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
Gospel preaching is born from gratuitousness, from wonder at salvation which comes; and what I have received freely I must give freely.
This is evident when Jesus sends out his Apostles with instructions for their mission. “His orders are very simple, do not provide yourselves with gold, or silver, or copper in your belts...”. It was a mission of salvation that consisted in healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and chasing out demons. It was to bring people close to the kingdom of God, to give them the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand, indeed is already here.
The key sentence in Christ’s instructions to his disciples is: “you received without pay, give without pay”. These words contain the full gratuitousness of salvation, because: “we cannot preach or proclaim the kingdom of God, without this inner certainty that it is all freely given, it is all grace”. And if we act without leaving room for grace, “the Gospel has no effectiveness”.
Moreover various episodes in the life of the first Apostles testify that Gospel preaching is born from what is given freely. St Peter, had no bank account and when he had to pay taxes, the Lord sent him to fish in the sea to find in the fish the money to pay them.
When an apostle does not give freely he also loses the ability to praise the Lord, for “praising the Lord is essentially gratuitous. It is prayer freely prayed... We do not only ask, we praise”; but when disciples “want to make a rich Church, a Church without freely given praise, she “ages, she becomes an NGO, she is lifeless.
The Apostle John tells us many times that we should abide in the Lord. And he also tells us that the Lord abides in us. Essentially, St John sums up the Christian life as an abiding, as a mutual indwelling we in God and God in us. Do not abide in the spirit of the world, do not abide in superficiality, do not abide in idolatry, do not abide in vanity. No, abide in the Lord! And the Lord reciprocates this so that he remains in us. Indeed, he first remains in us even though many times we turn him away. Yet if we do, we cannot remain in him.
He who abides in love abides in God and God in him, St John writes further on. In practice, the Apostle tells us how this abiding is the same as abiding in love. And that it is beautiful to hear this said about love. Yet that the love of which John speaks is not the love of which soap operas are made! No, it is something else!.
In fact, Christian love always possesses one quality: concreteness. Christian love is concrete. Jesus himself, when he speaks of love, tells us concrete things: feed the hungry, visit the sick. They are all concrete things for indeed love is concrete.
When this concreteness is lacking we end up living a Christianity of illusions, for we do not understand the heart of Jesus message. Love that is not concrete becomes an illusory love. Mark (6:45-52), the disciples had this sort of love when they looked at Jesus and believed they were seeing a ghost and an illusory love that is not concrete does not do us good.
But when does this occur? The Gospel could not be clearer. When the disciples believed they are seeing a ghost, they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. And if your heart is hardened, you cannot love. You think that to love is to imagine things. No, love is concrete!.
There is a basic criteria for truly living in love. The criteria is to abide in the Lord and the Lord in us, and the criteria of Christian concreteness is the same, always: The Word came in the flesh. The criteria is the Incarnation of the Word, God made Man and Christianity without this foundation is not true Christianity. The key to Christian life is faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made Man.
Concrete love criteria. The first is that love is found more in deeds than words. Jesus himself said: it is not those who call me Lord, Lord, who talk much, who shall enter the Kingdom of heaven; but those who do the will of God. The invitation set before us, then, is to be concrete by doing the deeds of God.
There is a question we must each ask ourselves: If I abide in in Jesus, if I abide in the Lord, if I abide in love, what do I do for God not what do I think or what do I say and what do I do for others? Therefore, the first criteria is to love with deeds, not with words. The wind carries away our words: today they are here and tomorrow they are gone.
The second criteria for concreteness is that in love it is more important to give than to receive. The person who loves, gives, gives things, gives life, gives himself to God and to others. Instead, the person who does not love and who is selfish always seeks to receive. He seeks always to have things, to have the advantage. Hence the spiritual counsel to abide with an open heart, and not like the disciples whose hearts were closed and who therefore did not understand. It is a matter of abiding in God and of God abiding in us. It is a matter of abiding in love.
The sole criteria of abiding in our faith in Jesus Christ the Word of God made flesh is the very mystery that we celebrate in this season. The two practical consequences of this Christian concreteness, of this criteria, are that love is found more in deeds than words, and that in love it is more important to give than to receive.
As we gaze on the Child in these final three days of the Christmas Season, let us renew our faith in Jesus Christ, who is true God and true Man. And let us ask for the grace to be granted this concreteness of Christian love so that we might always abide in love and that he might abide in us.
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,
The Gospel this Sunday is the Parable of the Talents. The passage from St Matthew (25:14-30) tells of a man who, before setting off on a journey, calls his servants and entrusts his assets to them in talents, extremely valuable ancient coins. That master entrusts five talents to the first servant, two to the second, and one to the third. During the master’s absence, the three servants must earn a profit from this patrimony. The first and second servants each double the initial value of the capital. The third, however, for fear of losing it all, buries the talent he received in a hole. Upon the master’s return, the first two receive praise and rewards, while the third, who returned only the coin he had received, is reproached and punished.
The meaning of this is clear. The man in the parable represents Jesus, we are the servants, and the talents are the inheritance that the Lord entrusts to us. What is the inheritance? His Word, the Eucharist, faith in the Heavenly Father, his forgiveness..., in other words, so many things, his most precious treasures. This is the inheritance that He entrusts to us, not only to safeguard, but to make fruitful! While in common usage the term “talent” indicates a pronounced individual quality, for example talent in music, in sport, and so on, in the parable, talent represent the riches of the Lord, which He entrusts to us so that we make them bear fruit. The hole dug into the soil by the “wicked and slothful servant” (v. 26) points to the fear of risk which blocks creativity and the fruitfulness of love, because the fear of the risks of love stop us. Jesus does not ask us to store his grace in a safe! Jesus does not ask us for this, but He wants us to use it to benefit others. All the goods that we have received are to give to others, and thus they increase, as if He were to tell us: “Here is my mercy, my tenderness, my forgiveness: take them and make ample use of them”. And what have we done with them? Whom have we “infected” with our faith? How many people have we encouraged with our hope? How much love have we shared with our neighbour? These are questions that will do us good to ask ourselves. Any environment, even the furthest and most impractical, can become a place where our talents can bear fruit. There are no situations or places precluded from the Christian presence and witness. The witness which Jesus asks of us is not closed, but is open, it is in our hands.
This parable urges us not to conceal our faith and our belonging to Christ, not to bury the Word of the Gospel, but to let it circulate in our life, in our relationships, in concrete situations, as a strength which galvanizes, which purifies, which renews. Similarly, the forgiveness, which the Lord grants us particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation: let us not keep it closed within ourselves, but let us allow it to emit its power, which brings down the walls that our egoism has raised, which enables us to take the first step in strained relationships, to resume the dialogue where there is no longer communication.... And so forth. Allow these talents, these gifts, these presents that the Lord has given us, to be, to grow, to bear fruit for others, with our witness.
I think it would be a fine gesture for each of you to pick up the Gospel at home today, the Gospel of St Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 14 to 30, Matthew 25:14-30, and read this, and meditate a bit: “The talents, the treasures, all that God has given me, all things spiritual, all goodness, the Word of God, how do I make this grow in others? Or do I merely store it in a safe?”.
Moreover, the Lord does not give the same things to everyone in the same way: He knows us personally and entrusts us with what is right for us; but in everyone, in all, there is something equal: the same, immense trust. God trusts us, God has hope in us! And this is the same for everyone. Let us not disappoint Him! Let us not be misled by fear, but let us reciprocate trust with trust! The Virgin Mary embodied this attitude in the fullest and most beautiful way. She received and welcomed the most sublime gift, Jesus himself, and in turn she offered Him to mankind with a generous heart. Let us ask Her to help us to be “good and faithful servants” in order to participate “in the joy of our Lord”.
A disciple of the Lord, is called to set out on a journey that is not a "stroll" but a mission to proclaim the Gospel and spread the good news of Salvation. And this is the task that Jesus gives to his disciples. One who “stands still and doesn’t go out, doesn’t give to others what he received in Baptism, is not a true disciple of Jesus”. Indeed, “he lacks the missionary spirit”, and doesn’t “go out of himself to bring something good to others”.
There is another pathway for the disciple of Jesus: the inner journey, the path within, the path of the disciple who seeks the Lord every day, through prayer, in meditation.
This is not secondary, a disciple must also take this journey because if the disciple does not continuously seek God in this way, the Gospel that is taken to others will be weak, watered down – a Gospel with no strength.
Thus it is a “twofold journey that Jesus wants from his disciples”. One has to walk in order to serve others.
The Gospel reads: “preach as you go, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons”. Here we find again the “disciple’s duty: to serve”.
A disciple who doesn’t serve others is not a Christian.
Every disciple’s point of reference should be what “Jesus preached in those two columns of Christianity: the Beatitudes and the the ‘protocol’ by which we will be judged”, namely that indicated by Matthew in Chapter 25. This is the “framework” of “evangelical service”. There are no loopholes: “If a disciple does not walk in order to serve, his walking is of no use. If his life is not in service, his life is of no use, as a Christian”.
In this very aspect the “temptation of selfishness” can be seen in many people. There are indeed those who say: “Yes, I’m a Christian, I’m at peace, I confess, I go to Mass, I follow the Commandments”. But where is the service to others? Where, is “the service to Jesus in the sick, in the imprisoned, in the hungry, those with no shirt on their back". Jesus wants this of us because He is to be found in them: “Service to Christ in others."
There is also great meaning in the third word inferred from this passage, which is “gratuitous”. Walk, in service, without pay. The passage reads "Freely you have received, freely you must give." A detail so fundamental that the Lord stated it clearly, just in case “the disciples didn’t understand”. He explained to them: “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics”. In other words, the journey of service is free, because we have received salvation for free. None of us “bought salvation, none of us has earned it”: it is ours purely by the “grace of the Father in Jesus Christ, in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ”.
It’s sad when we see Christians who forget these words of Jesus: ‘Freely you have received, freely give'”. And it’s sad when those who forget are Christian communities, parishes, religious congregations or dioceses. When this happens, it is because in the background “there is the mistake” of assuming “that salvation comes from riches, from human power”.
Three words. Walk, but walk” in order “to proclaim. Service: the life of a Christian is not for himself; it is for others, as Jesus’ life was. And third, “gratuitous”.
This, is how we can place our hope back in Jesus, who “thus sends us a hope which never disappoints”. On the other hand, “when hope is in being comfortable on the journey” or when “hope is in selfishly seeking things for oneself” and not in serving others, or when hope is in riches or in small worldly assurances, all of this caves in. The Lord himself crushes it.
Let us make this journey toward God with Jesus on the altar, in order to then walk toward others in service and in poverty, with only the riches of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus himself gave us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning... on this beautiful, sunny day!
This Sunday’s Gospel passage is composed of two parts: one that describes how not to be followers of Christ; the other offers an example of a Christian.
Let’s start with the first: what not to do. In the first part, Jesus accuses the scribes, the teachers of the law, of having three defects in their lifestyle: pride, greed and hypocrisy. They like “to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts” (Mk 12:38-39). But beneath such solemn appearances they are hiding falsehood and injustice.
While flaunting themselves in public, they use their authority — as Jesus says — to devour “the houses of widows” (cf. v. 40); those who, along with orphans and foreigners, were considered to be the people most vulnerable and least protected. Lastly, Jesus says that the scribes, “for a pretence make long prayers” (v. 40). Even today we risk taking on these attitudes. For example, when prayer is separate from justice so that God cannot be worshiped, and causing harm to the poor. Or when one claims to love God, but instead offers him only grandiosity for one’s own advantage.
The second part of the Gospel follows this line of thinking. The scene is set in the temple of Jerusalem, precisely in the place where people are tossing coins as offerings. There are many rich people putting in large sums, and there is a poor woman, a widow, who contributes only two bits, two small coins. Jesus observes the woman carefully and calls the disciples’ attention to the sharp contrast of the scene.
The wealthy contributed with great ostentation what for them was superfluous, while the widow, Jesus says, “put in everything she had, her whole living” (v. 44). For this reason, Jesus says, she gave the most of all. Because of her extreme poverty, she could have offered a single coin to the temple and kept the other for herself. But she did not want to give just half to God; she divested herself of everything. In her poverty she understood that in having God, she had everything; she felt completely loved by him and in turn loved him completely. What a beautiful example this little old woman offers us!
Today Jesus also tells us that the benchmark is not quantity but fullness. There is a difference between quantity and fullness. You can have a lot of money and still be empty. There is no fullness in your heart. This week, think about the difference there is between quantity and fullness. It is not a matter of the wallet, but of the heart. There is a difference between the wallet and the heart.... There are diseases of the heart, which reduce the heart to the wallet.... This is not good! To love God “with all your heart” means to trust in him, in his providence, and to serve him in the poorest brothers and sisters without expecting anything in return.
Allow me to tell you a story, which happened in my previous diocese. A mother and her three children were at the table, the father was at work. They were eating Milan-style cutlets.... There was a knock at the door and one of the children — they were young, 5, 6 and the oldest was 7 — comes and says: “Mom, there is a beggar asking for something to eat”. And the mom, a good Christian, asks them: “What shall we do?” — “Let’s give him something, mom…” – “Ok”. She takes her fork and knife and cuts the cutlets in half. “Ah no, mom, no! Not like this! Take something from the fridge” — “No! Let’s make three sandwiches with this!”. The children learned that true charity is given, not with what is left over, but with what we need. That afternoon I am sure that the children were a bit hungry.... But this is how it’s done!
Faced with the needs of our neighbours, we are called — like these children and the halved cutlets — to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous; we are called to give the time that is necessary, not only what is extra; we are called to give immediately and unconditionally some of our talent, not after using it for our own purposes or for our own group.
Let us ask the Lord to admit us to the school of this poor widow, whom Jesus places in the cathedra and presents as a teacher of the living Gospel even to the astonishment of the disciples. Through the intercession of Mary, the poor woman who gave her entire life to God for us, let us ask for a heart that is poor, but rich in glad and freely given generosity.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In the scene from today’s Gospel passage, Jesus, in the home of one of the chief Pharisees, observes that the guests at lunch rush to choose the first place. It is a scene that we have seen so often: seeking the best place even “with our elbows”. Observing this scene, Jesus shares two short parables, and with them two instructions: one concerning the place, and the other concerning the reward.
The first analogy is set at a wedding banquet. Jesus says: “When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man’, and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place” (Lk 14:8-9). With this recommendation, Jesus does not intend to give rules of social behaviour, but rather a lesson on the value of humility. History teaches that pride, careerism, vanity and ostentation are the causes of many evils. And Jesus helps us to understand the necessity of choosing the last place, that is, of seeking to be small and hidden: humility. When we place ourselves before God in this dimension of humility, God exalts us, he stoops down to us so as to lift us up to himself; “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (v. 11).
Jesus’ words emphasize completely different and opposing attitudes: the attitude of those who choose their own place and the attitude of those who allow God to assign it and await a reward from Him. Let us not forget this: God pays much more than men do! He gives us a much greater place than that which men give us! The place that God gives us is close to his heart and his reward is eternal life. “You will be blessed”, Jesus says, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (v. 14).
This is what is described in the second parable, in which Jesus points out the attitude of selflessness that ought to characterize hospitality, and he says: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (vv. 13-14). This means choosing gratuitousness rather than self-seeking and calculating to obtain a reward, seeking interest and trying to increase your wealth. Indeed, the poor, the simple, those who ‘don’t count’, can never reciprocate an invitation to a meal. In this way Jesus shows his preference for the poor and the excluded, who are the privileged in the Kingdom of God, and he launches the fundamental message of the Gospel which is to serve others out of love for God. Today, Jesus gives voice to those who are voiceless, and to each one of us he addresses an urgent appeal to open our hearts and to make our own the sufferings and anxieties of the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the refugees, those who are defeated by life, those who are rejected by society and by the arrogance of the strong. And those who are discarded make up the vast majority of the population.
At this time, I think with gratitude of the soup kitchens where many volunteers offer their services, giving food to people who are alone, in need, unemployed or homeless. These soup kitchens and other works of mercy — such as visiting the sick and the imprisoned — are a training ground for charity that spreads the culture of gratuity, as those who work in these places are motivated by God’s love and enlightened by the wisdom of the Gospel. In this way serving others becomes a testimony of love, which makes the love of Christ visible and credible.
Let us ask the Virgin Mary, who was humble throughout her whole life, to lead us every day along the way of humility, and to render us capable of free gestures of welcome and solidarity with those who are marginalized, so as to become worthy of the divine reward.
Three actions of the Magi guide our journey towards the Lord, who today is revealed as light and salvation for all peoples. The Magi see the star, they set out and they bring gifts.
Seeing the star. This is where it starts. But why, we might ask, did the Magi alone see the star? Perhaps because few people raised their eyes to heaven. We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.
Yet we can also ask why, among all those who looked up at the heavens, so many others did not follow that star, “his star” (Mt 2:2). Perhaps because the star was not eye-catching, did not shine any brighter than other stars. It was a star – so the Gospel tells us – that the Magi saw “at its rising” (vv. 2, 9). Jesus’ star does not dazzle or overwhelm, but gently invites. We may ask ourselves what star we have chosen to follow in our lives. Some stars may be bright, but they do not point the way. So it is with success, money, career, honours and pleasures when these become our life. They are meteors: they blaze momentarily, but then quickly burn out and their brilliance fades. They are shooting stars that mislead rather than lead. The Lord’s star, however, may not always overwhelm by its brightness, but it is always there, ever kindly: it takes you by the hand in life and accompanies you. It does not promise material reward, but ensures peace and grants, as it did to the Magi, “exceedingly great joy” (Mt 2:10). But it also tells us to set out.
Setting out, the second thing the Magi do, is essential if we are to find Jesus. His star demands a decision to take up the journey and to advance tirelessly on our way. It demands that we free ourselves from useless burdens and unnecessary extras that only prove a hindrance, and accept unforeseen obstacles along the map of life. Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go, not sit around but take risks, not stand still, but set out. Jesus makes demands: he tells those who seek him to leave behind the armchair of worldly comforts and the reassuring warmth of hearth and home. Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken. God, who set his people free in the exodus and called new peoples to follow his star, grants freedom and joy always and only in the course of a journey. In other words, if we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a Child. Yet those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that Child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.
Setting out is not easy. The Gospel shows us this through a cast of characters. There is Herod, wild with fear that the birth of a king will threaten his power. So he organizes meetings and sends people out to gather information, yet he himself does not budge; he stays locked up in his palace. Even “all Jerusalem” (v. 3) is afraid: afraid of the new things God is bringing about. They want everything to remain as it was – that is the way it has always been – no one has the courage to leave. The temptation of the priests and scribes is more subtle: they know the exact place and tell it to Herod, quoting the ancient prophecy. They know, but they themselves make no move towards Bethlehem. Theirs can be the temptation of those who are used to being believers: they can talk at length about the faith they know so well, but will not take a personal risk for the Lord. They talk, but do not pray; they complain, but do no good. The Magi, on the other hand, talk little and journey much. Ignorant of the truths of faith, they are filled with longing and set out. So the Gospel tells us: They “came to worship him” (v. 2); “they set out; they went in, and fell down and worshiped him; they went back” (vv. 9, 11, 12). They kept moving.
Bringing gifts. Having come to Jesus after a long journey, the Magi do as he does: they bring gifts. Jesus is there to give his life; they offer him their own costly gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. The Gospel becomes real when the journey of life ends in giving. To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus. For he says: “The gift you have received, give freely as a gift” (Mt 10:8). To do good without counting the cost, even when unasked, even when you gain nothing thereby, even if it is unpleasant. That is what God wants. He, who become small for our sake, asks us to offer something for the least of his brothers and sisters. Who are they? They are those who have nothing to give in return, the needy, the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner, the poor (cf. Mt 25:31-46). We give a gift pleasing to Jesus when we care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and they cannot be lacking in the lives of Christians. Jesus reminds us that if we only love those who love us, we do as the pagans do (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Today let us look at our hands, so often empty of love, and let us try to think of some free gift that we can give without expecting anything in return. That will please the Lord. And let us ask him: “Lord, let me rediscover the joy of giving”.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts.
The readings for the Memorial of St Barnabas (Acts 11:21-26; 12: 1-3 and Matthew 10:7-13) demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is the “protagonist” of the Gospel proclamation. That proclamation is unlike other types of communication. Due to the action of the Holy Spirit, it has the power to change hearts. There have been pastoral plans that seem to be perfect. They were incapable of changing hearts because they were ends in themselves. They were not instruments of evangelization.
It is not with an entrepreneurial attitude that Jesus sends us…. No, it is with the Holy Spirit. This is courage. The true courage behind evangelization is not human stubbornness. No, it is the Spirit who gives us courage and who carries you forward.
Service is the second dimension of evangelization. In fact, pursuing a career or success in the Church is a sure sign that someone doesn’t know what evangelization is…for the one who commands must be the one who serves.
We can say good things but without service it is not proclamation. It may seem to be, but it is not, because the Spirit not only carries you forward to proclaim the truths of the Lord and the life of the Lord, but He also brings you to the service of the brothers and sisters, even in small things. It’s awful when you find evangelizers who make others serve them and who live to be served. They are like the princes of evangelization – how awful.
Gratuitousness is the third aspect of evangelization because no one can be redeemed by his or her own merit. The Lord reminds us, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Matthew 10:8).
All of us have been saved gratuitously by Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must give gratuitously. Those who carry out the pastoral work of evangelization must learn this. Their life must be gratuitous, given in service, proclamation, borne by the Spirit. Their personal poverty forces them to open themselves up to the Spirit.
Jesus’ teaching is clear: “do not do things out of self-interest”, do not choose your friendships on the basis of convenience.
Reasoning on the basis of one's own advantage is a form of selfishness, segregation and self-interest whilst Jesus’ message is exactly the opposite.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory but humbly regard others as more important than ourselves.
Gossip, stems from rivalry and is used to destroy others.
Rivalry is ugly: you can perpetrate it openly, in a direct way, or with white gloves. But it always aims to destroy the other and to ‘raise oneself up’ by diminishing the other. Rivalry stems from self- interest.
Equally harmful, is someone who prides himself on being superior to others.
This attitude, destroys communities and families: “Think of the rivalry between siblings for the father’s inheritance for example”, it is something we see every day.
Christians, must follow the example of the Son of God, cultivating “gratuitousness”: doing good without expecting or wanting to be repaid, sowing unity and abandoning rivalry or vainglory.
Building peace with small gestures paves a path of harmony throughout the world.
When we read of wars, of the famine of children in Yemen caused by the conflict there, we think “that’s far away, poor children… why don't they have food?”
The same war is waged at home and in our institutions, stemming from rivalry: that’s where war begins! And that’s where peace must be made: in the family, in the parish, in the institutions, in the workplace, always seeking unanimity and harmony and not one's own interest.
Give freely that which you have received freely.
We are called to serve and love our brothers and sisters in the same way that God has done with us.
Christians cannot remain stationary, since our way of life impels us to hit the road, always.
Jesus has already given us our mission: "As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons."
Christian life is for service. It saddens us to find Christians who at the beginning of their conversion, or awareness of being Christian, serve and are open to serve the people of God, but who later end up making use of the people of God. This causes much harm to God’s people. Our vocation is to ‘serve’, not to ‘make use of’.
Christian life, is lived gratuitously. "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give," was how Jesus described the core of salvation.
Salvation cannot be bought, because God saves us free of charge and requires no payment.
As God has done with us, so we are to do with others. And this gratuity of God is one of the most beautiful things.
Realize that the Lord is full of gifts for us. He asks just one thing: that our hearts be open. When we say ‘Our Father’ and we pray, we open our heart, allowing this gratuitousness to enter. Often when we need some spiritual grace, we say: ‘Well, now I will fast, do penance, pray a novena…’ Fine, but be careful: this is not done to ‘pay’ or ‘buy’ grace. We do it to open our hearts so that grace might enter. Grace is freely given.
All God’s gifts, are given without cost. And sometimes the heart folds in on itself and remains closed, and it is no longer able to receive such freely given love.
We should not bargain with God.
Let us Christians, and especially pastors and bishops, give freely and not try to sell God’s graces.
It pains the heart when we see pastors that make money off of God’s grace: ‘I can help you, but it will cost this much…’
In our spiritual life we always run the risk of slipping up on the question of payment, even when speaking with the Lord, as if we needed to bribe the Lord. No! That is not the correct path… I make a promise, in order to expand my heart to receive what is already there, waiting for us free of charge. This relationship of gratuitousness with God is what will help us to have the same rapport with others, whether it be in Christian witness, Christian service, or the pastoral work of those who guide the people of God. We do so along the way. Christian life means walking. Preach and serve, but do not make use of others. Serve and give freely that which you have received freely.
May our life of holiness be permeated by this openness of heart, so that the gratuitousness of God – the graces that He wishes to give us without cost – may enter our hearts.
Church of Santa Maria Consolatrice, Roman Quarter of Casal Bertone
Corpus Christi Year C
Today, God’s word helps us to appreciate more deeply two verbs that are simple, yet essential for daily life: to speak and to give.
To speak. In the first reading, Melchizedek says: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High… and blessed be God Most High” (Gen 14:19-20). For Melchizedek, to speak is to bless. He blesses Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed (cf. Gen 12:3; Gal 3:8). Everything begins with blessing: words of goodness create a history of goodness. The same thing happens in the Gospel: before multiplying the loaves, Jesus blesses them: “Taking the five loaves, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples” (Lk 9:16). A blessing turns five loaves into food enough for a great crowd: the blessing releases a cascade of goodness.
Why is it good to bless? Because it turns a word into a gift. When we bless, we are not doing something for ourselves, but for others. Blessing is not about saying nice words or trite phrases. No, it is about speaking goodness, speaking with love. That is what Melchizedek did, when he spontaneously blessed Abram, who had not said or done anything for him. Jesus did the same thing, and he showed what the blessing meant by freely distributing the loaves. How many times too, have we been blessed, in church or in our homes? How many times have we received words of encouragement, or a sign of the cross on our forehead? We were blessed on the day of our baptism, and we are blessed at the end of every Mass. The Eucharist is itself a school of blessing. God blesses us, his beloved children, and thus encourages us to keep going. And we, in turn, bless God in our assemblies (cf. Ps 68:26), rediscovering the joy of praise that liberates and heals the heart. We come to Mass, certain that we will be blessed by the Lord, and we leave in order to bless others in turn, to be channels of goodness in the world.
This is also true for us: it is important for us pastors to keep blessing God’s people. Dear priests, do not be afraid to give a blessing, to bless the People of God. Dear priests, continue to bless: the Lord wants to bless his people; he is happy to make us feel his affection for us. Only as those who are themselves blessed, can we in turn bless others with that same anointing of love. It is sad to think of how easily people today do the opposite: they curse, despise and insult others. In the general frenzy, we lose control and vent our rage on everything and everyone. Sadly, those who shout most and loudest, those angriest, often appeal to others and persuade them. Let us avoid being infected by that arrogance; let us not let ourselves be overcome by bitterness, for we eat the Bread that contains all sweetness within it. God’s people love to praise, not complain; we were created to bless, not grumble. In the presence of the Eucharist, Jesus who becomes bread, this simple bread that contains the entire reality of the Church, let us learn to bless all that we have, to praise God, to bless and not curse all that has led us to this moment, and to speak words of encouragement to others.
The second verb is to give. “Speaking” is thus followed by “giving”. This was the case with Abraham who, after being blessed by Melchizedek, “gave him a tenth of everything” (Gen 14:20). It was the case, too, with Jesus who after reciting the blessing, gave the loaves to be distributed among the crowd. This tells us something very beautiful. Bread is not only something to be consumed; it is a means of sharing. Surprisingly, the account of the multiplication of the loaves does not mention the multiplication itself. On the contrary, the words that stand out are: “break”, “give” and “distribute” (cf. Lk 9:16). In effect, the emphasis is not on the multiplication but the act of sharing. This is important. Jesus does not perform a magic trick; he does not change five loaves into five thousand and then to announce: “There! Distribute them!” No. Jesus first prays, then blesses the five loaves and begins to break them, trusting in the Father. And those five loaves never run out. This is no magic trick; it is an act of trust in God and his providence.
In the world, we are always trying to increase our profits, to raise our income. But why? Is it to give, or to have? To share or to accumulate? The “economy” of the Gospel multiplies through sharing, nourishes through distributing. It does not sate the greed of a few, but gives life to the world (cf. Jn 6:33). The verb Jesus uses is not to have but to give.
He tells his disciples straight out: “You give them something to eat” (Lk 9:13). We can imagine the thoughts that went through their minds: “We don’t have enough bread for ourselves, and now we are supposed to think about others? Why do we have to give them something to eat, if they came to hear our Teacher? If they didn’t bring their own food, let them go back home, it’s their problem; or else give us some money to buy food”. This way of thinking is not wrong, but it isn’t the way Jesus thinks. He will have none of it: “You give them something to eat”. Whatever we have can bear fruit if we give it away – that is what Jesus wants to tell us – and it does not matter whether it is great or small. The Lord does great things with our littleness, as he did with the five loaves. He does not work spectacular miracles or wave a magic wand; he works with simple things. God’s omnipotence is lowly, made up of love alone. And love can accomplish great things with little. The Eucharist teaches us this: for there we find God himself contained in a piece of bread. Simple, essential, bread broken and shared, the Eucharist we receive allows us to see things as God does. It inspires us to give ourselves to others. It is the antidote to the mindset that says: “Sorry, that is not my problem”, or: “I have no time, I can’t help you, it’s none of my business”. Or that looks the other way…
In our city that hungers for love and care, that suffers from decay and neglect, that contains so many elderly people living alone, families in difficulty, young people struggling to earn their bread and to realize their dreams, the Lord says to each one of you: “You yourself give them something to eat”. You may answer: “But I have so little; I am not up to such things”. That is not true; your “little” has great value in the eyes of Jesus, provided that you don’t keep it to yourself, but put it in play. Put yourself in play! You are not alone, for you have the Eucharist, bread for the journey, the bread of Jesus. Tonight too, we will be nourished by his body given up for us. If we receive it into our hearts, this bread will release in us the power of love. We will feel blessed and loved, and we will want to bless and love in turn, beginning here, in our city, in the streets where we will process this evening. The Lord comes to our streets in order to speak a blessing for us and to give us courage. And he asks that we too be blessing and gift for others.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today we celebrate the patron saints of Rome, the Apostles Peter and Paul. And it is a gift to find ourselves praying here, near the place where Peter died a martyr and is buried. However, today's liturgy recalls an entirely different episode: it tells us that several years earlier Peter was freed from death. He had been arrested, he was in prison, and the Church, fearing for his life, prayed incessantly for him. Then an angel came down to free him from prison (cf. Acts 12:1-11). But years later, too, when Peter was a prisoner in Rome, the Church would certainly have prayed. On that occasion, however, his life was not spared. How come he was first spared the trial, and then not?
Because there is a journey in Peter's life that can illuminate the path of our own. The Lord granted him many graces and freed him from evil: He does this with us too. Indeed, often we go to Him only in moments of need, to ask for help. But God sees further and invites us to go further, to seek not only His gifts, but to look for Him, the Lord of all gifts; to entrust to Him not only our problems, but to entrust to Him our life. In this way He can finally give us the greatest grace, that of giving life. Yes, giving life. The most important thing in life is to make life a gift. And this is true for everyone: for parents towards their children and for children towards their elderly parents. And here many elderly people come to mind, who have been left alone by their family, as if - I dare say - as if they were discarded material. And this is a tragedy of our times: the solitude of the elderly. The life of children and grandchildren is not given as a gift to the elderly. Giving ourselves for those who are married and for those who are consecrated; it is true everywhere, at home and at work, and towards everyone close to us. God desires making us grow in giving: only in this way can we become great. We grow if we give ourselves to others. Look at Saint Peter: he did not become a hero because he was freed from prison, but because he gave his life here. His gift transformed a place of execution into the beautiful place of hope in which we find ourselves.
Here is what to ask of God: not only the grace of the moment, but the grace of life. Today’s Gospel shows us the very dialogue that changes Peter’s life. He hears Jesus ask him: “Who do you say I am?”. And he answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. And Jesus continues, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah” (Mt 16: 16-17). Jesus says “blessed”, that is, literally, happy. You are happy for having said this. Take note: Jesus says You are blessed to Peter, who had said to Him, “You are the living God”. What is the secret of a blessed life, then, what is the secret of a happy life? Recognising Jesus, but Jesus as the living God, not like a statue. Because it is not important to know that Jesus was great in history, it is not so important to appreciate what He said or did; what matters is the place I give Him in my life, the place I give to Jesus in my heart. It is at this point that Simon hears Jesus say: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (v. 18). He was not called “Peter”, “rock”, because he was a solid and trustworthy man. No, he will make many mistakes afterwards, he was not so reliable, he will make many mistakes; he will even reach the point of denying the Master. But he chose to build his life on Jesus, the rock; not - as the text says - “on flesh and blood”, that is, on himself, on his capacities, but on Jesus (cf. v. 17), who is rock. And Jesus is the rock on which Simon became stone. We can say the same of the Apostle Paul, who gave himself totally to the Gospel, considering all the rest to be worthless, so as to earn Christ.
Today, before the Apostles, we can ask ourselves: “And I, how do I arrange my life? Do I think only of the needs of the moment or do I believe that my real need is Jesus, who makes me a gift? And how do I build life, on my capacities or on the living God?". May Our Lady, who entrusted everything to God, help us to put Him at the base of every day, and may she intercede for us so that, with the grace of God, we may make a gift of our life.
The parable we have just listened to has a beginning, a middle and an end, which shed light on the beginning, the middle and the end of our lives.
The beginning. Everything begins with a great good. The master does not keep his wealth to himself, but gives it to his servants; five talents to one, two to another, one to a third, “to each according to his ability” (Mt 25:15). It has been calculated that a single talent was equivalent to the income of some twenty years’ work: it was of enormous value, and would be sufficient for a lifetime. This is the beginning. For us too, everything began with the grace of God – everything always begins with grace, not with our own efforts – with the grace of God, who is a Father and has given us so many good things, entrusting different talents to each of us. We possess a great wealth that depends not on what we possess but on what we are: the life we have received, the good within us, the indelible beauty God has given us by making us in his image… All these things make each of us precious in his eyes, each one of us is priceless and unique in history! This is how God looks at us, how God feels towards us.
We need to remember this. All too often, when we look at our lives, we see only the things we lack, and we complain about what we lack. We then yield to the temptation to say: “If only…!” If only I had that job, if only I had that home, if only I had money and success, if only I didn’t have this or that problem, if only I had better people around me…! But those illusory words – if only! – prevent us from seeing the good all around us. They make us forget the talents we possess. You may not have that, but you do have this, and the “if only” makes us forget this. Yet God gave those talents to us because he knows each of us and he knows our abilities. He trusts us, despite our weaknesses. God even trusts the servant who will hide his talent, hoping that despite his fears, he too will put to good use what he received. In a word, the Lord asks us to make the most of the present moment, not yearning for the past, but waiting industriously for his return. How ugly is that nostalgia, which is like a black mood poisoning our soul and making us always look backwards, always at others, but never at our own hands or at the opportunities for work that the Lord has given us, never at our own situation… not even at our own poverty.
This brings us to the centre of the parable: the work of the servants, which is service. Service is our work too; it makes our talents bear fruit and it gives meaning to our lives. Those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. We must repeat this, and repeat it often: those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. We should reflect on this: those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. But what kind of service are we speaking of? In the Gospel, good servants are those who take risks. They are not fearful and overcautious, they do not cling to what they possess, but put it to good use. For if goodness is not invested, it is lost, and the grandeur of our lives is not measured by how much we save but by the fruit we bear. How many people spend their lives simply accumulating possessions, concerned only about the good life and not the good they can do. Yet how empty is a life centred on our needs and blind to the needs of others! The reason we have gifts is so that we can be gifts for others. And here, brothers and sisters, we should ask ourselves the question: do I only follow my own needs, or am I able to look to the needs of others, to whoever is in need? Are my hands open, or are they closed?
It is significant that fully four times those servants who invested their talents, who took a risk, are called “faithful” (vv. 21, 23). For the Gospel, faithfulness is never risk-free. “But, father, does being a Christian mean taking risks?” – “Yes, dearly beloved, take a risk. If you do not take risks, you will end up like the third [servant]: burying your abilities, your spiritual and material riches, everything”. Taking risks: there is no faithfulness without risk. Fidelity to God means handing over our life, letting our carefully laid plans be disrupted by our need to serve. “But I have my plans, and if I have to serve…”. Let your plans be upset, go and serve. It is sad when Christians play a defensive game, content only to observe rules and obey commandments. Those “moderate” Christians who never go beyond boundaries, never, because they are afraid of risk. And those, allow me this image, those who take care of themselves to avoid risk begin in their lives a process of mummification of their souls, and they end up as mummies. Following rules is not enough; fidelity to Jesus is not just about not making mistakes, this is quite wrong. That is what the lazy servant in the parable thought: for lack of initiative and creativity, he yielded to needless fear and buried the talent he had received. The master actually calls him “wicked” (v. 26). And yet he did nothing wrong! But he did nothing good either. He preferred to sin by omission rather than to risk making a mistake. He was not faithful to God, who spends freely, and he made his offence even worse by returning the gift he had received. “You gave me this, and I give it to you”, nothing more. The Lord, for his part, asks us to be generous, to conquer fear with the courage of love, to overcome the passivity that becomes complicity. Today, in these times of uncertainty, in these times of instability, let us not waste our lives thinking only of ourselves, indifferent to others, or deluding ourselves into thinking: “peace and security!” (1 Thess 5:3). Saint Paul invites us to look reality in the face and to avoid the infection of indifference.
How then do we serve, as God would have us serve? The master tells the faithless servant: “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” (v. 27). Who are the “bankers” who can provide us with long-term interest? They are the poor. Do not forget: the poor are at the heart of the Gospel; we cannot understand the Gospel without the poor. The poor are like Jesus himself, who, though rich, emptied himself, made himself poor, even taking sin upon himself: the worst kind of poverty. The poor guarantee us an eternal income. Even now they help us become rich in love. For the worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love. The worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love. The Book of Proverbs praises the woman who is rich in love, whose value is greater than that of pearls. We are told to imitate that woman who “opens her hand to the poor” (Prov 31:20): that is the great richness of this woman. Hold out your hand to the poor, instead of demanding what you lack. In this way, you will multiply the talents you have received.
The season of Christmas is approaching, the holiday season. How often do we hear people ask: “What can I buy? What more can I have? I must go shopping”. Let us use different words: “What can I give to others?”, in order to be like Jesus, who gave of himself and was born in the manger”.
We now come to the end of the parable. Some will be wealthy, while others, who had plenty and wasted their lives, will be poor (cf. v. 29). At the end of our lives, then, the truth will be revealed. The pretence of this world will fade, with its notion that success, power and money give life meaning, whereas love – the love we have given – will be revealed as true riches. Those things will fall, yet love will emerge. A great Father of the Church wrote: “As for this life, when death comes and the theatre is deserted, when all remove their masks of wealth or of poverty and depart hence, judged only by their works, they will be seen for what they are: some truly rich, others poor” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Poor Man Lazarus, II, 3). If we do not want to live life poorly, let us ask for the grace to see Jesus in the poor, to serve Jesus in the poor.
I would like to thank all those faithful servants of God who quietly live in this way, serving others. I think, for example, of Father Roberto Malgesini. This priest was not interested in theories; he simply saw Jesus in the poor and found meaning in life in serving them. He dried their tears with his gentleness, in the name of God who consoles. The beginning of his day was prayer, to receive God’s gifts; the centre of his day was charity, to make the love he had received bear fruit; the end was his clear witness to the Gospel. This man realized that he had to stretch out his hand to all those poor people he met daily, for he saw Jesus in each of them. Brothers and sisters, let us ask for the grace to be Christians not in word, but in deed. To bear fruit, as Jesus desires. May this truly be so.
We have just heard the page of Matthew’s Gospel that comes immediately before the account of Christ’s Passion. Before pouring out his love for us on the cross, Jesus shares his final wishes. He tells us that the good we do to one of our least brothers and sisters – whether hungry or thirsty, a stranger, in need, sick or in prison – we do to him (cf. Mt 25:37-40). In this way, the Lord gives us his “gift list” for the eternal wedding feast he will share with us in heaven. Those gifts are the works of mercy that make our life eternal. Each of us can ask: Do I put these works into practice? Do I do anything for someone in need? Or do I do good only for my loved ones and my friends? Do I help someone who cannot give anything back to me? Am I the friend of a poor person? And there are many other similar questions we can ask ourselves. “There I am”, Jesus says to you, “I am waiting for you there, where you least think and perhaps may not even want to look: there, in the poor”. I am there, where the dominant thought, according to which life is going well if it goes well for me, does not find interesting. I am there. Jesus also says these words to you, young people, as you strive to realize your dreams in life.
I am there. Jesus spoke these words centuries ago, to a young soldier. He was eighteen years old and not yet baptized. One day he saw a poor man who was begging people for help but received none, since “everyone walked by”. That young man, “seeing that others were not moved to compassion, understood that the poor person was there for him. However, he had nothing with him, only his uniform. He cut his cloak in two and gave half to the poor person, and was met with mocking laughter from some of the bystanders. The following night he had a dream: he saw Jesus, wearing the half of the cloak he had wrapped around the poor person, and he heard him say: ‘Martin, you covered me with this cloak’” (cf. Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini, III). Saint Martin was that young man. He had that dream because, without knowing it, he had acted like the righteous in today’s Gospel.
Dear young people, dear brothers and sisters, let us not give up on great dreams. Let us not settle only for what is necessary. The Lord does not want us to narrow our horizons or to remain parked on the roadside of life. He wants us to race boldly and joyfully towards lofty goals. We were not created to dream about vacations or the weekend, but to make God’s dreams come true in this world. God made us capable of dreaming, so that we could embrace the beauty of life. The works of mercy are the most beautiful works in life. They go right to the heart of our great dreams. If you are dreaming about real glory, not the glory of this passing world but the glory of God, this is the path to follow. Read today’s Gospel passage again and reflect on it. For the works of mercy give glory to God more than anything else. Listen carefully: the works of mercy give glory to God more than anything else. In the end we will be judged on the works of mercy.
Yet how do we begin to make great dreams come true? With great choices. Today’s Gospel speaks to us about this as well. Indeed, at the last judgement, the Lord will judge us on the choices we have made. He seems almost not to judge, but merely to separate the sheep from the goats, whereas being good or evil depends on us. He only draws out the consequences of our choices, brings them to light and respects them. Life, we come to see, is a time for making robust, decisive, eternal choices. Trivial choices lead to a trivial life; great choices to a life of greatness. Indeed, we become what we choose, for better or for worse. If we choose to steal, we become thieves. If we choose to think of ourselves, we become self-centred. If we choose to hate, we become angry. If we choose to spend hours on a cell phone, we become addicted. Yet if we choose God, daily we grow in his love, and if we choose to love others, we find true happiness. Because the beauty of our choices depends on love. Remember this because it is true: the beauty of our choices depends on love. Jesus knows that if we are self-absorbed and indifferent, we remain paralyzed, but if we give ourselves to others, we become free. The Lord of life wants us to be full of life, and he tells us the secret of life: we come to possess it only by giving it away. This is a rule of life: we come to possess life, now and in eternity, only by giving it away.
It is true that there are obstacles that can make our choices difficult: fear, insecurity, so many unanswered questions… Love, however, demands that we move beyond these, and not keep wondering why life is the way it is, and expecting answers to fall down from heaven. The answer has come: it is the gaze of the Father who loves us and who has sent us his Son. No, love pushes us to go beyond the why, and instead to ask for whom, to pass from asking, “Why am I alive?” to “For whom am I living?” From “Why is this happening to me?” to “Whom can I help?” For whom? Not just for myself! Life is already full of choices we make for ourselves: what to study, which friends to have, what home to buy, what interests or hobbies to pursue. We can waste years thinking about ourselves, without ever actually starting to love. Alessandro Manzoni offered a good piece of advice: “We ought to aim rather at doing well than being well: and thus we should come, in the end, to be even better” (I Promessi Sposi [The Betrothed], Chapter XXXVIII - 78).
Not only doubts and questions can undermine great and generous choices, but many other obstacles as well every day. Feverish consumerism can overwhelm our hearts with superfluous things. An obsession with pleasure may seem the only way to escape problems, yet it simply postpones them. A fixation with our rights can lead us to neglect our responsibilities to others. Then, there is the great misunderstanding about love, which is more than powerful emotions, but primarily a gift, a choice and a sacrifice. The art of choosing well, especially today, means not seeking approval, not plunging into a consumerist mentality that discourages originality, and not giving into the cult of appearances. Choosing life means resisting the “throwaway culture” and the desire to have “everything now”, in order to direct our lives towards the goal of heaven, towards God’s dreams. To choose life is to live, and we were born to live, not just get by. A young man like yourselves, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, said this: “I want to live, not just get by”.
Each day, in our heart, we face many choices. I would like to give you one last piece of advice to help train you to choose well. If we look within ourselves, we can see two very different questions arising. One asks, “What do I feel like doing?” This question often proves misleading, since it suggests that what really counts is thinking about ourselves and indulging in our wishes and impulses. The question that the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts is a very different one: not “What do you feel like doing?” but “What is best for you?” That is the choice we have to make daily: what do I feel like doing or what is best for me? This interior discernment can result either in frivolous choices or in decisions that shape our lives – it depends on us. Let us look to Jesus and ask him for the courage to choose what is best for us, to enable us to follow him in the way of love. And in this way to discover joy. To live, and not just get by.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The initial scene of the Gospel in today’s liturgy (see Jn 6,24-35) shows us some boats moving towards Capernaum: the crowd is going to look for Jesus. We might think that this is a very good thing, yet the Gospel teaches us that it is not enough to seek God; we must also ask why we are seeking him. Indeed, Jesus says: “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26). The people, in fact, had witnessed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, but they had not grasped the meaning of that gesture: they stopped at the external miracle, they stopped at the material bread: there only, without going beyond, to the meaning of this.
Here then is a first question we can ask ourselves: why do we seek the Lord? Why do I seek the Lord? What are the motivations for my faith, for our faith? We need to discern this, because among the many temptations we encounter in life, among the many temptations there is one that we might call idolatrous temptation. It is the one that drives us to seek God for our own use, to solve problems, to have thanks to Him what we cannot obtain on our own, for our interests. But in this way faith remains superficial and even, if I may say so, faith remains miraculous: we look for God to feed us and then forget about Him when we are satiated. At the centre of this immature faith is not God, but our own needs. I think of our interests, many things … It is right to present our needs to God's heart, but the Lord, who acts far beyond our expectations, wishes to live with us first of all in a relationship of love. And true love is disinterested, it is free: one does not love to receive a favour in return! This is self-interest; and very often in life we are motivated by self-interest.
A second question that the crowd asks Jesus can help us: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28). It is as if the people, provoked by Jesus, were saying: “How can we purify our search for God? How do we go from a magical faith, which thinks only of our own needs, to a faith that pleases God?” And Jesus shows the way: He answers that the work of God is to welcome the One whom the Father has sent, that is, welcoming Himself, Jesus. It is not adding religious practices or observing special precepts; it is welcoming Jesus, it is welcoming Him into our lives, living a story of love with Jesus. It is He who will purify our faith. We are not able to do this on our own. But the Lord wants a loving relationship with us: before the things we receive and do, there is Him to love. There is a relationship with Him that goes beyond the logic of interest and calculation.
This applies to God, but it also applies to our human and social relationships: when we seek first and foremost the satisfaction of our needs, we risk using people and exploiting situations for our own ends. How many times have we heard it said of someone; “But he uses people and then forgets about them”? Using people for one’s own gain: this is bad. And a society that puts interests instead of people at its centre is a society that does not generate life. The Gospel’s invitation is this: rather than being concerned only with the material bread that feeds us, let us welcome Jesus as the bread of life and, starting out from our friendship with Him, learn to love each other. Freely and without calculation. Love given freely and without calculation, without using people, freely, with generosity, with magnanimity.
Let us now pray to the Holy Virgin, She who lived the most beautiful story of love with God, that she may give us the grace to open ourselves to the encounter with her Son.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
Today’s Liturgy offers us the encounter between Jesus and a man who “had great possessions” (Mk 10:22), and who went down in history as “the rich young man” (cf. Mt 19:20-22). We do not know his name. The Gospel of Mark actually speaks of him as “a man”, without mentioning his age or name, suggesting that we can all see ourselves in this man, as though in a mirror. His encounter with Jesus, in fact, allows us to test our faith. Reading this, I test myself on my faith.
The man begins with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17). Notice the verbs he uses: “must do” – “inherit”. Here is his religiosity: a duty, a doing so as to obtain; I do something to get what I need”. But this is a commercial relationship with God, a quid pro quo. Faith, on the other hand, is not a cold, mechanical ritual, a “must-do-obtain”. It is a question of freedom and love. Faith is a question of freedom, it is a question of love. Here is a first test: what is faith for me? If it is mainly a duty or a bargaining chip, we are off track, because salvation is a gift and not a duty, it is free and cannot be bought. The first thing to do is to free ourselves of a commercial and mechanical faith, which insinuates the false image of an accounting and controlling God, not a father. And very often in life we experience this “commercial” relationship of faith: I do this, so that God will give me that.
Jesus, in the second step, helps this man by offering him the true face of God. Indeed, the text says, “Jesus looking upon him loved him” (v. 21): this is God! This is where faith is born and reborn: not from a duty, not from something that is to be done or paid, but from a look of love to be welcomed. In this way Christian life becomes beautiful, if it is based not on our abilities and our plans; it is based on God’s gaze. Is your faith, is my faith tired? Do you want to reinvigorate it? Look for God's gaze: sit in adoration, allow yourself to be forgiven in Confession, stand before the Crucified One. In short, let yourself be loved by him. This is the starting point of faith: letting oneself be loved by him, by the Father.
After the question and the look there is – the third and final step – an invitation from Jesus, who says: “You lack one thing”. What was that rich man lacking? Giving, gratuitousness. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (v. 21). It is perhaps what we are missing too. Often, we do the bare minimum, whereas Jesus invites us to do the maximum possible. How many times are we satisfied with doing our duties – the precepts, a few prayers, and many things like that – whereas God, who gives us life, asks us for the impetus of life! In today’s Gospel we see clearly this passage from duty to giving; Jesus begins by recalling the Commandments: “Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal….”, and so on (v. 19) and arrives at a positive proposal: “Go, sell, give, follow me!” (cf. v. 21). Faith cannot be limited to “do not”, because Christian life is a “yes” a “yes” of love.
Dear brothers and sisters, a faith without giving, a faith without gratuitousness is an incomplete faith. We could compare it to rich and nourishing food that nonetheless lacks flavour, or a more or less well-played game, but without a goal: no, it isn’t good, it lacks “salt”. A faith without giving, without gratuitousness, without works of charity, makes us sad in the end: just like that man whose “face fell” and returned home “sorrowful”, even though he had been looked upon with love by Jesus in person. Today we can ask ourselves: “At what point is my faith? Do I experience it as something mechanical, like a relationship of duty or interest with God? Do I remember to nourish it by letting myself be looked at and loved by Jesus?” Letting oneself be looked at and loved by Jesus; letting Jesus look at us, love us. “And, attracted by him, do I respond freely, with generosity, with all my heart?”.
May the Virgin Mary, who said a total “yes” to God, a “yes” without “but” – it is not easy to say “yes” without “but”: Our Lady did just that, a “yes” without a “but” - let us savour the beauty of making life a gift.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
At the centre of the Gospel of today’s Liturgy are the Beatitudes (cf. Lk 6:20-23). It is interesting to note that Jesus, despite being surrounded by a great crowd, proclaims them by addressing them to “his disciples” (v. 20). He speaks to the disciples. Indeed, the Beatitudes define the identity of the disciple of Jesus. They may sound strange, almost incomprehensible to those who are not disciples; whereas, if we ask ourselves what a disciple of Jesus is like, the answer is precisely the Beatitudes. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (v. 20). Blessed are you poor. Jesus says two things to his people: that they are blessed and they are poor; indeed, that they are blessed because they are poor.
In what sense? In the sense that disciples Jesus do not find their joy in money, power, or other material goods; but in the gifts they receive every day from God: life, creation, brothers and sisters, and so on. These are gifts of life. They are content to share even the goods they possess, because they live according to the logic of God. And what is the logic of God? Gratuitousness. The disciple has learned to live in gratuitousness. This poverty is also an attitude towards the meaning of life, because Jesus’ disciples do not think about possessing it, about already knowing everything, but rather they know they must learn every day. And this is poverty: the awareness of having to learn every day. The disciple of Jesus, since he or she has this attitude, is a humble, open person, far from prejudice and inflexibility.
There was a good example in last Sunday’s Gospel reading: Simon Peter, an expert fisherman, accepts Jesus’ invitation to cast his nets at an unusual hour, and then, full of wonder at the miraculous catch, leaves the boat and all his goods to follow the Lord. Peter shows himself to be docile by leaving everything, and in this way, he becomes a disciple. Instead, those who are too attached to their own ideas and their own securities, find it difficult to truly follow Jesus. They follow him a little, only in those things in which “I agree with him and he agrees with me”, but then, as far as the rest is concerned, it goes no further. And this is not a disciple. Perhaps they listen to him, but they do not follow him. And so, they fall into sadness. They become sad because the accounts do not add up, because reality escapes their mentality and they find they are dissatisfied. Disciples, on the other hand, know how to question themselves, how to humbly seek God every day, and this allows them to delve into reality, grasping its richness and complexity.
In other words, the disciple accepts the paradox of the Beatitudes: they declare that those who are poor, who lack many goods and recognize this, are blessed, that is, happy. Humanly speaking, we are inclined to think in another way: happy are those who are rich, with many goods, who receive plaudits and are the envy of many, who have all the certainties. But this is a worldly mindset, it is not the way of thinking of the Beatitudes! Jesus, on the contrary, declares worldly success to be a failure, since it is based on a selfishness that inflates and then leaves the heart empty. Faced with the paradox of the Beatitudes, disciples allow themselves to be challenged, aware that it is not God who must enter into our logic, but we into his. This requires a journey, sometimes wearisome, but always accompanied by joy. Because the disciple of Jesus is joyful, with the joy that comes from Jesus. Because, let us remember, the first word Jesus says is: blessed, beati, which gives us the name of the Beatitudes. This is the synonym of being disciples of Jesus. The Lord, by freeing us from the slavery of self-centredness, breaks our locks, dissolves our hardness, and opens up to us true happiness, which is often found where we do not expect it to be. It is he who guides our life, not us, with our preconceptions and our demands. Disciples, in the end, are those who let themselves be led by Jesus, who open their heart to Jesus, who listen to him and follow his path.
We might then ask ourselves: do I – each one of us – have the disciple’s readiness? Or do I behave with the rigidity of one who believes him- or herself to be right, who feels decent, who feels they have already arrived? Do I allow myself to be “inwardly unhinged” by the paradox of the Beatitudes, or do I stay within the confines of my own ideas? And then, with the logic of the Beatitudes, setting aside the hardships and difficulties, do I feel the joy of following Jesus? This is the decisive trait of the disciple: the joy of the heart. Let’s not forget – the joy of the heart. This is the touchstone for knowing if a person is a disciple: does he or she have joy in the heart? Do I have joy in my heart? This is the point.
May Our Lady, first disciple of the Lord, help us live as open and joyful disciples.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The words Jesus addresses to us in this Sunday’s Gospel are demanding, and seem paradoxical: he invites us to turn the other cheek and to love even our enemies (cf. Mt 5:38-48). It is normal for us to love those who love us, and to be friends of those who are friends to us; yet Jesus provokes us by saying: if you act in this way, “what more are you doing than others?” (v. 47). What more are you doing? Here is the point to which I would like to draw your attention today, to what you do that is extraordinary.
“More”, “extraordinary”, is what goes beyond the limits of the usual, what exceeds the habitual practices and normal calculations dictated by prudence. Instead, in general we try to have everything more or less in order and under control, so as to correspond to our expectations, to our measure: fearing not to be reciprocated or to expose ourselves too much and then be disappointed, we prefer to love only those who love us in order to avoid disappointments, to do good only to those who are good to us, to be generous only to those who can return a favour; and to those who treat us badly, we respond in kind, so that we are even. But the Lord warns us: this is not enough! We would say: this is not Christian! If we remain in the ordinary, in the balance between giving and receiving, things do not change. If God were to follow this logic, we would have no hope of salvation! But, fortunately for us, God’s love is always “extraordinary”, it goes beyond the usual criteria by which we humans live out our relationships.
Jesus’ words challenge us, then. While we try to remain within the ordinary of utilitarian reasoning, he asks us to open ourselves up to the extraordinary, to the extraordinary of a freely-given love; while we always try to balance the books, Christ encourages us to live the unbalance of love. Jesus is not a good book-keeper, no! He always leads us to the imbalance of love. We should not be surprised at this. If God had not “unbalanced” himself, we would never have been saved: it was the imbalance of the cross that saved us! Jesus would not have come to seek us out when we were lost and distant; he would not have loved us up to the end, he would not have embraced the cross for us, who did not deserve all this and could not give him anything in return. As the Apostle Paul writes, “One will hardly die for a righteous – though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rm 5:7-8). So, God loves us while we are sinners, not because we are good or able to give something back to him. Brothers and sisters, God's love is a love always in excess, always beyond calculation, always disproportionate. And today he also asks us to live in this way, because only in this way will we truly bear witness to him.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord invites us to step out of the logic of self-interest and not to measure love on the scales of calculations and convenience. He invites us not to respond to evil with evil, to dare to do good, to risk in the gift, even if we receive little or nothing in return. For it is this love that slowly transforms conflicts, shortens distances, overcomes enmities and heals the wounds of hatred. And so, we can ask ourselves, each one of us: do I, in my life, follow the logic of recompense, or that of gratuitousness, as God does? The extraordinary love of Christ is not easy, but it is possible; it is possible because He Himself helps us by giving us His Spirit, His love without measure.
Let us pray to Our Lady, who by answering “yes” to God without calculation, allowed him to make her the masterpiece of his Grace.