Luke Chapter 18-21
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells a parable on the need to pray always, never wearying. The main character is a widow whose insistent pleading with a dishonest judge succeeds in obtaining justice from him. Jesus concludes: if the widow succeeded in convincing that judge, do you think that God will not listen to us if we pray to him with insistence? Jesus' words are very strong: “And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Lk 18:7).
“Crying day and night” to God! This image of prayer is striking, but let us ask ourselves: Why does God want this? Doesn’t he already know what we need? What does it mean to “insist” with God?
This is a good question that makes us examine an important aspect of the faith: God invites us to pray insistently not because he is unaware of our needs or because he is not listening to us. On the contrary, he is always listening and he knows everything about us lovingly. On our daily journey, especially in times of difficulty, in the battle against the evil that is outside and within us, the Lord is not far away, he is by our side. We battle with him beside us, and our weapon is prayer which makes us feel his presence beside us, his mercy and also his help. But the battle against evil is a long and hard one; it requires patience and endurance, like Moses who had to keep his arms outstretched for the people to prevail (cf Ex 17:8-13). This is how it is: there is a battle to be waged each day, but God is our ally, faith in him is our strength and prayer is the expression of this faith. Therefore Jesus assures us of the victory, but at the end he asks: “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). If faith is snuffed out, prayer is snuffed out, and we walk in the dark. We become lost on the path of life.
Therefore, let us learn from the widow of the Gospel to pray always without growing weary. This widow was very good! She knew how to battle for her children! I think of the many women who fight for their families, who pray and never grow weary. Today let us all remember these women who by their attitude provide us with a true witness of faith and courage, and a model of prayer. Our thoughts go out to them!
Pray always, but not in order to convince the Lord by dint of words! He knows our needs better than we do! Indeed persevering prayer is the expression of faith in a God who calls us to fight with him every day and at every moment in order to conquer evil with good.
At the start of today’s celebration, we addressed this prayer to the Lord: “Create in us a generous and steadfast heart, so that we may always serve you with fidelity and purity of spirit” (Collect).
By our own efforts, we cannot give ourselves such a heart. Only God can do this, and so in the prayer we ask him to give it to us as his “creation”. In this way, we come to the theme of prayer, which is central to this Sunday’s scriptural readings and challenges all of us who are gathered here for the canonization of new Saints. The Saints attained the goal. Thanks to prayer, they had a generous and steadfast heart. They prayed mightily; they fought and they were victorious.
So pray! Like Moses, who was above all a man of God, a man of prayer. We see him today in the battle against Amalek, standing atop the hill with his arms raised. From time to time, however, his arms would grow weary and fall, and then the tide would turn against the people. So Aaron and Hur made Moses sit on a stone and they held up his arms, until the final victory was won.
This is the kind of spiritual life the Church asks of us: not to win by war, but to win with peace!
There is an important message in this story of Moses: commitment to prayer demands that we support one another. Weariness is inevitable. Sometimes we simply cannot go on, yet, with the support of our brothers and sisters, our prayer can persevere until the Lord completes his work.
Saint Paul writes to Timothy, his disciple and co-worker, and urges him to hold fast to what he has learned and believed (cf. 2 Tim 3:14). But Timothy could not do this by his own efforts: the “battle” of perseverance cannot be won without prayer. Not sporadic or hesitant prayer, but prayer offered as Jesus tells us in the Gospel: “Pray always, without ever losing heart” (Lk 18:1). This is the Christian way of life: remaining steadfast in prayer, in order to remain steadfast in faith and testimony. Here once again we may hear a voice within us, saying: “But Lord, how can we not grow weary? We are human… even Moses grew weary...!” True, each of us grows weary. Yet we are not alone; we are part of a Body! We are members of the Body of Christ, the Church, whose arms are raised day and night to heaven, thanks to the presence of the Risen Christ and his Holy Spirit. Only in the Church, and thanks to the Church’s prayer, are we able to remain steadfast in faith and witness.
We have heard the promise Jesus makes in the Gospel: “God will grant justice to his chosen ones, who cry to him day and night” (cf. Lk 18:7). This is the mystery of prayer: to keep crying out, not to lose heart, and if we should grow tired, asking help to keep our hands raised. This is the prayer that Jesus has revealed to us and given us in the Holy Spirit. To pray is not to take refuge in an ideal world, nor to escape into a false, selfish sense of calm. On the contrary, to pray is to struggle, but also to let the Holy Spirit pray within us. For the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray. He guides us in prayer and he enables us to pray as sons and daughters.
The saints are men and women who enter fully into the mystery of prayer. Men and women who struggle with prayer, letting the Holy Spirit pray and struggle in them. They struggle to the very end, with all their strength, and they triumph, but not by their own efforts: the Lord triumphs in them and with them. The seven witnesses who were canonized today also fought the good fight of faith and love by their prayers. That is why they remained firm in faith, with a generous and steadfast heart. Through their example and their intercession, may God also enable us to be men and women of prayer. May we cry out day and night to God, without losing heart. May we let the Holy Spirit pray in us, and may we support one another in prayer, in order to keep our arms raised, until Divine Mercy wins the victory.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The second reading of today's liturgy presents us with the plea that the Apostle Paul addresses to his faithful collaborator Timothy: "Proclaim the Word, be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:2). The tone is heartfelt: Timothy must feel responsible for the proclamation of the Word. Taking on a commitment in every field, which does not exclude any existential fear.
The World Missionary Day, which is celebrated today, is a good opportunity for every baptized person to become more aware of the need to cooperate in the proclamation of the Word, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God with a renewed commitment. Pope Benedict XV, a hundred years ago, gave new impetus to the missionary responsibility of the whole Church when he promulgated the Apostolic Letter Maximum delude. He felt the need to evangelically retrain the mission in the world, so that it would be purified from any colonial overlay and so that it could be freed from the conditioning of the expansionist policies of the European nations.
In today's changed context, Benedict XV's message is still relevant and stimulates us to overcome the temptation of any self-reverential closure and all forms of pastoral pessimism, to open ourselves to the joyful novelty of the Gospel. In these our times, marked by a globalization that should be sympathetic and respectful of the particularity of peoples, and instead still suffers from the conformity and the old conflicts of power that fuel wars and destroy the planet, believers are called to bring everywhere, with new impetus, the good news that in Jesus mercy conquers sin, hope overcomes fear, fraternity overcomes hostility. Christ is our peace and in him every division is overcome, in him alone there is the salvation of every man and of every people. It means hearing strongly the call to all missions of peoples and to all who live among us on the margins.
To live the mission in the full there is an indispensable condition: prayer, a fervent and incessant prayer, according to the teaching of Jesus also proclaimed in the Gospel of today, in which He tells a parable "on the need to pray always, never getting tired"(Luke 18:1). Prayer is the first power of proclamation. Missionaries are above all men and women of prayer, who nourish faith in a constant bond with the Lord in order to overcome the difficulties that evangelisation entails. And I pray for those who are far away. Let us think of those who are witness to these things with affection and gratitude for their difficult task of announcing and giving the light and grace of the gospel to those who have not yet received it. It is also a good opportunity today to ask ourselves: do I pray for the missionaries? Do I pray for those who go far to bring the Word of God with testimony? Let's think about it.
May Mary the Mother of all nations accompany and protect missionaries of the Gospel every day.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The Gospel from today’s Liturgy concludes with a troubling question posed by Jesus: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8) It’s almost like he was saying, “When I come again at the end of time” – or we could also think, even now, at this time of life – “will I find a bit of faith in you, in your world?” This is a serious question. Let us imagine that the Lord came today on earth. Unfortunately, he would see many wars, much poverty and many inequalities. At the same time, he would see tremendous technical conquests, modern means, and people who are always running, who never stop. But would he find someone who dedicates time and affection to him, someone who would put him in first place? Above all, let us ask ourselves, “What would he find in me, if the Lord were to come today, what would he find in me, in my life, in my heart? What priorities would he see in my life?”
We often focus on so many urgent but unnecessary things. We occupy and preoccupy ourselves with so many secondary realities. And perhaps without even recognizing it, we neglect what counts the most and we allow our love for God to grow cold, to grow cold bit by bit. Today, Jesus offers us the remedy to rekindle a tepid faith. And what is the remedy? Prayer. Yes, prayer is the medicine for faith, it is the restorative of the soul. It needs to be constant prayer, however. If we must undergo treatment to get better, it is important to follow the treatment plan well, to take the medicine faithfully and regularly in the right way and at the right times. This is necessary in all of life. Let us think of a houseplant: we need to water it consistently every day. We cannot soak it and then leave it without giving it water for a week! Even more so with prayer. We cannot live only on strong moments of prayer or occasional intense encounters, and then “go into hibernation”. Our faith would dry up. We need the daily water of prayer, we need time dedicated to God, so that he can enter into our time, into our lives; we need consistent moments in which we open our hearts to him so that he can daily pour out on us love, peace, joy, strength, hope, thus nourishing our faith.
This is why Jesus tells his disciples – to everyone, not only to some! – “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (v. 1). Now someone might object: “But, how can I do that? I don’t live in a convent. I don’t have much time to pray!” Perhaps a wise spiritual practice for this real difficulty that the elderly, especially our grandparents, know well can come to our aid, which is a bit forgotten today. These are so-called aspirations. The name is a bit outdated, but the substance is good. What are they? They are very short, easy to memorize prayers that can be repeated often throughout the day, in the course of various activities, to remain “in tune” with the Lord. For example, as soon as we awaken, we can say: “Lord, I thank you and I offer this day to you”. This is a short prayer. Then, before an activity, we can repeat, “Come, Holy Spirit”. Between one thing and another, we can pray thus, “Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I love you”. Really short prayers that help us stay in contact with the Lord. How often we send instant messages to the people we love! Let’s do this with the Lord as well so that our hearts remain connected to him. And let’s not forget to read his responses. The Lord always responds. Where do we find them? In the Gospel which should always be kept at hand and should be opened several times every day, to receive a Word of life directed to us.
And let’s go back to the advice I have given many times – carry a pocket-size Gospel in your pocket in your purse. And when you have a minute, open it and read something, and the Lord will respond.
May the Virgin Mary, faithful listener, teach us the art of praying always, without losing heart.
The readings this Sunday invite us to reflect on some basic features of the Christian family.
1. First: the family prays. The Gospel passage speaks about two ways of praying, one is false – that of the Pharisee – and the other is authentic – that of the tax collector. The Pharisee embodies an attitude which does not express thanksgiving to God for his blessings and his mercy, but rather self-satisfaction. The Pharisee feels himself justified, he feels his life is in order, he boasts of this, and he judges others from his pedestal. The tax collector, on the other hand, does not multiply words. His prayer is humble, sober, pervaded by a consciousness of his own unworthiness, of his own needs. Here is a man who truly realizes that he needs God’s forgiveness and his mercy.
The prayer of the tax collector is the prayer of the poor man, a prayer pleasing to God. It is a prayer which, as the first reading says, “will reach to the clouds” (Sir 35:20), unlike the prayer of the Pharisee, which is weighed down by vanity.
In the light of God’s word, I would like to ask you, dear families: Do you pray together from time to time as a family? Some of you do, I know. But so many people say to me: But how can we? As the tax collector does, it is clear: humbly, before God. Each one, with humility, allowing themselves to be gazed upon by the Lord and imploring his goodness, that he may visit us. But in the family how is this done? After all, prayer seems to be something personal, and besides there is never a good time, a moment of peace… Yes, all that is true enough, but it is also a matter of humility, of realizing that we need God, like the tax collector! And all families, we need God: all of us! We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness. And we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength! And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents….praying for each other. This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer.
2. The second reading suggests another thought: the family keeps the faith. The Apostle Paul, at the end of his life, makes a final reckoning and says: “I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). But how did he keep the faith? Not in a strong box! Nor did he hide it underground, like the somewhat lazy servant. Saint Paul compares his life to a fight and to a race. He kept the faith because he didn’t just defend it, but proclaimed it, spread it, brought it to distant lands. He stood up to all those who wanted to preserve, to “embalm” the message of Christ within the limits of Palestine. That is why he made courageous decisions, he went into hostile territory, he let himself be challenged by distant peoples and different cultures, he spoke frankly and fearlessly. Saint Paul kept the faith because, in the same way that he received it, he gave it away, he went out to the fringes, and didn’t dig himself into defensive positions.
Here too, we can ask: How do we keep our faith as a family? Do we keep it for ourselves, in our families, as a personal treasure like a bank account, or are we able to share it by our witness, by our acceptance of others, by our openness? We all know that families, especially young families, are often “racing” from one place to another, with lots to do. But did you ever think that this “racing” could also be the race of faith? Christian families are missionary families. Yesterday in this square we heard the testimonies of missionary families. They are missionary also in everyday life, in their doing everyday things, as they bring to everything the salt and the leaven of faith! Keeping the faith in families and bringing to everyday things the salt and the leaven of faith.
3. And one more thought we can take from God’s word: the family experiences joy. In the responsorial psalm we find these words: “let the humble hear and be glad” (33/34:2). The entire psalm is a hymn to the Lord who is the source of joy and peace. What is the reason for this gladness? It is that the Lord is near, he hears the cry of the lowly and he frees them from evil. As Saint Paul himself writes: “Rejoice always … The Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5). I would like to ask you all a question today. But each of you keep it in your heart and take it home. You can regard it as a kind of “homework”. Only you must answer. How are things when it comes to joy at home? Is there joy in your family? You can answer this question.
Dear families, you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well... True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey. But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God, the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all. And above all, a love which is patient: patience is a virtue of God and he teaches us how to cultivate it in family life, how to be patient, and lovingly so, with each other. To be patient among ourselves. A patient love. God alone knows how to create harmony from differences. But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centredness prevails and joy fades. But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society as a whole.
Dear families, always live in faith and simplicity, like the Holy Family of Nazareth! The joy and peace of the Lord be always with you!
The word of God today helps us to pray through three figures: in Jesus’ parable both the Pharisee and the tax collector pray, while the first reading speaks of the prayer of a poor person.
1. The prayer of the Pharisee begins in this way: “God, I thank you”.
This is a great beginning, because the best prayer is that of gratitude, that of praise. Immediately, though, we see the reason why he gives thanks: “that I am not like other men” (Lk 18:11). He also explains the reason: he fasts twice a week, although at the time there was only a yearly obligation; he pays tithes on all that he has, though tithing was prescribed only on the most important products (cf. Dt 14:22ff). In short, he boasts because he fulfils particular commandments to the best degree possible. But he forgets the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbour (cf. Mt 22:36-40). Brimming with self-assurance about his own ability to keep the commandments, his own merits and virtues, he is focused only on himself. The tragedy of this man is that he is without love. Even the best things, without love, count for nothing, as Saint Paul says (cf. 1 Cor 13). Without love, what is the result? He ends up praising himself instead of praying. In fact, he asks nothing from the Lord because he does not feel needy or in debt, but he feels that God owes something to him. He stands in the temple of God, but he worships a different god: himself. And many “prestigious” groups, “Catholic Christians”, go along this path.
Together with God, he forgets his neighbour; indeed, he despises him. For the Pharisee, his neighbour has no worth, no value. He considers himself better than others, whom he calls literally “the rest, the remainders” (loipoi, Lk 18:11). That is, they are “leftovers”, they are scraps from which to keep one’s distance. How many times do we see this happening over and over again in life and history! How many times do those who are prominent, like the Pharisee with respect to the tax collector, raise up walls to increase distances, making other people feel even more rejected. Or by considering them backward and of little worth, they despise their traditions, erase their history, occupy their lands, and usurp their goods. How much alleged superiority, transformed into oppression and exploitation, exists even today! We saw this during the Synod when speaking about the exploitation of creation, of people, of the inhabitants of the Amazon, of the trafficking of persons, the trade in human beings! The mistakes of the past were not enough to stop the plundering of other persons and the inflicting of wounds on our brothers and sisters and on our sister earth: we have seen it in the scarred face of the Amazon region. Worship of self carries on hypocritically with its rites and “prayers” – many are Catholics, they profess themselves Catholic, but have forgotten they are Christians and human beings – forgetting the true worship of God which is always expressed in love of one’s neighbour. Even Christians who pray and go to Mass on Sunday are subject to this religion of the self. Let us examine ourselves and see whether we too may think that someone is inferior and can be tossed aside, even if only in our words. Let us pray for the grace not to consider ourselves superior, not to believe that we are alright, not to become cynical and scornful. Let us ask Jesus to heal us of speaking ill and complaining about others, of despising this or that person: these things are displeasing to God. And at Mass today we are accompanied providentially not only by indigenous people of the Amazon, but also by the poorest from our developed societies: our disabled brothers and sisters from the Community of L’Arche. They are with us, in the front row.
2. Let us turn to the other prayer. The prayer of the tax collector helps us understand what is pleasing to God. He does not begin from his own merits but from his shortcomings; not from his riches but from his poverty. His was not economic poverty – tax collectors were wealthy and tended to make money unjustly at the expense of their fellow citizens – but he felt a poverty of life, because we never live well in sin. The tax collector who exploited others admitted being poor before God, and the Lord heard his prayer, a mere seven words but an expression of heartfelt sincerity. In fact, while the Pharisee stood in front on his feet (cf. v. 11), the tax collector stood far off and “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven”, because he believed that God is indeed great, while he knew himself to be small. He “beat his breast” (cf. v. 13), because the breast is where the heart is. His prayer is born straight from the heart; it is transparent. He places his heart before God, not outward appearances. To pray is to stand before God’s eyes – it is God looking at me when I pray – without illusions, excuses or justifications. Often our regrets filled with self-justification can make us laugh. More than regrets, they seem as if we are canonizing ourselves. Because from the devil come darkness and lies – these are our self-justifications; from God come light and truth, transparency of my heart. It was a wonderful experience, and I am so grateful, dear members of the Synod, that we have been able to speak to one another in these weeks from the heart, with sincerity and candour, and to place our efforts and hopes before God and our brothers and sisters.
Today, looking at the tax collector, we rediscover where to start: from the conviction that we, all of us, are in need of salvation. This is the first step of the true worship of God, who is merciful towards those who admit their need. On the other hand, the root of every spiritual error, as the ancient monks taught, is believing ourselves to be righteous. To consider ourselves righteous is to leave God, the only righteous one, out in the cold. This initial stance is so important that Jesus shows it to us with an unusual comparison, juxtaposing in the parable the Pharisee, the most pious and devout figure of the time, and the tax collector, the public sinner par excellence. The judgment is reversed: the one who is good but presumptuous fails; the one who is a disaster but humble is exalted by God. If we look at ourselves honestly, we see in us all both the tax collector and the Pharisee. We are a bit tax collectors because we are sinners, and a bit Pharisees because we are presumptuous, able to justify ourselves, masters of the art of self-justification. This may often work with ourselves, but not with God. This trick does not work with God. Let us pray for the grace to experience ourselves in need of mercy, interiorly poor. For this reason too, we do well to associate with the poor, to remind ourselves that we are poor, to remind ourselves that the salvation of God operates only in an atmosphere of interior poverty.
3. We come now to the prayer of the poor person, from the first reading. This prayer, says Sirach, “will reach to the clouds” (35:21). While the prayer of those who presume that they are righteous remains earthly, crushed by the gravitational force of egoism, that of the poor person rises directly to God. The sense of faith of the People of God has seen in the poor “the gatekeepers of heaven”: the sense of faith that was missing in [the Pharisee’s] utterance. They are the ones who will open wide or not the gates of eternal life. They were not considered bosses in this life, they did not put themselves ahead of others; they had their wealth in God alone. These persons are living icons of Christian prophecy.
In this Synod we have had the grace of listening to the voices of the poor and reflecting on the precariousness of their lives, threatened by predatory models of development. Yet precisely in this situation, many have testified to us that it is possible to look at reality in a different way, accepting it with open arms as a gift, treating the created world not as a resource to be exploited but as a home to be preserved, with trust in God. He is our Father and, Sirach says again, “he hears the prayer of one who is wronged” (v. 16). How many times, even in the Church, have the voices of the poor not been heard and perhaps scoffed at or silenced because they are inconvenient. Let us pray for the grace to be able to listen to the cry of the poor: this is the cry of hope of the Church. The cry of the poor is the Church’s cry of hope. When we make their cry our own, we can be certain, our prayer too will reach to the clouds.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The Gospel of today’s Liturgy presents us a parable with two protagonists, a pharisee and a tax collector (Lk 18:9-14), that is, a religious man and an avowed sinner. Both of them go up to the Temple to pray, but only the tax collector truly lifts himself up to God, because he humbly descends into the humility of himself and he presents himself as he is, without masks, with his poverty. We might say, then, that the parable lies between two movements, expressed by two verbs: to rise and to descend.
The first movement is to rise. Indeed, the text begins by saying: “Two people went up to the temple area to pray” (v. 10). This aspect recalls many episodes in the Bible, where in order to encounter the Lord, one goes up to the mountain of his presence: Abraham goes up on the mountain to offer the sacrifice; Moses goes up Mount Sinai to receive the Commandments; Jesus goes up the mountain where he is transfigured. To rise, therefore, expresses the need of the heart to detach itself from a flat life in order to go towards the Lord; to rise up from the plateau of our ego to ascend towards God, freeing oneself of one’s own “I”; to gather what we live in the valley to bring it before the Lord. This is “rising”, and when we pray, we rise.
But to live the encounter with him and to be transformed by prayer, to rise up to God, a second movement is necessary: to descend. How come? What does this mean? In order to rise towards him, we must descend within ourselves: to cultivate the sincerity and humility of the heart that give us an honest outlook on our frailties and our inner poverty. Indeed, in humility we become capable of bringing what we really are to God, without pretence: the wounds, the sins and the miseries that weigh on our hearts, and to invoke his mercy so that he may heal us, restore us and raise us up. It will be he who raises us up, not us. The more we descend with humility, the more God raises us up.
Indeed, the tax collector of the parable humbly stops at a distance (cf. v. 13) – he does not come close, he is ashamed – he asks for forgiveness, and the Lord raises him up. Instead, the pharisee exalts himself, self-assured, convinced that he is fine: standing up, he begins to speak with the Lord only of himself, praising himself, listing all the good religious works he does, and disdaining others: “I am not like that person there…”. Because this is what spiritual arrogance does. “But father, why are you talking to us about spiritual arrogance?” Because we all risk falling into this trap. It leads you to believe yourself righteous and to judge others. This is spiritual arrogance: “I am fine, I am better than the others: this person does this, that one does that…”. And in this way, without realizing, you adore your own ego and obliterate your God. It revolves around oneself. This is prayer without humility.
Brothers, sisters, the pharisee and the tax collector concern us closely. Thinking of them, let us look at ourselves: let us confirm whether, in us, as in the pharisee, there is the conviction of one’s own righteousness (cf. v. 9) that leads us to despise others. It happens, for instance, when we seek compliments and always make a list of our own merits and good works, when we concern ourselves with how we appear rather than how we are, when we let ourselves be trapped by narcissism and exhibitionism. Let us beware of narcissism and exhibitionism, based on vainglory, that lead even us Christians, priests and bishops, always to have one word on our lips. Which word? “I”: “I did this, I wrote that, I said it, I understood it before you”, and so on. Where there is too much “I”, there is too little God. In my country, these people are called “Me, with me, for me, only me”, this is the name of those people. And once upon a time they used to talk about a priest who was like that, self-centred, and the people, jokingly, used to say, “When he incenses, he does it backwards, he incenses himself”. It is like that; it even makes you seem ridiculous.
Let us ask the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the humble servant of the Lord, the living image of what the Lord loves to accomplish, overthrowing the powerful from their thrones and raising the humble (cf. Lk 1:52).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The page of Luke’s Gospel chosen for this Sunday shows us Jesus who, on his way to Jerusalem, enters the city of Jericho. This is the final stage of a journey that sums up the meaning of the whole of Jesus’ life, which was dedicated to searching and saving the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But the more the journey comes to a close, the more hostility envelops Jesus.
Yet one of the most joyful events recounted by St Luke happens in Jericho: the conversion of Zacchaeus. This man is a lost sheep, he is despised and “excommunicated” because he is a tax collector, indeed he is the head of the tax collectors of the city, a friend of the hated Roman occupants; he is a thief and an exploiter.
Being short in stature and prevented from approaching Jesus, most likely because of his bad reputation, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to be able to see the Teacher who is passing by. This exterior action, which is a bit ridiculous, expresses the interior act of a man seeking to bring himself above the crowd in order to be near Jesus. Zacchaeus himself does not realize the deep meaning of his action; he doesn’t understand why he does it, but he does. Nor does he dare to hope that the distance which separates him from the Lord may be overcome; he resigns himself to seeing him only as he passes by. But when Jesus comes close to the tree he calls him by name: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5). The man of small stature, rejected by everyone and far from Jesus, is lost in anonymity; but Jesus calls him. And the name “Zacchaeus” in the language of the time has a beautiful meaning, full of allusion. “Zacchaeus” in fact, means “God remembers”.
So Jesus goes to Zacchaeus’ house, drawing criticism from all the people of Jericho (even in those days there was a lot of gossip!), who said: How can this be? With all the good people in the city, how can he go stay with a tax collector? Yes, because he was lost. Jesus said: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham” (Lk 19:9). From that day forward in Zacchaeus’ house joy entered, peace entered, salvation entered and Jesus entered.
There is no profession or social condition, no sin or crime of any kind that can erase from the memory and the heart of God even one of his children. “God remembers”, always, he never forgets those who he created. He is the Father, who watchfully and lovingly waits to see the desire to return home be reborn in the hearts of his children. And when he sees this desire, even simply hinted at and so often almost unconsciously, immediately he is there, and by his forgiveness he lightens the path of conversion and return. Let us look at Zacchaeus today in the tree: his is a ridiculous act but it is an act of salvation. And I say to you: if your conscience is weighed down, if you are ashamed of many things that you have done, stop for a moment, do not be afraid. Think about the fact that someone is waiting for you because he has never ceased to remember you; and this someone is your Father, it is God who is waiting for you! Climb up, as Zacchaeus did, climb the tree of desire for forgiveness. I assure you that you will not be disappointed. Jesus is merciful and never grows tired of forgiving! Remember that this is the way Jesus is.
Brothers and sisters, let Jesus also call us by name! In the depths of our hearts, let us listen to his voice which says: “Today I must stop at your house”; that is, in your heart, in your life. And let us welcome him with joy. He can change us, he can transform our stoney hearts into hearts of flesh, he can free us from selfishness and make our lives a gift of love. Jesus can do this; let Jesus turn his gaze to you!
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel presents us with an event that happened in Jericho, when Jesus entered the city and was welcomed by the crowd (cf. Lk 19:1-10). In Jericho lived Zacchaeus, the chief of the “publicans”, that is, of the tax collectors. Zacchaeus was a wealthy agent of the hated Roman occupation, an exploiter of his people. Out of curiosity, he too wanted to see Jesus, but his status as a public sinner did not allow him to approach the Master; moreover, he was small of stature, and for this reason he climbed a sycamore tree, along the road where Jesus was to pass.
When he neared that tree, Jesus looked up and said to him: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). We can imagine Zacchaeus’ astonishment! Why does Jesus say “I must stay at your house”? What duty does this refer to? We know that his highest duty is to implement the Father’s plan for all of mankind, which is fulfilled in Jerusalem with his death sentence, the crucifixion and, on the third day, the Resurrection. It is the Father’s merciful plan of salvation. And in this plan there is also the salvation of Zacchaeus, a dishonest man who is despised by all, and therefore in need of conversion. In fact, the Gospel says that when Jesus called him, “they all murmured, ‘He has gone into the house of a sinner!’” (cf. v. 7). The people saw Zacchaeus as a scoundrel who became rich at his neighbours’ expense. Had Jesus said: “Come down, you, exploiter, you traitor of the people! Come to speak with me and settle the score!”, surely the people would have applauded. Instead, they began to whisper: “Jesus is going to his house, the house of the sinner, the exploiter”.
Guided by mercy, Jesus looks for him precisely. And when he enters Zacchaeus’ house he says: “Today, salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vv. 9-10). Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices. And this is important! We must learn this. Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices; he sees the person through the eyes of God, who does not stop at past faults, but sees the future good; Jesus is not resigned to closing, but always opens, always opens new spaces of life; he does not stop at appearances, but looks at the heart. And here he sees this man’s wounded heart: wounded by the sin of greed, by the many terrible things that Zacchaeus had done. He sees that wounded heart and goes there.
Sometimes we try to correct or convert a sinner by scolding him, by pointing out his mistakes and wrongful behaviour. Jesus’ attitude toward Zacchaeus shows us another way: that of showing those who err their value, the value that God continues to see in spite of everything, despite all their mistakes. This may bring about a positive surprise, which softens the heart and spurs the person to bring out the good that he has within himself. It gives people the confidence which makes them grow and change. This is how God acts with all of us: he is not blocked by our sin, but overcomes it with love and makes us feel nostalgia for the good. We have all felt this nostalgia for the good after a mistake. And this is what God Our Father does, this is what Jesus does. There is not one person who does not have some good quality. And God looks at this in order to draw that person away from evil.
May the Virgin Mary help us to see the good that there is in the people we encounter each day, so that everyone may be encouraged to bring out the image of God imprinted in their hearts. In this way we can rejoice in the surprises of the mercy of God! Our God, who is the God of surprises!
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today’s Gospel (cf. Lk 19: 1-10) places us in the footsteps of Jesus Who, on His way to Jerusalem, stopped in Jericho. There was a great crowd to welcome Him, including a man named Zacchaeus, the head of the “publicans”, that is, of those Jews who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman Empire. He was rich not from honest earnings, but because he asked for “bribes”, and this increased contempt for him. Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was” (v. 3); he didn’t want to meet Him, but he was curious: he wanted to see that character about whom he had heard extraordinary things. He was curious. And being short in stature, “to see him” (v. 4) he climbs up a tree. When Jesus comes close, he looks up and sees Him (cf. v. 5).
And this is important: the first glance is not from Zacchaeus, but from Jesus, who among the many faces that surrounded Him – the crowd – seeks precisely that one. The merciful gaze of the Lord reaches us before we ourselves realize that we need it in order to be saved. And with this gaze of the divine Master there begins the miracle of the conversion of the sinner. Indeed, Jesus calls to him, and He calls him by his name: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). He does not reproach him, He does not deliver a “sermon” to him; He tells him that he must go to Him: “he must”, because it is the will of the Father. Despite the murmuring of the people, Jesus chose to stay at the home of that public sinner.
We too would have been scandalized by this behaviour of Jesus. But contempt for and rejection of the sinner only isolate him and cause him to harden in the evil he commits against himself and the community. Instead, God condemns sin, but tries to save the sinner; He goes looking for him to bring him back on the right path. Those who have never felt they are sought by God’s mercy find it difficult to grasp the extraordinary greatness of the gestures and words with which Jesus approaches Zacchaeus.
Jesus’ acceptance and attention to him lead him to a clear change of mentality: in just a moment he realized how petty life is when it revolves around money, at the cost of stealing from others and receiving their contempt. Having the Lord there, in his house, makes him see everything with different eyes, even with a little of the tenderness with which Jesus looked at him. And his way of seeing and using money also changes: the gesture of grabbing is replaced by that of giving. Indeed, he decides to give half of what he possesses to the poor and to return four times the sum to those from whom he has stolen (cf. v. 8). Zacchaeus discovers from Jesus that it is possible to love gratuitously: until this moment he was mean, but now he becomes generous; he had a taste for amassing wealth, now he rejoices in distributing. By encountering Love, by discovering that he is loved despite his sins, he becomes capable of loving others, making money a sign of solidarity and communion.
May the Virgin May obtain for us the grace always to feel Jesus’ merciful gaze upon us, to go with mercy towards those who have erred, so that they too may welcome Jesus, Who “came to seek and to save the lost” (v. 10).
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
Today, in the Liturgy, the Gospel narrates the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus, chief of the tax collectors of the city of Jericho (Lk 19: 1-10). At the centre of this account there is the verb to seek. Pay attention: to seek. Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was” (v. 3), and Jesus, after meeting him, states: “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (v. 10). Let us focus a little on these two gazes that seek: the gaze of Zacchaeus who is seeking Jesus, and the gaze of Jesus who is looking for Zacchaeus.
The gaze of Zacchaeus. He is a tax collector, that is, one of those Jews who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman rulers, a traitor of the homeland, and took advantage of their position. Therefore, Zacchaeus was rich, hated – hated! – by all and branded a sinner. The text says “he was short in stature” (v. 3), and this perhaps also alludes to his inner baseness, to his mediocre, dishonest life, with his gaze always turned downwards. But the important thing is that he was little. And yet, Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. Something drove him to see him. “He ran ahead”, says the Gospel, “and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (v. 4). He climbed a sycamore: Zacchaeus, the man who dominated everyone, made himself ridiculous and took the path of ridicule – to see Jesus. Let us think a little of what would happen if, for instance, a minister of the economy climbed a tree to look at something: he would risk mockery. And Zacchaeus risked mockery to see Jesus, he made himself look ridiculous. Zacchaeus, despite his lowliness, feels the need to seek another way of looking, that of Christ. He does not yet know him, but he awaits someone who will free him from his condition – morally low – to bring him out of the mire in which he finds himself. This is fundamental: Zacchaeus teaches us that, in life, all is never lost. Please, all is never lost, never. We can always find space for the desire to begin again, to start over, to convert. Re-convert, re-begin, re-start. And this is what Zacchaeus does.
In this regard, the second aspect is decisive: the gaze of Jesus. He was sent by the Father to seek those who are lost; and when he arrives in Jericho, he passes right by the tree where Zacchaeus is. The Gospel narrates that “Jesus looked up and said to him, “‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house’” (v. 5). It is a truly beautiful image, because if Jesus has to look up, it means that he is looking at Zacchaeus from below. This is the history of salvation: God has never looked down on us – no; to humiliate us – no; – to judge us - no; on the contrary, he lowered himself to the point of washing our feet, looking at us from below and restoring our dignity to us. In this way, the meeting of eyes between Zacchaeus and Jesus seems to encapsulate the whole of salvation history: humanity, with its miseries, seeks redemption, but firstly, God, with mercy, seeks the creature to save it.
Brothers, sisters, let us remember this: the gaze of God never stops at our past, full of errors, but looks with infinite confidence at what we can become. And if at times we feel we are people who are “short in stature”, not up to the challenges of life and far less of the Gospel, mired in problems and sins, Jesus always looks at us with love, he looks at us: as with Zacchaeus, he comes towards us, he calls us by name and, if we welcome him, he comes to our home. Then we might ask ourselves: how do we look at ourselves? Do we feel inadequate, and resign ourselves, or precisely there, when we feel down, do we seek the encounter with Jesus? And then: what gaze do we have towards those who have erred, and who struggle to get up again from the dust of their mistakes? Is it a gaze from above, that judges, disdains, excludes? Remember that it is legitimate to look down on someone only to help them get up again: nothing more. Only then is it legitimate to look down from above. But we Christians must have the gaze of Christ, who embraces from below, who seeks those who are lost, with compassion. This is, and must be, the gaze of the Church, always, the gaze of Christ, not the condemning gaze.
Let us pray to Mary, whose humility the Lord looked upon, and ask her for the gift of a new outlook on ourselves and on others.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (cf. Lk 19:38), the crowd of Jerusalem exclaimed joyfully as they welcomed Jesus. We have made that enthusiasm our own: by waving our olive and palm branches we have expressed our praise and our joy, our desire to receive Jesus who comes to us. Just as he entered Jerusalem, so he desires to enter our cities and our lives. As he did in the Gospel, riding on a donkey, so too he comes to us in humility; he comes “in the name of the Lord”. Through the power of his divine love he forgives our sins and reconciles us to the Father and with ourselves.
Jesus is pleased with the crowd’s showing their affection for him. When the Pharisees ask him to silence the children and the others who are acclaiming him, he responds: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40). Nothing could dampen their enthusiasm for Jesus’ entry. May nothing prevent us from finding in him the source of our joy, true joy, which abides and brings peace; for it is Jesus alone who saves us from the snares of sin, death, fear and sadness.
Today’s liturgy teaches us that the Lord has not saved us by his triumphal entry or by means of powerful miracles. The Apostle Paul, in the second reading, epitomizes in two verbs the path of redemption: Jesus “emptied” and “humbled” himself (Phil 2:7-8). These two verbs show the boundlessness of God’s love for us. Jesus emptied himself: he did not cling to the glory that was his as the Son of God, but became the Son of man in order to be in solidarity with us sinners in all things; yet he was without sin. Even more, he lived among us in “the condition of a servant” (v. 7); not of a king or a prince, but of a servant. Therefore he humbled himself, and the abyss of his humiliation, as Holy Week shows us, seems to be bottomless.
The first sign of this love “without end” (Jn 13:1) is the washing of the feet. “The Lord and Master” (Jn 13:14) stoops to his disciples’ feet, as only servants would have done. He shows us by example that we need to allow his love to reach us, a love which bends down to us; we cannot do any less, we cannot love without letting ourselves be loved by him first, without experiencing his surprising tenderness and without accepting that true love consists in concrete service.
But this is only the beginning. The humiliation of Jesus reaches its utmost in the Passion: he is sold for thirty pieces of silver and betrayed by the kiss of a disciple whom he had chosen and called his friend. Nearly all the others flee and abandon him; Peter denies him three times in the courtyard of the temple. Humiliated in his spirit by mockery, insults and spitting, he suffers in his body terrible brutality: the blows, the scourging and the crown of thorns make his face unrecognizable. He also experiences shame and disgraceful condemnation by religious and political authorities: he is made into sin and considered to be unjust. Pilate then sends him to Herod, who in turn sends him to the Roman governor. Even as every form of justice is denied to him, Jesus also experiences in his own flesh indifference, since no one wishes to take responsibility for his fate. And I think of the many people, so many outcasts, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees, all of those for whose fate no one wishes to take responsibility. The crowd, who just a little earlier had acclaimed him, now changes their praise into a cry of accusation, even to the point of preferring that a murderer be released in his place. And so the hour of death on the cross arrives, that most painful form of shame reserved for traitors, slaves and the worst kind of criminals. But isolation, defamation and pain are not yet the full extent of his deprivation. To be totally in solidarity with us, he also experiences on the Cross the mysterious abandonment of the Father. In his abandonment, however, he prays and entrusts himself: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Hanging from the wood of the cross, beside derision he now confronts the last temptation: to come down from the Cross, to conquer evil by might and to show the face of a powerful and invincible God. Jesus, however, even here at the height of his annihilation, reveals the true face of God, which is mercy. He forgives those who are crucifying him, he opens the gates of paradise to the repentant thief and he touches the heart of the centurion. If the mystery of evil is unfathomable, then the reality of Love poured out through him is infinite, reaching even to the tomb and to hell. He takes upon himself all our pain that he may redeem it, bringing light to darkness, life to death, love to hatred.
God’s way of acting may seem so far removed from our own, that he was annihilated for our sake, while it seems difficult for us to even forget ourselves a little. He comes to save us; we are called to choose his way: the way of service, of giving, of forgetfulness of ourselves. Let us walk this path, pausing in these days to gaze upon the Crucifix; it is the “royal seat of God”. I invite you during this week to gaze often upon this “royal seat of God”, to learn about the humble love which saves and gives life, so that we may give up all selfishness, and the seeking of power and fame. By humbling himself, Jesus invites us to walk on his path. Let us turn our faces to him, let us ask for the grace to understand at least something of the mystery of his obliteration for our sake; and then, in silence, let us contemplate the mystery of this Week.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel sets before us Jesus grappling with the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection. They pose a question to Jesus on this very matter, in order to trip him up and ridicule faith in the resurrection of the dead. They begin with an imaginary case: “A woman had seven husbands, who died one after the other,” and they ask Jesus: “Whose wife will the woman be after her death?”. Jesus, ever meek and patient, first replies that life after death does not have the same parameters as earthly life. Eternal life is another life, in another dimension where, among other things, there will be no marriage, which is tied to our existence in this world. Those who rise — Jesus says — will be like the angels and they will live in a different state, which now we can neither experience nor imagine. This is the way Jesus explains it.
But then Jesus, as it were, moves to the counterattack. And he does so by citing the Sacred Scripture with a simplicity and originality which leaves us full of admiration for our Teacher, the only Teacher! Jesus finds proof for the resurrection in the account of Moses and the burning bush (cf. Ex 3:1-6), where God reveals himself as the God of Abraham, and of Isaac and of Jacob. The name of God is bound to the names of men and women to whom he binds himself, and this bond is stronger than death. And we can also say this about God’s relationship with us, with each one of us: He is our God! He is the God of each one of us! As though he bore each of our names. It pleases him to say it, and this is the covenant. This is why Jesus states: “God is not the god of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him” (Lk 20:38). And this is the decisive bond, the fundamental covenant, the covenant with Jesus: He himself is the Covenant, he himself is the Life and the Resurrection, for by his crucified love he has triumphed over death. In Jesus, God gives us eternal life, he gives it to everyone, and thanks to him everyone has the hope of a life even truer than this one. The life that God prepares for us is not a mere embellishment of the present one: it surpasses our imagination, for God continually amazes us with his love and with his mercy.
Therefore, what will happen is quite the opposite of what the Sadducees expected. It is not this life that will serve as a reference point for eternity, for the other life that awaits us; rather, it is eternity — that life — which illumines and gives hope to the earthly life of each one of us! If we look at things from only a human perspective, we tend to say that man’s journey moves from life to death. This is what we see! But this is only so if we look at things from a human perspective. Jesus turns this perspective upside down and states that our pilgrimage goes from death to life: the fullness of life! We are on a journey, on a pilgrimage toward the fullness of life, and that fullness of life is what illumines our journey! Therefore death stands behind us, not before us. Before us is the God of the living, the God of the covenant, the God who bears my name, our names stand before us, as he said: “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob”, and also the God with my name, with your name..., with our names. The God of the living! ... Before us stands the final defeat of sin and death, the beginning of a new time of joy and of endless light. But already on this earth, in prayer, in the Sacraments, in fraternity, we encounter Jesus and his love, and thus we may already taste something of the risen life. The experience we have of his love and his faithfulness ignites in our hearts like a fire and increases our faith in the resurrection. In fact, if God is faithful and loves, he cannot be thus for only a limited time: faithfulness is eternal, it cannot change. God’s love is eternal, it cannot change! It is not only for a time: it is forever! It is for going forward! He is faithful forever and he is waiting for us, each one of us, he accompanies each one of us with his eternal faithfulness.
The message that God’s word wants to bring us today is surely that of hope, the hope that does not disappoint.
One of the seven brothers condemned to death by King Antiochus Epiphanes speaks of “the hope God gives of being raised again by him” (2 Macc 7:14). These words demonstrate the faith of those martyrs who, despite suffering and torture, were steadfast in looking to the future. Theirs was a faith that, in acknowledging God as the source of their hope, reflected the desire to attain a new life.
In the Gospel, we have heard how Jesus, with a simple yet complete answer, demolishes the banal casuistry that the Sadducees had set before him. His response – “He is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him” (Lk 20:38) – reveals the true face of God, who desires only life for all his children. The hope of being born to a new life, then, is what we must make our own, if we are to be faithful to the teaching of Jesus.
Hope is a gift of God. We must ask for it. It is placed deep within each human heart in order to shed light on this life, so often troubled and clouded by so many situations that bring sadness and pain. We need to nourish the roots of our hope so that they can bear fruit; primarily, the certainty of God’s closeness and compassion, despite whatever evil we have done. There is no corner of our heart that cannot be touched by God’s love. Whenever someone makes a mistake, the Father’s mercy is all the more present, awakening repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.
Today we celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy for you and with you, our brothers and sisters who are imprisoned. Mercy, as the expression of God’s love, is something we need to think about more deeply. Certainly, breaking the law involves paying the price, and losing one’s freedom is the worst part of serving time, because it affects us so deeply. All the same, hope must not falter. Paying for the wrong we have done is one thing, but another thing entirely is the “breath” of hope, which cannot be stifled by anyone or anything. Our heart always yearns for goodness. We are in debt to the mercy that God constantly shows us, for he never abandons us (cf. Augustine, Sermo 254:1).
In his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul speaks of God as “the God of hope” (15:13). It is as if Paul wants to say also to us: “God hopes”. While this may seem paradoxical, it is true: God hopes! His mercy gives him no rest. He is like that Father in the parable, who keeps hoping for the return of his son who has fallen by the wayside (Lk 15:11-32). God does not rest until he finds the sheep that was lost (Lk 15:5). So if God hopes, then no one should lose hope. For hope is the strength to keep moving forward. It is the power to press on towards the future and a changed life. It is the incentive to look to tomorrow, so that the love we have known, for all our failings, can show us a new path. In a word, hope is the proof, lying deep in our hearts, of the power of God’s mercy. That mercy invites us to keep looking ahead and to overcome our attachment to evil and sin through faith and abandonment in him.
Dear friends, today is your Jubilee! Today, in God’s sight, may your hope be kindled anew. A Jubilee, by its very nature, always brings with it a proclamation of freedom (Lev 25:39-46). It does not depend on me to grant this, but the Church’s duty, one she cannot renounce, is to awaken within you the desire for true freedom. Sometimes, a certain hypocrisy leads to people considering you only as wrongdoers, for whom prison is the sole answer. I want to tell you, every time I visit a prison I ask myself: “Why them and not me?”. We can all make mistakes: all of us. And in one way or another we have made mistakes. Hypocrisy leads us to overlook the possibility that people can change their lives; we put little trust in rehabilitation, rehabilitation into society. But in this way we forget that we are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners. At times we are locked up within our own prejudices or enslaved to the idols of a false sense of wellbeing. At times we get stuck in our own ideologies or absolutize the laws of the market even as they crush other people. At such times, we imprison ourselves behind the walls of individualism and self-sufficiency, deprived of the truth that sets us free. Pointing the finger against someone who has made mistakes cannot become an alibi for concealing our own contradictions.
We know that in God’s eyes no one can consider himself just (cf. Rom 2:1-11). But no one can live without the certainty of finding forgiveness! The repentant thief, crucified at Jesus’ side, accompanied him into paradise (cf. Lk 23:43). So may none of you allow yourselves to be held captive by the past! True enough, even if we wanted to, we can never rewrite the past. But the history that starts today, and looks to the future, has yet to be written, by the grace of God and your personal responsibility. By learning from past mistakes, you can open a new chapter of your lives. Let us never yield to the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven. Whatever our hearts may accuse us of, small or great, “God is greater than our hearts” (1 Jn 3:20). We need but entrust ourselves to his mercy.
Faith, even when it is as tiny as a grain of mustard seed, can move mountains (cf. Mt 17:20). How many times has the power of faith enabled us to utter the word pardon in humanly impossible situations. People who have suffered violence and abuse, either themselves, or in the person of their loved ones, or their property… there are some wounds that only God’s power, his mercy, can heal. But when violence is met with forgiveness, even the hearts of those who have done wrong can be conquered by the love that triumphs over every form of evil. In this way, among the victims and among those who wronged them, God raises up true witnesses and workers of mercy.
Today we venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary in this statue, which represents her as a Mother who holds Jesus in her arms, together with a broken chain; it is the chain of slavery and imprisonment. May Our Lady look upon each of you with a Mother’s love. May she intercede for you, so that your hearts can experience the power of hope for a new life, one worthy of being lived in complete freedom and in service to your neighbour.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today's Gospel passage (cf. Luke 20:27-38) offers us a wonderful teaching of Jesus on the resurrection of the dead. Which falls precisely in this month of November when we pray especially for the dead. Jesus is asked by some Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection and therefore provoke Him with an insidious question. It refers to a paradoxical case based on the Mosaic law. Whose wife, in the resurrection, would a woman be, who has had seven successive husbands, all brothers, who one after another have died? Jesus does not fall into the trap and replies that the risen in the hereafter "neither marry nor are given in marriage: in fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and, and are children of God, being children of the resurrection" (vv. 35-36). This is how Jesus responds.
With this answer, Jesus first invites His interlocutors – and us too – to think that this earthly dimension in which we live now is not the only dimension, but that there is another dimension, no longer subject to death, in which it will be fully manifested that we are children of God. It gives great consolation and hope to listen to this simple and clear word of Jesus about life beyond death; we need it so much especially in our time, so rich in knowledge about the universe but so poor in wisdom about eternal life.
This clear certainty of Jesus about the resurrection is based entirely on the fidelity of God, who is the God of life. In fact, behind the question of the Sadducees lies a deeper one: not only whose wife the widow of the seven husbands will be, but to whom will her life belong. It is a doubt that has been felt by man down through the ages and also us: after this earthly pilgrimage, what will become of our lives? Will it belong to nothing, to death?
Jesus answered that life belongs to God, who loves us and cares so much about us, to the point of linking his name to ours: he is "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living; for to Him all are alive. Here is the wisdom that no science can ever give. Here the mystery of the resurrection is revealed. Because the mystery of life is revealed. Life exists where there is bond, communion, and brotherhood; and it is a stronger life than death when it is built on true relationships and bonds of fidelity. On the contrary, there is no life where one has the pretension of belonging only to oneself and of living as an island: in these attitudes death prevails. It's selfishness. If I live for myself, I am sowing death in my heart. Eternal life is our destiny. The horizon of definitive fulness of our history, and it is this life that we are called to prepare through evangelical choices.
May the Virgin Mary helps us to live every day in the perspective of what we say in the final part of the Creed: "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Awaiting the hereafter.
There are many places in the Gospels in which Jesus contrasts the rich and the poor. We can think of Jesus’ comment to the rich young man: “It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:23).
Some would call Christ “a communist”. “The Lord, when he said these things, knew that behind riches there always lurks the evil spirit: the spirit of the world.” But, Jesus also said: “No one can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24)"
The rich in this episode are not evil but are good people who go to the Temple and make their offering.
Widows, orphans, migrants, and foreigners were the poorest people in Israel. The widow had offered her whole livelihood, because she trusted in the Lord. She gives everything, because the Lord is greater than all else. The message of this Gospel passage is an invitation to generosity.
The many children who die of hunger or lack medicine are an invitation to ask ourselves: “But how can I resolve this situation?” This question, comes from the desire to do good.
An appeal to generosity. Generosity belongs to everyday life; it’s something we should think: ‘How can I be more generous, with the poor, the needy… How can I help more?’ ‘But Father, you know that we can barely get through the month.’ ‘But surely you have at least a couple of coins left over? Think about it: you can be generous with those…’ Consider the little things. For example, look through your room or your wardrobe. How many pairs of shoes do I have? One, two, three, four, fifteen, twenty… Each of us knows. Maybe too many… I knew a monsignor who had 40… But if you have many pairs of shoes, give away half. How many clothes do I not use or use only once a year? This is one way to be generous, to give what we have, and to share.
A lady that I met; when she went grocery shopping, spent 10% on buying food for the poor. She gave her “tithe” to the poor.
We can do miracles through generosity. Generosity in little things. Maybe we don’t do it because we just don’t think about it. The Gospel message makes us reflect: How can I be more generous? Just a little more, not much… ‘It’s true, Father, you’re right but… I don’t know why, but I’m always afraid…’ But nowadays there is another disease, which works against generosity: The disease of consumerism.
Consumerism consists in always buying things. When I lived in Buenos Aires, “every weekend there was a TV show about retail-tourism”. They would hop on an airplane on Friday evening, fly to a country about 10 hours away, and then spend all Saturday shopping before returning home on Sunday.
It’s a terrible disease nowadays, consumerism. I’m not saying all of us do it, no. But consumerism – excessive spending to buy more than we need – is a lack of austerity in life. This is the enemy of generosity. And material generosity – thinking about the poor: ‘I can give this so that they can eat or have clothes’ – has an ulterior result: It enlarges the heart and helps us be magnanimous.
We need to have a magnanimous heart, where all can enter. Those wealthy people who gave money were good; that elderly lady was a saint.
I invite you to be generous and to start by inspecting your houses to discover what you don’t need and could be useful for someone else. We should ask God, to free us from that dangerous disease of consumerism, which makes us slaves and creates dependence on spending money.
Let us ask the Lord for the grace of being generous, so that our hearts may be opened and we may become kinder.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel passage (Lk 21:5-19) is the first part of Jesus’ discourse on the end times. He delivers it in Jerusalem, close to the Temple, prompted by people discussing the Temple and its beauty. The Temple was very beautiful. Jesus says: “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another” (Lk 21:6). Of course they asked him: When will this happen? What will the signs be? But Jesus moves the focus from these secondary aspects — i.e. when will it be? What will it be like? — to the truly important questions. Firstly, not to let oneself be fooled by false prophets nor to be paralyzed by fear. Secondly, to live this time of expectation as a time of witness and perseverance. We are in this time of waiting, in expectation of the coming of the Lord.
Jesus’ words are perennially relevant, even for us today living in the 21st century too. He repeats to us: “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name” (v. 8). This Christian virtue of understanding is a call to discern where the Lord is, and where the evil spirit is present. Today, too, in fact there are false “saviours” who attempt to replace Jesus: worldly leaders, religious gurus, even sorcerers, people who wish to attract hearts and minds to themselves, especially those of young people. Jesus warns us: “Do not follow them, do not follow them!”.
The Lord also helps us not to be afraid in the face of war, revolution, natural disasters and epidemics. Jesus frees us from fatalism and false apocalyptic visions.
The second aspect challenges us as Christians and as a Church: Jesus predicts that his disciples will have to suffer painful trials and persecution for his sake. He reassures them, however, saying: “Not a hair of your head will perish” (v. 18). This reminds us that we are completely in God’s hands! The trials we encounter for our faith and our commitment to the Gospel are occasions to give witness; we must not distance ourselves from the Lord, but instead abandon ourselves even more to him, to the power of his Spirit and his grace.
I am thinking at this moment, let everyone think together. Let us do so together: let us think about our many Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution for their faith. There are so many. Perhaps more now than in past centuries. Jesus is with them. We too are united to them with our prayers and our love; we admire their courage and their witness. They are our brothers and sisters who, in many parts of the world, are suffering for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Let us greet them with heartfelt affection.
At the end Jesus makes a promise which is a guarantee of victory: “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (v. 19). There is so much hope in these words! They are a call to hope and patience, to be able to wait for the certain fruits of salvation, trusting in the profound meaning of life and of history: the trials and difficulties are part of the bigger picture; the Lord, the Lord of history, leads all to fulfilment. Despite the turmoil and disasters that upset the world, God’s design of goodness and mercy will be fulfilled! And this is our hope: go forward on this path, in God’s plan which will be fulfilled. This is our hope.
Jesus’ message causes us to reflect on our present time and gives us the strength to face it with courage and hope, with Mary who always accompanies us.
“For you… the sun of justice shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Mal 3:20). The words of the Prophet Malachi, which we heard in the first reading, shed light on today’s Jubilee. They come to us from the last page of the last Old Testament prophet. They are words directed to those who trust in the Lord, who place their hope in him, who see in him life’s greatest good and refuse to live only for themselves and their own interests. For those who are materially poor but rich in God, the sun of justice will rise. These are the poor in spirit, to whom Jesus promised the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3) and whom God, through the words of the Prophet Malachi, calls “my special possession” (Mal 3:17). The prophet contrasts them with the proud, those who seek a secure life in their self-sufficiency and their earthly possessions. This last page of the Old Testament raises challenging questions about the ultimate meaning of life: where do I look for security? In the Lord or in other forms of security not pleasing to God? Where is my life headed, what does my heart long for? The Lord of life or ephemeral things that cannot satisfy?
Similar questions appear in today’s Gospel. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the last and most important page of his earthly life: his death and resurrection. He is in the precincts of the Temple, “adorned with noble stones and offerings” (Lk 21:5). People were speaking of the beautiful exterior of the temple, when Jesus says: “The days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another” (v. 6). He adds that there will be no lack of conflicts, famine, convulsions on earth and in the heavens. Jesus does not want to frighten us, but to tell us that everything we now see will inevitably pass away. Even the strongest kingdoms, the most sacred buildings and the surest realities of this world do not last for ever; sooner or later they fall.
In response, people immediately put two questions to the Master: “When will this be, and what will be the sign?” (v. 7). When and what… We are constantly driven by curiosity: we want to know when and we want to see signs. Yet Jesus does not care for such curiosity. On the contrary, he exhorts us not to be taken in by apocalyptic preachers. Those who follow Jesus pay no heed to prophets of doom, the nonsense of horoscopes, or terrifying sermons and predictions that distract from the truly important things. Amid the din of so many voices, the Lord asks us to distinguish between what is from him and what is from the false spirit. This is important: to distinguish the word of wisdom that the God speaks to us each day from the shouting of those who seek in God’s name to frighten, to nourish division and fear.
Jesus firmly tells us not to be afraid of the upheavals in every period of history, not even in the face of the most serious trials and injustices that may befall his disciples. He asks us to persevere in the good and to place all our trust in God, who does not disappoint: “Not a hair of your head will perish” (v. 18). God does not forget his faithful ones, his precious possession. He does not forget us.
Today, however, he questions us about the meaning of our lives. Using an image, we could say that these readings serve as a “strainer” through which our life can be poured: they remind us that almost everything in this world is passing away, like running water. But there are treasured realities that remain, like a precious stone in a strainer. What endures, what has value in life, what riches do not disappear? Surely these two: the Lord and our neighbour. These two riches do no disappear! These are the greatest goods; these are to be loved. Everything else – the heavens, the earth, all that is most beautiful, even this Basilica – will pass away; but we must never exclude God or others from our lives.
Today, though, when we speak of exclusion, we immediately think of concrete people, not useless objects but precious persons. The human person, set by God at the pinnacle of creation, is often discarded, set aside in favour of ephemeral things. This is unacceptable, because in God’s eyes man is the most precious good. It is ominous that we are growing used to this rejection. We should be worried when our consciences are anaesthetized and we no longer see the brother or sister suffering at our side, or notice the grave problems in our world, which become a mere refrain familiar from the headlines on the evening news.
Dear brothers and sisters, today is your Jubilee. Your presence here helps us to be attuned to God’s wavelength, to see what he sees. He sees not only appearances (cf. 1 Sam 16:7), but turns his gaze to the “humble and contrite in spirit” (Is 66:2), to the many poor Lazaruses of our day. What harm we do to ourselves when we fail to notice Lazarus, excluded and cast out (cf. Lk 16:19-21)! It is turning away from God himself. It is the symptom of a spiritual sclerosis when we are only interested in objects to be produced rather than on persons to be loved. This is the origin of the tragic contradiction of our age: as progress and new possibilities increase, which is a good thing, less and less people are able to benefit from them. This is a great injustice that should concern us much more than knowing when or how the world will end. Because we cannot go about our business quietly at home while Lazarus lies at the door. There is no peace in the homes of the prosperous as long as justice is lacking in the home of everyone.
Today, in the cathedrals and sanctuaries throughout the world, the Doors of Mercy are being closed. Let us ask for the grace not to close our eyes to God who sees us and to our neighbour who asks something of us. Let us open our eyes to God, purifying the eye of our hearts of deceitful and fearful images, from the god of power and retribution, the projection of human pride and fear. Let us look with trust to the God of mercy, with the certainty that “love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8). Let us renew our hope in the true life to which we are called, the life that will not pass away and that awaits us in communion with the Lord and with others, in a joy that will last forever, without end. And let us open our eyes to our neighbour, especially to our brothers and sisters who are forgotten and excluded, to the “Lazarus” at our door. That is where the Church’s magnifying glass is pointed. May the Lord free us from turning it towards ourselves. May he turn us away from the trappings that distract us, from interests and privileges, from attachment to power and glory, from being seduced by the spirit of the world. Our Mother the Church looks “in particular to that portion of humanity that is suffering and crying out, because she knows that these people belong to her by evangelical right” (PAUL VI, Address at the beginning of the Second Session of the Second Vatican Council, 29 September 1963). By right but also by evangelical duty, for it is our responsibility to care for the true riches which are the poor. In the light of these reflections, I would like today to be the “day of the poor”. We are reminded of this by an ancient tradition according to which the Roman martyr Lawrence, before suffering a cruel martyrdom for the love of the Lord, distributed the goods of the community to the poor, whom he described as the true treasure of the Church. May the Lord grant that we may look without fear to what truly matters, and turn our hearts to our true treasure.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus astounds both his contemporaries and us. While every else was praising the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, Jesus tells them that “one stone” will not be left “upon another” (Lk 21:6). Why does he speak these words about so sacred an institution, which was not merely a building but a unique religious symbol, a house for God and for the believing people? Why does he prophesy that the firm certitude of the people of God would collapse? Why, ultimately, does the Lord let our certitudes collapse, when our world has fewer and fewer of them?
Let us look for answers in the words of Jesus. He tells us that almost everything will pass away. Almost everything, but not everything. On this next to last Sunday in Ordinary Time, he explains that what will collapse and pass away are the penultimate things, not the ultimate ones: the temple, not God; kingdoms and human events, not humanity itself. The penultimate things, which often appear definitive but are not, pass away. They are majestic realities like our temples, and terrifying ones like earthquakes; they are signs in heaven and wars on the earth (cf. vv. 10-11). To us, these are front page news, but the Lord puts them on the second page. That which will never pass away remains on the front page: the living God, infinitely greater than any temple we build for him, and the human person, our neighbour, who is worth more than all the news reports of the world. So, to help us realize what really counts in life, Jesus warns us about two temptations.
The first is the temptation of haste, of the right now. For Jesus, we must not follow those who tell us that the end is coming immediately, that “the time is at hand” (v. 8). That is, we must not follow the alarmists who fuel fear of others and of the future, for fear paralyzes the heart and mind. Yet how often do we let ourselves be seduced by a frantic desire to know everything right now, by the itch of curiosity, by the latest sensational or scandalous news, by lurid stories, by the screaming those who shout loudest and angriest, by those who tell us it is “now or never”. This haste, this everything right now, does not come from God. If we get worked up about the right now, we forget what remains forever: we follow the passing clouds and lose sight of the sky. Drawn by the latest outcry, we no longer find time for God or for our brother and sister living next door. How true this is today! In the frenzy of running, of achieving everything right now, anyone left behind is viewed as a nuisance. And considered disposable. How many elderly, unborn, disabled and poor persons are considered useless. We go our way in haste, without worrying that gaps are increasing, that the greed of a few is adding to the poverty of many others.
As an antidote to haste, Jesus today proposes to each of us perseverance. “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (v. 19). Perseverance entails moving forward each day with our eyes fixed on what does not pass away: the Lord and our neighbour. This is why perseverance is the gift of God that preserves all his other gifts (cf. SAINT AUGUSTINE, De Dono Perseverantiae, 2.4). Let us ask that each of us, and all of us as Church, may persevere in the good and not lose sight of what really counts.
There is a second illusion that Jesus wants to spare us. He says: “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ Do not go after them” (v. 8). It is the temptation of self-centredness. Christians, since we do not seek the right now but the forever, are not concerned with the me but with the you. Christians, that is, do not follow the siren song of their whims, but rather the call of love, the voice of Jesus. How is Jesus’ voice discerned? “Many will come in my name”, the Lord says, but they are not to be followed: wearing the label “Christian” or “Catholic” is not enough to belong to Jesus. We need to speak the same language as Jesus: that of love, the language of the you. Those who speak the language of Jesus are not the ones who say I, but rather the ones who step out of themselves. And yet how often, even when we do good, does the hypocrisy of the self take over? I do good so that I can be considered good; I give in order to receive in turn; I offer help so that I can win the friendship of some important person. That is how the language of the self speaks. The word of God, however, spurs us to a “genuine love” (Rom 12:9), to give to those who cannot repay us (cf. Lk 14:14), to serve others without seeking anything in return (cf. Lk 6:35). So let us ask ourselves: “Do I help someone who has nothing to give me in return? Do I, a Christian, have at least one poor person as a friend”?
The poor are valuable in the eyes of God because they do not speak the language of the self: they do not support themselves on their own, by their own strength; they need someone to take them by the hand. The poor remind us how we should live the Gospel: like beggars reaching out to God. The presence of the poor makes us breathe the fresh air of the Gospel, where the poor in spirit are blessed (cf. Mt 5:3). Instead of feeling annoyed when they knock on our doors, let us welcome their cry for help as a summons to go out of ourselves, to welcome them with God’s own loving gaze. How beautiful it would be if the poor could occupy in our hearts the place they have in the heart of God! Standing with the poor, serving the poor, we see things as Jesus does; we see what remains and what passes away.
Let us return to our initial questions. Amid so many penultimate and passing realities, the Lord wants to remind us today of what is ultimate, what will remain forever. It is love, for “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). The poor person who begs for my love leads me straight to God. The poor facilitate our access to heaven: this is why the sense of the faith of God’s People has viewed them as the gatekeepers of heaven. Even now, they are our treasure, the treasure of the Church. For the poor reveal to us the riches that never grow old, that unite heaven and earth, the riches for which life is truly worth living: the riches of love.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The Gospel of this penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year (cf. Lk 21: 5-19) presents to us Jesus’ discourse on the end of time. Jesus pronounces it in front of the temple of Jerusalem, a building admired by the people for its grandeur and splendour. But He prophesied that of all the beauty of the temple, that grandeur, “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (v. 6). The destruction of the temple foretold by Jesus is not so much a figure of the end of history as of the purpose of history. Indeed, before the listeners who want to know how and when these signs will happen, Jesus responds with the typical apocalyptic language of the Bible.
He uses two apparently contrasting images: the first is a series of frightening events: catastrophes, wars, famines, riots and persecutions (vv. 9-12); the other is reassuring: “Not a hair of your head will perish” (v. 18). First of all there is a realistic look at history, marked by calamities and also by violence, by traumas that wound creation, our common home, and also the human family that lives there, and the Christian community itself. Think of the many wars today, so many calamities today. The second image – enclosed in Jesus’ reassurance – tells us the attitude that the Christian must adopt in living this story, characterized by violence and adversity.
And what is the attitude of the Christian? It is the attitude of hope in God, which allows us not to be overwhelmed by tragic events. Indeed, they are an “opportunity to bear witness“ (v. 13). Christ’s disciples cannot remain slaves to fears and anxieties; instead they are called to live history, to stem the destructive force of evil, with the certainty that the Lord’s action of goodness is always accompanied by His providential and reassuring tenderness. This is the eloquent sign that the Kingdom of God is coming to us, that is, that the realization of the world as God wants it is approaching. It is He, the Lord, Who guides our existence and knows the ultimate purpose of things and events.
The Lord calls us to collaborate in the construction of history, becoming, together with Him, peacemakers and witnesses of hope in a future of salvation and resurrection. Faith makes us walk with Jesus on the very often tortuous roads of this world, in the certainty that the power of His Spirit will bend the forces of evil, subjecting them to the power of God’s love. Love is superior, love is more powerful, because it is God: God is love. The Christian martyrs are an example to us – our martyrs, of our times too, who are more numerous than those of the beginnings – who, despite persecution, are men and women of peace. They give us an inheritance to preserve and imitate: the Gospel of love and mercy. This is the most precious treasure that has been given to us and the most effective witness that we can give to our contemporaries, responding to hatred with love, to offence with forgiveness. Even in our daily lives: when we receive an offence, we feel pain; but we must forgive from the heart. When we feel we are hated, we must pray with love for the person who hates us. May the Virgin Mary, through her maternal intercession, sustain our daily journey of faith, following the Lord Who guides history.
While some were speaking of the outward beauty of the Temple and admiring its stones, Jesus draws attention to the troubled and dramatic events that mark human history. The Temple built by human hands will pass away, like everything else in this world, but it is important to be able to discern the times in which we live, in order to remain disciples of the Gospel even amid the upheavals of history.
To show us the path to such discernment, the Lord offers us two exhortations: beware that you are not led astray and bear witness.
The first thing that Jesus says to those listening to him, who are concerned about the “when” and the “how” of the terrifying events of which he speaks, is: “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them” (Lk 21:8). He then adds: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified” (v. 9). This is consoling especially in the present time. But what does Jesus mean by not letting ourselves be led astray He means avoiding the temptation to interpret dramatic events in a superstitious or catastrophic way, as if we are now close to the end of the world and it is useless to commit ourselves to doing good. If we think in this way, we let ourselves be guided by fear, and we may end up looking for answers with morbid curiosity in the ever-present chicanery of magic or horoscopes – today many Christians go visit magicians; they consult horoscopes as if they were the voice of God. Or again, we rely on some last-minute “messiah” who peddles wild theories, usually conspiratorial and full of doom and gloom – conspiratorial theories are bad, they cause us a lot of harm. The Spirit of the Lord is not to be found in such approaches: nor is he found by going to a “guru” or in the conspiratorial spirit; the Lord is not there. Jesus warns us: “Beware that you are not led astray”. Do not be gullible or fearful, but learn how to interpret events with the eyes of faith, certain that by remaining close to God “not a hair of your head will perish” (v. 18).
If human history is filled with dramatic events, situations of suffering, wars, revolutions and disasters, it is also true, Jesus tells us, that that is not the end of the world (cf. v. 9). It is not a good reason for letting ourselves be paralyzed by fear or for yielding to the defeatism of those who think that everything is lost and that it is useless to take an active part in life. A disciple of the Lord should not yield to resignation or give in to discouragement, even in the most difficult situations, for our God is the God of resurrection and hope, who always raises up: with him we can lift up our gaze and begin anew. Christians, then, in the face of trials – whatever cultural, historical or personal trial – ask: “What is the Lord saying to us through this moment of crisis?” – me too, I ask myself the same question today: What is the Lord saying to us, especially in the midst of this third world war? What is the Lord saying to us? And when evil events occur that give rise to poverty and suffering, the Christian asks: “What good can I concretely do?” Do not run away, ask yourself the question: What is the Lord saying to me and what good can I do?
It is not by chance that Jesus’ second exhortation, after “do not be led astray”, is positive. He says: “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (v. 13). An opportunity to testify. I want to emphasize this fine word: opportunity. It means having the chance to do something good, starting from our situation in life, even when it is not ideal. It is a skill typically Christian not to be a victim of everything that happens – a Christian is not a victim, and the psychology of victimhood is not good, it is harmful – but to seize the opportunity that lies hidden in everything that befalls us, the good – however small – that can come about even from negative situations. Every crisis is a possibility and offers opportunities for growth. Every crisis is an openness to the presence of God, openness to humanity. But what does the spirit of evil want us to do? He wants us to turn crisis into conflict, and conflict is always closed in, without a horizon; a dead-end. No. Let us experience a crisis like human persons, like Christians, let us not turn it into conflict, because every crisis is a possibility and offers opportunities for growth. We realize this if we think back on our own history: in life, often our most important steps forward were taken in the midst of certain crises, in situations of trial, loss of control or insecurity. Then we understand the words of encouragement that Jesus today speaks directly to me, to you, to each one of us: when you see troubling events all around you, while wars and conflicts are on the rise, while earthquakes, famines and plagues are happening, what are you to do; what do I do? Do you distract yourself in order not to think about it? Do you amuse yourself in order not to get involved? Do you turn away in order not to see? Do you take the road of worldliness, of not being proactive and of not taking care of these dramatic situations? Do you simply resign yourself to what is happening? Or do these situations become opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel? Each one of us should ask himself or herself: in the midst of these calamities, in the midst of this terrible third world war, in the midst of hunger affecting many people, especially children: can I spend my money, my life and its meaning without being courageous and moving forward?
Brothers and sisters, on this World Day of the Poor God’s word is a forceful admonition to break through that inner deafness, which we all suffer from, and which prevents us from hearing the stifled cry of pain of the frailest. Nowadays we too live in troubled societies and are witnesses, as the Gospel told us, to scenes of violence – we only have to think about the cruelty that the people of Ukraine are experiencing – injustice and persecution; in addition, we must face the crisis generated by climate change and the pandemic, which has left in its wake not only physical, but also psychological, economic and social maladies. Even now, brothers and sisters, we see peoples rising up against peoples and we witness with trepidation the vast expansion of conflicts and the calamity of war, which causes the death of so many innocent people and multiplies the poison of hatred. Today also, much more than in the past, many of our brothers and sisters, sorely tested and disheartened, migrate in search of hope, and many people experience insecurity due to the lack of employment or unjust and undignified working conditions. Today too, the poor pay the heaviest price in any crisis. Yet if our heart is deadened and indifferent, we cannot hear their faint cry of pain, we cannot cry with them and for them, we cannot see how much loneliness and anguish also lie hidden in the forgotten corners of our cities. We have to go the corners of the cities, for in these hidden and dark corners we see great misery and pain and abject poverty.
Let us take to heart the clear and unmistakable summons in the Gospel not to be led astray. Let us not listen to prophets of doom. Let us not be enchanted by the sirens of populism, which exploit people’s real needs by facile and hasty solutions. Let us not follow the false “messiahs” who, in the name of profit, proclaim recipes useful only for increasing the wealth of a few, while condemning the poor to the margins of society. Instead, let us bear witness. Let us light candles of hope in the midst of darkness. Amid dramatic situations, let us seize opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel of joy and to build a fraternal world, or at least a bit more fraternal. Let us commit ourselves courageously to justice, the rule of law and peace, and stand always at the side of the weakest. Let us not step back to protect ourselves from history, but strive to give this moment of history, which we are experiencing, a different face.
How do we find the strength for all this? In the Lord. By trusting in God our Father, who watches over us. If we open our hearts to him, he will strengthen within us the capacity to love. This is the way: to grow in love. Indeed, after describing scenarios of violence and terror, Jesus concludes by saying, “Not a hair of your head will perish” (v. 18). But what does this mean? It means that he is with us; he walks with us to guide us. Do I have this conviction? Are you convinced that the Lord walks with you? We should always repeat this to ourselves, especially at times of greatest trouble: God is a Father, and he is at my side. He knows and loves me; he does not sleep, but watches over me and cares for me. If I stay close to him, not a hair of my head will perish. And how do I respond to this? By looking at our brothers and sisters in need; by looking at the throw away culture that discards the poor and people with few possibilities; a culture that discards the old and unborn… by looking at all of them; as a Christian, what should I do in this moment?
Since he loves us, let us resolve to love him in the most abandoned of his children. The Lord is there. There is an old tradition, even in some Italian regions, and I am sure some people still follow it: leaving an empty chair for the Lord at the Christmas dinner, and believing that he will surely come knocking at the door in the person of a poor person in need. Does your heart have a space for such persons? Is there a place in my heart for such people? Or are we too busy attending to our friends, attending social events and other engagements which will never let us have a space for such people. Let us care for the poor, in whom we find Jesus, who became poor for our sake (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). He identifies with the poor. Let us feel challenged to care for them, lest even a hair of their head perish. Let us not be content, like the people in the Gospel, to admire the beautiful stones of the temple, while failing to recognize God’s true temple, our fellow men and women, especially the poor, in whose face, in whose history, in whose wounds, we encounter Jesus. He told us so. Let us never forget it.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon, blessed Sunday!
Today’s Gospel takes us to Jerusalem, in the most sacred place: the temple. There, around Jesus, some people speak about the magnificence of that grandiose building, “adorned with costly stones” (Lk 21:5). But the Lord states, “there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down” (Lk 21:6). He then adds to the story, explaining how in history almost everything collapses: there will be, he says, revolutions and wars, earthquakes and famines, pestilence and persecution (cf. vv. 9-17). As if to say: one should not place too much trust in earthly realities, which pass. These are wise words, which can however make us somewhat bitter. There are already many things going wrong. Why does the Lord even make such negative pronouncements? In reality his intention is not to be negative, it is otherwise – to give us a valuable teaching, that is, the way out of all this precariousness. And what is the way out? How can we come out of this reality that passes and passes, and will be no more?
It lies in a word that will perhaps surprise us. Christ reveals it in the final phrase of the Gospel, when he says: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (v. 19). Perseverance. What is perseverance? The word indicates being “very strict”; but strict in what sense? With oneself, considering oneself not up to standard? No. With others, becoming rigid and inflexible? Not this either. Jesus asks us to be “strict”, uncompromising, persistent in what he has at heart, in what counts. Because, what truly counts, very often does not coincide with what attracts our interest. Like those people at the temple, we often prioritize the work of our hands, our achievements, our religious and civil traditions, our sacred and social symbols. This is fine, but we accord too much priority to them. These things are important, but they pass away. Instead, Jesus says to concentrate on what remains, to avoid devoting our life to building something that will then be destroyed, like that temple, and forgetting to build what will not collapse, to build on his word, on love, on goodness. To be persevering, to be strict and resolute in building on what does not pass away.
This, then, is perseverance: building goodness every day. To persevere is to remain constant in goodness, especially when the reality around us urges us to do otherwise. Let us reflect on a few examples: I know that prayer is important, but, like everyone, I too always have a lot to do, and so I put it off: “No, I am busy now, I can’t, I’ll do it later”. Or, I see many crafty people who take advantage of situations, who dodge the rules, and so I too stop observing them and persevering in justice and legality: “But if these scoundrels do it, so will I!”. Beware of this! And again: I carry out service in the Church, for the community, for the poor, but I see that many people in their free time think only of enjoying themselves, and so I feel like giving up and do what they do. Because I do not see results, or I get bored, or it does not make me happy.
Persevering, instead, is remaining in goodness. Let us ask ourselves: what is my perseverance like? Am I constant, or do I live faith, justice and charity according to the moment: I pray if I feel like it; I am fair, willing and helpful if it suits me; whereas if I am dissatisfied, if no-one thanks me, do I stop? In short, do my prayer and service depend on circumstances or on a heart that is steadfast in the Lord? If we persevere – Jesus reminds us – we have nothing to fear, even in the sad and ugly events of life, not even in the evil we see around us, because we remain grounded in the good. Dostoevsky wrote: “Have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth” (The Brothers Karamazov, II, 6, 3g). Perseverance is the reflection in the world of God’s love, because God’s love is faithful, it is persevering, it never changes.
May Our Lady, servant of the Lord, persevering in prayer (cf. Acts 1:12), fortify our perseverance.
On the day of judgment, Babylon will be destroyed with a mighty cry of victory. The great harlot will fall, condemned by the Lord, and she will show her truth: “a haunt for demons, a cage for every unclean spirit.”
Corruption will be revealed under her magnificent beauty and that her feasts will be exposed as false happiness.
"The melodies of musicians, harpists, flutists, and trumpeters will never be heard in you again. There will be no more beautiful feasts… Craftsmen of every type will never be found in you again; because you are not a city of work but of corruption. The sound of the millstone will not be heard in you again; no lamplight will be seen in you again. The city may be illuminated, but she will be without light, not luminous. Hers is a corrupt society – the voices of brides and grooms will never be heard in you again." There were many couples, many people, but there will no longer be any love. This destruction starts from within and ends when the Lord says: ‘Enough’. And there will come a day when the Lord says: ‘Enough with the appearances of this world.’ This is the crisis of a society that sees itself as proud, self-sufficient, dictatorial, and it ends in this manner.
Jerusalem will see her ruin, in another type of corruption, the corruption that comes from unfaithfulness to love; she was not able to recognize the love of God in His Son.
The holy city will be trampled underfoot by pagans and punished by the Lord, because she opened the doors of her heart to pagans.
The paganization of life can occur, in our case the Christian life. Do we live as Christians? It seems like we do. But really our life is pagan, when these things happen: when we are seduced by Babylon and Jerusalem lives like Babylon. The two seek a synthesis which cannot be effected. And both are condemned. Are you a Christian? Are you Christian? Live like a Christian. Water and oil do not mix. They are always distinct. A contradictory society that professes Christianity but lives like a pagan shall end.
After the condemnation of the two cities, the voice of the Lord will be heard: Salvation follows destruction. And the Angel said: ‘Come: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’ The great feast; the true feast.
Faced with the tragedies of life, we are called to look to the horizon, because we have been redeemed and the Lord will come to save us. This teaches us to live the trials of the world, not in a compromise with worldliness or paganism which brings about our destruction, but in hope, separating ourselves from this worldly and pagan seduction by looking to the horizon and hoping in Christ the Lord. Hope is our strength for moving forward. But we must ask it of the Holy Spirit.
Think about the Babylonians of our time and about the many powerful empires of the last century which have fallen.
The great cities of today will also end, and so will our lives, if we continue along this road towards paganism.
The only ones who will remain are those who place their hope in the Lord. Let us open our hearts with hope and distance ourselves from the paganization of life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today Advent begins, the liturgical time which prepares us for Christmas, inviting us to lift our gaze and open our hearts to welcome Jesus. During Advent we do not just live in anticipation of Christmas; we are also called to rekindle the anticipation of the glorious return of Christ — when he will return at the end of time — preparing ourselves, with consistent and courageous choices, for the final encounter with him. We remember Christmas, we await the glorious return of Christ, and also our personal encounter: the day in which the Lord will call.
During these four weeks we are called to leave behind a resigned and routine way of life and to go forth, nourishing hope, nourishing dreams for a new future. This Sunday’s Gospel (cf. Lk 21:25-28, 34-36) goes in this very direction and puts us on guard against allowing ourselves to be oppressed by an egocentric lifestyle or by the phrenetic pace of our days. Jesus’ words resonate in a particularly incisive way: “take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly ... But watch at all times, praying” (vv. 34, 36).
To be mindful and to pray: this is how to live the time between now and Christmas. To be mindful and to pray. Inner listlessness comes from always turning around ourselves and being blocked by our own life, with its problems, its joy, and suffering, but always turning around ourselves. And this is wearying; this is dull, this closes us off to hope. Here lies the root of the lethargy and laziness that the Gospel speaks about. Advent invites us to a commitment to vigilance, looking beyond ourselves, expanding our mind and heart in order to open ourselves up to the needs of people, of brothers and sisters, and to the desire for a new world. It is the desire of many people tormented by hunger, by injustice and by war. It is the desire of the poor, the weak, the abandoned. This is a favourable time to open our hearts, to ask ourselves concrete questions about how and for whom we expend our lives.
The second attitude to best experience the time of awaiting the Lord is that of prayer. Arise, “look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28), the Gospel of Luke cautions. It is about standing up and praying, turning our thoughts and our hearts to Jesus who is about to come. One stands when awaiting something or someone. We await Jesus and we wish to await him in prayer which is closely linked to vigilance. Praying, awaiting Jesus, opening oneself to others, being mindful, not withdrawn in ourselves. But if we think of Christmas in the light of consumerism, of seeing what I can buy in order to do this and that, of a worldly celebration, Jesus will pass by and we will not find him. We await Jesus and we wish to await him in prayer which is closely linked to vigilance.
But what is the horizon of our prayerful anticipation? In the Bible the voices of the prophets are especially revealing to us. Today it is that of Jeremiah who speaks to the people who had been harshly tried by exile and who risked losing their very identity. We Christians too, who are also the People of God, run the risk of becoming worldly and of losing our identity, indeed of ‘paganizing’ the Christian way. Therefore, we need the Word of God through which the prophet proclaims: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made ... I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 33:14-15). And that righteous branch is Jesus. It is Jesus who comes and whom we await. May the Virgin Mary, who leads us to Jesus, a woman of expectation and prayer, help us to strengthen our hope in the promises of her Son Jesus, in order to enable us to understand that through the travail of history, God always remains steadfast and uses human errors, too, to manifest his mercy.
In this last week of the liturgical year the Church invites us to reflect on the end: the end of the world and the end of each of us. This theme is echoed in the Gospel reading (Luke 21: 29-33) in which Luke repeats Jesus’s words: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
This is how it is "everything will end" but "He will remain". I invite everyone to reflect on the moment of the end, that is, death. None of us knows exactly when it will happen; indeed, we often tend to put off that thought believing ourselves eternal, but it is not so.
We all have this weakness, this vulnerability. Yesterday I was thinking about this with a article just published in the Jesuit publication Civiltà Cattolica that tells us that what we all have in common is that vulnerability. We are all vulnerable, and at some point this vulnerability leads us to death. That's why we go to the doctor or to psychologists in search of healing for our bodies or for our minds.
Vulnerability therefore unites us and no illusion protects us. In my country, there was a fashion for people paying for their own funerals in advance with the illusion of saving money for the family. But when it came to light that some funeral companies were scamming people, that trend ended. How many times are we cheated by an illusion? Like the illusion of being eternal. The certainty of death is written in the Bible and in the Gospel, but the Lord always presents it to us as an encounter with Him and accompanies it with the word hope.
The Lord tells us to be prepared for the encounter, death is an encounter: it is He who comes to visit us, it is He who comes to take us by the hand and take us with Him. I wouldn't want this simple sermon to be a funeral notice! It is simply Gospel, it is simply life, it is simply saying to one another: "we are all vulnerable and we all have a door on which one day the Lord will knock."
Therefore, it is necessary to prepare well for that moment when the bell will ring, the moment when the Lord will knock on our door: let us pray for each other.
My invitation, is to be ready to open the door with trust and confidence to the Lord who comes. All of the things that we have collected, that we have saved, even good, we will not bring anything.. But, yes, we will bring the Lord's embrace. Think of one's own death: I will die, when? It is not marked on the calendar but he Lord knows it. And pray to the Lord: " Lord, prepare my heart to die well, to die in peace, to die with hope." This is the word that must always accompany our lives, the hope of living with the Lord here and then living with the Lord somewhere else. Let us pray for one another for this.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The Gospel of today’s liturgy, the First Sunday of Advent, speaks to us about the Lord’s coming at the end of time. Jesus announces bleak and distressing events, but precisely at this point He invites us not to be afraid. Why? Because everything will be okay? No, but because He will come. Jesus will return as He promised. This is what he says: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Lk 21:28). It is nice to hear this encouraging Word: stand up straight and raise our heads because right during those moments when everything seems to be coming to an end, the Lord comes to save us. We await Him with joy, even in the midst of tribulations, during life’s crises and the dramatic events of history. We await Him.
But how do we raise our heads and not become absorbed with difficulties, suffering and defeat? Jesus points the way with a strong reminder: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy… Be vigilant at all times and pray” (Lk 21:34, 36).
“Be vigilant”: vigilance. Let us focus on this important aspect of the Christian life. From the words of Christ, we see that vigilance is tied to alertness: be alert, do not get distracted, that is, stay awake! Vigilance means this: not to allow our hearts to become lazy or our spiritual life to soften into mediocrity. Be careful because we can become “sleepy Christians” – and we know there are many Christians who are asleep, who are anesthetized by spiritual worldliness - Christians without spiritual fervor, without intensity in prayer, without enthusiasm for mission, without passion for the Gospel; Christians who always look inwards, incapable of looking to the horizon. And this leads to “dozing off”: to move things along by inertia, to fall into apathy, indifferent to everything except what is comfortable for us. This is a sad life going forward this way since there is no happiness.
We need to be vigilant so that our daily life does not become routine, and, as Jesus says, so we are not burdened by life’s anxieties (cf. v. 34). So today is a good moment to ask ourselves: what weighs on my heart? What weighs on my spirit? What makes me go to sit in the lazy chair? It is sad to see Christians “in the armchair”! What are the mediocrities that paralyze me, the vices that crush me to the ground and prevent me from raising my head? And regarding the burdens that weigh on the shoulders of our brothers and sisters, am I aware of them or indifferent to them? These are good questions to ask ourselves, because they help guard our hearts against apathy. What then is apathy? It is a great enemy of the spiritual life and also of Christian life. Apathy is a type of laziness that makes us slide into sadness, it takes away zest for life and the will to do things. It is a negative spirit that traps the soul in apathy, robbing it of its joy. It starts with sadness sliding downwards so that there is no joy. The Book of Proverbs says: “With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life” (Prov 4:23). Guard your heart: that means to be vigilant! Stay awake and guard your heart.
And let us add an essential ingredient: the secret to being vigilant is prayer. In fact, Jesus says: “Be vigilant at all times and pray” (Lk 21:36). Prayer is what keeps the lamp of the heart lit. This is especially true when we feel that our enthusiasm has cooled down. Prayer re-lights it, because it brings us back to God, to the centre of things. Prayer reawakens the soul from sleep and focuses it on what matters, on the purpose of existence. Even during our busiest days, we must not neglect prayer. The prayer of the heart can be helpful for us, repeating often brief invocations. For example, during Advent, we could make a habit of saying, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Only these words, but repeating them: “Come, Lord Jesus”. This time of preparation leading to Christmas is beautiful: we think of the nativity scene and Christmas, so let us say from the heart: “Come, Lord Jesus”. Let us repeat this prayer all throughout the day: the soul will remain vigilant! “Come, Lord Jesus”, is a prayer we can all say together three times. “Come, Lord Jesus”, “Come, Lord Jesus”, “Come, Lord Jesus”.
And now we pray to the Madonna: may she who awaited the Lord with a vigilant heart accompany us during our Advent journey.