Mark Chapter 7-16
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Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The Gospel for this Sunday concerns a dispute between Jesus and several Pharisees and scribes. The discussion is about the value of the “tradition of the elders” (Mk 7:3) which Jesus, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, defines as the “precepts of men” (v. 7) which must never take precedence over the “commandment of God” (v. 8). The ancient rules in question consisted not only in the precepts God revealed to Moses, but in a series of norms that the Mosaic Law indicated. The interlocutors observed these norms in an extremely scrupulous manner and presented them as the expression of authentic religiosity. Therefore, they rebuked Jesus and his disciples for transgressing them, specifically the norms regarding the external purification of the body (cf. v. 5). Jesus’ response has the force of a prophetic pronouncement: “You leave the commandment of God”, he says, “and hold fast the tradition of men” (v. 8). These are words which fill us with admiration for our Teacher: we sense that in him there is truth and that his wisdom frees us from prejudice.
Pay heed! With these words, Jesus wants to caution us too, today, against the belief that outward observance of the law is enough to make us good Christians. Dangerous as it was then for the Pharisees, so too is it for us to consider ourselves acceptable or, even worse, better than others simply for observing the rules, customs, even though we do not love our neighbour, we are hard of heart, we are arrogant and proud. Literal observance of the precepts is a fruitless exercise which does not change the heart and turn into practical behaviour: opening oneself to meet God and his Word in prayer, seeking justice and peace, taking care of the poor, the weak, the downtrodden. We all know, in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighbourhoods, how much harm and scandal is done to the Church by those people who say they are deeply Catholic and often go to Church, but who then neglect their family in daily life, speak badly of others and so on. This is what Jesus condemns because this is a counter-witness to Christianity.
After his exhortation, Jesus focuses attention on a deeper aspect and states: “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him” (v. 15). In this way he emphasizes the primacy of interiority, that is, the primacy of the “heart”: it is not the external things that make us holy or unholy, but the heart which expresses our intentions, our choices and the will to do all for the love of God. External behaviour is the result of what we decide in the heart, and not the contrary: with a change in external behaviour, but not a change of heart, we are not true Christians. The boundary between good and evil does not pass outside of us, but rather within us. We could ask ourselves: where is my heart? Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. What is my treasure? Is it Jesus, is it his teaching? If so, then the heart is good. Or is my treasure something else? Thus it is a heart which needs purification and conversion. Without a purified heart, one cannot have truly clean hands and lips which speak sincere words of love — it is all duplicitous, a double life — lips which speak words of mercy, of forgiveness: only a sincere and purified heart can do this
Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to give us a pure heart, free of all hypocrisy. This is the word that Jesus uses for the Pharisees: “hypocrites”, because they say one thing and do another. A heart free from all hypocrisy, thus we will be able to live according to the spirit of the law and accomplish its aim, which is love.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good afternoon.
The Gospel for today’s liturgy shows a few scribes and Pharisees amazed by Jesus’ attitude. They are scandalized because his disciples pick up food without first performing the traditional ritual ablutions. They think among themselves “This way of doing things is contrary to the religious practice” (cf. Mk 7:2-5).
We too can ask ourselves: why do Jesus and his disciples disregard these traditions? After all, they are not bad things, but good ritual habits, simple washings before eating. Why doesn’t Jesus attend to it? Because for Him it is important to bring faith back to its centre. In the Gospel we see it repeatedly: this bringing faith back to the centre. And to avoid a risk, which applies to those scribes as well as to us: to observe outward formalities, putting the heart and the faith in the background. Many times we too “put makeup” on our soul. Outward formality and not the heart of faith: this is a risk. It is the risk of a religiosity of appearances: looking good on the outside, while failing to purify the heart. There is always the temptation to “organize God” with some outward devotion, but Jesus does not settle for this worship. Jesus does not want outward appearances, he wants a faith that touches the heart.
In fact, immediately afterwards, he calls the people back to speak a great truth: “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him” (v. 15). Rather, it is “from within, out of the heart” (v. 21) that evil things are born. These words are revolutionary, because in the mindset of the time it was thought that certain foods or external contacts would render one impure. Jesus reverses the perspective: what comes from the outside does not do harm, but rather, what is born from within.
Dear brothers and sisters, this also pertains to us. We often think that evil comes mainly from the outside: from other people’s conduct, from those who think badly of us, from society. How often we blame others, society, the world, for everything that happens to us! It is always the fault of “others”: it is the fault of people, of those who govern, of misfortune, and so on. It seems that problems always come from the outside. And we spend time assigning blame; but spending time blaming others is wasting time. We become angry, bitter and keep God away from our heart. Like those people in the Gospel, who complain, who are scandalized, who cause controversy and do not accept Jesus. One cannot be truly religious in complaining: complaining poisons, it leads you to anger, to resentment and to sadness, that of the heart, which closes the door to God.
Today let us ask the Lord to free us from blaming others – like children: “No, it wasn’t me! It’s the other one, the other one…”. Let us ask in prayer for the grace not to waste time polluting the world with complaints, because this is not Christian. Jesus instead invites us to look at life and the world starting from our heart. If we look inside, we will find almost all that we despise outside. And if, sincerely, we ask God to purify our heart, that is when we will start making the world cleaner. Because there is an infallible way to defeat evil: by starting to conquer it within yourself. The first Fathers of the Church, the monks, when they were asked: “What is the path of holiness?”, the first step, they used to say, was to blame yourself: blame yourself. Blaming ourselves. How many of us, during the day, in a moment during the day or a moment during the week, area able to blame ourselves within? “Yes, this one did this to me, the other one … that is barbarity…”. But me? I do the same thing, or I do it this way…. It is wisdom: learning to blame yourself. Try to do it, it will do you good. It does me good, when I manage to do so, it is good for us, it will do us all good.
May the Virgin Mary, who changed history through the purity of her heart, help us to purify our own, by overcoming first and foremost the vice of blaming others and complaining about everything.
The Gospel tells us that, in turning to Jesus, the woman is “brave”, like any “desperate mother” who would do anything “for the health of their child”. “She had been told that there was a good man, a prophet, and so she went to look for Jesus, even though she “did not believe in the God of Israel”. For the sake of her daughter “she was not ashamed of how she might look before the Apostles”, who might say amongst themselves “what is this pagan doing here?”. She approached Jesus to beg him to help her daughter who was possessed by an unclean spirit. But Jesus responds to her request saying “I came first for the sheep of the house of Israel”. He “speaks with harsh words”, saying: “Let the children help themselves first, because it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs”.
The woman — who certainly had never attended university — did not respond to Jesus with intelligence, but instead with a mother's gut, with love. She said: “Even the dogs under the table will eat the children’s crumbs”, as if to say: “Give these crumbs to me!”. Moved by her faith, “the Lord worked a miracle”. She returned home, found her daughter lying on her bed, and the demon was gone.
Essentially, it is the story of a mother who risked making a fool of herself, but still insisted out of love for her daughter. She left “paganism and idolatry, and found health for her daughter” and, for herself she “found the living God”. Hers is “the way of a person of good will, who seeks God and finds him”. For her faith, “the Lord blesses her”. This is also the story of so many people who still “make this journey”. “The Lord waits for” these people, who are moved by the Holy Spirit. “There are people who make this journey every day in the Church of God, silently seeking the Lord”, because they “let themselves be carried forward by the Holy Spirit”.
However, there is also “the opposite path”, which is represented by the figure of Solomon, “the wisest man on earth, who had received many great blessings; he had inherited a united country, the union that his father David had made”. King Solomon had “universal fame”, he had “complete power”. He was also “a believer in God”. So why did he lose his faith? The answer lies in the biblical passage: “His women made him divert his heart to follow other gods, and his heart did not remain with the Lord, his God, as the heart of David his father did”.
Solomon liked women. He had many concubines and would travel with them here and there: each with her own god, her own idol. “These women slowly weakened Solomon’s heart”. He, therefore, “lost the integrity” of the faith. When one woman would ask him for a small temple for “her god”, he would build it on a mountain. And when another woman would ask him for incense to burn for an idol, he would buy it. In doing so “his heart was weakened and he lost his faith”.
"The wisest man in the world” lost his faith this way. Solomon allowed himself to become corrupt because of an indiscreet love, without discretion, because of his passions. Yet, you might say: “But Father, Solomon did not lose his faith, he still believed in God, he could recite the Bible” from memory. Having faith does not mean being able to recite the Creed: you can still recite the Creed after having lost your faith!.
Solomon, was a sinner in the beginning like his father David. But then he continued living as a sinner and became corrupt: his heart was corrupted by idolatry. His father David was a sinner, but the Lord had forgiven all of his sins because he was humble and asked for forgiveness. Instead, Solomon’s “vanity and passions led” him to “corruption”. For, the Pope explained, “the heart is precisely the place where you can lose your faith”.
The king, therefore, takes the opposite path than that of the Syro-Phoenician woman: "she leaves the idolatry of paganism and comes to find the living God”, while Solomon instead “left the living God and finds idolatry": what a poor man! She was a sinner, sure, just as we all are. But he was corrupt.
I hope that “no evil seed will grow” in the human heart. It was the seed of evil passions, growing in Solomon’s heart that led him to idolatry. To prevent this seed from developing: “Receive with meekness the Word that has been planted in you and it can lead you to salvation”. With this knowledge, we follow the path of the Canaanite woman, the pagan woman, accepting the Word of God, which was planted in us and will lead us to salvation. The Word of God is powerful, and it will safeguard us on the path and prevent us from the destruction of corruption and all that leads to idolatry.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel passage (cf. Mk 7:31-37) refers to the episode of the miraculous healing by Jesus of a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. They brought to him a deaf and dumb man, beseeching Him to lay a hand upon him. Instead, He performed two different gestures upon him: first of all He took the man aside, far from the crowd. On this occasion, as on others, Jesus always acts with discretion. He does not want to impress people; He is not seeking popularity or success, but wishes only to do good to people. With this attitude, He teaches us that good is to be done without clamour, without ostentation, without “blowing one’s trumpet”. It should be done quietly.
When they had drawn aside, Jesus put his fingers in the deaf man’s ears and touched his tongue with saliva. This gesture refers to the Incarnation. The Son of God is a man inserted into human reality: he became man; therefore he can understand another man’s distressing condition and intervene with a gesture which concerned his own humanity. At the same time, Jesus wanted to make it understood that the miracle occurred because of his union with the Father: for this reason, he looked up to heaven. He then sighed and said the decisive word: “Ephphatha”, which means “Be opened”. And immediately the man was healed: his ears were opened, his tongue was released. For him the healing was an “opening” to others and to the world.
This Gospel narrative emphasizes the need for a twofold healing. First and foremost the healing from illness and from physical suffering, in order to restore bodily health; even though this aim is not completely achievable on the earthly plane, despite the many efforts of science and medicine. But there is a second, perhaps more difficult healing, and it is healing from fear. Healing from the fear that impels us to marginalize the sick, to marginalize the suffering, the disabled. And there are many ways to marginalize, even by showing pseudo compassion or by ignoring the problem; we remain deaf and dumb to the suffering of people marked by illness, anguish and difficulty. Too often the sick and the suffering become a problem, while they should be an occasion to show a society’s concern and solidarity with regard to the weakest.
Jesus revealed to us the secret of a miracle that we too can imitate, becoming protagonists of “Ephphatha”, of that phrase ‘be opened’ with which He gave speech and hearing back to the deaf and dumb man. It means opening ourselves to the needs of our brothers and sisters who are suffering and in need of help, by shunning selfishness and hardheartedness. It is precisely the heart, that is the deep core of the person, that Jesus came to “open”, to free, in order to make us capable of fully living the relationship with God and with others. He became man so that man, rendered internally deaf and mute by sin, may hear the voice of God, the voice of Love that speaks to his heart, and thereby in turn, may learn to speak the language of love, transforming it into gestures of generosity and self-giving.
May Mary, the One who completely “opened” herself to the Lord’s love, enable us to experience each day, in faith, the miracle of “Ephphatha
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The Gospel for today’s liturgy presents Jesus who heals a deaf man with a speech impediment. What is striking about this story is how the Lord performs this prodigious sign. He took the deaf man aside, put his finger into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with saliva. Then he looked up to heaven, groaned, and said to him: “Ephphatha”, that is, “Be opened!” (cf Mk 7:33-34). In other healings, for infirmities as serious as paralysis or leprosy, Jesus did not do as many things. So why does he do all of this, even though they had only asked him to lay his hands on the sick man (cf. v.32)? Maybe it was because that person’s condition had a particularly symbolic value. The condition of deafness is also a symbol that can say something to all of us. What is this about? Deafness. That man was unable to speak because he could not hear. To heal the cause of his infirmity, Jesus, in fact, placed his fingers first of all in the man’s ears, then his mouth, but his ears first.
We all have ears, but very often we are not able to hear. Why is this? Brothers and sisters, there is an interior deafness that we can ask Jesus to touch and heal today. It is interior deafness, which is worse than physical deafness, because it is the deafness of the heart. Taken up with haste, by so many things to say and do, we do not find time to stop and listen to those who speak to us. We run the risk of becoming impervious to everything and not making room for those who need to be heard. I am thinking about children, young people, the elderly, the many who do not really need words and sermons, but to be heard. Let us ask ourselves: how is my capacity to listen going? Do I let myself be touched by people’s lives? Do I know how to spend time with those who are close to me in order to listen? This regards all of us, but in a special way also priests. The priest must listen to people, not in a rushed way, but listen and see how he can help, but after having listened. And all of us: first listen, then respond. Think about family life: how many times do we talk without listening first, repeating the same things, always the same things! Incapable of listening, we always say the same things, or we do not let the other person finish talking, expressing themselves, and we interrupt them. Starting a dialogue often happens not through words but silence, by not insisting, by patiently beginning anew to listen to others, hearing about their struggles and what they carry inside. The healing of the heart begins with listening. Listening. This is what restores the heart. “But Father, there are boring people who say the same things over and over again...” Listen to them. And then, when they have finished talking, you may speak, but listen to everything.
And the same is true with the Lord. It is good to inundate Him with requests, but it is better that we first of all listen to him. Jesus requests this. In the Gospel, when they ask him what is the first commandment, he answered: “Hear, O Israel”. Then he added the first commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…(and) your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:28-31). But first of all, “Hear, O Israel”. Do we remember to listen to the Lord? We are Christians, but sometimes with the thousands of words we hear every day, we do not find a moment to let a few words of the Gospel resound in us. Jesus is the Word: if we do not stop to listen to Him, He moves on. Saint Augustine said, “I fear that Jesus will pass by me unnoticed.” And the fear was to let Him pass by without hearing Him. But if we dedicate time to the Gospel, we will find the secret for our spiritual health. This is the medicine: every day a little silence and listening, fewer useless words and more of the Word of God. Always with the Gospel in your pocket that can help greatly. Today, as on the day of our Baptism, we hear the words of Jesus addressed to us: “Ephphatha, be opened!” Open your ears. Jesus, I want to open myself to your Word; Jesus, open myself to listening to you; Jesus, heal my heart from being closed, heal my heart from haste, heal my heart from impatience.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was open to hearing the Word which became flesh in her, help us every day to listen to her Son in the Gospel and to our brothers and sisters with a docile heart, with a patient heart, and with an attentive heart.
There is a lack of bread for the disciples who boarded the boat with Jesus and in them there is concern about the management of something material: "They discussed among themselves - says the Gospel of Mark today ( Mark 8:14-21) - because they had no bread." Jesus, aware of this, warned them: "Why do you argue that you have no bread? Don't you still understand and don't understand? Do you have a hardened heart? You have eyes and you don't see, you have ears and you don't hear? And don't you remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets you took away?"
Compassion is what the Lord wants in us: "Mercy I want, not sacrifice." A heart without compassion is an idolatrous heart. It is a self-sufficient heart which goes on sustained by its own selfishness, becoming strong only with ideologies.
Let us think about the four ideological groups of Jesus’ time – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. Four groups that had hardened their hearts to carry out a project that was not God's; there was no place for God's plan, there was no place for compassion.
However, against this hardheartedness there is a medicine, and it is memory. This is why in today’s Gospel and in many other Scripture passages, there echoes the need for the salvific power of memory, a grace to be asked for because it keeps the heart open and faithful.
When the heart becomes hardened, when the heart hardens, it forgets... One forgets the grace of salvation, one forgets gratuitousness. The hard heart leads to quarrels, it leads to wars, it leads to selfishness, it leads to the destruction of the brother, because there is no compassion. And the greatest message of salvation is that God has had compassion for us. That refrain of the gospel, when Jesus sees a person, a painful situation: He had compassion. Jesus is the compassion of the Father; Jesus is the slap to every hardness of heart.
Let us ask for the grace to have a heart that is not ideological and therefore hardened, but open and compassionate in the face of what is happening in the world because by this we will be judged on the day of judgment, not by our ideas or our ideologies. "I was hungry, you fed me; I've been in prison, you've come to see me; I was afflicted and you consoled me" is written in the Gospel and this is compassion, this is the non-hardness of heart. And humility, the memory of our roots and our salvation, will help us to preserve it.
Every one of us has something that has hardened within our hearts. Let us remember and let the Lord give us a righteous and sincere heart where the Lord lives.
The Lord cannot enter hard hearts; the Lord cannot enter ideological hearts. The Lord enters only the hearts that are like his heart: compassionate hearts, hearts that have compassion, open hearts. Let the Lord give us this grace.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel passage (cf. Mk 8:27-35) turns to the question that permeates the whole Gospel of Mark: who is Jesus? But this time Jesus himself poses it to his disciples, helping them to gradually address the question of his identity. Before asking them, the Twelve, directly, Jesus wants to hear from them what the people think about him, and he is well aware that the disciples are very sensitive to the Teacher’s renown! Therefore, he asks: “Who do men say that I am?” (v. 27). It comes to light that Jesus is considered by the people as a great prophet. But, in reality, he is not interested in the opinions and gossip of the people. He also does not agree that his disciples should answer the questions with pre-packaged formulas, quoting well-known individuals from Sacred Scripture, because a faith that is reduced to formulas is a short-sighted faith.
The Lord wants his disciples of yesterday and today to establish a personal relationship with him, and thus to embrace him at the centre of their life. For this reason he spurs them to face themselves honestly, and he asks: “But who do you say that I am?” (v. 29). Today, Jesus addresses this very direct and confidential question to each of us: “You, who do you say that I am? All of you, who do you say that I am? Who am I for you?”. Each person is called to respond, in his or her heart, allowing each one to be illuminated by the light that the Father gives us in order to know his Son Jesus. And it can also happen to us, as it did to Peter, that we passionately affirm: “You are the Christ”. However, when Jesus tells us clearly what he told the disciples, that is, that his mission is fulfilled not on the wide road to success, but on the arduous path of the suffering, humiliated, rejected and crucified Servant, then it can also happen that we, like Peter, might protest and rebel because this contrasts with our expectations, with worldly expectations. In those moments, we too deserve Jesus’ healthy rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men” (v. 33).
Brothers and sisters, the profession of faith in Jesus Christ cannot stop at words, but calls to be authenticated by practical choices and gestures, by a life characterized by God’s love; it calls for a great life, a life with an abundance of love for neighbour. Jesus tells us that to follow him, to be his disciples, we must deny ourselves (cf. v. 34), that is, the demands of our own selfish pride, and take up our own cross. Then he gives everyone a fundamental rule. And what is this rule? “For whoever would save his life will lose it” (v. 35). Often in life, for many reasons, we go astray, looking for happiness only in things, or in people whom we treat as things. But we find happiness only when love, true love, encounters us, surprises us, changes us. Love changes everything! And love can also change us, each one of us. The witnesses of Saints proves it.
May the Virgin Mary, who lived her faith by faithfully following her Son Jesus, help us too to walk on his path, generously spending our life for him and for our brothers and sisters.
At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). For the disciples, this question proves decisive; it marks a turning point in their journey with the Master. They knew Jesus; they were no longer novices. They were close to him; they had seen his many miracles, been touched by his teaching, and followed him wherever he went. Yet, they were not ready to think like him. They had to take that decisive step, from admiring Jesus to imitating Jesus. Today too, the Lord looks at each of us personally and asks: “Who am I – in fact – for you?” Who am I for you? This question, addressed to each of us, calls for more than a quick answer straight out of the catechism; it requires a vital, personal response.
That response renews us as disciples. It takes place in three steps, steps that the disciples took and that we too can take. It involves first, proclaiming Jesus; second, discerning with Jesus and third, following Jesus.
Proclaiming Jesus. The Lord asks: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, speaking for the others, replies: “You are the Christ”. Peter said it all in these few words; his answer was correct, but then, surprisingly, Jesus “charged them to tell no one about him” (v. 30). Let us ask ourselves: Why so radical a prohibition? There was a very good reason: to call Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, is correct, but incomplete. There is always the risk of proclaiming a false messianism, one of human origins, not from God. Consequently, from that time on, Jesus gradually reveals his real identity, the “paschal” identity we find in the Eucharist. He explains that his mission will culminate in the glory of the resurrection, but only after the abasement of the cross. In other words, it would be revealed according to the wisdom of God, which, as Saint Paul tells us, “is not of this age or of the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6). Jesus demands silence about his identity as the Messiah, but not about the cross that awaits him. In fact – the evangelist notes – Jesus then began to teach “openly” (Mk 8:32) that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31).
Before these daunting words of Jesus, we too can be dismayed, taken aback. We too would prefer a powerful Messiah rather than a crucified servant. The Eucharist is here to remind us who God is. It does not do so just in words, but in a concrete way, showing us God as bread broken, as love crucified and bestowed. We can add ritual elements, but the Lord is always there in the simplicity of Bread ready to be broken, distributed and eaten. He is there: to save us, Christ became a servant; to give us life, he accepted death. We do well to let ourselves be taken aback by those daunting words of Jesus. And whoever is open to these words is open to the second step.
Discerning with Jesus. Peter’s reaction to the Lord’s announcement is typically human: as soon as the cross, the prospect of pain, appears, we rebel. After having just confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter is scandalized by the Master’s words and tries to dissuade him from following that course. Today, as in the past ever, the cross is not fashionable or attractive. Dear brothers and sisters, the cross is never in fashion. Yet it heals us from within. Standing before the crucified Lord, we experience a fruitful interior struggle, a bitter conflict between “thinking as God does” and “thinking as humans do”. On the one hand, we have God’s way of thinking, which is that of humble love. A way of thinking that shuns imposition, ostentation and every form of triumphalism, and always aims at the good of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice. On the other hand, we have our human way of thinking: this is the wisdom of the world, of worldliness, attached to honour and privileges, and grasping for prestige and success. Here the things that count are self-importance and power, whatever attracts the most attention and respect in the eyes of others.
Blinded by that way of thinking, Peter takes Jesus aside and reproaches him (cf. v. 32). Before, he had confessed him as the Messiah; now he reproaches him. We too can take the Lord “aside”, shove him into a corner of our heart and continue to think of ourselves as religious and respectable, going our own way without letting ourselves be affected by Jesus’ way of thinking. Yet here is the truth: he is ever at our side in this interior struggle, because he wants us, like the Apostles, to take his side. There is God’s side and the world’s side. The difference is not between who is religious or not, but ultimately between the true God and the god of “self”. How distant is the God who quietly reigns on the cross from the false god that we want to reign with power in order to silence our enemies! How different is Christ, who presents himself with love alone, from all the powerful and winning messiahs worshiped by the world! Jesus unsettles us; he is not satisfied with declarations of faith, but asks us to purify our religiosity before his cross, before the Eucharist. We do well to spend time in adoration before the Eucharist in order to contemplate God’s weakness. Let us make time for adoration, a way of praying too frequently forgotten. Let us make time for adoration. Let us allow Jesus the Living Bread to heal us of our self-absorption, open our hearts to self-giving, liberate us from our rigidity and self-concern, free us from the paralyzing slavery of defending our image, and inspire us to follow him wherever he would lead us, not where I want. And so, we come to the third step.
Walking behind Jesus and also walking with Jesus. “Get behind me, Satan” (v. 33). With this stern command, Jesus brings Peter back to himself. Whenever the Lord commands something, he is already there to give it. Peter thus receives the grace to step back and once more get behind Jesus. The Christian journey is not a race towards “success”; it begins by stepping back – remember this: the Christian journey begins by stepping back – finding freedom by not needing to be at the centre of everything. Peter realizes that the centre is not his Jesus, but the real Jesus. He will keep falling, but in passing from forgiveness to forgiveness, he will come to see more clearly the face of God. And he will pass from an empty admiration for Christ to an authentic imitation of Christ.
What does it mean to get behind Jesus? It is to advance through life with Jesus’ own confident trust, knowing that we are beloved children of God. It is to follow in the footsteps of the Master who came to serve and not be served (cf. Mk 10:45). It is to step out each day to an encounter with our brothers and sisters. The Eucharist impels us to this encounter, to the realization that we are one Body, to the willingness to let ourselves be broken for others. Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist to transform us, just as it transformed the great and courageous saints you venerate. I am thinking in particular of Saint Stephen and Saint Elizabeth. Like them, may we never be satisfied with little; may we never resign ourselves to a faith based on ritual and repetition, but be ever more open to the scandalous newness of the crucified and risen God, the Bread broken to give life to the world. In this way, we will be joyful ourselves and bring joy to others.
This International Eucharistic Congress marks the end of one journey, but more importantly, the beginning of another. For walking behind Jesus means always looking ahead, welcoming the turning point of grace, and being challenged every day by the Lord’s question to each of us, his disciples: Who do you say that I am?
Jesus shows the Apostles how he is in Heaven: glorious, luminous, triumphant, victorious. He does this in order to prepare them to withstand the Passion, the scandal of the Cross, because they could not understand that Jesus was to die as a criminal; they could not understand it. They thought that Jesus was a liberator, but as earthly liberators are, those who win in battle, those who are always triumphant. But Jesus’ path is a different one: Jesus triumphs through humiliation, the humiliation of the Cross. But seeing that this would be a scandal for them, Jesus shows them what happens afterwards, what happens after the Cross, what awaits us, all of us: this glory and this Heaven. And this is really beautiful! It is really beautiful because Jesus — and listen carefully to this — always prepares us for trial; in one way or another, but this is the message: he always prepares us. He gives us the strength to go forward in times of trial and to overcome them with his strength. Jesus never forsakes us in the trials of life: he always prepares us, helps us, as he prepared [his disciples], with the vision of his glory. This way they will then remember this [moment] in order to bear the burden of humiliation. This is the first thing the Church teaches us: Jesus always prepares us for trials and in the trials he is with us; he never forsakes us. Never.
We can glean the second thing from the Word of God: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mk 9:7). This is the message the Father gives to the Apostles. Jesus’ message is preparing them by showing them his glory; the Father’s message is: “Listen to him”. There is no moment in life that cannot be fully lived by listening to Jesus. In beautiful moments, let us stop and listen to Jesus; in difficult moments, let us stop and listen to Jesus. This is the way. He will tell us what we have to do. Always.
And let us go forward this Lent with these two things: in trials, to remember the glory of Jesus, namely, what awaits us; that Jesus is always present with that glory to give us strength. And throughout life, to listen to Jesus, to what Jesus tells us: in the Gospel, in the liturgy, he always speaks to us; or in our heart.
In daily life perhaps we may have problems, or we may have many things to resolve. Let us ask ourselves this question: what is Jesus telling me today? And let us try to listen to Jesus’ voice, the inspiration from within. And in this way we follow the Father’s advice: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him”. Our Lady will give you the second piece of advice, at Cana in Galilee, when there is the miracle of the [transformation] of water into wine. What does our Lady say? “Do whatever he tells you”. Listen to Jesus and do what he says: this is the sure path. Go forth with the memory of the glory of Jesus, with this advice: Listen to Jesus and do what he tells us to do.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.
This Second Sunday of Lent invites us to contemplate the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, before three of his disciples (cf. Mk 9:2-10). Just before, Jesus had announced that in Jerusalem he would suffer a greatly, be rejected and put to death. We can imagine what must have happened in the heart of his friends, of those close friends, his disciples: the image of a strong and triumphant Messiah is put into crisis, their dreams are shattered, and they are beset by anguish at the thought that the Teacher in whom they had believed would be killed like the worst of wrongdoers. And in that very moment, with that anguish of soul, Jesus calls Peter, James and John and takes them up the mountain with him.
The Gospel says: He “led them up a high mountain” (v. 2). In the Bible, the mountain always has a special significance: it is the elevated place where heaven and earth touch each other, where Moses and the prophets had the extraordinary experience of encountering God. Climbing the mountain is drawing somewhat close to God. Jesus climbs up with the three disciples and they stop at the top of the mountain. Here, he is transfigured before them. His face radiant and his garments glistening, providing a preview of the image as the Risen One, offer to those frightened men the light, the light of hope, the light to pass through the shadows: death will not be the end of everything, because it will open to the glory of the Resurrection. Thus, Jesus announces his death; he takes them up the mountain and shows them what will happen afterwards, the Resurrection.
As the Apostle Peter exclaimed (cf. v. 5), it is good to pause with the Lord on the mountain, to live this “preview” of light in the heart of Lent. It is a call to remember, especially when we pass through a difficult trial – and so many of you know what it means to pass through a difficult trial – that the Lord is Risen and does not permit darkness to have the last word.
At times we go through moments of darkness in our personal, family or social life, and of fear that there is no way out. We feel frightened before great enigmas such as illness, innocent pain or the mystery of death. In the same journey of faith, we often stumble encountering the scandal of the cross and the demands of the Gospel, which calls us to spend our life in service and to lose it in love, rather than preserve it for ourselves and protect it. Thus, we need a different outlook, of a light that illuminates the mystery of life in depth and helps us to move beyond our paradigms and beyond the criteria of this world. We too are called to climb up the mountain, to contemplate the beauty of the Risen One who enkindles glimmers of light in every fragment of our life and helps us to interpret history beginning with his paschal victory.
Let us be careful, however: that feeling of Peter that “it is well that we are here” must not become spiritual laziness. We cannot remain on the mountain and enjoy the beauty of this encounter by ourselves. Jesus himself brings us back to the valley, amid our brothers and sisters and into daily life. We must beware of spiritual laziness: we are fine, with our prayers and liturgies, and this is enough for us. No! Going up the mountain does not mean forgetting reality; praying never means avoiding the difficulties of life; the light of faith is not meant to provide beautiful spiritual feelings. No, this is not Jesus’ message. We are called to experience the encounter with Christ so that, enlightened by his light, we might take it and make it shine everywhere. Igniting little lights in people’s hearts; being little lamps of the Gospel that bear a bit of love and hope: this is the mission of a Christian.
Let us pray to Mary Most Holy, that she may help us to welcome the light of Christ with wonder, to safeguard it and share it.
Jesus asks his disciples an apparently indiscreet question: “What were you discussing along the way?” It is a question which he could also ask each of us today: “What do you talk about every day?” “What are your aspirations?” The Gospel tells us that the disciples “did not answer because on the way they had been arguing about who was the most important”. They were ashamed to tell Jesus what they were talking about. Like the disciples then, today we too can be caught up in these same arguments: who is the most important?
Jesus does not press the question. He does not force them to tell him what they were talking about on the way. But the question lingers, not only in the minds of the disciples, but also in their hearts.
Who is the most important? This is a life-long question to which, at different times, we must give an answer. We cannot escape the question; it is written on our hearts. I remember more than once, at family gatherings, children being asked: “Who do you love more, Mommy or Daddy”? It’s like asking them: “Who is the most important for you?” But is this only a game we play with children? The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question.
Jesus is not afraid of people’s questions; he is not afraid of our humanity or the different things we are looking for. On the contrary, he knows the depths of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, he is always ready to encourage and support us. As usual, he takes up our searching, our aspirations, and he gives them a new horizon. As usual, he somehow finds an the answer which can pose a new challenge, setting aside the “right answers”, the standard replies we are expected to give. As usual, Jesus sets before us the “logic” of love. A mindset, an approach to life, which is capable of being lived out by all, because it is meant for all.
Far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points us is not for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality. The horizon to which Jesus points us always has to do with daily life, also here on “our island”, something which can season our daily lives with eternity.
Who is the most important? Jesus is straightforward in his reply: “Whoever wishes to be the first – the most important – among you must be the last of all, and the servant of all”. Whoever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others.
This is the great paradox of Jesus. The disciples were arguing about who would have the highest place, who would be chosen for privileges – they were the disciples, those closest to Jesus, and they were arguing about that! –, who would be above the common law, the general norm, in order to stand out in the quest for superiority over others. Who would climb the ladder most quickly to take the jobs which carry certain benefits.
Jesus upsets their “logic”, their mindset, simply by telling them that life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbour. That is, by serving.
The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive. Serving means caring for their vulnerability. Caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people. Theirs are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love. With a love which takes shape in our actions and decisions. With a love which finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform. It is people of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty, that Jesus asks us to protect, to care for and to serve. Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it. That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, before the concrete gaze of those who are most vulnerable.
There is a kind of “service” which serves others, yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, one which is “self-serving” with regard to others. There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping “my people”, “our people”. This service always leaves “your people” outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion.
All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another not to be tempted by a “service” which is really “self-serving”. All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love. Without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbour is doing or not doing. Jesus says: Whoever would be first among you must be the last, and the servant of all”. That person will be the first. Jesus does not say: if your neighbour wants to be first, let him be the servant! We have to be careful to avoid judgmental looks and renew our belief in the transforming look to which Jesus invites us.
This caring for others out of love is not about being servile. Rather, it means putting the question of our brothers and sisters at the centre. Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, “suffers” that closeness and tries to help them. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.
God’s holy and faithful people in Cuba is a people with a taste for celebrations, for friendship, for beautiful things. It is a people which marches with songs of praise. It is a people which has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur. These were the seeds sown by your forebears. Today I ask you to care for this vocation of yours, to care for these gifts which God has given you, but above all I invite you to care for and be at the service of the frailty of your brothers and sisters. Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you. We know, we are witnesses of the incomparable power of the resurrection, which “everywhere calls forth the seeds of a new world” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 276, 278).
Let us not forget the Good News we have heard today: the importance of a people, a nation, and the importance of individuals, which is always based on how they seek to serve their vulnerable brothers and sisters. Here we encounter one of the fruits of a true humanity.
Because, dear brothers and sisters: “whoever does not live to serve, does not ‘serve’ to live”.
In today's Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) Jesus tells the twelve disciples “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all". If we make compromises while trying to live out the Gospel we will end up imbibing the spirit of the world, which leads to dominating others and is the enemy of God. On the contrary, Jesus calls us to the path of service.
Jesus knew that along the way the disciples, because of ambition, had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. This quarrel by saying "I must go on, I must go up", is the spirit of the world. But today's First Reading of the Liturgy (James 4:1-10) also follows this aspect, when the Apostle James remembers that love for the world is the enemy of God.
This anxiety of worldliness, this concern to be more important than others, saying, “No! I deserve this, that person doesn’t deserve it”: this is worldliness, this is the spirit of the world, and those who breathe in this spirit, breathe in the enmity of God. Jesus, in another passage, says to the disciples, “Either you are with me or you are against me”. There are no compromises in the Gospel. And when someone wants to live the Gospel while making compromises, they ultimately find themselves with the worldly spirit, which always tries to make compromises in order to climb higher, to dominate, to be greater.
So many wars and so many quarrels come precisely from worldly desires, from passions. It’s true that there are many wars in the world today. But “What about the wars among ourselves, like the one among the Apostles about who is the most important?” "Look at the career I've had: I can't go back now!" This is the spirit of the world, and this is not Christian. “No! It’s my turn! I have to earn more to get more money and more power”. This is the spirit of the world. And then, there's the wickedness of chatter: gossip. Where does it come from? From envy. The great envious one is the devil, we know that, it says so in the Bible. From envy. Through the devil’s envy evil enters into the world. Envy is a worm that drives you to destroy, to bad-mouth others, to annihilate others.
In the discussion among the disciples, there were all these passions and so Jesus rebuked the them, and called them to become servants to all, and to take the last place.
Who is the most important in the Church? The Pope, the bishops, the monsignors, the cardinals, the pastors of the most beautiful parishes, the presidents of lay associations? No! The greatest in the Church are those who make themselves servants of all, those who serve everyone, not those who have titles. And to help us understand this, He took a child and placed him among them; and embracing him with tenderness – because Jesus spoke with tenderness, He had so much – He said to them: “Whoever receives a child, receives me”. That is, whoever welcomes the most humble, the one who serves the most. This is the way. There is only one road against the spirit of the world: humility. Serving others, choosing the last place, not climbing the ladder.
Therefore, we must not negotiate with the spirit of the world, we must not say: "I am entitled to this place, because, look at the career I have made". Worldliness, in fact, is God's enemy. On the contrary we need to listen to these very wise words of encouragement that Jesus speaks in the Gospel: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The Gospel of today’s Liturgy (Mk 9:30-37) narrates that, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples were discussing “with one another who was the greatest” (v. 34). So, Jesus directed harsh words toward them that are still valid today: “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35). If you want to be first, you need to get in line, be last, and serve everyone. Through this shocking phrase, the Lord inaugurates a reversal: he overturns the criteria about what truly matters. The value of a person does not depend any more on the role they have, the work they do, the money they have in the bank. No, no, no, it does not depend on this. Greatness and success in God’s eyes are measured differently: they are measured by service. Not on what someone has, but on what someone gives. Do you want to be first? Serve. This is the way.
Today, the word “service” appears a bit hackneyed, worn out by use. But it has a precise and concrete meaning in the Gospel. To serve is not a courteous expression: it means to act like Jesus, who, summing up his life in a few words, said he had come “not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45). This is what the Lord said. Therefore, if we want to follow Jesus, we must follow the path he himself traced out, the path of service. Our fidelity to the Lord depends on our willingness to serve. And we know this often costs, because “it tastes like a cross”. But, as our care and availability toward others grows, we become freer inside, more like Jesus. The more we serve, the more we are aware of God’s presence. Above all, when we serve those who cannot give anything in return, the poor, embracing their difficulties and needs with tender compassion: and we in turn discover God’s love and embrace there.
After having spoken of the primacy of service, Jesus does something precisely to illustrate this. We have seen that Jesus’ actions are stronger than the words he uses. And what is that action? He takes a child and puts him in the midst of the disciples, at the center, in the most important place (cf. v. 36). In the Gospel, the child does not symbolize innocence so much as littleness. For like children, the little ones depend on others, on adults, they need to receive. Jesus embraces those children and says that those who welcome a little one, a child, welcome him (cf. v. 37). The ones who are to be served above all are: those in need of receiving who cannot give anything in return. To serve those who need to receive and cannot give anything in return. In welcoming those on the margins, the neglected, we welcome Jesus because He is there. And in the little one, in the poor person we serve, we also receive God’s tender embrace.
Dear brothers and sisters, challenged by the Gospel, let us ask ourselves: Am I, who follow Jesus, interested in the one who is neglected? Or am I rather seeking personal gratification, like the disciples that day? Do I understand life in terms of competing to make room for myself at others’ expense, or do I believe that being first means serving? And, concretely: do I dedicate time to a “little one”, to a person who has no means to pay me back? Am I concerned about someone who cannot give me anything in return, or only with my relatives and friends? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.
May the Virgin Mary, the humble servant of the Lord, help us understand that to serve does not belittle us, but helps us grow. And that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20:35).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel (cf. Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) presents us with one of those characteristics that are very instructive about Jesus’ life with his disciples. They had seen a man — who did not belong to the group of Jesus’ followers — casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and thus they wanted to forbid him to do so. With the zealous enthusiasm typical of young people, John refers the matter to the Teacher, seeking his support. However, quite to the contrary, Jesus replies: “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us” (vv. 39-40).
John and the other disciples display a ‘closed’ attitude when faced with a circumstance that does not fit with their programme, in this case the action, albeit good, of a person ‘outside’ the circle of followers. Jesus on the other hand, appears very free, fully open to the freedom of the Spirit of God, whose actions are not limited by any confines nor boundaries. Jesus wants to educate his disciples — and us today — on this inner freedom.
It is good for us to reflect on this episode and to perform a small examination of conscience. The disciples’ attitude is very human, very common, and we can observe this in Christian communities throughout history, probably in ourselves as well. In good faith, indeed with zeal, one would like to protect the authenticity of a certain experience, safeguarding the founder or leader from false impersonators. But at the same time, there is a sort of fear of ‘competition’ — and this is bad: the fear of competition —, that someone may steal new followers, and we are thus unable to appreciate the good that others do: it is not good because he is ‘not one of us’, they say. It is a form of self-referentiality. Actually, there is the root of proselytism here. And the Church — Pope Benedict used to say — does not grow through proselytism; it grows by attraction, that is, it grows by bearing witness to others with the strength of the Holy Spirit.
God’s great freedom in giving himself to us represents a challenge and an exhortation to modify our behaviours and our relationships. It is the invitation which Jesus addresses to us today. He calls us not to think according to the categories of ‘friend/enemy’, ‘us/them’, ‘those who are in/those who are out’, ‘mine/yours’, but rather to go beyond, to open our heart in order to be able to recognize God’s presence and action, even in unusual and unpredictable environments that are not part of our circle. It is a matter of being more attentive to the authenticity of the good, the beautiful and the true that is done, rather than to the name and the origin of the one who does it. And — as the remaining part of the Gospel suggests to us today — instead of judging others, we must examine ourselves and ‘sever’, without compromise, all that can scandalize those persons who are weakest in faith.
May the Virgin Mary, an example of docile openness to God’s surprises, help us to recognize the signs of the Lord’s presence in our midst, so that we may find him everywhere he manifests himself, even in the most unthinkable and unusual situations. May she teach us to love our community without jealousy or closure, always open to the vast horizon of the action of the Holy Spirit.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The Gospel of today’s Liturgy recounts a brief dialogue between Jesus and the Apostle John, who speaks on behalf of all the entire group of disciples. They saw a man who was casting out demons in the name of the Lord, but they stopped him because he was not part of their group. At this point, Jesus invites them not to hinder those who do good, because they contribute to the fulfilment of God's plan (cf. Mk 9:38-41). Then He admonishes them: instead of dividing people into good and bad, we are all called to watch be vigilant over our own hearts, lest we succumb to evil and bring scandal to others (cf. vv. 42-45, 47-48).
In short, Jesus’ words reveal a temptation, and offer an exhortation. The temptation is that of closedness. The disciples would like to hinder a good deed simply because it is performed by someone who did not belong to their group. They think they have the “exclusive right over Jesus”, and that they are the only ones authorised to work for the Kingdom of God. But in this way, they end up considering feeling that they are themselves privileged and consider others as outsiders, to the extent of becoming hostile towards them. Brothers and sisters, every closure tends in fact to keep us at a distance from those who do not think like we do, and this – we know – is the root of so many evils in history: of the absolutism that has often generated dictatorships and so much violence towards those who are different.
But we need to be vigilant about closure in the Church too. Because the devil, who is the divider – this is what the word “devil” means, the one who divides – always insinuates suspicions to divide and exclude people. He tempts with using cunning, and it can happen as with those disciples, who go so far as to end up excluding even someone who had cast out the devil himself! Sometimes we too, instead of being humble and open communities, can give the impression of being the “top of the class” and keeping others at a distance; instead of trying to walk with everyone, we can display our “believer’s license”: “I am a believer”, “I am Catholic”, “I belong to this association, to that one”, and the others, poor things, do not. This is a sin. Showing off one’s “believer’s license” to judge and exclude. Let us ask for the grace to overcome the temptation to judge and to categorise, and may God preserve us from the “nest” mentality, that of jealously guarding ourselves in the small group of those who consider themselves good: the priest with his loyal followers, the pastoral workers closed up among themselves so that no one can infiltrate, the movements and associations in their own particular charism, and so on. Closed. All this runs the risk of turning Christian communities into places of separation and not of communion. The Holy Spirit does not want closedness; He wants openness, and welcoming communities where there is a place for everyone.
And then in the Gospel there is Jesus’ exhortation: instead of judging everything and everyone, let us beware be careful of ourselves! Indeed, the risk is that of being inflexible towards others and indulgent towards ourselves. And Jesus urges us not to descend to making pacts with evil, with striking images: “If something in you causes you to sin, cut it off!” (cf. vv. 43-48). If something harms you, cut it off! He does not say, “If something is a reason for scandal, stop, think about it, improve a bit…”. No: “Cut it off! Immediately! Jesus is radical in this, demanding, but for our own good, like a good doctor. Every cut, every pruning, is so we can grow better and bear fruit in love.
Let us ask, then: what is it in me that is contrary to the Gospel? What, in concrete terms, does Jesus want me to cut out of my life?
Let us pray to Mary Immaculate, that she may help us be welcoming towards others and vigilant about ourselves.
“If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12).
This Sunday’s Scripture readings seem to have been chosen precisely for this moment of grace which the Church is experiencing: the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which begins with this Eucharistic celebration.
Adam, as we heard in the first reading, was living in the Garden of Eden. He named all the other creatures as a sign of his dominion, his clear and undisputed power, over all of them. Nonetheless, he felt alone, because “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20). He was lonely.
The drama of solitude is experienced by countless men and women in our own day. I think of the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture.
Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom… The number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.
Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability. The image of this is the family. People are less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, in good times and in bad. Love which is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past. It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.
Love between man and woman
In the first reading we also hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness. He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone. These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as the Psalm proclaimed today says (cf. Ps 128).
This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).
To a rhetorical question – probably asked as a trap to make him unpopular with the crowd, which practiced divorce as an established and inviolable fact – Jesus responds in a straightforward and unexpected way. He brings everything back to the beginning, to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility. This shows us that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life! In this way Jesus re-establishes the order which was present from the beginning.
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9). This is an exhortation to believers to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan.
Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense.
For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.
Paradoxically, people today – who often ridicule this plan – continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love. We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.
“Now that we have fully tasted the promises of unlimited freedom, we begin to appreciate once again the old phrase: “world-weariness”. Forbidden pleasures lost their attraction at the very moment they stopped being forbidden. Even if they are pushed to the extreme and endlessly renewed, they prove dull, for they are finite realities, whereas we thirst for the infinite” (Joseph Ratzinger, Auf Christus schauen. Einübung in Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, Freiburg, 1989, p. 73).
In this extremely difficult social and marital context, the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love.
To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.
The Church is called to carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).
And the Church is called to carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; even more, to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.
A Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27); and that Jesus also said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.
I remember when Saint John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (John Paul II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11).
In this spirit we ask the Lord to accompany us during the Synod and to guide his Church, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
The question posed by the Pharisees concerned marriage; they wanted to know if it was lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. But, Jesus goes beyond the simple question of lawfulness, going back to the “the beginning.” Jesus speaks about marriage as it is in itself, perhaps the greatest thing created by God in those seven days of Creation.
“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus words in the Gospel are very strong. He speaks of “one flesh” which cannot be divided. Jesus lays aside the problem of separation, and goes to the beauty of the couple, who ought to be one.
We must not focus, like these doctors do, on [the answer] "Yes, you can" divide a marriage, or "No, you can’t." At times there is misfortune, when it doesn't work, and it is better to separate in order to avoid a world war. But this is a misfortune. Let us go and look at the positive.
I met a couple who were celebrating 60 years of marriage and asked them, “Are you happy?” They looked at one another, and with tears in their eyes, answered, “We are in love!”
It’s true that there are difficulties, there are problems with children or with the couple themselves, arguments and fights… but the important thing is that the flesh remains one, and you can overcome, you can overcome, you can overcome. And this is not only a sacrament for them, but also for the Church, a sacrament, as it were, that attracts attention: “See, love is possible!” And love is capable of allowing you to live your whole life “in love”: in joy and in sorrow, with the problems of children, and their own problems… but always going forward. In sickness and in health, but always going forward. This is beautiful.
Man and woman are created in God’s image and likeness; and for this reason, marriage likewise becomes an image of God. This makes marriage very beautiful. Matrimony is a silent homily for everyone else, a daily homily.
It’s sad when this is not news: the newspapers, the TV news shows, don’t consider this news. But this couple, together for so many years… it’s not news. Scandal, divorce, separation – these are considered newsworthy. Although at times its necessary to separate, as I said, to avoid a greater evil. The image of God isn’t news. But this is the beauty of marriage. They [the couple] are the image and likeness of God. And this is our news, the Christian news. Patience is the most important virtue
Marriage and family life is not easy. James 5: 9-12 speaks about patience. Patience, is perhaps the most important virtue for the couple – both for the man and for the woman. Pray that the Lord might give to the Church and to society a more profound and more beautiful understanding of marriage, so that we all might be able to appreciate and reflect upon [the fact] that the image and likeness of God is present in marriage.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel reading (cf. Mk 10:2-16) offers us Jesus’ words on marriage. The passage opens with the provocation of the Pharisees who ask Jesus if it is “lawful for a man to divorce his wife”, as the Law of Moses provides (cf. vv. 2-4). Jesus firstly, with the wisdom and authority that come to him from the Father, puts the Mosaic prescription into perspective, saying: “For your hardness of heart he” — that is, the ancient legislator — “wrote you this commandment” (v. 5). Thus it is a concession that is needed to mend the flaws created by our selfishness, but it does not correspond to the Creator’s original intention.
And here, Jesus again takes up the Book of Genesis: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’” (vv. 6-8). And he concludes: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 9). In the Creator’s original plan, it is not that a man marries a woman and, if things do not go well, he repudiates her. No. Rather, the man and the woman are called to recognize each other, to complete each other, to help each other in marriage.
This teaching of Jesus is very clear and defends the dignity of marriage as a union of love which implies fidelity. What allows the spouses to remain united in marriage is a love of mutual giving supported by Christ’s grace. However, if in the spouses, individual interests, one’s own satisfaction prevails, then their union cannot endure.
And the Gospel passage itself reminds us, with great realism, that man and woman, called to experience a relationship of love, may regretfully behave in a way that places it in crisis. Jesus does not admit all that can lead to the failure of the relationship. He does so in order to confirm God’s plan, in which the power and beauty of the human relationship emerge. The Church, on the one hand, does not tire of confirming the beauty of the family as it was consigned to us by Scripture and by Tradition; at the same time, she strives to make her maternal closeness tangibly felt by those who experience relationships that are broken or that continue in a difficult and trying way.
God’s way of acting with his unfaithful people — that is, with us — teaches us that wounded love can be healed by God through mercy and forgiveness. For this reason in these situations, the Church is not asked to express immediately and only condemnation. On the contrary, before so many painful marital failures, she feels called to show love, charity and mercy, in order to lead wounded and lost hearts back to God.
Let us invoke the Virgin Mary, that she help married couples to always live and renew their union, beginning with God’s original Gift.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
In the Gospel of today’s Liturgy we see Jesus react somewhat unusually: He is indignant. And what is most surprising is that his indignation is not caused by the Pharisees who put him to the test with questions about the legality of divorce, but by his disciples who, to protect him from the crowd of people, rebuke some children who had been brought to Jesus. In other words, the Lord is not angry with those who argue with him, but with those who, in order to relieve him of his burden, make the children go away from him. Why? It is a good question: why does the Lord do this?
Let us remember – it was the Gospel reading two Sundays ago – that Jesus, performing the gesture of embracing a child, identified himself with the little ones: he taught that it is indeed the little ones, namely, those are dependent on others, who are in need and cannot reciprocate, who must be served first (see Mk 9:35-37). Those who seek God find him there, in the little ones, in those in need: in need not only of material goods, but of care and comfort, such as the sick, the humiliated, prisoners, immigrants, the incarcerated. He is there: in the little ones. This is why Jesus gets angry: any affront to a little one, a poor person, a child, a defenceless person, is done to Him.
Today the Lord picks up this teaching again and completes it. In fact, he adds: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk 10:15). Here is what is new: the disciple must not only serve the little ones, but also acknowledge himself as a little one. And every one of us, do we recognise ourselves as small before God? Let’s think about it, it will help us. Awareness of being little, awareness of the need of salvation is indispensable for receiving the Lord. It is the first step in opening ourselves up to Him. Often, however, we forget about this. In prosperity, in wellbeing, we have the illusion of being self-sufficient, that we are enough, that we do not need God. Brothers and sisters, this is a deception, because each one of us is a person in need, a little one. We must seek out our smallness and recognise it. And there, we will find Jesus.
In life, recognising one’s littleness is a starting point for becoming great. If we think about it, we grow not so much on the basis of our successes and the things we have, but above all in difficult and fragile moments. There, in our need, we mature; there we open our hearts to God, to others, to the meaning of life. Let us open our eyes to others. Let us open our eyes, when we are little, to the true meaning of life. When we feel small in the face of a problem, small in front of a cross, an illness, when we experience fatigue and loneliness, let us not get discouraged. The mask of superficiality is falling and our radical weakness is re-emerging: it is our common ground, our treasure, because with God weakness is not an obstacle but an opportunity. A beautiful prayer would be this: “Lord, look at my frailties…” and to list them before Him. This is a good attitude before God.
Indeed, it is precisely in weakness that we discover how much God takes care of us. The Gospel today says that Jesus is very tender with the little ones: “He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them” (v. 16). The difficulties and situations that reveal our weakness are privileged opportunities to experience His love. Those who pray with perseverance know this well: in dark or lonely moments, God’s tenderness towards us makes itself, so to speak, even more present. When we are little, we feel God’s tenderness more. This tenderness gives us peace; this tenderness makes us grow, because God draws close to us in His way, which is nearness, compassion and tenderness. And, when we feel we are little, small, for whatever reason, the Lord comes closer, we feel he is closer. He gives us peace; he makes us grow. In prayer the Lord draws us close to him, like a father with his child. This is how we become great: not in the illusory pretence of our self-sufficiency – this makes no-one great - but in the strength of placing all our hope in the Father, just like the little ones do, they do this.
Today let us ask the Virgin Mary for a huge grace, that of littleness: to be children who trust the Father, certain that He will not fail to take care of us.
Jesus assures all those who follow him a place among “the family of Christians” and recalls that “we are all brothers and sisters”, but warns that “there will be persecutions, difficulties”. "Whoever follows me, must take the same route that I took”. It is a way, which leads to humbling oneself and which “ends on the Cross. There will always be difficulties and persecutions that come from the world, for he took this path first. When a Christian does not have difficulties in life and all goes well, something is not right”. One might think that he succumbed to the temptation to follow the spirit of the world instead of Jesus. Let us ask for this grace: to follow Jesus on the path which he has shown to us and taught us. This is beautiful: He never leaves us alone, never. He is always with us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today is the Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. Who among you is named Anthony? A round of applause for all the ‘Anthony's’.
Today, we shall begin a new series of catechesis on the theme of the Commandments. The Commandments of the Law of God. To introduce it, let us draw from the passage just heard: the encounter between Jesus and a man — he is a young man — who, on his knees, asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life (cf. Mk 10:17-21). And in that question is the challenge of every life, ours too: the desire for a full, infinite life. What must we do to achieve it? What path must we take? To truly live, to live a noble life.... How many young people try to ‘live’ and destroy themselves by following things that are fleeting.
Some think that it would be better to extinguish this impulse — the impulse to live — because it is dangerous. I would like to say, especially to young people: our worst enemy is not practical problems, no matter how serious and dramatic: life’s greatest danger is a poor spirit of adaptation which is neither meekness nor humility, but mediocrity, cowardice.  Is a mediocre young person a youth with a future or not? No! He or she remains there, will not grow, will not have success. Mediocrity or cowardice. Those young people who are afraid of everything: ‘No, this is how I am...’. These young people will not move forward. Meekness, strength, and not cowardice, not mediocrity.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati — he was a young man — used to say that one must live, not just get by.  The mediocre just get by, living by their life force. One must ask the heavenly Father, for today’s young people, for the gift of a healthy restlessness. But, at home, in your homes, in every family, when a young person is seen sitting idle all day, at times mom and dad wonder: “is he sick; is something wrong?”, and they take him to the doctor. The life of young people is about moving forward, being restless, healthy restlessness, the capacity not to be content with a life without beauty, without colour. If young people are not hungry for an authentic life, I wonder, where will humanity end up? Where will humanity go with young people who are idle and not restless?
The question of that man in the Gospel passage that we have heard is inside of each of us: how can we find life, life in abundance, happiness? Jesus answers: “You know the commandments” (v. 19), and cites part of the Ten Commandments. It is a pedagogical process, by which Jesus wishes to lead to an exact place; in fact it is already clear, from that man’s question, that he does not have a full life; he seeks more and is restless. Thus, what does he need in order to understand? He says: “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth” (v. 20).
How do we pass from youth to maturity? When we begin to accept our own limitations. We become adults when we ‘relativize’ and become aware of ‘what is lacking’ (cf. v. 21). This man is forced to acknowledge that everything he is able to “do” does not rise above a “ceiling”; it does not exceed a margin.
How great it is to be men and women! How precious our existence is! Yet, there is a truth that, in the history of the last centuries, mankind has often rejected, with tragic consequences: the truth of our limitations.
In the Gospel Jesus says something that can help us: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Mt 5:17). The Lord Jesus gives us the fulfilment; he came for this. That man had to come to the brink, where he had to take a decisive leap, where the possibility was presented to stop living for himself, for his own deeds, for his own goods and — precisely because he lacked a full life — to leave everything to follow the Lord. Clearly, in Jesus’ final — immense, wonderful — invitation, there is no proposal of poverty, but of wealth, of the true richness: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21).
Being able to choose between an original and a copy, who would choose the copy? Here is the challenge: finding life’s original, not the copy. Jesus does not offer surrogates, but true life, true love, true richness! How will young people be able to follow us in faith if they do not see us choose the original, if they see us adjusting to half measures? It is awful to find half-measure Christians, — allow me the word — ‘dwarf’ Christians; they grow to a certain height and no more; Christians with a miniaturized, closed heart. It is awful to find this. We need the example of someone who invites me to a ‘beyond’, a ‘plus’, to grow a little. Saint Ignatius called it the ‘magis’, “the fire, the fervour of action that rouses us from slumber”.
The path of what is lacking passes through what there is. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law nor the Prophets, but to fulfil. We must start from reality in order to take the leap into ‘what we lack’. We must scrutinize the ordinary in order to open ourselves to the extraordinary.
In these catechesis we will take the two tablets of Moses as Christians, taking Jesus’ hand, in order to pass from the illusions of youth to the treasure that is in heaven, walking behind Him. We will discover, in each of these laws, ancient and wise, the door opened by the Father who is in heaven so that the Lord Jesus, who has crossed the threshold, may lead us to true life. His life. The life of the children of God.
The second reading tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12). It really is: God’s word is not merely a set of truths or an edifying spiritual account; no – it is a living word that touches our lives, that transforms our lives. There, Jesus in person, the living Word of God, speaks to our hearts.
The Gospel, in particular, invites us to an encounter with the Lord, after the example of the “man” who “ran up to him” (cf. Mk 10:17). We can recognize ourselves in that man, whose name the text does not give, as if to suggest that he could represent each one of us. He asks Jesus how “to inherit eternal life” (v. 17). He is seeking life without end, life in its fullness: who of us would not want this? Yet we notice that he asks for it as an inheritance, as a good to be obtained, to be won by his own efforts. In fact, in order to possess this good, he has observed the commandments from his youth and to achieve this he is prepared to follow others; and so he asks: “What must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus’s answer catches him off guard. The Lord looks upon him and loves him (cf. v. 21). Jesus changes the perspective: from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love. That man was speaking in terms of supply and demand, Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God. And the Lord suggests to the man a life that cuts to the quick: “Sell what you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me” (v. 21). To you, too, Jesus says: “Come, follow me!” Come: do not stand still, because it is not enough not to do evil in order to be with Jesus. Follow me: do not walk behind Jesus only when you want to, but seek him out every day; do not be content to keep the commandments, to give a little alms and say a few prayers: find in Him the God who always loves you; seek in Jesus the God who is the meaning of your life, the God who gives you the strength to give of yourself.
Again Jesus says: “Sell what you have and give to the poor.” The Lord does not discuss theories of poverty and wealth, but goes directly to life. He asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for him, the only good. We cannot truly follow Jesus when we are laden down with things. Because if our hearts are crowded with goods, there will not be room for the Lord, who will become just one thing among the others. For this reason, wealth is dangerous and – says Jesus – even makes one’s salvation difficult. Not because God is stern, no! The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates us, suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving. Therefore, Saint Paul writes that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). We see this where money is at the centre, there is no room for God nor for man.
Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a “percentage of love”: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.
Dear brothers and sisters, our heart is like a magnet: it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure (cf. Mt 6:24); either it will live for love or it will live for itself (cf. Mk 8:35). Let us ask ourselves where we are in our story of love with God. Do we content ourselves with a few commandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him? Jesus asks each of us and all of us as the Church journeying forward: are we a Church that only preaches good commandments or a Church that is a spouse, that launches herself forward in love for her Lord? Do we truly follow him or do we revert to the ways of the world, like that man in the Gospel? In a word, is Jesus enough for us or do we look for many worldly securities? Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, leave behind the yearning for status and power, leave behind structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world. Without a leap forward in love, our life and our Church become sick from “complacency and self-indulgence” (Evangelii Gaudium, 95): we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum, where a little narcissism covers over the sadness of remaining unfulfilled.
This is how it was for the man, who – the Gospel tells us – “went away sorrowful” (v. 22). He was tied down to regulations of the law and to his many possessions; he had not given over his heart. Even though he had encountered Jesus and received his loving gaze, the man went away sad. Sadness is the proof of unfulfilled love, the sign of a lukewarm heart. On the other hand, a heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spreads joy, that joy for which there is so much need today. Pope Saint Paul VI wrote: “It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song” (Gaudete in Domino, I). Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path.
Paul VI did too, after the example of the Apostle whose name he took. Like him, Paul VI spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of a Church turned outwards, looking to those far away and taking care of the poor. Even in the midst of tiredness and misunderstanding, Paul VI bore witness in a passionate way to the beauty and the joy of following Christ totally. Today he still urges us, together with the Council whose wise helmsman he was, to live our common vocation: the universal call to holiness. Not to half measures, but to holiness. It is wonderful that together with him and the other new saints today, there is Archbishop Romero, who left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters. We can say the same about Francesco Spinelli, Vincenzo Romano, Maria Caterina Kasper, Nazaria Ignazia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, and also our Abruzzese-Neapolitan young man, Nunzio Sulprizio: the saintly, courageous, humble young man who encountered Jesus in his suffering, in silence and in the offering of himself. All these saints, in different contexts, put today’s word into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all behind. Brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us to imitate their example.
A certain rich man came up to Jesus “as he was setting out on his journey” (Mk 10:17). The Gospels frequently show us Jesus “on a journey”; he walks alongside people and listens to the questions and concerns lurking in their hearts. He shows us that God is not found in neat and orderly places, distant from reality, but walks ever at our side. He meets us where we are, on the often rocky roads of life. Today, as we begin this synodal process, let us begin by asking ourselves – all of us, Pope, bishops, priests, religious and laity – whether we, the Christian community, embody this “style” of God, who travels the paths of history and shares in the life of humanity. Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey? Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: “It’s useless” or “We’ve always done it this way”?
Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, walking together. Let us look at Jesus. First, he encounters the rich man on the road; he then listens to his questions, and finally he helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life. Encounter, listen and discern. I would like to reflect on these three verbs that characterize the Synod.
The first is encounter. The Gospel passage begins by speaking of an encounter. A man comes up to Jesus and kneels down before him, asking him a crucial question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17). So important a question requires attention, time, willingness to encounter others and sensitivity to what troubles them. The Lord is not stand aloof; he does not appear annoyed or disturbed. Instead, he is completely present to this person. He is open to encounter. Nothing leaves Jesus indifferent; everything is of concern to him. Encountering faces, meeting eyes, sharing each individual’s history. That is the closeness that Jesus embodies. He knows that someone’s life can be changed by a single encounter. The Gospel is full of such encounters with Christ, encounters that uplift and bring healing. Jesus did not hurry along, or keep looking at his watch to get the meeting over. He was always at the service of the person he was with, listening to what he or she had to say.
As we initiate this process, we too are called to become experts in the art of encounter. Not so much by organizing events or theorizing about problems, as in taking time to encounter the Lord and one another. Time to devote to prayer and to adoration – that form of prayer that we so often neglect – devoting time to adoration, and to hearing what the Spirit wants to say to the Church. Time to look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say, to build rapport, to be sensitive to the questions of our sisters and brothers, to let ourselves be enriched by the variety of charisms, vocations and ministries. Every encounter – as we know – calls for openness, courage and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the presence and the stories of others. If at times we would rather take refuge in formality or presenting the proper image – the clerical and courtly spirit, where I am more Monsieur l’abbé than Father – the experience of encounter changes us; frequently it opens up new and unexpected possibilities. Following today’s Angelus, I will meet with a group of street people who came together simply because a group of people made an effort to listen to them, sometimes just to listen to them. And from that listening they succeeded in setting out on a new path. So often God points out new paths in just this way. He invites us to leave our old habits behind. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with him and with one another, without formalism or pretense, but simply as we are.
The second verb is listen. True encounter arises only from listening. Jesus listened to that man’s question and to the religious and existential concerns that lay behind it. He did not give a non-committal reply or offer a prepackaged solution; he did not pretend to respond politely, simply as a way of dismissing him and continuing on his way. Jesus simply listens, for whatever amount of time it takes; he is not rushed. Most importantly, he is not afraid to listen to him with his heart and not just with his ears. Indeed, he does more than simply answer the rich man’s question; he lets him tell his story, to speak freely about himself. Christ reminds him of the commandments, and the man starts to talk about his youth, to share his religious journey and his efforts to seek God. This happens whenever we listen with the heart: people feel that they are being heard, not judged; they feel free to recount their own experiences and their spiritual journey.
Let us ask ourselves frankly during this synodal process: Are we good at listening? How good is the “hearing” of our heart? Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith even though they have had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered, rejected or judged? Participating in a Synod means placing ourselves on the same path as the Word made flesh. It means following in his footsteps, listening to his word along with the words of others. It means discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us, to suggest fresh paths and new ways of speaking. It is a slow and perhaps tiring exercise, this learning to listen to one another – bishops, priests, religious and laity, all the baptized – and to avoid artificial and shallow and pre-packaged responses. The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. So often our certainties can make us closed. Let us listen to one another.
Finally, discern. Encounter and listening are not ends in themselves, leaving everything just as it was before. On the contrary, whenever we enter into dialogue, we allow ourselves to be challenged, to advance on a journey. And in the end, we are no longer the same; we are changed. We see this in today’s Gospel. Jesus senses that the person before him is a good and religious man, obedient to the commandments, but he wants to lead him beyond the mere observance of precepts. Through dialogue, he helps him to discern. Jesus encourages that man to look within, in the light of the love that the Lord himself had shown by his gaze (cf. v. 21), and to discern in that light what his heart truly treasures. And in this way to discover that he cannot attain happiness by filling his life with more religious observances, but by emptying himself, selling whatever takes up space in his heart, in order to make room for God.
Here is a valuable lesson also for us. The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God. Today’s second reading tells us that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). That word summons us to discernment and it brings light to that process. It guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit. In these days, Jesus calls us, as he did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward-looking and outworn pastoral models; and to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time. And the direction in which he wants to lead us.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us have a good journey together! May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. Let us not miss out on the grace-filled opportunities born of encounter, listening and discernment. In the joyful conviction that, even as we seek the Lord, he always comes with his love to meet us first.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
Today’s Liturgy offers us the encounter between Jesus and a man who “had great possessions” (Mk 10:22), and who went down in history as “the rich young man” (cf. Mt 19:20-22). We do not know his name. The Gospel of Mark actually speaks of him as “a man”, without mentioning his age or name, suggesting that we can all see ourselves in this man, as though in a mirror. His encounter with Jesus, in fact, allows us to test our faith. Reading this, I test myself on my faith.
The man begins with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17). Notice the verbs he uses: “must do” – “inherit”. Here is his religiosity: a duty, a doing so as to obtain; I do something to get what I need”. But this is a commercial relationship with God, a quid pro quo. Faith, on the other hand, is not a cold, mechanical ritual, a “must-do-obtain”. It is a question of freedom and love. Faith is a question of freedom, it is a question of love. Here is a first test: what is faith for me? If it is mainly a duty or a bargaining chip, we are off track, because salvation is a gift and not a duty, it is free and cannot be bought. The first thing to do is to free ourselves of a commercial and mechanical faith, which insinuates the false image of an accounting and controlling God, not a father. And very often in life we experience this “commercial” relationship of faith: I do this, so that God will give me that.
Jesus, in the second step, helps this man by offering him the true face of God. Indeed, the text says, “Jesus looking upon him loved him” (v. 21): this is God! This is where faith is born and reborn: not from a duty, not from something that is to be done or paid, but from a look of love to be welcomed. In this way Christian life becomes beautiful, if it is based not on our abilities and our plans; it is based on God’s gaze. Is your faith, is my faith tired? Do you want to reinvigorate it? Look for God's gaze: sit in adoration, allow yourself to be forgiven in Confession, stand before the Crucified One. In short, let yourself be loved by him. This is the starting point of faith: letting oneself be loved by him, by the Father.
After the question and the look there is – the third and final step – an invitation from Jesus, who says: “You lack one thing”. What was that rich man lacking? Giving, gratuitousness. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (v. 21). It is perhaps what we are missing too. Often, we do the bare minimum, whereas Jesus invites us to do the maximum possible. How many times are we satisfied with doing our duties – the precepts, a few prayers, and many things like that – whereas God, who gives us life, asks us for the impetus of life! In today’s Gospel we see clearly this passage from duty to giving; Jesus begins by recalling the Commandments: “Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal….”, and so on (v. 19) and arrives at a positive proposal: “Go, sell, give, follow me!” (cf. v. 21). Faith cannot be limited to “do not”, because Christian life is a “yes” a “yes” of love.
Dear brothers and sisters, a faith without giving, a faith without gratuitousness is an incomplete faith. We could compare it to rich and nourishing food that nonetheless lacks flavour, or a more or less well-played game, but without a goal: no, it isn’t good, it lacks “salt”. A faith without giving, without gratuitousness, without works of charity, makes us sad in the end: just like that man whose “face fell” and returned home “sorrowful”, even though he had been looked upon with love by Jesus in person. Today we can ask ourselves: “At what point is my faith? Do I experience it as something mechanical, like a relationship of duty or interest with God? Do I remember to nourish it by letting myself be looked at and loved by Jesus?” Letting oneself be looked at and loved by Jesus; letting Jesus look at us, love us. “And, attracted by him, do I respond freely, with generosity, with all my heart?”.
May the Virgin Mary, who said a total “yes” to God, a “yes” without “but” – it is not easy to say “yes” without “but”: Our Lady did just that, a “yes” without a “but” - let us savour the beauty of making life a gift.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel passage (cf. Mk 10:35-45) describes Jesus who, once again and with great patience, tries to correct his disciples, converting them from the world’s mentality to that of God. The opportunity is given to him by the brothers James and John, two of the very first whom Jesus met and called to follow him. By now they have gone quite a long way with him and in fact belong to the group of the 12 Apostles. Therefore, while they are on their way to Jerusalem — where the disciples anxiously hope that on the occasion of the celebration of Passover, Jesus will at last establish the Kingdom of God — the two brothers take courage, approach the Teacher and make their request: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v. 37).
Jesus knows that James and John are inspired by great enthusiasm for him and for the cause of the Kingdom, but he also knows that their expectations and their zeal are tarnished by the spirit of the world. Thus he responds: “You do not know what your are asking” (v. 38). And as they are speaking of ‘thrones of glory’ on which to sit beside Christ the King, he speaks of a “cup” to be drunk, of a “baptism” to be received, that is, his passion and death. James and John, always aiming at the hoped-for privilege, say in an outburst: yes, “we are able”! (v. 39). But here too, they do not truly understand what they are saying. Jesus forewarns that they will drink his cup and receive his baptism, that is, that they too, like the other Apostles, will take part in his cross, when their time comes. However, Jesus concludes: “to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (v. 40). As if to say: now follow me and learn how to love ‘at a loss’, and the heavenly Father will see to our reward. The way of love is always ‘at a loss’, because to love means to set aside egoism, self-referentiality, in order to serve others.
Jesus then realizes that the other 10 Apostles are angry with James and John, and thus show they have the same worldly mentality. And this offers him inspiration for a lesson that applies to Christians of all times, for us too. He says: “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (vv. 42-44). It is the rule of Christians. The Teacher’s message is clear: while the great people of the Earth build themselves ‘thrones’ for their own power, God chooses an uncomfortable throne, the cross, from which to reign by giving his life: “the Son of man”, Jesus says, “also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).
The way of service is the most effective antidote against the disease of seeking first place; it is the medicine for status seekers, this seeking first place, which infects many human contexts, and does not even spare Christians, the People of God, nor even the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Therefore, as disciples of Christ, let us receive this Gospel passage as a call to conversion, in order to witness with courage and generosity a Church that bows at the feet of the least, in order to serve them with love and simplicity. May the Virgin Mary, who fully and humbly adhered to the will of God, help us to joyfully follow Jesus on the way of service, the royal road that leads to Heaven.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
At the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel passage (cf. Mk 12:28b-34), there is the commandment of love: love of God and love of neighbour. A scribe asks Jesus: “Which commandment is the first of all?” (v. 28). He responds by quoting the profession of faith with which every Israelite opens and closes his day, and begins with the words “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4). In this manner Israel safeguards its faith in the fundamental reality of its whole creed: only one Lord exists and that Lord is ‘ours’ in the sense that he is bound to us by an indissoluble pact; he loved us, loves us, and will love us for ever. It is from this source, this love of God, that the twofold commandment comes to us: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.... You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31).
In choosing these two Words addressed by God to his people and by putting them together, Jesus taught once and for all that love for God and love for neighbour are inseparable; moreover, they sustain one another. Even if set in a sequence, they are two sides of a single coin: experienced together they are a believer’s strength! To love God is to live of him and for him, for what he is and for what he does. Our God is unmitigated giving; he is unlimited forgiveness; he is a relationship that promotes and fosters. Therefore, to love God means to invest our energies each day to be his assistants in the unmitigated service of our neighbour, in trying to forgive without limitations, and in cultivating relationships of communion and fraternity.
Mark the Evangelist does not bother to specify who the neighbour is, because a neighbour is a person whom I meet on the journey, in my days. It is not a matter of pre-selecting my neighbour: this is not Christian. I think my neighbour is the one I have chosen ahead of time: no, this is not Christian, it is pagan; but it is about having eyes to see and a heart to want what is good for him or her. If we practice seeing with Jesus’ gaze, we will always be listening and be close to those in need. Of course our neighbour’s needs require effective responses, but even beforehand they require sharing. With one look we can say that the hungry need not just a bowl of soup, but also a smile, to be listened to and also a prayer, perhaps said together. Today’s Gospel passage invites us all to be projected not only toward the needs of our poorest brothers and sisters, but above all to be attentive to their need for fraternal closeness, for a meaning to life, and for tenderness. This challenges our Christian communities: it means avoiding the risk of being communities that have many initiatives but few relationships; the risk of being community ‘service stations’ but with little company, in the full and Christian sense of this term.
God, who is love, created us to love and so that we can love others while remaining united with him. It would be misleading to claim to love our neighbour without loving God; and it would also be deceptive to claim to love God without loving our neighbour. The two dimensions of love, for God and for neighbour, in their unity characterize the disciple of Christ. May the Virgin Mary help us to welcome and bear witness in everyday life to this luminous lesson.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning... on this beautiful, sunny day!
This Sunday’s Gospel passage is composed of two parts: one that describes how not to be followers of Christ; the other offers an example of a Christian.
Let’s start with the first: what not to do. In the first part, Jesus accuses the scribes, the teachers of the law, of having three defects in their lifestyle: pride, greed and hypocrisy. They like “to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts” (Mk 12:38-39). But beneath such solemn appearances they are hiding falsehood and injustice.
While flaunting themselves in public, they use their authority — as Jesus says — to devour “the houses of widows” (cf. v. 40); those who, along with orphans and foreigners, were considered to be the people most vulnerable and least protected. Lastly, Jesus says that the scribes, “for a pretence make long prayers” (v. 40). Even today we risk taking on these attitudes. For example, when prayer is separate from justice so that God cannot be worshiped, and causing harm to the poor. Or when one claims to love God, but instead offers him only grandiosity for one’s own advantage.
The second part of the Gospel follows this line of thinking. The scene is set in the temple of Jerusalem, precisely in the place where people are tossing coins as offerings. There are many rich people putting in large sums, and there is a poor woman, a widow, who contributes only two bits, two small coins. Jesus observes the woman carefully and calls the disciples’ attention to the sharp contrast of the scene.
The wealthy contributed with great ostentation what for them was superfluous, while the widow, Jesus says, “put in everything she had, her whole living” (v. 44). For this reason, Jesus says, she gave the most of all. Because of her extreme poverty, she could have offered a single coin to the temple and kept the other for herself. But she did not want to give just half to God; she divested herself of everything. In her poverty she understood that in having God, she had everything; she felt completely loved by him and in turn loved him completely. What a beautiful example this little old woman offers us!
Today Jesus also tells us that the benchmark is not quantity but fullness. There is a difference between quantity and fullness. You can have a lot of money and still be empty. There is no fullness in your heart. This week, think about the difference there is between quantity and fullness. It is not a matter of the wallet, but of the heart. There is a difference between the wallet and the heart.... There are diseases of the heart, which reduce the heart to the wallet.... This is not good! To love God “with all your heart” means to trust in him, in his providence, and to serve him in the poorest brothers and sisters without expecting anything in return.
Allow me to tell you a story, which happened in my previous diocese. A mother and her three children were at the table, the father was at work. They were eating Milan-style cutlets.... There was a knock at the door and one of the children — they were young, 5, 6 and the oldest was 7 — comes and says: “Mom, there is a beggar asking for something to eat”. And the mom, a good Christian, asks them: “What shall we do?” — “Let’s give him something, mom…” – “Ok”. She takes her fork and knife and cuts the cutlets in half. “Ah no, mom, no! Not like this! Take something from the fridge” — “No! Let’s make three sandwiches with this!”. The children learned that true charity is given, not with what is left over, but with what we need. That afternoon I am sure that the children were a bit hungry.... But this is how it’s done!
Faced with the needs of our neighbours, we are called — like these children and the halved cutlets — to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous; we are called to give the time that is necessary, not only what is extra; we are called to give immediately and unconditionally some of our talent, not after using it for our own purposes or for our own group.
Let us ask the Lord to admit us to the school of this poor widow, whom Jesus places in the cathedra and presents as a teacher of the living Gospel even to the astonishment of the disciples. Through the intercession of Mary, the poor woman who gave her entire life to God for us, let us ask for a heart that is poor, but rich in glad and freely given generosity.
At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself” (2:8). Jesus’ humiliation.
These words show us God’s way and, consequently, that which must be the way of Christians: it is humility. A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!
Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity. This is clear when we read the the story of the Exodus. How humiliating for the Lord to hear all that grumbling, all those complaints against Moses, but ultimately against him, their Father, who brought them out of slavery and was leading them on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.
This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be “holy” for us too!
We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted. We will hear Peter, the “rock” among the disciples, deny him three times. We will hear the shouts of the crowd, egged on by their leaders, who demand that Barabbas be freed and Jesus crucified. We will see him mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God.
This is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation.
Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the “form of a slave” (cf. Phil 2:7). In the end, humility also means service. It means making room for God by stripping oneself, “emptying oneself”, as Scripture says (v. 7). This – the pouring out of oneself - is the greatest humiliation of all.
There is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ. It is worldliness, the way of the world. The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success… the other way. The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, and only by his grace, with his help, we too can overcome this temptation to vanity, to worldliness, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well.
In this, we are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and hiddenness, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others: a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person, the homeless…
We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price. We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many. They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity. They follow him on his way. In truth, we can speak of a “cloud of witnesses” – the martyrs of our own time (cf. Heb 12:1).
During this week, let us set about with determination along this same path of humility, with immense love for him, our Lord and Saviour. Love will guide us and give us strength. For where he is, we too shall be (cf. Jn 12:26).
Jesus enters Jerusalem. The liturgy invites us to share in the joy and celebration of the people who cry out in praise of their Lord; a joy that will fade and leaves a bitter and sorrowful taste by the end of the account of the Passion. This celebration seems to combine stories of joy and suffering, mistakes and successes, which are part of our daily lives as disciples. It somehow expresses the contradictory feelings that we too, the men and women of today, experience: the capacity for great love… but also for great hatred; the capacity for courageous self-sacrifice, but also the ability to “wash our hands” at the right moment; the capacity for loyalty, but also for great abandonment and betrayal.
We also see clearly throughout the Gospel account that the joy Jesus awakens is, for some, a source of anger and irritation.
Jesus enters the city surrounded by his people and by a cacophony of singing and shouting. We can imagine that amid the outcry we hear, all at the same time, the voice of the forgiven son, the healed leper, or the bleating of the lost sheep. Then too, the song of the publican and the unclean man; the cry of those living on the edges of the city. And the cry of those men and women who had followed Jesus because they felt his compassion for their pain and misery… That outcry is the song and the spontaneous joy of all those left behind and overlooked, who, having been touched by Jesus, can now shout: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. How could they not praise the one who had restored their dignity and hope? Theirs is the joy of so many forgiven sinners who are able to trust and hope once again. And they cry out. They rejoice. This is joy.
All this joy and praise is a source of unease, scandal and upset for those who consider themselves righteous and “faithful” to the law and its ritual precepts. A joy unbearable for those hardened against pain, suffering and misery. Many of these think to themselves: “Such ill-mannered people!” A joy intolerable for those who have forgotten the many chances they themselves had been given. How hard it is for the comfortable and the self-righteous to understand the joy and the celebration of God’s mercy! How hard it is for those who trust only in themselves, and look down on others, to share in this joy.
And so here is where another kind of shouting comes from, the fierce cry of those who shout out: “Crucify him!” It is not spontaneous but already armed with disparagement, slander and false witness. It is a cry that emerges in moving from the facts to an account of the facts; it comes from this “story”. It is the voice of those who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others. This is a false account. The cry of those who have no problem in seeking ways to gain power and to silence dissonant voices. The cry that comes from “spinning” facts and painting them such that they disfigure the face of Jesus and turn him into a “criminal”. It is the voice of those who want to defend their own position, especially by discrediting the defenceless. It is the cry born of the show of self-sufficiency, pride and arrogance, which sees no problem in shouting: “Crucify him, crucify him”.
And so the celebration of the people ends up being stifled. Hope is demolished, dreams are killed, joy is suppressed; the heart is shielded and charity grows cold. It is cry of “save yourself”, which would dull our sense of solidarity, dampen our ideals, and blur our vision... the cry that wants to erase compassion, that “suffering with” that is compassion, that is the weakness of God.
Faced with such people, the best remedy is to look at Christ’s cross and let ourselves be challenged by his final cry. He died crying out his love for each of us: young and old, saints and sinners, the people of his times and of our own. We have been saved by his cross, and no one can repress the joy of the Gospel; no one, in any situation whatsoever, is far from the Father’s merciful gaze. Looking at the cross means allowing our priorities, choices and actions to be challenged. It means questioning ourselves about our sensitivity to those experiencing difficulty. Brothers and sisters, where is our heart focused? Does Jesus Christ continue to be a source of joy and praise in our heart, or does its priorities and concerns make us ashamed to look at sinners, the least and forgotten?
And you, dear young people, the joy that Jesus awakens in you is a source of anger and even irritation to some, since a joyful young person is hard to manipulate. A joyful young person is hard to manipulate!
But today, a third kind of shouting is possible: “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”” (Lk 19: 39-40).
The temptation to silence young people has always existed. The Pharisees themselves rebuke Jesus and ask him to silence them.
There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anaesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. “Keep quiet, you!” There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.
On this Palm Sunday, as we celebrate World Youth Day, we do well to hear Jesus’ answer to all those Pharisees past and present, even the ones of today: “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40).
Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, so as not to fall into Friday’s “Crucify him!”... It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?
Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.
It is a gift to pray together. I greet all of you cordially and with gratitude, especially my brother, His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and dear Bishop Heinrich, President of the Council of the Evangelical Church of Germany. Sadly, Justin, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was unable to be here because of the pandemic.
The passage from the account of the Lord's Passion that we have just heard comes shortly before Jesus’ death. It speaks of the temptation he experienced amid the agony of the cross. At the supreme moment of his sufferings and love, many of those present cruelly taunted him with the words: “Save yourself!” (Mk 15:30). This is a great temptation. It spares no one, including us Christians. The temptation to think only of saving ourselves and our own circle. To focus only on our own problems and interests, as if nothing else mattered. It is a very human instinct, but wrong. It was the final temptation of the crucified God.
Save yourself. These words were spoken first “by those who passed by” (v. 29). They were ordinary people, those who had heard Jesus teach and who witnessed his miracles. Now they are telling him, “Save yourself, come down from the cross”. They had no pity, they only wanted miracles; they wanted to see Jesus descend from the cross. Sometimes we too prefer a wonder-working god to one who is compassionate, a god powerful in the eyes of the world, who shows his might and scatters those who wish us ill. But this is not God, but our own creation. How often do we want a god in our own image, rather than to become conformed to his own image. We want a god like ourselves, rather than becoming ourselves like God. In this way, we prefer the worship of ourselves to the worship of God. Such worship is nurtured and grows through indifference toward others. Those passers-by were only interested in Jesus for the satisfaction of their own desires. Jesus, reduced to an outcast hanging on the cross, was no longer of interest to them. He was before their eyes, yet far from their hearts. Indifference kept them far from the true face of God.
Save yourself. The next people to speak those words were the chief priests and the scribes. They were the ones who had condemned Jesus, for they considered him dangerous. All of us, though, are specialists in crucifying others to save ourselves. Yet Jesus allowed himself to be crucified, in order to teach us not to shift evil to others. The chief priests accused him precisely because of what he had done for others: “He saved others and cannot save himself!"(v. 31). They knew Jesus; they remembered the healings and liberating miracles he performed, but they drew a malicious conclusion. For them, saving others, coming to their aid, is useless; Jesus, who gave himself unreservedly for others was himself lost! The mocking tone of the accusation is garbed in religious language, twice using the verb to save. But the “gospel” of save yourself is not the Gospel of salvation. It is the falsest of the apocryphal gospels, making others carry the cross. Whereas the true Gospel bids us take up the cross of others.
Save yourself. Finally, those who were crucified alongside Jesus also joined in taunting him. How easy it is to criticize, to speak against others, to point to the evil in others but not in ourselves, even to blaming the weak and the outcast! But why were they upset with Jesus? Because he did not take them down from the cross they said to him: “Save yourself and us!” (Lk 23:39). They looked to Jesus only to resolve their problems. Yet God does not come only to free us from our ever-present daily problems, but rather to liberate us from the real problem, which is the lack of love. This is the primary cause of our personal, social, international and environmental ills. Thinking only of ourselves: this is the father of all evils. Yet one of the thieves then looks at Jesus and sees in him a humble love. He entered heaven by doing one thing alone: turning his concern from himself to Jesus, from himself to the person next to him (cf. v. 42).
Dear brothers and sisters, Calvary was the site of a great “duel” between God, who came to save us, and man, who wants to save only himself; between faith in God and worship of self; between man who accuses and God who excuses. In the end, God's victory was revealed; his mercy came down upon the earth. From the cross forgiveness poured forth and fraternal love was reborn: “the Cross makes us brothers and sisters” (BENEDICT XVI, Address at the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, 21 March 2008). Jesus’ arms, outstretched on the cross, mark the turning point, for God points a finger at no one, but instead embraces all. For love alone extinguishes hatred, love alone can ultimately triumph over injustice. Love alone makes room for others. Love alone is the path towards full communion among us.
Let us look upon the crucified God and ask him to grant us the grace to be more united and more fraternal. When we are tempted to follow the way of this world, may we be reminded of Jesus's words: “Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mk 8:35). What is counted loss in the eyes of the world is, for us, salvation. May we learn from the Lord, who saved us by emptying himself (cf. Phil 2:7) and becoming other: from being God, he became man; from spirit, he became flesh; from a king, he became a slave. He asks us to do the same, to humble ourselves, to “become other” in order to reach out to others. The closer we become to the Lord Jesus, the more we will be open and “universal”, since we will feel responsible for others. And others will become the means of our own salvation: all others, every human person, whatever his or her history and beliefs. Beginning with the poor, who are those most like Christ. The great Archbishop of Constantinople, Saint John Chrysostom, once wrote: “If there were no poor, the greater part of our salvation would be overthrown” (On the Second Letter to the Corinthians, XVII, 2). May the Lord help us to journey together on the path of fraternity, and thus to become credible witnesses of the living God.
Every year this liturgy leaves us amazed: we pass from the joy of welcoming Jesus as he enters Jerusalem to the sorrow of watching him condemned to death and then crucified. That sense of interior amazement will remain with us throughout Holy Week. Let us reflect more deeply on it.
From the start, Jesus leaves us amazed. His people give him a solemn welcome, yet he enters Jerusalem on a lowly colt. His people expect a powerful liberator at Passover, yet he comes to bring the Passover to fulfilment by sacrificing himself. His people are hoping to triumph over the Romans by the sword, but Jesus comes to celebrate God’s triumph through the cross. What happened to those people who in a few days’ time went from shouting “Hosanna” to crying out “Crucify him”? What happened? They were following an idea of the Messiah rather than the Messiah. They admired Jesus, but they did not let themselves be amazed by him. Amazement is not the same as admiration. Admiration can be worldly, since it follows its own tastes and expectations. Amazement, on the other hand, remains open to others and to the newness they bring. Even today, there are many people who admire Jesus: he said beautiful things; he was filled with love and forgiveness; his example changed history, … and so on. They admire him, but their lives are not changed. To admire Jesus is not enough. We have to follow in his footsteps, to let ourselves be challenged by him; to pass from admiration to amazement.
What is most amazing about the Lord and his Passover? It is the fact that he achieves glory through humiliation. He triumphs by accepting suffering and death, things that we, in our quest for admiration and success, would rather avoid. Jesus – as Saint Paul tells us – “emptied himself… he humbled himself” (Phil 2:7.8). This is the amazing thing: to see the Almighty reduced to nothing. To see the Word who knows all things teach us in silence from the height of the cross. To see the king of kings enthroned on a gibbet. Seeing the God of the universe stripped of everything and crowned with thorns instead of glory. To see the One who is goodness personified, insulted and beaten. Why all this humiliation? Why, Lord, did you wish to endure all this?
Jesus did it for us, to plumb the depths of our human experience, our entire existence, all our evil. To draw near to us and not abandon us in our suffering and our death. To redeem us, to save us. Jesus was lifted high on the cross in order to descend to the abyss of our suffering. He experienced our deepest sorrows: failure, loss of everything, betrayal by a friend, even abandonment by God. By experiencing in the flesh our deepest struggles and conflicts, he redeemed and transformed them. His love draws close to our frailty; it touches the very things of which we are most ashamed. Yet now we know that we are not alone: God is at our side in every affliction, in every fear; no evil, no sin will ever have the final word. God triumphs, but the palm of victory passes through the wood of the cross. For the palm and the cross are inseparable.
Let us ask for the grace to be amazed. A Christian life without amazement becomes drab and dreary. How can we talk about the joy of meeting Jesus, unless we are daily astonished and amazed by his love, which brings us forgiveness and the possibility of a new beginning? When faith no longer experiences amazement, it grows dull: it becomes blind to the wonders of grace; it can no longer taste the Bread of life and hear the Word; it can no longer perceive the beauty of our brothers and sisters and the gift of creation. It has no other course than to take refuge in legalisms, in clericalisms and in all these things that Jesus condemns in chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew.
During this Holy Week, let us lift our eyes to the cross, in order to receive the grace of amazement. As Saint Francis of Assisi contemplated the crucified Lord, he was amazed that his friars did not weep. What about us? Can we still be moved by God’s love? Have we lost the ability to be amazed by him? Why? Maybe our faith has grown dull from habit. Maybe we remain trapped in our regrets and allow ourselves to be crippled by our disappointments. Maybe we have lost all our trust or even feel worthless. But perhaps, behind all these “maybes”, lies the fact that we are not open to the gift of the Spirit who gives us the grace of amazement.
Let us start over from amazement. Let us gaze upon Jesus on the cross and say to him: “Lord, how much you love me! How precious I am to you!” Let us be amazed by Jesus so that we can start living again, for the grandeur of life lies not in possessions and promotions, but in realizing that we are loved. This is the grandeur of life: discovering that we are loved. And the grandeur of life lies precisely in the beauty of love. In the crucified Jesus, we see God humiliated, the Almighty dismissed and discarded. And with the grace of amazement we come to realize that in welcoming the dismissed and discarded, in drawing close to those ill-treated by life, we are loving Jesus. For that is where he is: in the least of our brothers and sisters, in the rejected and discarded, in those whom our self-righteous culture condemns.
Today’s Gospel shows us, immediately after the death of Jesus, a splendid icon of amazement. It is the scene of the centurion who, upon seeing that Jesus had died, said: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). He was amazed by love. How did he see Jesus die? He saw him die in love, and this amazed him. Jesus suffered immensely, but he never stopped loving. This is what it is to be amazed before God, who can fill even death with love. In that gratuitous and unprecedented love, the pagan centurion found God. His words – Truly this man was the Son of God! – “seal” the Passion narrative. The Gospels tell us that many others before him had admired Jesus for his miracles and prodigious works, and had acknowledged that he was the Son of God. Yet Christ silenced them, because they risked remaining purely on the level of worldly admiration at the idea of a God to be adored and feared for his power and might. Now it can no longer be so, for at the foot of the cross there can be no mistake: God has revealed himself and reigns only with the disarmed and disarming power of love.
Brothers and sisters, today God continues to fill our minds and hearts with amazement. Let us be filled with that amazement as we gaze upon the crucified Lord. May we too say: “You are truly the Son of God. You are my God”.
When I read this Gospel it occurs to me that St Mark may not have liked Mary Magdalen much, since he recalled that the Lord had driven seven demons out of her, didn’t he? It was a question of liking....
Faith: “a grace”, and “a gift of the Lord” which should not be glossed over — and is thus extended “to the peoples who believe in you”, as the Collect of Mass says, for “we are not attached to a fantasy”, but “to a reality we have seen and heard”. Acts of the Apostles (4:13-21). In response to the order given by the head priests and Pharisees not to speak of Jesus, Peter and John, “stood firm in this faith” saying, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”.
Their testimony, reminds me of our faith. And what is our faith like? Is it strong? Or is it at times a little like rosewater, a somewhat watered down faith? When problems arise are we brave like Peter or inclined to be lukewarm?.
Peter, teaches us that “faith is not negotiable. Among the People of God this temptation has always existed: to downsize faith, and not even by “much”. However “faith”, is like this, as we say in the Creed so we must get the better of “the temptation to behave more or less ‘like everyone else’, not to be too, too rigid”, because it is “from this that a path which ends in apostasy unfolds”. Indeed, “when we begin to cut faith down, to negotiate faith and more or less to sell it to the one who makes the best offer, we are setting out on the road of apostasy, of no fidelity to the Lord”.
Yet the very “example of Peter and John helps us, gives us strength”; as does the example of the martyrs in the Church’s history. It is they “who say, like Peter and John, ‘we cannot but speak’. And this gives strength to us, whose faith is at times rather weak. It gives us the strength to carry on living with this faith we have received, this faith which is the gift that the Lord gives to all peoples”.
Lord, thank you so much for my faith. Preserve my faith, increase it. May my faith be strong and courageous. And help me in the moments when, like Peter and John, I must make it public.
Before ascending into heaven Jesus sent the Apostles out to evangelize, to preach the kingdom. He sent them to the ends of the earth. ‘Go into all the world’”, he urged them. Jesus did not tell the Apostles to go to Jerusalem or Galilee but sent them out into the entire world. This explains the missionary outreach of the Church which continues to preach to the whole world. But she does not go by herself. She goes with Jesus.
The Christian preaches the Gospel with his witness rather than with his words. Pray to the Lord that they “become missionaries in the Church with this spirit: great magnanimity and also great humility”.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today, in Italy and in many other countries, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is being celebrated. This Solemnity embraces two elements. On the one hand it directs our gaze toward heaven, where the glorified Jesus is seated at the right hand of God (cf. Mk 16:19). On the other, it reminds us of the mission of the Church: why? Because Jesus, Risen and Ascended into heaven, sends his disciples to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Therefore, the Ascension exhorts us to lift our gaze toward heaven, in order to return it immediately to the earth, to implement the tasks that the Risen Lord entrusts to us.
It is what we are invited to do in the day’s Gospel passage, in which the event of the Ascension occurs immediately after the mission that Jesus entrusts to the disciples. It is a boundless mission — that is, literally without boundaries — which surpasses human strength. Jesus says, in fact: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The task which Jesus entrusts to a small group of common men lacking great intellectual capacity seems truly too bold! Yet this small company, insignificant compared to the great powers of the world, is sent to bring the message of Jesus’ love and mercy to every corner of the earth.
But this plan of God can be accomplished only with the strength that God himself grants to the Apostles. In this sense, Jesus assures them that their mission will be supported by the Holy Spirit. And he says this: “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is how this mission was able to be accomplished, and the Apostles began this work which was then continued by their successors. The mission that Jesus entrusted to the Apostles has continued through the centuries, and continues still today: it requires the cooperation of all of us. Each one, in fact, by the power of the Baptism that he or she received, is qualified in turn to proclaim the Gospel. Baptism is precisely what qualifies us and also spurs us to be missionaries, to proclaim the Gospel.
The Lord’s Ascension into heaven, while inaugurating a new form of Jesus’ presence among us, calls us to keep eyes and hearts open to encounter him, to serve him and bear witness to him to others. It is a matter of being men and women of the Ascension, that is, those who seek Christ along the paths of our time, bringing his word of salvation to the ends of the earth. On this journey we encounter Christ himself in our brothers and sisters, especially in the poorest, in those who suffer in their very flesh the harsh and humiliating experience of old and new forms of poverty. As at the beginning the Risen Christ sent his Apostles with the power of the Holy Spirit, so too does he send all of us today, with the same power, so as to establish concrete and visible signs of hope. Because Jesus gives us hope. He went to heaven and opened the gates of heaven and the hope that we will reach it.
May the Virgin Mary who, as Mother of the dead and Risen Lord, enlivened the faith of the first community of disciples, help us too to “lift up our hearts”, as the Liturgy exhorts us to do. And at the same time may she help us to keep our “feet on the ground”, and to bravely sow the Gospel in the practical situations of life and of history.
Let us pray together today for the people who perform funeral services. It's so painful, so sad what they do, and they feel the pain of this pandemic so closely. Let us pray for them.
Today the Church celebrates St. Mark, one of the four evangelists, he was very close to the Apostle Peter. The Gospel of Mark was the first to be written. It's simple, a simple style, very close. If you have some time today, take it in your hand and read it. It is not long, but it is pleasing to read the simplicity with which Mark recounts the life of the Lord.
And in the Gospel - which is the end of the Gospel of Mark, that we have just read - there is the sending forth by the Lord. The Lord has revealed himself as saviour, as the only Son of God; he has been revealed to all of Israel and the people, especially in more detail to the apostles, to the disciples. This is the Lord's taking leave: the Lord leaves, departs, and "was taken up into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God." But before he left, when he appeared to the Eleven, he said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." This is the missionary nature of faith.
Faith is either missionary or it is not faith. Faith is not just for me, for me to grow up with faith: this is a gnostic heresy. Faith always leads you out of yourself. Go out. The transmission of faith; faith must be transmitted, it must be offered, especially through witness: "Go, let people see how you live."
Someone told me, a European priest, of a European city: "There is so much disbelief, so much agnosticism in our cities, because Christians have no faith. If they did, they would definitely give it to people." Missionaryness is lacking. Because their roots lack conviction: "Yes, I am a Christian, I am Catholic, but ...". As if it's a social attitude. In the identity card, you call yourself that, like this, and "I'm a Christian." It's a fact on the identity card. This is not faith. This is a cultural thing. Faith necessarily takes you out, leads you to give it, because essentially faith must be transmitted . It's not quiet. "Oh, do you mean, father, that we all have to be missionaries and go to distant countries?" No, this is a part of the missionary dimension. This means that if you have faith you necessarily need to go out of yourself, you need to go out of yourself, and show faith socially. Social faith is for everyone: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." And that's not to proselytize, as if I were recruiting for a football team or a charity. No, faith is "not proselytizing." It is to show the revelation, so that the Holy Spirit can act in people with witness, and as a witness through service. Service is a way of life: if I say that I am a Christian and I live like a pagan, it does not work! That doesn't convince anyone. If I say that I am a Christian and I live as a Christian, that attracts. That's witness.
Once, in Poland, a university student asked me: "But in the university I have many fellow students who are atheists. What do I have to tell them to convince them?" – "Nothing, nothing! The last thing you have to do is say something. Start to live and they will see your witness, and they will ask you, 'But why do you live like this?'" Faith must be transmitted, but not by convincing, but by offering a treasure. "It's there, you see it?" And this is also the humility that St. Peter spoke of in the First Reading: "Clothe yourself with humility in your dealings with one another, because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." How many times in the Church, in history, have movements, groups of men or women who wanted to convince others to faith, to convert and were real "proselytes." And how did they end up? In corruption.
This passage of the Gospel is so tender. But where's the certainty? How can I be sure that by going out of myself I will be fruitful in the transmission of faith? "Proclaim the gospel to every creature," you will do wonders. And the Lord will be with us until the end of the world. He accompanies us. In the transmission of faith, the Lord is always with us. In the transmission of ideology there will be teachers, but when I have an attitude of faith that must be transmitted, there is the Lord there who accompanies me. I am never alone in the transmission of faith . It is the Lord with me who transmits the faith. He promised it: "I will be with you every day until the end of the world."
Let us pray to the Lord to help us live our faith like this: faith with open doors, a transparent faith, not "proselytizing", but one that shows: "Look I am like this." And with this healthy curiosity, you help people get this message that will save them.