Mark Chapter 2-6
Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, is the celebration of the manifestation of Jesus, symbolized by light. In the prophetic texts this light is a promise: light is promised. Isaiah, in fact, addresses Jerusalem with these words: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). The prophet’s invitation — to arise because the light has come — seems surprising, because it occurs in the aftermath of the harsh exile and of the numerous oppressions that the people have experienced.
Today this invitation also resonates for us, who have celebrated the Birth of Jesus, and it encourages us to allow ourselves to be reached by the light of Bethlehem. We too are invited not to stop at the outward signs of the event, but to set out from it once again and to undertake anew the experience of our journey as men and women, and as believers.
The light that the Prophet Isaiah had foretold, is present and encountered in the Gospel. And Jesus, born in Bethlehem, the City of David, has come to bring salvation to those near and far: to everyone. Matthew the Evangelist reveals various ways by which one can encounter Christ and react to his presence. For example, Herod and the scribes of Jerusalem have a hard heart, which obstinately refuses the visit of that Child. This is one possibility: to be closed to the light. They represent those who, even in our day, fear Jesus’ coming and close their heart to brothers and sisters who need help. Herod is afraid of losing power and does not consider the true good of the people, but rather his own personal advantage. The scribes and the chief priests of the people are afraid because they do not know how to look beyond their own certainties; they are thus unable to understand the newness that is in Jesus.
Instead, the experience of the Magi is quite different (cf. Mt 2:1-12). Having come from the East, they represent all the faraway peoples of the traditional Hebrew faith. Yet they allow themselves to be guided by the star and face a long and perilous journey just to arrive at the destination and to know the truth of the Messiah. The Magi were open to ‘novelty’, and history’s greatest and most surprising novelty is revealed to them: God-made-man. The Magi prostrate themselves before Jesus and offer him symbolic gifts: gold, incense and myrrh, because seeking the Lord entails not only perseverance on the journey but also generosity of heart. And lastly, they returned “to their own country” (v. 12); and the Gospel states that they returned “by another road”. Brothers and sisters, each time that a man or woman encounters Jesus, he or she changes paths, returns to life in a different way, returns renewed, “by another road”. They returned “to their own country”, bearing within them the mystery of that humble and poor King; we can imagine that they told everyone about the experience they had had: the salvation offered by God in Christ is for all mankind, near and far. It is not possible to “take possession” of that Child: he is a gift for all.
Let us also have a bit of silence in our heart and allow ourselves to be illuminated by the light of Jesus that comes from Bethlehem. Let us not allow our fears to close our hearts, but let us have the courage to open ourselves to this light that is meek and delicate. Then, like the Magi, we will feel “great joy” (v. 10) that we will be unable to keep to ourselves. May the Virgin Mary — star who guides us to Jesus and Mother who shows Jesus to the Magi and to all those who approach her — support us on this journey.
Today's reading, taken from the Gospel according to Mark, presents an episode of Jesus' healing of a paralytic. Jesus is in Capernaum and the crowd gathers around him. Through an opening made in the roof of the house four men lowered a paralytic man lying on a mat. The hope is that Jesus will heal the paralytic, but He dismays everyone by saying to him, "Your sins are forgiven". Only then does He order him to get up, take his mat and go home. With His words Jesus allows us to go to the essentials. Jesus, a man of God, heals but He is not a medical man. He taught but was more than a teacher and in this episode He focuses on what is essential.
He looks at the paralytic and says, "Your sins are forgiven". Physical healing is a gift, physical health is a gift that we must guard. But the Lord teaches us that the health of the heart, the spiritual health must also be safeguarded.
Jesus also goes to the essentials with the sinful woman, of whom the Gospel speaks, when before her tears he says to her: 'Your sins are forgiven.' But those present are scandalized when Jesus goes to the essentials, they are scandalized, because there is prophecy, there is strength. Likewise, 'Go, but don't sin anymore,' Jesus says to the sick man by the pool who never gets into the water in time to be healed. To the Samaritan woman who asks him so many questions, -she was a bit of a theologian, Jesus asks about her husband. He goes to the essentials in life and the essential is your relationship with God. And we forget this so many times as if we are afraid to go right there where there is the encounter with the Lord, with God. We do so much for our physical health, we advice ourselves about doctors and medicines, and it's a good thing, but do we think about the health of the heart?
The words here of Jesus will perhaps help us: "Child, sins are forgiven." Are we used to thinking of this medicine as the forgiveness of our sins, of our mistakes? We ask ourselves, "Do I have to ask God for forgiveness for something?" "Yes, yes, yes, in general, we are all sinners", and so it is watered down and loses the strength, this force of prophecy that Jesus has when He focuses on the essentials. And today Jesus, to each of us, says: "I want to forgive you the sins."
Perhaps someone does not find sins in himself to confess because there is a lack of the consciousness of sins. Concrete sins, diseases of the soul that must be healed and the medicine to heal them is forgiveness.
It is a simple thing that Jesus teaches us when he goes to the essentials. The essential is health, of both the body and soul. We care well for the body, but also for the soul. And let's go to that Doctor who can heal us, who can forgive sins. Jesus came for this, gave His life for this.
We can learn about the Christian style by first knowing our attitudes that don’t belong to the Christian style. The "accusatory style", the "worldly style" and the "selfish style".
The accusatory style belongs to those who always try and live by accusing others, disqualifying others, acting as absent promoters of justice. But they don't realize that it's the style of the devil: in the Bible, the devil is called the "great accuser", who is always accusing others.
This was the same in the time of Jesus who in a few cases reproached the accusers: "Instead of looking at the speck in the eyes of others, look at the beam in yours"; or again: "Those who have not sinned can throw the first stone". Living by accusing others and looking for defects, is not Christian, not new wineskin.
Worldliness, is an attitude of Catholics who can recite the Creed, but live on vanity, pride and attachment to money, believing themselves to be self-sufficient.
The Lord has offered you the new wine but you did not change the wineskin, you did not change yourself. This worldliness is what ruins so many who are good but they enter into this spirit of vanity, of pride, of being seen... Humility that is part of the Christian style, like that of Our Lady and St. Joseph, is lacking.
The selfish spirit is the spirit of indifference that is common in our communities. One believes oneself to be a good Catholic but doesn’t worry about the problems of others – wars, illnesses and the suffering of our neighbours. This is the hypocrisy that Jesus reproached the doctors of the law for. What then is the Christian style?
The Christian style is that of the Beatitudes: meekness, humility, patience in suffering, love for justice, ability to endure persecution, not judging others... If a Catholic wants to learn the Christian style, so as not to fall into this accusatory style, the worldly style and the selfish style, he / she must read the Beatitudes. They are the wineskins, the path we must take. To be a good Christian one must have the ability not only to recite the Creed with the heart but also the Our Father with the heart.
In the first Reading, God rejected Saul as king, a prophecy that was confided to Samuel.
The sin of Saul was his lack of docility to the Word of God, imagining that his own interpretation of God's command was more correct. This is the substance of the sin against docility: the Lord had commanded him not to take anything from the people who had been conquered, but this did not happen.
When Samuel goes to scold him on behalf of God, he tried to explain: “But look, there were cattle, there were so many good, fat animals, and with these I offered a sacrifice to the Lord”. He had not put anything in his own pocket, although others had. On the contrary, with this attitude of interpreting the Word of God as it seemed right to him, he allowed the others to put something of the plunder in their own pockets. The stages of corruption: it begins with a little disobedience, a lack of docility, and it keeps going further, further, further.
After “exterminating” the Amalekites the people took from the plunder small and large beasts, the first fruits of what was vowed to extermination, to sacrifice to the Lord. But Samuel pointed out that the Lord prefers obedience to the voice of God to holocausts and sacrifices; and he clarified the hierarchy of values: It is more important to have a docile heart, and to obey, than to offer sacrifices, to fast, to do penance. The sin of lacking docility lies precisely in that preference for what I think and not what the Lord commands of me and perhaps I don’t understand. When you rebel against the will of the Lord you are not docile; it’s like a sin of fortune-telling. It’s as if, although you say you believe in God, you were to go to a fortune-teller to have your palm read ‘just in case’. Not obeying the Lord, the lack of docility, is like fortune-telling.
When you insist on doing things your own way in the face of the Lord’s will, you are an idolater, because you prefer what you think, that idol, to the will of the Lord. And for Saul, this disobedience cost him the kingdom: “Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, the Lord has rejected you as king”. This should make us think a little bit about our own docility. We often prefer our own interpretation of the Gospel or the Word of the Lord. For example, when we fall into clever but unsound reasoning, into clever but unsound reasoning about moral cases… This is not the will of the Lord. The will of the Lord is clear; He makes it known with the commandments in the Bible, and makes you see it with the Holy Spirit within your heart. But when I am obstinate, and turn the Word of the Lord into an ideology, I am an idolater, I am not docile. Docility, obedience.
In todays Gospel from St Mark the disciples were criticised because they did not fast. Jesus uses an analogy: no one sews new cloth on an old cloak, because it would risk making the tear worse; and no one puts new wine in old wineskins, because the skins would burst, and both the wine and the wineskins would be lost. “Rather”, the Lord said, “new wine is poured into fresh wineskins”.
The newness of the Word of the Lord – because the Word of the Lord is always new, it always carries us onward – always wins, it is better than everything. It overcomes idolatry, it overcomes pride, and it overcomes this attitude of being too sure of ourselves, not through commitment to the Word of the Lord, but to the ideologies that I have built around the Word of the Lord. There is a very beautiful expression of Jesus that explains all this and that comes from God, taken from the Old Testament: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”.
Being a good Christian means being docile to the Word of the Lord, listening to what the Lord says about justice, charity, forgiveness, and mercy; and not being inconsistent in life, using an ideology to be able to go forward. It’s true that the Word of the Lord sometimes gets us in trouble, but the devil does the same thing, deceptively. So to be a Christian is to be free, through trust in God.
The Gospel passage makes repeated references to a ‘multitude’: “a great multitude followed Jesus from all over”. The people in this crowd were throwing themselves at him, to touch him. It was a crowd warm with enthusiasm, which followed Jesus with warmth and came from all places: from Tyre and Sidon, from Idumea and from beyond the Jordan. A great multitude made this journey on foot to find the Lord. And in facing the insistent crowd, one might ask: “Why did this multitude come? Why this enthusiasm? What did they need?”. The Gospel itself tells us that there were sick people who sought to be healed but there were also many people who came to listen to him. Indeed, these people liked hearing Jesus, because he did not speak like their doctors, but instead, with authority. Certainly, it was a multitude of people who came spontaneously: they weren’t brought on buses, like we have seen often when protests are organized and many have to go ‘to verify’ the presence, so as not to lose their job.
These people went because they felt something. And they were so numerous that Jesus had to ask for a boat and set out from the shore so that the crowd did not crush him. But what was the real motive, the profound motivation? Jesus himself explains in the Gospel this sort of social phenomenon. He says: “No one can come to me if not drawn by the Father”. In fact, whether this multitude went to Jesus out of need or because some were curious, the true reason is seen in the fact that this crowd was drawn by the Father: it was the Father that drew the crowd to Jesus. And Christ was not indifferent, like a stagnant teacher who spoke his words and then washed his hands. No! This crowd touched Jesus’ heart. We read in the Gospel that “Jesus was moved, because he saw these people as sheep without a shepherd”.
Therefore, the Father, through the Holy Spirit, draws people to Jesus. It is useless to look for all the reasoning. Every reason can be necessary but is not enough to make one finger move. You cannot move or take a step with only apologetic reasoning. What is truly necessary and decisive, however, is “that the Father draws you to Jesus”.
It is curious, that while this passage speaks about Jesus, speaks of the crowd, of the enthusiasm and of the love with which Jesus received and healed them, there is also something extraordinary. It is written: “whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘Your are the Son of God’!”.
This, is precisely the truth; this is the reality that every one of us feels when we approach Jesus and what “the impure spirits try to impede; they wage war on us”.
Someone might object: “Father, I am very Catholic; I always go to Mass.... But I never have these temptations, thank God!”. But it isn’t so. The response is: “No! Pray, because you are on the wrong path!”, because “a Christian life without temptations is not Christian: it is ideological, it is gnostic, but it is not Christian”. In fact it happens that when the Father draws people to Jesus, there is another who draws in the opposite way and wages war within you!. Thus Saint Paul speaks of Christian life as a struggle: a struggle every day to win, to destroy Satan’s empire, the empire of evil. This is the reason, that Jesus came, to destroy Satan! To destroy his influence on our hearts.
This final notation in the Gospel passage highlights what is essential: “both Jesus and the crowd” seem to disappear, leaving “only the Father and the impure spirits, that is the spirit of evil. The Father who draws the people to Jesus and the evil spirit who tries to destroy, always!”.
In this way we understand that “Christian life is a struggle” in which either you let yourself be drawn to Jesus, through the Father, or you can say ‘I’m tranquil, at peace’.... But in the hands of this multitude, of these impure spirits. However, if you want to go forward you must fight! Feel the heart struggling, so that Jesus may win.
Therefore, all Christians must make this examination of conscience and ask themselves: “Do I feel this struggle in my heart?”. This conflict between comfort or service to others, between having a little fun or praying and adoring the Father, between one thing and the other? Do I feel the will to do good or is there something that stops me, turns me into an ascetic? And also, do I believe that my life moves Jesus’ heart? If I don’t believe this, “I must pray a lot to believe it, so that he may grant me this grace.”
"The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you”. All of us come to terms with our lives, we do it in the present and above all, we will do it at the end of our existence, and this phrase of Jesus "tells us just what that moment will be like", that is, what judgment will be like. Because if the passage of the Beatitudes and the similar chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew show us "the things we have to do" - how to do them, the "style with which we will have to live" - the "measure", is what the Lord says here.
By what extent do I measure others? By what measure do I measure myself? Is it a generous measure, full of God's love? Or is it a low level measure? And by this measure I will be judged, it will not be another: that, just the one I do. What is the level at which I put my bar? At a high level? We have to think about this. And we see this not only, not so much in the good things we do or in the bad things we do but in our daily lifestyle.
Each of us has a style, "a way of measuring ourselves, things and others" and it will be the same that the Lord will use with us. So those who judge with selfishness, will be judged in the same way; those who have no mercy and, in order to climb in life, "are capable of trampling on everyone's heads", will be judged in the same way, that is, "without mercy".
And as a Christian I wonder what is the reference stone, the touchstone to know if I am on a Christian level, a level that Jesus wants? It is the ability to be humble, it is the ability to suffer humiliation. A Christian who is not able to carry with him the humiliations of life, lacks something. He is a Christian of "make-up" or out of interest. "But why father this?" Because Jesus did it, He humbled himself, says Paul: "He humbled himself until the death on the cross." He was God but He did not cling to that: He humbled Himself. This is the model.
And as an example of a lifestyle defined as "worldly" and unable to follow the model of Jesus; bishops report complaints to me when they have difficulty transferring priests to parishes because they are considered "lower category" and not as they would like and therefore see the transfer as a punishment. This is how to recognize "my style", "my way of judging" by the behaviour I take in the face of humiliation: "A way of judging the worldly, a way of judging the sinner, an entrepreneurial way of judging, a way of judging Christian Christians."
"By the measure by which you measure it will be measured to you," the same measure. If it is a Christian measure, which follows Jesus, in His way, I will be judged the same way, with much, much, much pity, with much compassion, with much mercy. But if my measure is worldly and I only use the Christian faith - yes, I do, I go to mass, but I live as a worldly person - I will be measured by that measure.
Let us ask the Lord for the grace to live Christianly and above all not to be afraid of the cross, of humiliation, because this is the path he has chosen to save us and this is what guarantees that my measure is Christian: the ability to carry the cross , the ability to suffer some humiliation.
"The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord” (Ps 37:39). This Psalm verse, reminds us of the truth that “salvation is a gift the Lord gives”: it can’t be bought nor obtained through study, for it is always a gift, a present. But the real question is: “How to protect this salvation? What to do so this salvation remains in us and bears fruit, as Jesus explains, like a seed or kernel of mustard?” Mark (4:26-35).
Hebrews (10:32-39), there are criteria to protect this present, this gift of salvation; in order to allow this salvation to go forth and bear its fruit in us.
The first criterion is that of memory. In fact, we read in the text: “Brethren, recall the former days, after you received the light of Christ”. Those are “the days of the first love”, as the prophets say: it is “the day of the encounter with Jesus”. Because, when we encountered Jesus, or better yet, when “He let Himself be encountered by us, for it is He who does all” — “it brought great joy, the will to do great things”, as the same author of the Letter explains. Therefore, the first criterion to protect the gift of salvation is “not to forget those first days” marked by “certain enthusiasm”: most of all, “do not forget” that “first love”.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews then goes on, emphasizing the “joy that enabled you to bear all things”, to a point when “all seemed meagre in those former days, and one went forth with enthusiasm”. The Letter exhorts us not to abandon that courage — namely ‘this honesty’ — that parrhesìa of those former days. It is indeed that “first love” which made grow within us that courage, that ‘let’s go on!’, that enthusiasm.
The call, however, is to not abandon honesty. But, “abandon” is not even the right word, if we go to the original text we find a powerful expression: “Do not throw away, do not waste, do not reject honesty”. It is like a rejection: do not push away this honesty, this courage, the courage of the former days.
This is why memory is so important, to remember the grace received. Indeed, if we push away this enthusiasm which comes from our memory of that first love, this enthusiasm which comes from the first love then what comes is that serious danger to Christians: warmth. For lukewarm Christians stay there, idle; and yes, they are Christians, but they have forgotten that first love, they have lost their enthusiasm. What’s more, lukewarm Christians have also lost patience, that ‘tolerating’ things in life with the spirit of Jesus’ love; that ‘tolerating’, that bearing difficulties “on one’s shoulders’. This is why, lukewarm Christians, the poor souls, are in grave danger.
In this regard, there are two images which really strike me, and of which each person should be warned: “But you are lukewarm, be careful!”. St Peter, in his Second Letter, uses the image of the dog who turns back to its own vomit. And this image is distasteful, however, it is a fitting example of “the lukewarm Christian” who returns to that “first love, as if that love never existed”.
The second image, also unpleasant is the one that Jesus recounts of the person who wants to follow Him, and does follow Him, and then He casts out the demon. This demon, who has gone out of the man, passes through the desert with the intention of returning to that man, to that woman from which he came. And when he returns, he finds the house in order, clean and nice. Thus he gets angry, goes, looks for seven demons worse than him and returns to take possession of that house. And in this way the person isn’t wounded, because it involves ‘polite’ demons: who even knock on the door to come in, but they do come in. The same happens to a lukewarm Christian who doesn’t know who is knocking at the door and opens it, even saying come in! But, Jesus says, in the end, that soul ends up even worse than before.
These two images of the warmth of the Christian make us think. This way we must never forget our first love; rather, we should always remember that first love. This is why the answer to the question how do I go on? is: “with hope”. That is what the Letter to the Hebrews says to every Christian: For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry.
And thus there are two parameters available to the Christian: “memory and hope”. Ultimately it means reclaiming the memory so as not to lose that most beautiful experience of the first love which nourishes our hope. So often, hope is dark. But the Christian goes forward. He believes. He goes, for he knows that hope does not disappoint, to find Jesus.
These two parameters are the very framework in which we are able to protect this salvation of the righteous which comes from the Lord, this gift of the Lord. We must protect this salvation, for the little mustard seed to grow and bear its fruit. However, many Christians, cause pain, create heartache — so many Christians!. They are the many Christians who go halfway and fail along this path toward the encounter with Jesus. Even if the journey began with the encounter with Jesus, in the middle of the road, they have lost the memory of that first love and have no hope.
Ask the Lord for the grace to protect the present, the gift of salvation. It is a gift that each Christian must protect on this journey that always reclaims the memory and hope. But, He alone can give us this grace: may He send us the Holy Spirit to walk on this path.
Dear brothers and sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel is composed of two very brief parables: that of the seed that sprouts and grows on its own, and that of the mustard seed (cf. Mk 4:26-34). Through these images taken from the rural world, Jesus presents the efficacy of the Word of God and the requirements of his Kingdom, showing the reasons for our hope and our commitment in history.
In the first parable, attention is placed on the fact that the seed scattered on the ground (v. 26) takes root and develops on its own, regardless of whether the farmer sleeps or keeps watch. He is confident in the inner power of the seed itself and in the fertility of the soil. In the language of the Gospel, the seed is the symbol of the Word of God, whose fruitfulness is recalled in this parable. As the humble seed grows in the earth, so too does the Word by the power of God work in the hearts of those who listen to it. God has entrusted his Word to our earth, that is to each one of us with our concrete humanity. We can be confident because the Word of God is a creative word, destined to become the “full grain in the ear” (v. 28). This Word, if accepted, certainly bears fruit, for God Himself makes it sprout and grow in ways that we cannot always verify or understand. (cf. v. 27). All this tells us that it is always God, it is always God who makes his Kingdom grow. That is why we fervently pray “thy Kingdom come”. It is He who makes it grow. Man is his humble collaborator, who contemplates and rejoices in divine creative action and waits patiently for its fruits.
The Word of God makes things grow, it gives life. And here, I would like to remind you once again, of the importance of having the Gospel, the Bible, close at hand. A small Gospel in your purse, in your pocket and to nourish yourselves every day with this living Word of God. Read a passage from the Gospel every day, a passage from the Bible. Please don’t ever forget this. Because this is the power that makes the life of the Kingdom of God sprout within us.
The second parable uses the image of the mustard seed. Despite being the smallest of all the seeds, it is full of life and grows until it becomes “the greatest of all shrubs” (Mk 4:32). And thus is the Kingdom of God: a humanly small and seemingly irrelevant reality. To become a part of it, one must be poor of heart; not trusting in their own abilities, but in the power of the love of God; not acting to be important in the eyes of the world, but precious in the eyes of God, who prefers the simple and the humble. When we live like this, the strength of Christ bursts through us and transforms what is small and modest into a reality that leavens the entire mass of the world and of history.
An important lesson comes to us from these two parables: God’s Kingdom requires our cooperation, but it is above all the initiative and gift of the Lord. Our weak effort, seemingly small before the complexity of the problems of the world, when integrated with God’s effort, fears no difficulty. The victory of the Lord is certain: his love will make every seed of goodness present on the ground sprout and grow. This opens us up to trust and hope, despite the tragedies, the injustices, the sufferings that we encounter. The seed of goodness and peace sprouts and develops, because the merciful love of God makes it ripen.
May the Holy Virgin, who like “fertile ground” received the seed of the divine Word, sustain us in this hope which never disappoints.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Afternoon!
The two parables, which the Liturgy presents us today, – the two parables – are inspired precisely by ordinary life and reveal the attentive and deep gaze of Jesus, who observes reality and, through small everyday images, opens the windows on the mystery of God and on human history. Jesus spoke in a way that was easy to understand; he spoke with images of reality, of everyday life. In this way, he teaches us that even everyday things, which at times all seem the same and which we carry on with distraction or tiredness, are inhabited by God’s hidden presence; that is, they have meaning. So, we too need attentive eyes, to be able “to seek and find God in all things."
Today Jesus compares the Kingdom of God, that is, his presence that dwells in the heart of things and of the world, to the mustard seed, that is, to the smallest seed there is: it is really tiny. Yet, cast upon the ground, it grows until becoming the tallest tree (cf. Mk 4:31-32). This is what God does. At times, the din of the world, along with the many activities that fill our days, prevent us from stopping and seeing how the Lord is conducting history. Yet – the Gospel assures us – God is at work, like a good little seed that silently and slowly germinates. And, little by little, it becomes a lush tree, which gives life and rest to everyone. The seed of our good works too can seem like a small thing, yet all that is good pertains to God, and thus it humbly, slowly bears fruit. Good, let us remember, always grows in a humble way, in a hidden, often invisible way.
Dear brothers and sisters, with this parable Jesus wants to instil us with confidence. In so many of life’s situations, indeed, it may happen that we get discouraged, because we see the weakness of good as compared to the apparent power of evil. And we may allow ourselves to be paralyzed by doubt when we find we are working hard but the results are not achieved, and things seem never to change. The Gospel asks us to take a fresh look at ourselves and at reality; it asks us to have bigger eyes, that are able to see further, especially beyond appearances, in order to discover the presence of God who as humble love is always at work in the soil of our life and that of history. This is our confidence, this is what gives us the strength to go forward every day, patiently, sowing the good that will bear fruit.
How important this attitude also is for coming out of the pandemic well! To cultivate the confidence of being in God’s hands and at the same time for all of us to commit ourselves to rebuilding and starting up again, with patience and perseverance.
In the Church too, weeds of doubt can take root, especially when we witness the crisis of faith and the failure of different projects and initiatives. But let us never forget that the results of sowing do not depend our abilities: they depend on the action of God. It is up to us to sow, and sow with love, with dedication and with patience. But the force of the seed is divine. Jesus explains it in today’s other parable: the farmer sows the seed and then does not realize how it bears fruit, because it is the seed itself that grows spontaneously, day and night, when he least expects it (cf. vv. 26-29). With God in the most infertile soil there is always the hope of new sprouts.
May Mary Most Holy, the Lord’s humble handmaid, teach us to see the greatness of God who works in the little things and to overcome the temptation of discouragement. Let us trust in Him every day!
“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).
Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on Him, He saves His disciples from their discouragement.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our pre-packaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.
The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.
Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In today’s liturgy the episode of the storm calmed by Jesus (Mk 4:35-41) is told. The boat on which the disciples are crossing the lake is beaten by the wind and waves and they are afraid they will sink. Jesus is with them on the boat, yet he is in the stern asleep on the cushion. The disciples, filled with fear, cry out to him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38).
And quite often we too, beaten by the trials of life, have cried out to the Lord: “Why do you remain silent and do nothing for me?”. Especially when it seems we are sinking, because of love or the project in which we have laid great hopes disappears; or when we are at the mercy of the unrelenting waves of anxiety; or when we feel we are drowning in problems or lost in the middle of the sea of life, with no course and no harbour. Or even, in the moments in which the strength to go forward fails us, because we have no job, or an unexpected diagnosis makes us fear for our health or that of a loved one. There are many moments in which we feel we are in a storm; we feel we are almost done in.
In these situations and in many others, we too feel suffocated by fear and, like the disciples, risk losing sight of the most important thing. On the boat, in fact, even if he is sleeping, Jesus is there, and he shares with his own all that is happening. His slumber, on the one hand surprises us, yet on the other it puts us to the test. The Lord is there, present; indeed, he waits – so to speak – for us to engage him, to invoke him, to put him at the centre of what we are experiencing. His slumber causes us to wake up. Because to be disciples of Jesus it is not enough to believe God is there, that he exists, but we must put ourselves out there with him; we must also raise our voice with him. Listen to this: we must cry out to him. Prayer, many times, is a cry: “Lord, save me!”. I was watching, on TV the programme “In his image”, today, the Day of Refugees, many who come in large boats and at the moment of drowning cry out: “Save us!”. In our life too the same thing happens: “Lord, save us!”, and prayer becomes a cry.
Today we can ask ourselves: what are the winds that beat against my life? What are the waves that hinder my navigation, and put my spiritual life, my family life, even my mental health in danger? Let us say all this to Jesus; let us tell him everything. He wants this; he wants us to grab hold of him to find shelter from the unexpected waves of life. The Gospel recounts that the disciples approach Jesus, wake him and speak to him (cf. v. 38). This is the beginning of our faith: to recognize that alone we are unable to stay afloat; that we need Jesus like sailors need the stars to find their course. Faith begins from believing that we are not enough in ourselves, from feeling in need of God. When we overcome the temptation to close ourselves off, when we overcome the false religiosity that does not want to disturb God, when we cry out to him, he can work wonders in us. It is the gentle and extraordinary power of prayer, which works miracles.
Jesus, begged by the disciples, calms the wind and waves. And he asks them a question, a question which also pertains to us: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40). The disciples were gripped with fear, because they were focused on the waves more than looking at Jesus. And fear leads us to look at the difficulties, the awful problems and not to look at the Lord, who many times is sleeping. It is this way for us too: how often we remain fixated on problems rather than going to the Lord and casting our concerns into him! How often we leave the Lord in a corner, at the bottom of the boat of life, to wake him only in a moment of need! Today, let us ask for the grace of a faith that never tires of seeking the Lord, of knocking at the door of his Heart. May the Virgin Mary, who in her life never stopped trusting in God, reawaken in us the basic need of entrusting ourselves to him each day.
Hebrews 12:1-4; the author of the Letter to the Hebrews refers to the memory of the first days after conversion, after the encounter with Jesus, and also refers to the memory of our fathers: “how much they suffered when they were on the journey”. The author, looking to these fathers says: we too ‘are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses’. Thus, it is the testimony of our ancestors that he recalls. And he also recalls our experience, when we were so happy in the first encounter with Jesus. This is the memory, which we spoke about as a point of reference for Christian life.
But today, the author of the letter speaks about another point of reference, namely, hope. And he tells us that we must have the courage to go forward: let us persevere in running the race that lies before us. Then he says what is the very core of hope: ‘keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus’”. This is the point: if we don’t keep our eyes fixed on Jesus it is difficult for us to have hope. We can perhaps be optimistic, be positive, but hope?
After all, hope is learned only by looking to Jesus, contemplating Jesus; we learn through contemplative prayer. I can ask you: how do you pray? Someone, he said, might respond: “Father, I say the prayers I learned as a child”. Okay, this is good. Someone else might add: “I pray the rosary too, every day!” It’s good to pray the rosary every day. And finally, one might say: “I also talk with the Lord, when I have a problem, or with Our Lady or with the saints...”. And “this is good” too.
Do you pray in contemplation? The question might throw us a curve, and someone might ask: “What is this, Father? What is this prayer? Where can we buy it? How do we do it?”. It can be done only with the Gospel in hand. Basically, you pick up the Gospel, select a passage, read it once, read it twice; imagine, as if you see what is happening, and contemplate Jesus.
Mark 5:21-43 teaches us many beautiful things. How do I contemplate with today’s Gospel? I see that Jesus was in the midst of the crowd, there was a great crowd around Him. The word ‘crowd’ is used five times this passage. But doesn’t Jesus rest? I can imagine: always with the crowd! Most of Jesus’ life is spent on the street, with the crowd. Doesn’t He rest? Yes, once: the Gospel says that He slept on the boat, but the storm came and the disciples woke Him. Jesus was constantly among the people.
For this reason, we look to Jesus this way, I contemplate Jesus this way, I imagine Jesus this way. And I say to Jesus whatever comes to my mind to say to Him.
Then, in the midst of the crowd, there was that sick woman, and Jesus was aware. But how did Jesus, in the middle of so many people, realize that a woman had touched Him? And, indeed, He asked directly: “Who touched me?”. The disciples, in return, pointed out to Jesus: “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”. The question, is that Jesus not only understands the crowd, feels the crowd, but He hears the beating of each one of our hearts, of each one of us: He cares for all and for each one, always!
The same situation happens again when the ruler of the Synagogue approaches Jesus to tell Him about his gravely ill little daughter. And He leaves everything to tend to this one: Jesus in the great and in the small, always! Then, we can go on and see that He arrives at the house, He sees that tumult, those women who were called to mourn over the dead body, wailing, weeping. But Jesus says: “Don’t worry: she’s sleeping!”. And in response to these words, some even begin to scoff at Him. However, He stays quiet and with his patience he manages to bear this situation, to avoid responding to those who mock Him.
The Gospel account culminates with the little girl’s resurrection. And Jesus, rather than saying: ‘Praised be God!’, says to them: ‘Please, give her something to eat’. For Jesus always has the fine details in front of Him.
What I did with this Gospel is contemplative prayer: to pick up the Gospel, read and imagine myself in the scene, to imagine what’s happening and speak with Jesus about what comes from my heart. And with this, we allow hope to grow, because we have our eyes fixed on Jesus. pray in contemplation. And even if we have many commitments, we can always find the time, even 15 minutes at home: Pick up the Gospel, a short passage, imagine what is happening and talk to Jesus about it. This way your eyes will be fixed on Jesus, and not so much on soap operas, for example: your ears will be fixed on the words of Jesus and not so much on the neighbours’ gossip.
Contemplative prayer helps us to hope and teaches us to live from the substance of the Gospel. And this is why we must always pray: say prayers, pray the rosary, speak with the Lord, but also carry out this contemplative prayer in order to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. From here comes hope. And also this way, our Christian life moves within that framework, between memory and hope: the memory of the entire past journey, the memory of so many graces received from the Lord; and hope, looking to the Lord, who is the only One who can give me hope. And to look to the Lord, to know the Lord, we pick up the Gospel and we pray in contemplation.
Today for example find 10 minutes, 15 minutes and no more: read the Gospel, imagine and speak with Jesus. And nothing more. And in this way, your knowledge of Jesus will be greater and your hope will grow. Don’t forget, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus. This is why we call it “contemplative prayer”.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Afternoon!
Today in the Gospel (cf. Mk 5:21-43) Jesus encounters our two most dramatic situations, death and disease. He frees two people from them: a little girl, who dies just as her father has gone to ask Jesus’ help; and a woman, who has blood loss for many years. Jesus lets himself be touched by our suffering and our death, and he works two signs of healing to tell us that neither suffering nor death have the last word. He tells us that death is not the end. He defeats this enemy, from which alone we cannot free ourselves.
However, in this period in which illness is still at the centre of the news, we will focus on the other sign, the healing of the woman. More than her health, her affectionate relationships were compromised. Why? She had blood loss and therefore, according to the mindset of the time, she was deemed impure. She was a marginalized woman; she could not have stable relationships; she could not have a husband; she could not have a family, and could not have normal social relationships, because she was “impure”, an illness that rendered her “impure”. She lived alone, with a wounded heart. What is the greatest illness of life? Tuberculosis? The pandemic? No. The greatest illness of life is a lack of love; it is not being able to love. This poor woman was sick, yes, with blood loss, but as a result, with a lack of love, because she could not be with others socially. And the healing that counts the most is that of love. But how do we find it? We can think of our own ability to love: are we sick or we in good health? If our ability to love is not well. Jesus is able to heal us.
The story of this nameless woman – let us call her as such, “the nameless woman” –, in whom we can all see ourselves, is exemplary. The text says that she had tried many treatments, “had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (v. 26). We too, how often do we throw ourselves into mistaken remedies to sate our lack of love? We think that success and money make us happy, but love cannot be bought; it is free. We hide in the virtual, but love is tangible. We do not accept ourselves as we are and we hide behind external facades, but love is not an appearance. We look for solutions from magicians and from gurus, to then find ourselves without money and without peace, like that woman. Finally, she chooses Jesus and throws herself into the crowd to touch Jesus’ garment. In other words, that woman seeks direct contact, physical contact with Jesus. Especially in this time, we understand how important contact and relationships are. The same counts with Jesus: at times we are content to observe some precepts and to repeat prayers – many times, like parrots –, but the Lord waits for us to encounter him, to open our hearts to him, for us, like the woman, to touch his garment in order to heal. Because, by becoming intimate with Jesus, we are healed in our affectionate relationships.
Jesus wants this. In fact, we read that, even while pressed by the crowd, He looks around to find who touched Him. The disciples were saying: “But you see the crowd pressing around you…”. No: “Who touched me?”. This is Jesus’ gaze: there are many people, but He goes in search of a face and a heart full of faith. Jesus does not look at the whole, like we do, but he looks at the individual. He does not stop at the wounds and mistakes of the past, but goes beyond sins and prejudices. We all have a history, and each of us, in our secret, knows well the ugly matters of our history. But Jesus looks at it in order to heal it. We, instead, like to look at the ugly matters of others. How often when we speak, do we fall into gossiping, which is speaking ill of others, “flaying” others. But look: what horizon of life is this? Not like Jesus, who always looks at how to save us; he looks at today; good will is not the ugly history that we have. Jesus goes beyond sins. Jesus goes beyond prejudices. Jesus does not stop at appearances, but reaches the heart. And He heals precisely her, who had been rejected by everyone, an impure woman. He tenderly calls her “daughter” (v. 34) – Jesus’ style was closeness, compassion and tenderness: “Daughter…” – and he praises her faith, restoring her self-confidence.
Sister, brother, you are here, let Jesus look at and heal your heart. I too have to do this: let Jesus look at my heart and heal it. And if you have already felt His tender gaze upon you, imitate Him, and do as He does. Look around: you will see that many people who live beside you feel wounded and alone; they need to feel loved: take the step. Jesus asks you for a gaze that does not stop at the outward appearance, but that goes to the heart: a gaze not judgmental, but welcoming – let us stop judging others – Jesus asks us for a non- judgmental gaze. Because love alone heals life. May Our Lady, Consoler of the suffering, help us to bring a caress to those with wounded hearts whom we meet on our journey. And do not judge; do not judge the personal, social reality of others. God loves everyone! Do not judge; let others live and try to approach them with love.
The Gospel tells of how Jesus sends his disciples into the world to bring healing, just as He Himself came into the world to heal. To heal the root of sin in us, the original sin.
Healing is a bit like creating from anew. Jesus recreated us from the root and then allowed us to move forward with his teaching, with his doctrine, a doctrine that heals.
But, the first requisite is that there be conversion. Conversion is the first step of healing in the sense that it opens the heart so that the Word of God may enter.
If someone is sick and refuses to go to the doctor he will not be healed.
As Christians, we may do many good things, but if our hearts our closed, it’s only a façade.
In order to proclaim so that people may convert, one requires authority that comes from being like Jesus.
In the Gospel Jesus instructs the Apostles to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money in their belts. In essence, poverty.
The apostle must be a pastor who does not seek sheep's milk, who does not seek sheep's wool. As expressed by Saint Augustine the shepherd who seeks milk seeks money, and the shepherd who seeks wool likes to dress with vanity.
I invite Christians to follow a path of poverty, humility, meekness. Jesus told the Apostles “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet”, but do so with meekness and humility.
If an apostle, an envoy, one of us goes, with his nose in the air, believing himself superior to the others or because of self-interest looking for some human interest he will never heal anyone, he will never succeed in opening anyone's heart, because his word will have no authority.
After having exhorted to conversion, the Twelve drove out many demons and they could do so because they had the authority to say “This is a demon! This is a sin.”
This authority is not the authority of someone who speaks down to people, but of someone who is interested in people. Demons flee before humility, before the power of Christ’s name with which the apostle carries out his mission, because demons cannot bear that sins be healed.
The Apostles also anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. The anointing is the caress of God, so all apostles must learn this wisdom of God’s caresses.
All Christians can bring healing, not only priests and bishops: “each of us has the power to heal his brother or sister.”
We all need to be healed, and we can all heal others if we are humble and meek: with a good word, with patience, with a glance.
John knew he had to diminish and annihilate himself to the point of death because Jesus must grow. The forerunner of Christ denied he was the Messiah but showed Jesus to His disciples and gradually faded away until he was extinguished and beheaded in the dark and lonely cell of the prison.
Martyrdom is a service and mystery which entails the very great gift of life. He met a violent end because of human attitudes that lead to taking away the life of a Christian, of an honest person and make him a martyr.
At first, Herod believed John was a prophet, listened to him willingly and protected him to a certain extent but held him in prison. He was undecided because John reproached him for the sin of adultery.
The king heard God’s voice asking him to change his life but he could not because he was corrupt, and it is very difficult to get out of corruption. Herod could not come out of the tangle as he tried to make diplomatic balances between his adulterous life and many injustices and the awareness of the holiness of the prophet whom he decapitated.
The Gospel says that Herodias hated John because he spoke clearly. Hatred is “Satan’s breath”, it is very powerful, capable of doing everything excepting loving. The devil’s 'love' is hatred and Herodias had the satanic spirit of hatred that destroys.
The daughter of Herodias was a good dancer and a delight to the diners and Herod who promised the girl everything she asked, just like Satan tempted Jesus in the desert.
Behind these characters there was Satan, who sowed hatred in the woman, vanity in the girl and corruption in the king.
The precursor of Christ, the greatest man born of a woman, as Jesus described him, ended up alone, in a dark prison cell, the victim of the whim of a vain dancer, the hatred of a diabolical woman and the corruption of a vacillating king. John is a martyr who allowed himself to diminish in order to give way to the Messiah.
John died in the cell, in anonymity, like so many of our martyrs. This is a great witness, of a great man, of a great saint.
Life has value only in giving it, in giving it in love, in truth, in giving it to others, in daily life, in the family.
If someone preserves life for himself, guards it like the king in his corruption or the woman with her hatred, or the daughter with her vanity, a little like an adolescent, unknowingly, life dies and withers, becoming useless.
Let us all to think about the 4 characters in the Gospel and open our hearts so that the Lord may speak to us about this.
In these days the key word in the liturgy is ‘manifestation’: the Son of God manifests Himself in the Feast of the Epiphany, to the Gentiles; in Baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends upon Him; in the wedding at Cana, when he performs the miracle of changing water into wine. Indeed, these are the three signs that the liturgy brings in these days in order to speak to us about the manifestation of God: God makes Himself known. But the question is this: how can we know God? (1 Jn 4:7-10) The theme that the Apostle John takes up in the First Reading: knowledge of God. What does it mean to know God? How can one know God?
A first reply would be: one can know God through reason. But really, can I know God through reason? Somewhat, yes. Indeed, through my intellect, reasoning, looking at worldly things, one can begin to understand that there is a God and the existence of God can be understood in some of God’s personality traits. However, this is insufficient for knowing God, in so far as God is known totally in the encounter with Him, and reason alone does not suffice for the encounter, something more is needed: reason helps you to reach a certain point, then He accompanies you onward.
In his letter, John clearly states what God is: God is love. For this reason, only on the path of love can you know God. Of course, reasonable love, accompanied by reason, but love. Perhaps one could ask at this point how can I love whom I don’t know?. The answer is clear: “Love those whom you have near”. In fact, this is the doctrine of two commandments: the most important one is to love God, for He is love. The second is to love your neighbour, but to get to the first, we have to climb the steps of the second. In a word, through love of our neighbour, we come to know God, who is love and only by loving reasonably, but by loving, we can reach this love.
John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God”. But, you cannot love if God doesn’t give the love, doesn’t generate this love for you because he who loves knows God. On the contrary, St John writes, “he who does not love does not know God; for God is love”. This is not “soap opera love”, but rather sound, strong love, an eternal love that manifests itself — these days the word is ‘manifest’ — in his Son who has come to save us. It is, therefore, a concrete love, a love of works and not of words. It is here, then, that it takes a lifetime to know God: a journey, a journey of love, of knowledge, of love for our neighbour, of love for those who hate us, of love for all.
Jesus himself gave us the example of love. And, indeed, in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his Son to be the victim of expiation for our sins. This is why we are able to contemplate the love of God in the person of Jesus. And by doing what Jesus taught us about love for our neighbour, we reach — step by step — the love of God, knowledge of God who is love.
The Apostle John, in his letter, goes a little ahead when he states that in this is love and not that we loved God, but that He loved us first: God precedes us in love. In fact, when I meet God in prayer, I feel that God loved me before I began to seek Him. Yes, He is always first, He waits for us, He calls us. And when we arrive, He is there!
(Jer 1:11-12) How beautiful were God’s words to Jeremiah: ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ — ‘a rod of almond, Lord’ — ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’. The flower of the almond tree is the first to blossom in spring, the first. This signifies that the Lord is there, watching over, and He is always the first, like the almond tree, He loves us first. And we, too, will always have this surprise: when we draw near to God through works of charity, through prayer, in Communion, in the Word of God, we find that He is there, first, waiting for us, this is how He loves us. And just like the flower of the almond tree, He is the first. Truly, that verse from Jeremiah tells us so much.
A similar proposal can be gleaned from the episode presented in today’s Reading from the Gospel according to Mark (6:34-44), which first says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd of people, it is the love of Jesus: He saw a large crowd, like sheep without a shepherd, confused. But today as well, there are so many confused people in our cities, in our countries: so many people.
When Jesus saw these confused people He was moved: He began to teach them the doctrine, the matters of God and the people heard Him, listened to Him very closely because the Lord was good at speaking, He spoke to the heart.
Then, Mark recounts in his Gospel that, realizing that those 5,000 people hadn’t eaten, Jesus asks his disciples to see to it. Thus, Christ is first to go meet with the people. Perhaps on their part, the disciples got somewhat upset, felt annoyed, and their response was harsh: ‘shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?’. Thus, God’s love was first; the disciples hadn’t understood. But God’s love is really like this: He is always waiting for us, He always surprises us. It is the Father, our Father who loves us so much, who is always ready to forgive us, always. And not once, but 70 times seven. Always!. Indeed, like a Father full of love. Therefore, in order to know this God who is love, we must climb the steps of love for our neighbour, by works of charity, by the acts of mercy that our Lord has taught us.
Lord, in these days in which the Church makes us ponder the manifestation of God, grant us the grace to know Him on the path of love.
The Apostle John, continues to speak to the early Christians about the two commandments that Jesus taught us: to love God and love our neighbour. In the passage from the First Letter of John proposed in the day’s Liturgy (4:7-10), we read: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God”. This word, ‘love’, is a word that is often used but, when you use it, you don’t know exactly what it means. What then, is love? Sometimes, we think of the love in soap operas: no, that doesn’t seem like love. Or love might seem like enthusiasm for a person, which then burns out.
The real question then, is: “where does true love come from?”. John writes: “he who loves is born of God”, for “God is love”. The Apostle does not say: “all love is God”. He says instead: “God is love”. John continues, saying that “God loved us so much that he ‘sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him’”. Thus, God gives his life in Jesus, in order to give us life. Love is beautiful, to love is beautiful, and in heaven there will be only love, charity. So says Paul. And if love is beautiful, one is always strengthened and grows in the gift of one’s own life: one grows by giving of oneself to others.
John 4: 10 - “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us”. This confirms that God loved us first; he gave us life out of love, he gave life and his Son out of love. Therefore, when we find God, there is always a surprise: it is first he who waits for us; it is he who finds us.
Mark (6:34-44). Those people followed him to listen to him, because he spoke like one with authority, not like the scribes. He looked at those people and went further. Precisely because he loved, the Gospel says, ‘he had compassion on them’, which is not the same as having pity. The correct word is compassion: love led him to suffer with them, to be involved in the people’s life. And, the Lord is always there, loving first: he is waiting for us, he is the surprise.
This is precisely what happens, to Andrew when he goes to Peter to tell him: ‘We have found the Messiah, come!’. Peter goes, and Jesus looks at him and says to him: ‘Are you Simon? You shall be Peter’. He was waiting for him with a mission. [Jesus] loved him first.
The same happens when Zacchaeus, who was small, climbs the tree to better see Jesus, who passes by, lifts his eyes and says: ‘Zacchaeus, come down, I want to go to supper at your house’. Zacchaeus, who wanted to meet Jesus, realizes that Jesus had been waiting for him.
Nathanael who, a bit sceptical, goes to see the one whom they say is the Messiah. Jesus says to him: “when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”. So, God always loves first. The idea is also recalled in the parable of the Prodigal Son: when the son — who had spent all of his father’s inheritance on vices — returned home, he realized that his father had been waiting for him. God is always waiting for us first. Before us, always. And when the other son didn’t want to come to the feast, because he did not understand his father’s attitude, his father went to find him. And God is this way with us: he loves us first, always.
Thus, we can see in the Gospel how God loves: when we have something in our heart and we want to ask the Lord’s forgiveness, it is he who is waiting for us, to grant forgiveness.
This Year of Mercy, is also in part so that we may know that the Lord is awaiting us, each of us. He is waiting to embrace us, nothing more, in order to say: ‘Son, daughter, I love you. I let my Son be crucified for you; this is the value of my love; this is the gift of love’.
The Lord is waiting for me, the Lord wants me to open the door of my heart, because he is there waiting to enter. It is unconditional.
Of course, someone might say: “Father, no, no, I would like to, but I have so many ugly things inside!”. It is better! Better! Because he is waiting for you, just as you are, not as they tell you that one should be. You should be as you are. This is how he loves you, he embraces you, kisses you, forgives you.
Go with haste to the Lord and say: “Lord, you know that I love you”. Or if I don’t feel like it, to say this: ‘Lord, you know that I would like to love you, but I am such a sinful man, such a sinful woman”. Do so with the certainty that he will do as the father did with the Prodigal Son who spent all his money on vices. I will not let you finish your speech, I will silence you with an embrace: the embrace of God’s love.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Gospel passage (Mk 6:30-34) tells us that after their first mission, the Apostles returned to Jesus and told him “all that they had done and taught” (v. 30). After the experience of the mission, which was undoubtedly thrilling but also arduous, they needed to rest. And understanding this well, Jesus wished to give them some relief and said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest for a while” (v. 31). But Jesus’ intention could not be fulfilled this time because the crowd, guessing the location of the lonely place where he would take the disciples by boat, ran there and got there ahead of them.
The same can happen today. At times we are not able to complete our projects because something urgent and unexpected occurs, disrupting our plans and [this] requires flexibility and being available to the needs of others.
In these situations, we are called to imitate what Jesus did: “As he landed he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (v. 34). With this brief sentence, the Evangelist offers us a flash of singular intensity, taking a snapshot of the eyes of the divine Master and his teaching. Let us observe the three verbs in this frame: to see, to have compassion, to teach. We can call them the Shepherd’s verbs. The gaze of Jesus is not a neutral one — or worse, a cold and detached one because Jesus always looks with the eyes of the heart. And his heart is so tender and filled with compassion, that he is able to understand even the most hidden needs of people. Moreover, his compassion does not simply suggest an emotional response toward people in situations of distress. It is much more. It is God’s attitude and predisposition toward mankind and its history. Jesus appears as the fulfilment of God’s concern and care for his people.
Because Jesus was moved when he saw all those people in need of guidance and help, we would now expect him to perform some miracles. Instead, he began teaching them many things. This is the first bread that the Messiah offers to the starving and lost crowd; the bread of the Word. We all need the Word of truth to guide and illuminate our way. Without the truth which is Christ himself, it is not possible to find the right direction in life. When we distance ourselves from Jesus and his love, we become lost and life is transformed into disappointment and dissatisfaction. With Jesus by our side, we can proceed with confidence and overcome all trials, advancing in love toward God and neighbour. Jesus gave himself for others, thus becoming an example of love and service for each of us.
May Mary Most Holy help us to bear the problems, suffering and difficulties of our neighbours with an attitude of sharing and service.
The Apostle John explains how God manifests His love in us. "Let us love one another, because love is of God,” John writes.
This is the mystery of love: “God loved us first. He took the first step.” God loved us even though we don’t know how to love and need God’s caresses in order to love.
This first step God takes is His Son. He sent Him to save us and to give meaning to our lives and to renew and recreate us.
Jesus fed the crowd out of compassion.
God’s heart, Jesus’ heart, was moved when he saw these people, and he could not remain indifferent. Love is restless. Love does not tolerate indifference; love is compassionate. But love means putting your heart on the line for others; it means showing mercy.
Jesus taught them and the people many things, but they grew bored, because Jesus always said the same things.
As Jesus teaches with love and compassion, maybe they began to talk amongst themselves. They start to check their watches, saying “It’s getting late.”
Mark 6: “But Master, this is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” They basically wanted the people to work it out themselves. But we can be sure that they surely had enough bread for themselves, and they wanted to keep it. This is indifference.
The disciples were not interested in the people. Jesus was interested, because he cared for them. They weren’t evil, just indifferent. They didn’t know what it meant to love. They didn’t know how to show compassion. They didn’t know what indifference was. They had to sin, betray the Master, and abandon him in order to understand the core of compassion and mercy. And Jesus’ response cuts deep: ‘Give them some food yourselves.’ Take their plight upon yourselves. This is the struggle between the compassion of Jesus and indifference, which is always repeated throughout history. Many people who are good, but don’t understand the needs of others, are incapable of compassion. They are good people, maybe because the love of God has not entered into their heart or they have not let it enter.
There is a photo hung on the wall of the Office of Papal Charities. It was a picture taken by a local man who offered it to the Papal Almoner. Daniel Garofani, now a photographer for the Osservatore Romano, took the photo after distributing food with Cardinal Krajewski to homeless people. It shows well-dressed people leaving a restaurant in Rome as a homeless woman lifts her hand to beg for alms. The picture was taken just as the people looked away, so that their gaze would not meet that of the homeless woman. This is the culture of indifference. That’s what the Apostles did.
God’s love always comes first and is compassionate and merciful. It is true that the opposite of love is hate, but that many people are not aware of a conscious hate.
The more-common opposite of the love of God – of God’s compassion – is indifference. ‘I’m satisfied; I lack nothing. I have everything. I’ve assured my place in this life and the next, since I go to Mass every Sunday. I’m a good Christian. But leaving the restaurant, I look the other way.’ Let’s reflect on this: Confronted with God who takes the first step, is compassionate, and is merciful, many times our attitude is indifference. Let us pray to the Lord that He heal humanity, starting with us. May my heart be healed from the sickness of the culture of indifference.
At the heart of the Gospel we have just heard (Mk 6:30-37) is the “compassion” of Jesus (cf. v. 34). Compassion is a key word in the Gospel. It is written in Christ’s heart; it is forever written in the heart of God.
In the Gospels, we often see Jesus’ compassion for those who are suffering. The more we read, the more we contemplate, the more we come to realize that the Lord’s compassion is not an occasional, sporadic emotion, but is steadfast and indeed seems to be the attitude of his heart, in which God’s mercy is made incarnate.
Mark, for example, tells us that when Jesus first passed through Galilee preaching and casting out demons, “a leper came to him begging him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean’. Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’” (1:40-42). In this gesture and with these words, we see the mission of Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind. He is a compassionate Redeemer. He incarnates God’s will to purify men and women afflicted by the scourge of sin; he is “the outstretched hand of God”, who touches our sickly flesh and accomplishes this work by bridging the chasm of separation.
Jesus goes out in search of the outcast, those without hope. People like the man paralyzed for thirty-eight years who lay beside the pool of Bethzatha, waiting in vain for someone to bring him to the waters (cf. Jn 5:1-9).
This compassion did not appear suddenly at one moment in the history of salvation. No, it was always there in God, impressed on his paternal heart. Let us think about the account of the calling of Moses, for example, when God spoke from the burning bush and said: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry… indeed, I know their sufferings” (Ex 3:7). This is the compassion of the Father!
God’s love for his people is drenched with compassion, to the extent that, in this covenant relationship, what is divine is compassionate, while, sad to say, it appears that what is human is so often lacking in compassion. God himself says so: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? ... My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender… For I am God and no mortal, the holy one in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos 11:8-9).
Jesus’ disciples often show themselves lacking compassion, as in this case, when they are faced with the problem of having to feed the crowds. In effect, they say: “Let them worry about it themselves…” This is a common attitude among us human beings, even those of us who are religious persons or even religious “professionals”. We wash our hands of it. The position we occupy is not enough to make us compassionate, as we see in the conduct of the priest and Levite who, seeing a dying man on the side of the road, pass to the other side (cf. Lk 10:31-32). They would have thought: “It’s not up to me”. There are always excuses and justifications for looking the other way. And when a man of the Church becomes a mere functionary, the result is even more sour. There are always justifications; at times they are even codified and give rise to “institutional disregard”, as was the case with lepers: “Of course, they have to keep their distance; that is the right thing to do”. That was the way of thinking and it still is. This all too human attitude also generates structures lacking compassion.
At this point we can ask ourselves: are we conscious – we, in the first place – of having been the object of God’s compassion? In a particular way, I ask this of you, brother cardinals and those about to become cardinals: do you have a lively awareness of always having been preceded and accompanied by his mercy? This awareness was always present in the immaculate heart of the Virgin Mary, who praises God as her “Saviour”, for he “looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant” (Lk 1:48).
I find it helpful to see myself reflected in the passage of Ezekiel 16 that speaks of God’s love for Jerusalem. It concludes with the words: “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done” (Ezek 16:62-63). Or again, in that other prophecy of Hosea: “I will bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her… There shall she respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt (2:14-15). We can ask ourselves: Do I feel God’s compassion towards me? Do I sense in me the conviction of being a son of compassion?
Do we have a lively awareness of this compassion that God feels for us? It is not something optional, or a kind of “evangelical counsel”. No, it is essential. Unless I feel that I am the object of God’s compassion, I cannot understand his love. This is not a reality that can be explained. Either I feel it or I don’t. If I don’t feel it, how can I share it, bear witness to it, bestow it on others? Perhaps, I am not able to do this. Concretely: am I compassionate towards this or that brother or sister, that bishop, that priest? … Or do I constantly tear them down by my attitude of condemnation, of indifference, of looking the other way and actually washing my hands of it?
On this lively awareness also depends, for all of us, the ability to be loyal in our own ministry. This also holds true for you, brother cardinals. The word “compassion” came to my mind right from the moment I started writing my letter to you of 1 September. The readiness of a cardinal to shed his own blood – as signified by the scarlet colour of your robes – is secure if it is rooted in this awareness of having been shown compassion and in the ability to show compassion in turn. Otherwise, one cannot be loyal. So many disloyal actions on the part of ecclesiastics are born of the lack of a sense of having been shown compassion, and by the habit of averting one’s gaze, the habit of indifference. Today, let us implore, through the intercession of the apostle Peter, the grace to have a compassionate heart, in order to be witnesses of the One who loved and still loves us and who has looked with favour upon us, who chose us, consecrated us and sent us to bring to everyone his Gospel of salvation.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
Jesus’s attitude that we observe in the Gospel of today’s liturgy (Mk 6:30-34) helps us to grasp two important aspects of life. The first is rest. To the Apostles returning from the labours of the mission who enthusiastically begin to relate everything they had done, Jesus tenderly directs this invitation to the Apostles: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (v. 31). An invitation to rest.
In so doing, Jesus gives us a valuable teaching. Even though he rejoices on seeing his disciples’ happiness due to the wonders of their preaching, he does not spend time giving them compliments or asking questions. Rather, he is concerned about their physical and interior tiredness. And why does he do this? Because he wants to make them aware of a danger that is always lurking there for us too: the danger to be caught up in the frenzy of doing things, to fall into the trap of activism where what is most important are the results that we obtain and the feeling of being absolute protagonists. How many times this happens in the Church: we are busy, we run around, we think that everything depends on us and, in the end, we risk neglecting Jesus and we always make ourselves the centre. This is why He invites His disciples to rest a bit with Him on their own. It is not only physical rest, but also rest for the heart. For it is not enough to “unplug” ourselves, we need to truly rest. And how do we do this? To do so, we must return to the heart of things: to stop, to remain in silence, to pray so as not to go from the frenzy of work to the frenzy of times of relaxation. Jesus did not neglect the needs of the crowd, but each day, before anything else, he would withdraw in prayer, in silence, in intimacy with the Father. His tender invitation – rest a while – should accompany us. Let us beware, brothers and sisters, of efficiency, let us put a halt to the frantic running around dictated by our agendas. Let us learn how to take a break, to turn off the mobile phone, to contemplate nature, to regenerate ourselves in dialogue with God.
Nonetheless, the Gospel tells us that Jesus and his disciples could not rest as they had wished. The people find them and flock to them from all sides. At which point, he is moved with compassion. This is the second aspect: compassion, which is God’s style. God’s style is to draw near, compassion and tenderness. How many times we find this phrase in the Gospel, in the Bible: “He had compassion on them”. Touched, Jesus dedicates himself to the people and begins to teach again (cf. vv. 33-34). This seems to be a contradiction, but in reality, it is not. In fact, only a heart that does not allow itself to be taken over by hastiness is capable of being moved; that is, of not allowing itself to be caught up in itself and by things to do, and is aware of others, of their wounds, their needs. Compassion is born from contemplation. If we learn to truly rest, we become capable of true compassion; if we cultivate a contemplative outlook, we will carry out our activities without that rapacious attitude of those who want to possess and consume everything; if we stay in touch with the Lord and do not anesthetise the deepest part of ourselves, the things to do will not have the power to cause us to get winded or devour us. We need – listen to this – we need an “ecology of the heart”, that is made up of rest, contemplation and compassion. Let us take advantage of the summer time for this! It will help us quite a bit.
And now, let us pray to the Madonna, who cultivated silence, prayer and contemplation and who is always moved with tender compassion for us, her children.
The Apostle John tells us many times that we should abide in the Lord. And he also tells us that the Lord abides in us. Essentially, St John sums up the Christian life as an abiding, as a mutual indwelling we in God and God in us. Do not abide in the spirit of the world, do not abide in superficiality, do not abide in idolatry, do not abide in vanity. No, abide in the Lord! And the Lord reciprocates this so that he remains in us. Indeed, he first remains in us even though many times we turn him away. Yet if we do, we cannot remain in him.
He who abides in love abides in God and God in him, St John writes further on. In practice, the Apostle tells us how this abiding is the same as abiding in love. And that it is beautiful to hear this said about love. Yet that the love of which John speaks is not the love of which soap operas are made! No, it is something else!.
In fact, Christian love always possesses one quality: concreteness. Christian love is concrete. Jesus himself, when he speaks of love, tells us concrete things: feed the hungry, visit the sick. They are all concrete things for indeed love is concrete.
When this concreteness is lacking we end up living a Christianity of illusions, for we do not understand the heart of Jesus message. Love that is not concrete becomes an illusory love. Mark (6:45-52), the disciples had this sort of love when they looked at Jesus and believed they were seeing a ghost and an illusory love that is not concrete does not do us good.
But when does this occur? The Gospel could not be clearer. When the disciples believed they are seeing a ghost, they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. And if your heart is hardened, you cannot love. You think that to love is to imagine things. No, love is concrete!.
There is a basic criteria for truly living in love. The criteria is to abide in the Lord and the Lord in us, and the criteria of Christian concreteness is the same, always: The Word came in the flesh. The criteria is the Incarnation of the Word, God made Man and Christianity without this foundation is not true Christianity. The key to Christian life is faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made Man.
Concrete love criteria. The first is that love is found more in deeds than words. Jesus himself said: it is not those who call me Lord, Lord, who talk much, who shall enter the Kingdom of heaven; but those who do the will of God. The invitation set before us, then, is to be concrete by doing the deeds of God.
There is a question we must each ask ourselves: If I abide in in Jesus, if I abide in the Lord, if I abide in love, what do I do for God not what do I think or what do I say and what do I do for others? Therefore, the first criteria is to love with deeds, not with words. The wind carries away our words: today they are here and tomorrow they are gone.
The second criteria for concreteness is that in love it is more important to give than to receive. The person who loves, gives, gives things, gives life, gives himself to God and to others. Instead, the person who does not love and who is selfish always seeks to receive. He seeks always to have things, to have the advantage. Hence the spiritual counsel to abide with an open heart, and not like the disciples whose hearts were closed and who therefore did not understand. It is a matter of abiding in God and of God abiding in us. It is a matter of abiding in love.
The sole criteria of abiding in our faith in Jesus Christ the Word of God made flesh is the very mystery that we celebrate in this season. The two practical consequences of this Christian concreteness, of this criteria, are that love is found more in deeds than words, and that in love it is more important to give than to receive.
As we gaze on the Child in these final three days of the Christmas Season, let us renew our faith in Jesus Christ, who is true God and true Man. And let us ask for the grace to be granted this concreteness of Christian love so that we might always abide in love and that he might abide in us.