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!
This Sunday’s Gospel Reading (Lk 9:51-62) shows a very important step in Christ’s life: the moment when, as St Luke writes: “He [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). Jerusalem is the final destination where Jesus, at his last Passover, must die and rise again and thus bring his mission of salvation to fulfilment.
From that moment, after that “firm decision” Jesus aimed straight for his goal and in addition said clearly to the people he met and who asked to follow him what the conditions were: to have no permanent dwelling place; to know how to be detached from human affections and not to give in to nostalgia for the past.
Jesus, however, also told his disciples to precede him on the way to Jerusalem and to announce his arrival, but not to impose anything: if the disciples did not find a readiness to welcome him, they should go ahead, they should move on. Jesus never imposes, Jesus is humble, Jesus invites. If you want to, come. The humility of Jesus is like this: he is always inviting but never imposing.
All of this gives us food for thought. It tells us, for example, of the importance which the conscience had for Jesus too: listening in his heart to the Father’s voice and following it. Jesus, in his earthly existence, was not, as it were “remote-controlled”: he was the incarnate Word, the Son of God made man, and at a certain point he made the firm decision to go up to Jerusalem for the last time; it was a decision taken in his conscience, but not alone: together with the Father, in full union with him! He decided out of obedience to the Father and in profound and intimate listening to his will. For this reason, moreover, his decision was firm, because it was made together with the Father. In the Father Jesus found the strength and light for his journey. And Jesus was free, he took that decision freely. Jesus wants us to be Christians, freely as he was, with the freedom which comes from this dialogue with the Father, from this dialogue with God. Jesus does not want selfish Christians who follow their own ego, who do not talk to God. Nor does he want weak Christians, Christians who have no will of their own, “remote-controlled” Christians incapable of creativity, who always seek to connect with the will of someone else and are not free. Jesus wants us free. And where is this freedom created? It is created in dialogue with God in the person’s own conscience. If a Christian is unable to speak with God, if he cannot hear God in his own conscience, he is not free, he is not free.
This is why we must learn to listen to our conscience more. But be careful! This does not mean following my own ego, doing what interests me, what suits me, what I like.... It is not this! The conscience is the interior place for listening to the truth, to goodness, for listening to God; it is the inner place of my relationship with him, the One who speaks to my heart and helps me to discern, to understand the way I must take and, once the decision is made, to go forward, to stay faithful.
We have had a marvellous example of what this relationship with God is like, a recent and marvellous example. Pope Benedict XVI gave us this great example when the Lord made him understand, in prayer, what the step was that he had to take. With a great sense of discernment and courage, he followed his conscience, that is, the will of God speaking in his heart. And this example of our Father does such great good to us all, as an example to follow.
Our Lady, in her inmost depths with great simplicity was listening to and meditating on the Word of God and on what was happening to Jesus. She followed her Son with deep conviction and with steadfast hope. May Mary help us to become increasingly men and women of conscience, free in our conscience, because it is in the conscience that dialogue with God takes place; men and women, who can hear God’s voice and follow it with determination, who can listen to God’s voice, and follow it with decision.
Man left to his own strength does not understand the things of the Spirit. There are two spirits, two ways of thinking, of feeling, of acting: that which leads me to the Spirit of God, and that which leads me to the spirit of the world. And this happens in our life: We all have these two ‘spirits,’ we might say. The Spirit of God, which leads us to good works, to charity, to fraternity, to adore God, to know Jesus, to do many good works of charity, to pray: this one. And [there is] the other spirit, of the world, which leads us to vanity, pride, sufficiency, gossip – a completely different path. Our heart, a saint once said, is like a battlefield, a field of war where these two spirits struggle.
In the life of the Christian, then, we must fight in order to make room for the Spirit of God, and “drive away the spirit of the world. And, a daily examination of conscience can help to identify temptations, to clarify how these opposing forces work.
It is very simple: We have this great gift, which is the Spirit of God, but we are weak, we are sinners, and we still have the temptation of the spirit of the world. In this spiritual combat, in this war of the spirit, we need to be victors like Jesus.
Every night, a Christian should think over the events of the past day, to determine whether “vanity” and “pride” prevailed, or whether he or she has succeeded in imitating the Son of God
To recognize the things that occur in the heart. If we do not do this, if we do not know what happens in our heart – and I don’t say this, the Bible does – we are like ‘animals that understand nothing,’ that move along through instinct. But we are not animals, we are children of God, baptized with the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it is important to understand what has happened each day in my heart. May the Lord teach us always, every day, to make an examination of conscience.
It is wise to make an examination of conscience, in view of the fact that we will one day face the Lord. We should ask how we wish to present ourselves when we meet Him. It will help us make progress so that that meeting will be a “joyful” moment.
It is a grace to think about the end of the world and the end of our lives. The First Reading from the Book of Revelation speaks about that using “the figure of the harvest”.
At the harvest, each of us will meet the Lord…each will say to the Lord: ‘This is my life…. This is the quality of my life.’
All of us will have to admit our errors, because everyone errs, and the good done, because everyone does good.
What if the Lord were to call me today? What would I say and do? This thought, helps us make progress. Not only will we meet the Lord in order to give an account of ourselves. It will also be a joyous, happy moment, one filled with mercy.
Thinking about the end, about the end of the world, about the end of one’s own life, is wise. Wise people do this.
The Church invites us to ask ourselves this week, “what will my end be like?” An examination of conscience is useful in order to evaluate ourselves.
What would I like to fix because it doesn’t work? What would I like to sustain or develop because it’s good….
This is the Spirit’s work.
This week, let’s ask the Holy Spirit for the wisdom of time, the wisdom regarding the end, the wisdom of the resurrection, the wisdom of the eternal encounter with Jesus… It will be a joyful day, that meeting with Jesus. Let us pray so that the Lord might prepare us.
Wisdom is a daily thing that comes from reflection on life and from stopping to think about how one lives. Follow your instincts, your strength, follow the passions of your heart. We all have passions, but one must be careful to dominate them.
Passions are not bad things, but they need to be managed. They are the blood that helps to do many good things but if you are not able to dominate them, they will dominate you.
We are not eternal, we cannot do whatever we want, trusting in the infinite mercy of God.
So don't be rash and reckless and believe that you will get away with it. You may get away with it once but you don’t know what’s next.
Don't say: "God's compassion is great, he'll forgive me my many sins", and so I continue doing what I want. Regarding this, the advice of the father or grandfather is: Don’t wait to convert yourself to the Lord, do not wait to convert, to change your lives, to improve your life, to take away from you that weed, all we have, take it out. . don’t postpone it from day to day because the anger of the Lord will suddenly burst forth.
Let’s take a little time every day to examine our conscience, to convert to the Lord. "But tomorrow I'll try that this does not happen again." It will happen, maybe a little less, but if you manage to control yourself and not be controlled by your passion, perhaps it may happen less. But no one is sure of how and when our life will end. Five minutes at the end of each day will help us to think and not postpone a change of heart and conversion to the Lord. Let us pray that the Lord teaches us with his wisdom to go along this path.
Today is the “Day of Conscience”, inspired by the witness of the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who around 80 years ago decided to follow the voice of his conscience and saved the lives of thousands of Jews and other persecuted peoples. May freedom of conscience be respected always and everywhere, and may every Christian give the example of the consistency of an upright conscience enlightened by the Word of God.
“Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ” (Phil 3:7). That is what Saint Paul tells us in the first reading. And if we ask ourselves what were those things that he no longer considered important in his life, and was even content to lose in order to find Christ, we realize that they were not material riches, but a fund of “religious” assets. Paul was devout and zealous, just and dutiful (cf. vv. 5-6). Yet, this very religiosity, which could have seemed a source of pride and merit, proved to be an impediment for him. Paul goes on to say: “I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (v. 8). Everything that had given him a certain prestige, a certain fame...; “forget it: for me, Christ is more important”.
People who are extremely rich in their own minds, and proud of their religious accomplishments, consider themselves better than others – how frequently does this happen in a parish: “I’m from Catholic Action; I’m going to help the priest; I do the collection... it’s all about me, me, me”; how often people believe themselves better than others; each of us, in our hearts, should reflect on whether this has ever happened – they feel satisfied that they cut a good figure. They feel comfortable, but they have no room for God because they feel no need for him. And many times “good Catholics”, those who feel upright because they go the parish, go to Mass on Sunday and boast of being righteous, say: “No, I don’t need anything, the Lord has saved me”. What has happened? They have replaced God with their own ego, and although they recite prayers and perform works of piety, they never really engage in dialogue with the Lord. They perform monologues in place of dialogue and prayer. Scripture tells us that only “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds” (Sir 35:1), because only those who are poor in spirit, and conscious of their need of salvation and forgiveness, come into the presence of God; they come before him without vaunting their merits, without pretense or presumption. Because they possess nothing, they find everything, because they find the Lord.
Jesus offers us this teaching in the parable that we have just heard (cf. Lk 18:9-14). It is the story of two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, who both go to the Temple to pray, but only one reaches the heart of God. Even before they do anything, their physical attitude is eloquent: the Gospel tells us that the Pharisee prayed, “standing by himself” right at the front, while the tax collector, “standing far off, would not even look up to heaven” (v. 13), out of shame. Let us reflect for a moment on these attitudes.
The Pharisee stood by himself. He is sure of himself, standing proudly erect, like someone to be respected for his accomplishments, like a model. With this attitude, he prays to God, but in fact he celebrates himself. I go to the Temple, I observe the Law, I give alms… Formally, his prayer is perfect; publicly, he appears pious and devout, but instead of opening his heart to God, he masks his weaknesses in hypocrisy. How often we make a façade of our lives. This Pharisee does not await the Lord’s salvation as a free gift, but practically demands it as a reward for his merits. “I’ve completed my tasks, now I demand my prize”. This man strides right up to the altar of God and takes his place in the front row, but he ends by going too far and puts himself before God!
The tax collector, on the other hand, stands far off. He doesn’t push himself to the front; he stays at the back. Yet that distance, which expresses his sinfulness before the holiness of God, enables him to experience the loving and merciful embrace of the Father. God could come to him precisely because, by standing far off, he had made room for him. He doesn’t speak about himself, he addresses God and asks for forgiveness. How true this is, also with regard to our relationships in our families, in society, and in the Church! True dialogue takes place when we are able to preserve a certain space between ourselves and others, a healthy space that allows each to breathe without being sucked in or overwhelmed. Only then, can dialogue and encounter bridge the distance and create closeness. That happens in the life of the tax collector: standing at the back of the Temple, he recognizes the truth of how he, a sinner, stands before God. “Far off”, and in this way making it possible for God to draw near to him.
Brothers, sisters, let us remember this: the Lord comes to us when we step back from our presumptuous ego. Let us reflect: Am I conceited? Do I think I’m better than others? Do I look at someone with a little contempt? “I thank you, Lord, because you have saved me and I’m not like those people who understand nothing; I go to church, I attend Mass; I am married, married in church, whereas they are divorced sinners…”: is your heart like this? That is the way to perdition. Yet to get closer to God, we must say to the Lord: “I am the first of sinners, and if I have not fallen into the worst filth it is because your mercy has taken me by the hand. Thanks to you, Lord, I am alive; thanks to you, Lord, I have not destroyed myself with sin”. God can bridge the distance whenever, with honesty and sincerity, we bring our weaknesses before him. He holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize we are “hitting rock bottom” and we turn back to him with a sincere heart. That is how God is. He is waiting for us, deep down, for in Jesus he chose to “descend to the depths” because he is unafraid to descend even to our inner abysses, to touch the wounds of our flesh, to embrace our poverty, to accept our failures in life and the mistakes we make through weakness and negligence, and all of us have done so. There, deep down, God waits for us, and he waits for us especially in the sacrament of Penance, when, with much humility, we go to ask forgiveness, as we do today. God is waiting for us there.
Brothers and sisters, today let each of us make an examination of conscience, because the Pharisee and the tax collector both dwell deep within us. Let us not hide behind the hypocrisy of appearances, but entrust to the Lord’s mercy our darkness, our mistakes. Let us think about our wretchedness, our mistakes, even those that we feel unable to share because of shame, which is alright, but with God they must show themselves. When we go to confession, we stand “far off”, at the back, like the tax collector, in order to acknowledge the distance between God’s dream for our lives and the reality of who we are each day: poor sinners. At that moment, the Lord draws near to us; he bridges the distance and sets us back on our feet. At that moment, when we realize that we are naked, he clothes us with the festal garment. That is, and that must be, the meaning of the sacrament of Reconciliation: a festal encounter that heals the heart and leaves us with inner peace. Not a human tribunal to approach with dread, but a divine embrace in which to find consolation.
One of the most beautiful aspects of how God welcomes us is his tender embrace. If we read of when the prodigal son returns home (cf. Lk 15:20-22) and begins to speak, the father does not allow him to speak, he embraces him so he is unable to speak. A merciful embrace. Here, I address my brother confessors: please, brothers, forgive everything, always forgive, without pressing too much on people’s consciences; let them speak about themselves and welcome them like Jesus, with the caress of your gaze, with silent understanding. Please, the sacrament of Penance is not for torturing but for giving peace. Forgive everything, as God will forgive you everything. Everything, everything, everything.
In this season of Lent, with contrite hearts let us quietly say, like the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (v. 13). Let us do so together: God, be merciful to me, a sinner! God, when I forget you or I neglect you, when I prefer my words and those of the world to your own word, when I presume to be righteous and look down on others, when I gossip about others, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! When I care nothing for those all around me, when I’m indifferent to the poor and the suffering, the weak and the outcast, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! For my sins against life, for my bad example that mars the lovely face of Mother Church, for my sins against creation, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! For my falsehoods, my duplicity, my lack of honesty and integrity, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! For my hidden sins, which no one knows, for the ways in which I have unconsciously wronged others, and for the good I could have done and yet failed to do, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!
In silence, let us repeat these words for a few moments, with a repentant and trusting heart: God, be merciful to me, a sinner! And in this act of repentance and trust, let us open our hearts to the joy of an even greater gift: the mercy of God.