afraid to put themselves in God's hands and prefer to judge everything, but from the smallness of their hearts.
The story of Jonah presents two figures of the Church today. The Church of those ideologues who squat in their own ideologies, there, and the church that shows the Lord who approaches all situations without disgust. Things do not disgust the Lord, our sins don’t disgust. He approaches as He approached to caress the lepers and the sick. Because He came to heal, He came to save, not to condemn.
The celebration of the feast of All Souls in the catacombs – for me it is the first time in my life that I entered a catacomb, it is a surprise – they tells us many things. We can think of the lives of these people who had to hide, who had this culture of burying the dead and celebrating the Eucharist in here... It is a bad moment in history, but one that has not been overcome: even today there are. There are many. So many catacombs in other countries, where they even have to pretend to have a party or a birthday to celebrate the Eucharist, because in that place it is forbidden to do so. Even today there are persecuted Christians, more than in the first centuries, more. This – the catacombs, the persecution, the Christians – and these Readings, make me think of three words: identity, place and hope.
The identity of these people who gathered here to celebrate the Eucharist and to praise the Lord, is the same as our brothers and sisters today in so many, many countries where being a Christian is a crime, it is forbidden, they have no right. It's the same. Their identity is what we heard: it's the Beatitudes. The identity of a Christian is this: the Beatitudes. There's no other. If you do this, if you live like this, you're a Christian. "No, but look, I belong to that association, to that other..., I am of this movement...". Yes, yes, all beautiful things; but these are fantasy before this reality. Your ID card is this "it indicates the Gospel", and if you don't have this, you don't need movements or other affiliations. Either you live like this, or you're not a Christian. Simply. The Lord said so. "Yes, but it's not easy, I don't know how to live like this...". There is another passage of the gospel that helps us better understand this, and that passage of the Gospel will also be the "great protocol" according to which we will be judged. It's Matthew 25. With these two passages of the Gospel, the Beatitudes and the great protocol, we will show, living this, our identity as Christians. Without this there is no identity. There is the pretence of being Christian, but we don't have an identity.
This is the identity of the Christian. The second word: the place. Those people who came here to hide, to be safe, even to bury the dead; and people who celebrate the Eucharist today secretly, in those countries where it is forbidden... I think of that nun in Albania who was in a re-education camp, at the time of the communists, and it was forbidden for priests to give the sacraments, and this nun, there, she baptized in secret. The people, the Christians knew that this nun would baptized and the mothers went to her with their babies; but she didn't even have a glass, something to put water in... So she did it with her shoes: she took the water from the river and baptized with her shoes. The place of the Christian is a bit everywhere, we have no privileged place in life. Some want to have it, they are "qualified" Christians. But they run the risk of remaining with the "qualified" and the "Christian" part falls away. Christians, what is their place? "The souls of the just are in God's hands"(Wis 3:1): the Christian's place is in God's hands, where he wants. The hands of God, which are wounded, which are the hands of his Son who wanted to bear the wounds to show them to his Father and intercede for us. The Christian's place is in the intercession of Jesus before the Father. In God's hands. And there we are safe, let happen what happens, even the cross. Our identity indicates the gospel says that we will be blessed if they persecute us, if they say anything against us; but if we are in God's hands wounded by love, we are safe. This is our place. And today we can ask ourselves: but me, where do I feel most secure? In the hands of God or with other things, with other security that we trust ourselves to but that will eventually fall, that are not substantial?
These Christians, with this identity card, who lived and live in god's hands, are men and women of hope. And this is the third word that comes to me today: hope. We heard it in the second Reading: that final vision where everything was re-made, where everything was re-created, that homeland where we all will go. And to get in there you don't need strange things, you don't need a little sophisticated attitudes: you only need to show your ID card: "It's fine, go ahead". Our hope is in Heaven, our hope is anchored there and we, with the rope in hand, we support ourselves looking at that other shore that river that we have to cross.
Identity: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25. Place: the safest place, in God's hands, wounded by love. Hope, future: the anchor, there, on the other shore, but I well cling to the rope. This is important, always clinging to the rope! So often we can only look at the rope, not even the anchor, not even the other shore; but as long as you are clinging to the rope you will get their securely.
The Lord remembers His covenant forever. We repeated this in the Psalm. The Lord never forgets, He never forgets. Yes, He only forgets in one case, when He forgives sins. After forgiving He loses his memory, He does not remember sins. In other cases God does not forget. His fidelity is memory. His fidelity with His people. His fidelity with Abraham is a memory of the promise He had made. God chose Abraham to go on a journey. Abraham is chosen, he was chosen. God chose him. Then in that election He promised him an inheritance and today, in the passage of the book of Genesis, there is one more step. As for you, my covenant is with you is this. The covenant. A covenant that makes him see his fruitfulness in the future: you will become the father of a host of nations.
The election, the promise and the covenant, are the three dimensions of the life of faith, the three dimensions of Christian life. Each of us has been chosen, no one chooses to be a Christian among all the possibilities that the religious market offers him, we have been chosen. We are Christians because we have been chosen. In this election there is a promise, there is a promise of hope, the promise is fruitfulness: Abraham will be the father of a host of nations and ... we will be fruitful in faith. Your faith will flourish in works, in good works, in works of fruitfulness also, a fruitful faith. But you must take a step to keep the covenant with me. And the covenant is fidelity, to be faithful. We were chosen, the Lord gave us a promise, now He asks us to enter into a covenant. A covenant of faithfulness. Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced thinking, seeing his day, the day of great fruitfulness, that son of his - Jesus was the son of Abraham - who came to remake creation, which was more difficult than doing it, says the liturgy - came to in act the redemption of our sins, to free us.
A Christian isn't someone who can just show their Baptismal certificate: the certificate of Baptism is just a piece of paper. You are a Christian if you say yes to the election that God has made of you, if you follow the promise that the Lord has made to you and if you live the covenant with the Lord: this is Christian life.
The sins on the journey are always against these three dimensions: not accepting ones election and we "choose" so many idols, so many things that are not of God; not accepting hope in the promise which is looking far away to the promise, even so many times, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, greeting them from afar and but we want the promises to be today with the little idols that we make; and forgetting the covenant, living without the covenant, as if we were without the covenant. Fruitfulness is the joy, that joy of Abraham who saw Jesus' day and was full of joy. This is the revelation that today the word of God gives us about our Christian existence.
May we be like our Father: conscious of having been chosen, joyful of going toward a promise and faithful in fulfilling the covenant.
The Pope ended the celebration with Eucharistic worship and blessing, inviting Spiritual Communion. Below is the prayer recited by the Pope:
My Jesus, I believe that You are truly present in the Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Because I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as being already there and unite myself wholy to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
Let us pray together today for the people who perform funeral services. It's so painful, so sad what they do, and they feel the pain of this pandemic so closely. Let us pray for them.
Today the Church celebrates St. Mark, one of the four evangelists, he was very close to the Apostle Peter. The Gospel of Mark was the first to be written. It's simple, a simple style, very close. If you have some time today, take it in your hand and read it. It is not long, but it is pleasing to read the simplicity with which Mark recounts the life of the Lord.
And in the Gospel - which is the end of the Gospel of Mark, that we have just read - there is the sending forth by the Lord. The Lord has revealed himself as saviour, as the only Son of God; he has been revealed to all of Israel and the people, especially in more detail to the apostles, to the disciples. This is the Lord's taking leave: the Lord leaves, departs, and "was taken up into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God." But before he left, when he appeared to the Eleven, he said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." This is the missionary nature of faith.
Faith is either missionary or it is not faith. Faith is not just for me, for me to grow up with faith: this is a gnostic heresy. Faith always leads you out of yourself. Go out. The transmission of faith; faith must be transmitted, it must be offered, especially through witness: "Go, let people see how you live."
Someone told me, a European priest, of a European city: "There is so much disbelief, so much agnosticism in our cities, because Christians have no faith. If they did, they would definitely give it to people." Missionaryness is lacking. Because their roots lack conviction: "Yes, I am a Christian, I am Catholic, but ...". As if it's a social attitude. In the identity card, you call yourself that, like this, and "I'm a Christian." It's a fact on the identity card. This is not faith. This is a cultural thing. Faith necessarily takes you out, leads you to give it, because essentially faith must be transmitted . It's not quiet. "Oh, do you mean, father, that we all have to be missionaries and go to distant countries?" No, this is a part of the missionary dimension. This means that if you have faith you necessarily need to go out of yourself, you need to go out of yourself, and show faith socially. Social faith is for everyone: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." And that's not to proselytize, as if I were recruiting for a football team or a charity. No, faith is "not proselytizing." It is to show the revelation, so that the Holy Spirit can act in people with witness, and as a witness through service. Service is a way of life: if I say that I am a Christian and I live like a pagan, it does not work! That doesn't convince anyone. If I say that I am a Christian and I live as a Christian, that attracts. That's witness.
Once, in Poland, a university student asked me: "But in the university I have many fellow students who are atheists. What do I have to tell them to convince them?" – "Nothing, nothing! The last thing you have to do is say something. Start to live and they will see your witness, and they will ask you, 'But why do you live like this?'" Faith must be transmitted, but not by convincing, but by offering a treasure. "It's there, you see it?" And this is also the humility that St. Peter spoke of in the First Reading: "Clothe yourself with humility in your dealings with one another, because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." How many times in the Church, in history, have movements, groups of men or women who wanted to convince others to faith, to convert and were real "proselytes." And how did they end up? In corruption.
This passage of the Gospel is so tender. But where's the certainty? How can I be sure that by going out of myself I will be fruitful in the transmission of faith? "Proclaim the gospel to every creature," you will do wonders. And the Lord will be with us until the end of the world. He accompanies us. In the transmission of faith, the Lord is always with us. In the transmission of ideology there will be teachers, but when I have an attitude of faith that must be transmitted, there is the Lord there who accompanies me. I am never alone in the transmission of faith . It is the Lord with me who transmits the faith. He promised it: "I will be with you every day until the end of the world."
Let us pray to the Lord to help us live our faith like this: faith with open doors, a transparent faith, not "proselytizing", but one that shows: "Look I am like this." And with this healthy curiosity, you help people get this message that will save them.
Let us pray today for the deceased who have died because of the pandemic. They died alone. They died without the caress of their loved ones. So many of them did not even have a funeral. May the Lord receive them in glory.
Jesus was in the temple, the feast of Easter was near (John 10:22-30). Even the Jews, at that time, came around him and said, "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly" (10: 24). They would make some lose patience, but Jesus meekly answered them, "I told you and you do not believe" (10: 25). They kept saying. "But is it you? Is it you?" and Jesus said "Yes, I told you, but you do not believe" "But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep" (10:26). And this, perhaps, raises a doubt: I believe and I am a part of the sheep of Jesus. But if Jesus said to us: "You cannot believe because you are not a part?".. What is this to be part of Jesus' faith? What is the thing that stops me in front of the door that is Jesus?
There are pre-confession attitudes, even for us, who are in the flock of Jesus.. that do not let us go forward in the knowledge of the Lord. The first of all is wealth. So many of us, who have entered through the door of the Lord, then stop and do not move forward because we are imprisoned by wealth. The Lord was hard, with wealth: he was very hard, very hard. To the point of saying that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 19:24). That's hard. Wealth is an impediment to moving forward. But should we fall into poverty? No. But do not be slaves to wealth, do not live for wealth, because riches are a lord, they are the lord of this world and we cannot serve two lords (cf. Luke 16:13). And wealth stop us.
Another thing that prevents us from moving forward in the knowledge of Jesus, and in belonging to Jesus, is rigidity: the rigidity of the heart. Even the rigidity in the interpretation of the Law. Jesus reproached the Pharisees, the doctors of the Law for this rigidity ( Mt 23: 1-36). That is not fidelity: faithfulness is always a gift of God; rigidity is a security for myself. I remember once when I walked into a parish and a lady – a good lady – came up to me and said, "Father, a piece of advice..." – "Say ..." – "Last week, Saturday, not yesterday, the other Saturday, we went as a family to a wedding: it was with Mass. It was Saturday afternoon, and we thought that with this Mass we had fulfilled the Sunday precept. But then, on my way home, I thought the Readings of that Mass were not the ones of Sunday. And so I realized that I am in mortal sin, because I did not go on Sunday because I went Saturday, but to a Mass that was not right, because the readings were not right." That's rigidity. And that lady belonged to a church movement. Rigidity. This distances us from the wisdom of Jesus, from the beauty of Jesus; it takes away your freedom. And so many pastors make this rigidity grow in the souls of the faithful, and this rigidity does not allow us enter through the door of Jesus (John 1: 7). Is it more important to observe the law as it is written or how I interpret it, rather than the freedom to move forward following Jesus?
Another thing that does not let us go forward in the knowledge of Jesus is the apathy. That tiredness. Let's think of that man at the pool: there 38 years (cf. John 5: 1-9). It's apathy. It takes away the will to go on and everything is "yes, but ... no, now no, no, but ...", it makes you tepid and makes you lukewarm. Apathy, it's another thing that keeps us from moving forward.
Another that is quite ugly is a clerical attitude. Clericalism puts itself in the place of in Jesus. It says: "No, this must be so, so..." – "But, the Master ..." – "Leave the Master aside: this is so, so, so, and if you do not do so, so, so you cannot enter." A clericalism that takes away the freedom of the faith of believers. It is a disease, in the church: the clerical attitude.
Then, another thing that prevents us from moving forward, of coming in to know Jesus and confessing Jesus is the worldly spirit. When the observance of faith, the practice of faith ends in worldliness. And everything is worldly. Let us think of the celebration of some sacraments in some parishes: how much worldliness there is there! And the grace of Jesus' presence is not well understood.
These are the things that stop us from being part of Jesus' sheep. We are "sheep" of all these things: wealth, apathy, rigidity, worldliness, clericalism, ideologies.. Freedom is lacking. And you cannot follow Jesus without freedom. But sometimes freedom goes too far and one slips: yes, it is true. It's true. We can slip on the way of freedom. But it is worse to slip before you go, with these things that prevent you from starting to go towards Jesus.
May the Lord enlightens us to see within us if there is the freedom to pass through the door that is Jesus and go beyond; to become a flock, to become sheep of his flock.
Let us pray today for the students, the children who are studying, and the teachers who must find new ways to move forward in teaching. May the Lord help them on this path, give them courage and also great success.
The Lord returns to "remain in Him", and tells us: "Christian life is to remain in me." Remain (John 15: 1-8). And here he uses the image of the vine, how the branches remain on the vine. And this remain is not a passive remain, a falling asleep in the Lord: this would perhaps be a beatific sleep; but that's not it. This remain is an active remain, and also is a mutual remain. Why? Because He says, "Remain in me and I in you" (v .4). He also remains in us, not only us in Him. It's a mutual remain. In another part he says: I and my Father "we will come to him and make our home with him"(John 14:23). This is a mystery, but a mystery of life, a beautiful mystery. This mutual remaining. Even with the example of the vine: it is true, the branches without the vine can do nothing because the sap doesn't get to them, they need the sap to grow and to bear fruit. But also the tree, the vine needs branches, otherwise the fruits are not attached to the tree, to the vine. It is a mutual need, it is a reciprocal remain to bear fruit.
And this is Christian life: it is true, Christian life is to carry out the commandments (Ex 20, 1-11), this must be done. Christian life is to follow the way of the Beatitudes (Mt 5: 1-13): this must be done. Christian life is to carry on the works of mercy, as the Lord teaches us in the Gospel (Mt 25: 35-36): and this must be done. But even more: it is this mutual remaining. We without Jesus cannot do anything, like the branches without the vine. And He – let me say it – without us it seems that He can do nothing, because the fruit comes from the branches, not the tree, the vine. In this community, in this intimacy of remaining fruitful, the Father and Jesus remain in me and I remain in Them.
And it comes to my mind to say, what is the need that the tree, the vine has for the branches? It's bearing fruit. What is the need - let's say a little boldly - what is the need that Jesus has for us? The testimony. When he says in the Gospel that we are light, he says, "Be the light, so that men may see your good deeds and glorify the Father"(Mt 5:16), that is, witness is the need that Jesus has for us. To bear witness to his name, so that faith, the Gospel grows by our testimony.
This is a mysterious way: Jesus glorified in heaven, having passed through the Passion, needs our testimony to grow, to proclaim, for the Church to grow. And this is the mutual mystery of "remaining." He, the Father and the Spirit remain in us, and we remain in Jesus.
It will do us good to think and reflect on this: to remain in Jesus; and Jesus remains in us. To remain in Jesus to have the sap, the strength, to have the justification, the gratuitousness, to have fertility. And He remains in us to give us the strength to the bear fruit (John 15: 5), to give us the strength to witness with which the Church grows.
And one question, I ask myself: what is the relationship between Jesus remaining in me and I remaining in Him? It's a relationship of intimacy, a mystical relationship, a wordless relationship. "But Father, but this, let the mystics do it!" No, this is for all of us. With small thoughts: "Lord, I know you are there: give me strength and I will do what you tell me." That intimate dialogue with the Lord. The Lord is present, the Lord is present in us, the Father is present in us, the Holy Spirit is present in us; they remain in us. But I have to remain in Them.
May the Lord help us to understand, to feel this mystery of remaining on which Jesus insists so much, so much, so much. Many times when we talk about the vine and the branches we stop at the image of the work of the farmer, the Father: the one that bears fruit he prunes, that is, he prunes, and those that don't bear fruit he cuts and throws away (John 15: 1-2). It's true, he does this, but that's not all, no. There's more. This is the help: the trials, the difficulties of life, even the corrections that the Lord gives us. But let's not stop there. Between the vine and the branches there is this intimate remaining. We, the branches, need the sap, and the vine needs the fruits, our testimony.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today's Gospel passage (cf. Mt 16:21-27) is linked to that of last Sunday (cf. Mt 16:13-20). After Peter, on behalf of the other disciples as well, has professed his faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, Jesus Himself begins to speak to them about His Passion. Along the path to Jerusalem, He openly explains to His friends what awaits Him at the end in the Holy City: He foretells the mystery of His death and Resurrection, of His humiliation and glory. He says that He will have to “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21). But His words are not understood, because the disciples have a faith that is still immature and too closely tied to the mentality of this world (cf. Rom 12:2). They think of too earthly a victory, and therefore they do not understand the language of the cross.
At the prospect that Jesus may fail and die on the cross, Peter himself resists and says to Him: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (v. 22). He believes in Jesus - Peter is like this, he has faith, he believes in Jesus, he believes - he wants to follow Him, but does not accept that His glory will pass through the Passion. For Peter and the other disciples – but for us too! - the cross is a stumbling block, a 'hindrance', whereas Jesus considers the 'hindrance' escaping the cross, which would mean avoiding the Father's will, the mission that the Father has entrusted to Him for our salvation. For this reason Jesus responds to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (v. 23). Ten minutes earlier, Jesus praised Peter, He promised him he would be the base of His Church, its foundation; ten minutes later He says to him, “Satan”. How can this be understood? It happens to us all! In moments of devotion, of fervour, of good will, of closeness to our neighbour, we look at Jesus and we go forward; but in moments in which we approach the cross, we flee. The devil, Satan - as Jesus says to Peter - tempts us. It typical of the evil spirit, it is typical of the devil to make us stray from the cross, from the cross of Jesus.
Addressing everyone then, Jesus adds: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24). In this way He indicates the way of the true disciple, showing two attitudes. The first is 'to renounce oneself', which does not mean a superficial change, but a conversion, a reversal of mentality and of values. The other attitude is that of taking up one's own cross. It is not just a matter of patiently enduring daily tribulations, but of bearing with faith and responsibility that part of toil, and that part of suffering that the struggle against evil entails. The life of Christians is always a struggle. The Bible says that the life of Christians is a military undertaking: fighting against the evil spirit, fighting against Evil.
Thus the task of “taking up the cross” becomes participating with Christ in the salvation of the world. Considering this, we allow the cross hanging on the wall at home, or that little one that we wear around our neck, to be a sign of our wish to be united with Christ in lovingly serving our brothers and sisters, especially the littlest and most fragile. The cross is the holy sign of God's Love, it is a sign of Jesus' Sacrifice, and is not to be reduced to a superstitious object or an ornamental necklace. Each time we fix our gaze on the image of Christ crucified, let us contemplate that He, as the true Servant of the Lord, has accomplished His mission, giving life, spilling His blood for the pardoning of sins. And let us not allow ourselves to be drawn to the other side, by the temptation of the Evil One. As a result, if we want to be his disciples, we are called to imitate him, expending our life unreservedly out of love of God and neighbour.
May the Virgin Mary, united to her Son unto Calvary, help us not to retreat in the face of the trials and suffering that witnessing to the Gospel entails.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good afternoon!
With the narrative of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, in today's Gospel passage (cf. Mt 22:1-14), Jesus outlines the plan that God envisaged for humanity. The king who “who gave a marriage feast for his son” (v. 2) is the image of the Father who prepared for the entire human family a wonderful celebration of love and communion around his only begotten Son. Two times the king sends his servants to call the invited guests, but they refuse; they do not want to go to the feast because they have other things to think about: fields and business. So often we too put our interests and material things ahead of the Lord who calls us – and he calls us to a feast. But the king in the parable does not want the hall to remain empty, because he wants to offer the treasures of his kingdom. So he tells his servants: “Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find” (v. 9). This is how God reacts: when he is rejected, rather than giving up, he starts over and asks that all those found at the thoroughfares be called, excluding no one. No one is excluded from the house of God.
The original term that Matthew the Evangelist uses refers to the limits of the roads, or those points at which the city streets end and the paths begin that lead to the area of the countryside, outside the residential area, where life is precarious. It is to this humanity of the thoroughfares that the king in the parable sends his servants, in the certainty of finding people willing to sit at the table. Thus the banquet hall is filled with the “excluded”, those who are “outside” those who never seemed worthy to partake in a feast, in a wedding banquet. In fact, the master, the king, tells the messengers: “Call everyone, both good and bad. Everyone!”. God even calls those who are bad. “No, I am bad; I have done many [bad things]...”. He calls you: “Come, come, come!”. And Jesus went to lunch with the tax collectors, who were public sinners; they were the bad guys. God is not afraid of our spirits wounded by many cruelties, because he loves us; he invites us. And the Church is called to reach the daily thoroughfares, that is, the geographic and existential peripheries of humanity, those places at the margins, those situations in which those who have set up camp are found where and hopeless remnants of humanity live. It is a matter of not settling for comforts and the customary ways of evangelization and witnessing to charity, but of opening the doors of our hearts and our communities to everyone, because the Gospel is not reserved to a select few. Even those on the margins, even those who are rejected and scorned by society, are considered by God to be worthy of his love. He prepares his banquet for everyone: the just and sinners, good and bad, intelligent and uneducated.
Yesterday evening, I was able to make a phone call to an elderly Italian priest, a missionary in Brazil since youth, but always working with the excluded, with the poor. And he lives his old age in peace: he burned his life up with the poor. This is our Mother Church; this is God's messenger who goes to the crossroads.
However, the Lord places one condition: to wear a wedding garment. Let us return to the parable. When the hall is full, the king arrives and greets the latest guests, but he sees one of them without a wedding garment, that kind of little cape that each guest would receive as a gift at the entrance. The people went as they were dressed, as they were able to be dressed; they were not wearing gala attire. But at the entrance they were give a type of capelet, a gift. That man, having rejected the free gift, excluded himself: the king could do nothing but throw him out. This man accepted the invitation but then decided that it meant nothing to him: he was a self-sufficient person; he had no desire to change or to allow the Lord to change him. The wedding garment – this capelet - symbolizes the mercy that God freely gives us, namely, grace. Without grace we cannot take a step forward in Christian life. Everything is grace. It is not enough to accept the invitation to follow the Lord; one must be open to a journey of conversion, which changes the heart. The garment of mercy, which God offers us unceasingly, is the free gift of his love; it is precisely grace. And it demands to be welcomed with astonishment and joy: “Thank you, Lord, for having given me this gift”.
May Mary Most Holy help us to imitate the servants in the Gospel parable by emerging from our frameworks and from our narrow views, proclaiming to everyone that the Lord invites us to his banquet, in order to offer us his saving grace, to give us his gift.
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
This Sunday’s Gospel reading (see Mt 22:15-21) shows us Jesus struggling with the hypocrisy of His adversaries. They pay Him many compliments – at the beginning, many compliments – but then ask an insidious question to put Him in trouble and discredit Him before the people. They ask him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17), that is, to pay their taxes to the emperor. At that time, in Palestine, the domination of the Roman Empire was poorly tolerated – and it is understandable, they were invaders – also for religious reasons. For the people, the worship of the emperor, underscored also by his image on coins, was an insult to the God of Israel. Jesus’ interlocutors are convinced that there is no alternative to their questioning: either a “yes" or a “no”. They were waiting, precisely because they were sure to back Jesus into a corner with this question, and to make Him fall in the trap. But He knows their wickedness and avoids the pitfall. He asks them to show Him the coin, the coin of the taxes, takes it in His hands and asks whose is the imprinted image. They answer that it is Caesar’s, that is, the Emperor's. Then Jesus replies: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21).
With this reply, Jesus places Himself above the controversy. Jesus, always above. On the one hand, He acknowledges that the tribute to Caesar must be paid - for all of us too, taxes must be paid - because the image on the coin is his; but above all He recalls that each person carries within him another image - we carry it in the heart, in the soul - that of God, and therefore it is to Him, and to Him alone, that each person owes his own existence, her own life.
In this sentence of Jesus we find not only the criterion for the distinction between the political sphere and the religious sphere; but clear guidelines emerge for the mission of all believers of all times, even for us today. To pay taxes is a duty of citizens, as is complying with the just laws of the state. At the same time, it is necessary to affirm God’s primacy in human life and in history, respecting God’s right over all that belongs to Him.
Hence the mission of the Church and Christians: to speak of God and bear witness to Him to the men and women of our time. Every one of us, by Baptism, is called to be a living presence in society, inspiring it with the Gospel and with the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit. It is a question of committing oneself with humility, and at the same time with courage, making one's own contribution to building the civilisation of love, where justice and fraternity reign.
May Mary Most Holy help us all to flee from all hypocrisy and to be honest and constructive citizens. And may she sustain us disciples of Christ in the mission to bear witness that God is the centre and the meaning of life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
On this Third Sunday of Easter, we return to Jerusalem, in the Cenacle, as guided by the two disciples of Emmaus, who had listened with great emotion to Jesus’ words along the way and then had recognized him “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). Now, in the Cenacle, the Risen Christ presents himself in the midst of the group of disciples and greets: “Peace to you!” (v. 36). But they are frightened and believe “that they saw a spirit” (v. 37), as the Gospel says. Then Jesus shows them the wounds in his body and says: “See my hands and my feet” – the wounds – “that it is I myself; handle me” (v. 39). And to convince them, he asks for food and eats it before their astonished eyes (cf. vv. 41-42).
There is a detail here, in this description. The Gospel says that the Apostles “they still disbelieved for joy”. The joy they had was such that they could not believe that this was true. And a second detail: they were bewildered, astonished; astonished because the encounter with God always leads you to astonishment: it goes beyond enthusiasm, beyond joy; it is another experience. And they were joyful, but a joy that made them think: no, this cannot be true!... It is the astonishment of God’s presence. Do not forget this frame of mind, which is so beautiful.
Three very concrete verbs characterize this Gospel passage. In a certain sense, they reflect our individual and community life: to look, to touch and to eat. Three actions that can give joy from a true encounter with the living Jesus.
To look. “See my hands and my feet”, Jesus says. To look is not only to see, it is more; it also involves intention, will. For this reason, it is one of the verbs of love. A mother and father look at their child; lovers gaze at each other; a good doctor looks at the patient carefully…. Looking is a first step against indifference, against the temptation to look the other way before the difficulties and sufferings of others. To look. Do I see or look at Jesus?
The second verb is to touch. By inviting the disciples to touch him, to verify that he is not a ghost – touch me! – Jesus indicates to them and to us that the relationship with Him and with our brothers and sisters cannot remain “at a distance”. Christianity does not exist at a distance; Christianity does not exist only at the level of looking. Love requires looking and it also requires closeness; it requires contact, the sharing of life. The Good Samaritan did not limit himself to looking at that man whom he found half dead along the road: he stopped, he bent down, he treated his wounds, he touched him, he loaded him on his mount and took him to the inn. And it is the same with Jesus himself: loving him means entering into a communion of life, a communion with Him.
And thus, we come to the third verb, to eat, which clearly expresses our humanity in its most natural poverty, that is, our need to nourish ourselves in order to live. But eating, when we do so together, among family or friends, also becomes an expression of love, an expression of communion, of celebration…. How often the Gospels present Jesus to us who experiences this convivial dimension! Even as the Risen One, with his disciples. To the point that the Eucharistic Banquet has become the emblematic sign of the Christian community. Eating together the Body of Christ: this is the core of Christian life.
Brothers and sisters, this Gospel passage tells us that Jesus is not a “ghost”, but a living Person; that when Jesus draws near to us he fills us with joy, to the point of disbelief, and he leaves us bewildered, with that astonishment that only God’s presence gives, because Jesus is a living Person.
Being Christian is not first of all a doctrine or a moral ideal; it is a living relationship with Him, with the Risen Lord: we look at him, we touch him, we are nourished by Him and, transformed by his Love, we look at, touch and nourish others as brothers and sisters. May the Virgin Mary help us to live this experience of grace.
HOLY MASS AND CANONIZATION OF THE BLESSEDS
Titus Brandsma - Lazzaro, detto Devasahayam - César de Bus - Luigi Maria Palazzolo - Giustino Maria Russolillo -
Charles de Foucauld - Maria Rivier - Maria Francesca di Gesù Rubatto - Maria di Gesù Santocanale - Maria Domenica Mantovani
We have heard what Jesus told his disciples before leaving this world and returning to the Father. He told us what it means to be a Christian: “Even as I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34). This is the legacy that Christ bequeathed to us, the ultimate criterion for discerning whether or not we are truly his disciples. It is the commandment of love. Let us stop to consider two essential elements of this commandment: Jesus’ love for us – “as I have loved you” – and the love he asks us to show to others – “so you must love one another”.
First, the words “as I have loved you”. How did Jesus love us? To the very end, to the total gift of himself. It is striking to think that he spoke these words on that night of darkness, when the atmosphere in the Upper Room was one of deep emotion and anxiety: deep emotion, because the Master was about to bid farewell to his disciples; anxiety because he had said that one of them would betray him. We can imagine the sorrow that filled the heart of Jesus, the dark clouds that were gathering in the hearts of the apostles, and their bitterness at seeing Judas who, after receiving the morsel dipped for him by the Master, left the room to enter into the night of betrayal. Yet at the very hour of his betrayal, Jesus reaffirmed his love for his own. For amid the darkness and tempests of life, that is the most important thing of all: God loves us.
Brothers and sisters, may this message be the core of our own faith and all the ways in which we express it: “…not that we loved God but that he loved us” (1 Jn 4:10). Let us never forget this. Our abilities and our merits are not the central thing, but rather the unconditional, free and unmerited love of God. Our Christian lives begin not with doctrine and good works, but with the amazement born of realizing that we are loved, prior to any response on our part. While the world frequently tries to convince us that we are valued only for what we can produce, the Gospel reminds us of the real truth of life: we are loved. A contemporary spiritual writer put it this way: “Long before any human being saw us, we were seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we were heard by our God, who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we were spoken to by the voice of eternal love” (H. NOUWEN, Life of the Beloved). He loved us first; he waits for us; he keeps loving us. This is our identity: we are God’s loved ones. This is our strength: we are loved by God.
Acknowledging this truth requires a conversion in the way we often think of holiness. At times, by over-emphasizing our efforts to do good works, we have created an ideal of holiness excessively based on ourselves, our personal heroics, our capacity for renunciation, our readiness for self-sacrifice to achieve a reward. This can at times appear as an overly “pelagian” way of viewing life and holiness. We have turned holiness into an unattainable goal. We have separated it from everyday life, instead of looking for it and embracing it in our daily routines, in the dust of the streets, in the trials of real life and, in the words of Teresa of Avila to her Sisters, “among the pots and pans”. Being disciples of Jesus and advancing on the path of holiness means first and foremost letting ourselves be transfigured by the power of God’s love. Let us never forget the primacy of God over self, of the Spirit over the flesh, of grace over works. For we at times give more importance to self, flesh and works. No, the primacy is that of God over self, of the Spirit over the flesh, of grace over works.
The love that we receive from the Lord is the force that transforms our lives. It opens our hearts and enables us to love. For this reason, Jesus says – here is the second element – “as I have loved you, so must you love one another”. That word “as” is not simply an invitation to imitate Jesus’ love; it tells us that we are able to love only because he has loved us, because he pours into our hearts his own Spirit, the Spirit of holiness, love that heals and transforms. As a result, we can make decisions and perform works of love in every situation and for every brother and sister whom we meet, because we ourselves are loved and we have the power to love. As I myself am loved, so I can love others. The love I give is united to Jesus’ love for me. “As” he loved me, so I can love others. The Christian life is just that simple. Let’s not make it more complicated with so many things. It is just that simple.
In practice, what does it mean to live this love? Before giving us this commandment, Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet; then, after giving it, he gave himself up to the wood of the cross. To love means this: to serve and to give one’s life. To serve, that is, not to put our own interests first: to clear our systems of the poison of greed and competitiveness; to fight the cancer of indifference and the worm of self-referentiality; to share the charisms and gifts that God has given us. Specifically, we should ask ourselves, “What do I do for others?” That is what it means to love, to go about our daily lives in a spirit of service, with unassuming love and without seeking any recompense.
Then, to give one’s life. This is about more than simply offering something of ours to others; it is about giving them our very selves. I like to ask people who seek my counsel whether they give alms. And if they do, whether they touch the hand of the recipient or simply, antiseptically, throw down the alms. Those people usually blush and say no. And I ask whether, in giving alms, they look the person in the eye, or look the other way. They say no. Touching and looking, touching and looking at the flesh of Christ who suffers in our brothers and sisters. This is very important; it is what it means to give one’s life.
Holiness does not consist of a few heroic gestures, but of many small acts of daily love. “Are you called to the consecrated life? So many of you are here today! Then be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters, by fighting for justice for your comrades, so that they do not remain without work, so that they always receive a just wage. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Tell me, are you in a position of authority? So many people in authority are here today! Then be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 14). This is the path of holiness, and it is so simple! To see Jesus always in others.
To serve the Gospel and our brothers and sisters, to offer our lives without expecting anything in return, any worldly glory: this is a secret and it is our calling. That was how our fellow travellers canonized today lived their holiness. By embracing with enthusiasm their vocation – as a priest, as a consecrated women, as a lay person – they devoted their lives to the Gospel. They discovered an incomparable joy and they became brilliant reflections of the Lord of history. For that is what a saint is: a luminous reflection of the Lord of history. May we strive to do the same. The path of holiness is not barred; it is universal and it starts with Baptism. Let us strive to follow it, for each of us is called to holiness, to a form of holiness all our own. Holiness is always “original”, as Blessed Carlo Cutis used to say: it is not a photocopy, but an “original”, mine, yours, all of ours. It is uniquely our own. Truly, the Lord has a plan of love for everyone. He has a dream for your life, for my life, for the life of each of us. What else can I say? Pursue that dream with joy.
As Jesus was walking along, ten lepers met him and cried out: “Have mercy on us!” (Lk 17:13). All ten were healed, yet only one of them returned to thank Jesus. He was a Samaritan, a kind of heretic for the Jewish people. At the beginning, they were walking together, but then the Samaritan left the others and turned back, “praising God with a loud voice” (v. 15). Let us stop and reflect on these two aspects of today’s Gospel: walking together and giving thanks.
First, walking together. At the beginning of the account, there is no difference between the Samaritan and the other nine. We only hear that they are lepers, who together, as a group, approach Jesus. Leprosy, as we know, was not only a physical affliction, one which even today we must make every effort to eliminate, but also a “social disease”, since in those days, for fear of contagion, lepers had to remain apart from the community (cf. Lev 13:46). Hence, they could not enter villages; they were kept at a distance, isolated and relegated to the margins of social and even religious life. By walking together, these lepers indicted a society that excluded them. We should also note that the Samaritan, although considered a heretic, “a foreigner”, is part of their group. Brothers and sisters, whenever disease and fragility are shared, barriers fall and exclusion is overcome.
This image is also meaningful for us: when we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are all sick at heart, all sinners in need of the Father’s mercy. Then we stop creating divisions on the basis of merit, social position or some other superficial criterion; our interior barriers and prejudices likewise fall. In the end, we realize once more that we are brothers and sisters. Even Naaman the Syrian, as the first reading reminded us, for all his wealth and power, could only be healed by doing something simple: wash in the river in which everyone else was bathing. First of all, he had to remove his armour and his robes (cf. 2 Kings 5). We would do well to set aside our own outer armour, our defensive barriers, and take a good bath of humility, mindful that all of us are vulnerable within and in need of healing. All of us are brothers and sisters. Let us remember this: the Christian faith always asks us to walk alongside others, never to be solitary wayfarers. Faith always urges us to move beyond ourselves and towards God and our brothers and sisters, never to remain enclosed within ourselves. Faith invites us to acknowledge constantly that we are in need of healing and forgiveness, and to share in the frailty of those who are near to us, without feeling ourselves superior.
Brothers and sisters, let us reflect and see if in our lives, in our families, in the places where we daily work and spend our time, we are capable of walking together with others, listening to them, resisting the temptation to lock ourselves up in self-absorption and to think only of our own needs. To walk together – to be “synodal” – is also the vocation of the Church. Let us ask ourselves if we are really communities truly open and inclusive of all; if we cooperate, as priests and laity, in the service of the Gospel; and if we show ourselves welcoming, not only in words but with concrete gestures, to those both near and far, and all those buffeted by the ups and downs of life. Do we make them feel a part of the community? Or do we exclude them? I am troubled when I see Christian communities that divide the world into the good and the bad, saints and sinners: this makes them feel superior to others and exclude so many people that God wants to embrace. Please, always be inclusive: in the Church and in society, which is still marred by many forms of inequality and marginalization. Always be inclusive. Today, the day in which Bishop Scalabrini becomes a saint, I think of emigrants. The exclusion of emigrants is scandalous. Actually, the exclusion of emigrants is criminal. They are dying right in front of us, as the Mediterranean is the largest cemetery in the world. The exclusion of emigrants is revolting, sinful and criminal. Not opening doors to those in need – “No, we do not exclude them, we send them away” to camps, where they are exploited and sold like slaves. Brothers and sisters, today let us call to mind these emigrants, especially those who are dying. And those who are able to enter, do we welcome them as brothers and sisters or do we exploit them? I simply pose the question.
The second thing is giving thanks. In the group of the ten lepers, there was only one who, realizing that he was cured, turned back to praise God and to show gratitude to Jesus. The other nine were healed, but then went their own way, forgetting the one who had healed them. They forgot the graces given to them by God. The Samaritan, on the other hand, makes the gift he received the first step of a new journey: he returns to the one who healed him; he goes back to Jesus in order to know him better; he enters into a relationship with the Lord. His grateful attitude, then, is no mere act of courtesy, but the start of a journey of thanksgiving: he falls at Jesus’ feet (cf. Lk 17:16) and worships him. He recognizes that Jesus is the Lord, that Jesus is more important than the healing he received.
This is a great lesson also for us, brothers and sisters, who daily benefit from the gifts of God, yet so often go our own way, failing to cultivate a living and real relationship with him. This is a nasty spiritual disease: we take everything for granted, including faith, including our relationship with God, to the point where we become Christians no longer able to be amazed or to give thanks, lacking in gratitude and incapable of seeing the wonders of the Lord. A woman I know used to say, “They are rose-water Christians”. We end up thinking that all the gifts we receive each day are natural and due to us. Gratitude, the ability to give thanks, makes us appreciate instead the presence in our lives of the God who is love. And to recognize the importance of others, overcoming the dissatisfaction and indifference that disfigure our hearts. It is essential to know how to say “thank you”. To thank the Lord each day and to thank one another. In our families, for the little gifts we receive daily and so often do not even think about. In the places we spend our days, for the many services which we enjoy and for all those people who support us. In our Christian communities, for the love of God that we experience in the closeness of our brothers and sisters who, often silently, pray, sacrifice, suffer and journey with us. So please, let us not forget to say these key words: thank you!
The two saints canonized today remind us of the importance of walking together and being able to give thanks. Bishop Scalabrini, who founded two Congregations – one male and one female – for the care of emigrants, used to say that in the shared journeying of emigrants we should see not only problems, but also a providential plan. In his words: “Precisely because of the migrations imposed by persecutions, the Church pressed beyond the confines of Jerusalem and of Israel, and became ‘catholic’; thanks to the migrations of our own days, the Church will be an instrument of peace and of communion among peoples” (L’emigrazione degli operai italiani, Ferrara, 1899). The emigration currently taking place in Europe is causing great suffering and forcing us to open our hearts – that is the emigration of Ukrainians who are fleeing from war. Let us not forget the beleaguered Ukrainian emigrants. With great vision, Scalabrini looked forward to a world and a Church without barriers, where no one was a foreigner. For his part, the Salesian Brother Artemide Zatti – with his bicycle - was a living example of gratitude. Cured of tuberculosis, he devoted his entire life to serving others, caring for the infirm with tender love. He was said to have carried on his shoulders the dead body of one of his patients. Filled with gratitude for all that he had received, he wanted to say his own “thank you” by taking upon himself the wounds of others.
Let us pray that these Saints, our brothers, may help us to walk together, without walls of division; and to cultivate that nobility of soul, so pleasing to God, which is gratitude.