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 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!
Today’s Gospel, according to the Second Sunday of Lent, invites us to contemplate the Transfiguration of Jesus (cf. Mk 9:2-10). This episode is related to what had happened six days earlier, when Jesus had revealed to his disciples that in Jerusalem he would “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” (Mk 8:31). This message led to crisis for Peter and the entire group of disciples, who rejected the idea that Jesus would be scorned by the leaders of the people and then put to death. Indeed they were waiting for a powerful, strong, dominating Messiah, whereas Jesus presented himself as a humble and gentle servant of God, and servant of mankind, who would offer his life in sacrifice, passing by way of persecution, suffering and death. But how could one follow a Master and Messiah whose earthly existence was to end in that way? That is what they were thinking. And the answer came precisely from the Transfiguration. What is the Transfiguration of Jesus? It is a preliminary Paschal apparition.
Jesus took with him the three disciples Peter, James and John, “and led them up a high mountain” (9:2); and there, for a moment, he showed them his glory, the glory of the Son of God. This event of the Transfiguration thus allowed the disciples to confront Jesus’ Passion in a positive way, without being overwhelmed. They saw him as he would be after the Passion: glorious. And in this way Jesus prepared them for the trial. The Transfiguration helps the disciples, and us too, to understand that the Passion of Christ is a mystery of suffering, but it is above all a gift of love, of infinite love on Jesus’ part. The event of Jesus transfiguring himself on the mountain enables us to better understand his Resurrection. In order to understand the Mystery of the Cross, it is necessary to know ahead of time that the One who suffers and who is glorified is not only a man, but is the Son of God who, with his love faithful to the end, saved us. In this way the Father renews his messianic declaration about the Son, which he had made previously on the bank of the River Jordan after his Baptism, exhorting: “listen to him” (v. 7). The disciples are called to follow the Master with trust, with hope, notwithstanding his death; the divinity of Jesus must be made manifest precisely on the Cross, precisely in his dying “in that way”, so that here Mark the Evangelist places in the mouth of the centurion the profession of faith: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).
Let us now turn in prayer to the Virgin Mary, the human creature transfigured interiorly by Christ’s grace. Let us confidently entrust ourselves to her maternal support in order to continue with faith and generosity the journey of Lent.
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!
Today we must have a bit of patience, with this heat – and thank you for coming, with this heat, with this sun: thank you very much for your visit.
In this series of catecheses on apostolic zeal – we are talking about this – we are encountering some exemplary figures of men and women from all times and places, who have given their lives for the Gospel. Today we are going to Oceania – far away, isn’t it? – a continent made up of many islands, large and small. The faith in Christ, which so many European emigrants brought to those lands, soon took root and bore abundant fruit (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, 6). Among them was an extraordinary religious sister, Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, who dedicated her life to the intellectual and religious formation of the poor in rural Australia.
Mary MacKillop was born near Melbourne to parents who emigrated to Australia from Scotland. As a young girl, she felt called by God to serve him and bear witness to him not only with words, but above all with a life transformed by God's presence (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 259). Like Mary Magdalene, who first encountered the risen Jesus and was sent by him to bring the proclamation to the disciples, Mary was convinced that she too was sent to spread the Good News and attract others to an encounter with the living God.
Wisely reading the signs of the times, she understood that for her, the best way to do so was through the education of the young, in the knowledge that Catholic education is a form of evangelization. It is a great form of evangelization. In this way, if we can say that “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 19) then Mary McKillop was especially so through the founding of schools.
An essential characteristic of her zeal for the Gospel was caring for the poor and marginalized. And this is very important: on the path to holiness, which is the Christian path, the poor and marginalized are protagonists, and a person cannot advance in holiness if he or she is not dedicated to them too, in one way or another. But they are the presence of the Lord, those who are in need of the Lord’s help. Once I read a phrase that struck me; it said: “The protagonist of History is the beggar. They are the ones who draw attention to this great injustice, which is the great poverty in the world”. Money is spent on manufacturing weapons, not providing meals. And do not forget: there is no holiness if in one way or another there is no care for the poor, the needy, those who are somewhat on the margins of society. This care for the poor and the marginalized drove Mary to go where others would not or could not go. On 19 March 1866, the feast of Saint Joseph, she opened the first school in a small suburb of South Australia. It was followed by many others that she and her sisters founded in rural communities throughout Australia and New Zealand. But they multiplied, apostolic zeal is like that: it multiplies works.
Mary MacKillop was convinced that the purpose of education is the integral development of the person both as an individual and as a member of the community; and that this requires wisdom, patience and charity on the part of every teacher.
Indeed, education does not consist of filling the head with ideas: no, not just this, but: what does education constitute? Accompanying and encouraging students on the path of human and spiritual growth, showing them how friendship with the Risen Jesus expands the heart and makes life more humane. Educating and helping to think well, to feel well (the language of the heart) and to do good (the language of the hands). This vision is fully relevant today, when we feel the need for an “educational pact” capable of uniting families, schools and society as a whole.
Mary MacKillop's zeal for spreading the Gospel among the poor also led her to undertake a number of other charitable works, starting with the “Providence House” opened in Adelaide to take in the elderly and abandoned children. Mary had great faith in God's Providence: she was always confident that in any situation God provides. But this did not spare her from the anxieties and difficulties arising from her apostolate, and Mary had good reason for this: she had to pay bills, negotiate with local bishops and priests, manage the schools and look after the professional and spiritual formation of her Sisters; and, later, she suffered health problems. Yet, through it all, she remained calm, patiently carrying the cross that is an integral part of the mission.
On one occasion, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Mary said to one of her Sisters: “My daughter, for many years I have learned to love the Cross”. For many years I have learned to love the Cross. She did not give up in times of trial and darkness, when her joy was dampened by opposition or rejection. Look at this: all the saints faced opposition, even within the Church. This is curious. And she faced it too. She remained convinced that even when the Lord gave her “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (Is 30:20), The Lord Himself would soon answer her cry and surround her with His grace. This is the secret of apostolic zeal: the continual relationship with the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, may Saint Mary MacKillop's missionary discipleship, her creative response to the needs of the Church of her time, and her commitment to the integral formation of young people inspire all of us today, called to be a leaven of the Gospel in our rapidly changing societies. May her example and intercession support the daily work of parents, teachers, catechists and all educators, for the good of young people and for a more humane and hopeful future. Thank you very much.
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.
“A child is born to us, a son is given us” (Is 9:5). It is a special joy for me to celebrate Santo Niño Sunday with you. The image of the Holy Child Jesus accompanied the spread of the Gospel in this country from the beginning. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, he continues to remind us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. He tells us this in today’s Gospel: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:15). The Santo Niño continues to proclaim to us that the light of God’s grace has shone upon a world dwelling in darkness. It brings the Good News of our freedom from slavery, and guides us in the paths of peace, right and justice. The Santo Niño also reminds us of our call to spread the reign of Christ throughout the world.
In these days, throughout my visit, I have listened to you sing the song: “We are all God’s children”. That is what the Santo Niño tells us. He reminds us of our deepest identity. All of us are God’s children, members of God’s family. Today Saint Paul has told us that in Christ we have become God’s adopted children, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is who we are. This is our identity. We saw a beautiful expression of this when Filipinos rallied around our brothers and sisters affected by the typhoon.
The Apostle tells us that because God chose us, we have been richly blessed! God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph 1:3). These words have a special resonance in the Philippines, for it is the foremost Catholic country in Asia; this is itself a special gift of God, a special blessing. But it is also a vocation. Filipinos are called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia.
God chose and blessed us for a purpose: to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4). He chose us, each of us to be witnesses of his truth and his justice in this world. He created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it. But through sin, man has disfigured that natural beauty; through sin, man has also destroyed the unity and beauty of our human family, creating social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption.
Sometimes, when we see the troubles, difficulties and wrongs all around us, we are tempted to give up. It seems that the promises of the Gospel do not apply; they are unreal. But the Bible tells us that the great threat to God’s plan for us is, and always has been, the lie. The devil is the father of lies. Often he hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being “modern”, “like everyone else”. He distracts us with the view of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink; we turn in on ourselves. We forget to remain focused on the things that really matter. We forget to remain, at heart, children of God. That is sin: forget, at heart, that we are children of God. For children, as the Lord tells us, have their own wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world. That is why the message of the Santo Niño is so important. He speaks powerfully to all of us. He reminds us of our deepest identity, of what we are called to be as God’s family.
The Santo Niño also reminds us that this identity must be protected. The Christ Child is the protector of this great country. When he came into the world, his very life was threatened by a corrupt king. Jesus himself needed to be protected. He had an earthly protector: Saint Joseph. He had an earthly family, the Holy Family of Nazareth. So he reminds us of the importance of protecting our families, and those larger families which are the Church, God’s family, and the world, our human family. Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.
In the Gospel, Jesus welcomes children, he embraces them and blesses them (Mk 10:16). We too need to protect, guide and encourage our young people, helping them to build a society worthy of their great spiritual and cultural heritage. Specifically, we need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.
It was a frail child, in need of protection, who brought God’s goodness, mercy and justice into the world. He resisted the dishonesty and corruption which are the legacy of sin, and he triumphed over them by the power of his cross. Now, at the end of my visit to the Philippines, I commend you to him, to Jesus who came among us as a child. May he enable all the beloved people of this country to work together, protecting one another, beginning with your families and communities, in building a world of justice, integrity and peace. May the Santo Niño continue to bless the Philippines and to sustain the Christians of this great nation in their vocation to be witnesses and missionaries of the joy of the Gospel, in Asia and in the whole world.
Please don’t forget to pray for me! God bless
“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.
Jesus and his disciples were on the road. The road is the setting for the scene just recounted by the Evangelist Mark (10:32-45). It is always the setting, too, for the Church’s journey: the road of life and history, which is a story of salvation history insofar as it is travelled with Christ and leads to his paschal mystery. Jerusalem always lies ahead of us. The cross and the resurrection are part of our history; they are our “today” but also and always the goal of our journey.
This Gospel passage has often accompanied consistories for the creation of new Cardinals. It is not merely a “backdrop” but also a “road sign” for us who today are journeying together with Jesus. For he is our strength, who gives meaning to our lives and our ministry.
Consequently, dear brothers, we need carefully to consider the words we have just heard.
Mark emphasizes that, on the road, the disciples were “amazed” and “afraid” (v. 32). Why? Because they knew what was ahead of them in Jerusalem. They not only had a sense of it; they knew well what was ahead, because, more than once, Jesus had already spoken to them openly about it. The Lord knew what his followers were experiencing, nor was he indifferent to it. Jesus never abandons his friends; he never neglects them. Even when it seems that he is going his own way, he is always doing so for our sake. All that he does, he does for us and for our salvation. In the specific case of the Twelve, he did this to prepare them for the trials to come, so that they could be with him, now and especially later, when he would no longer be in their midst. So that that they could always be with him, on his road.
Knowing that the hearts of his disciples were troubled, Jesus “once more” called the Twelve and told them “what was to happen to him” (v. 32). We have just heard it ourselves: the third announcement of his passion, death and resurrection. This is the road taken by the Son of God. The road taken by the Servant of the Lord. Jesus identifies himself with this road, so much so that he himself is the road. “I am the way” (Jn 14:6), he says. This way, and none other.
At this point, a sudden shift takes place, which enables Jesus to reveal to James and John – but really to all the Apostles, and to us – the fate in store for them. Let us imagine the scene: after once again explaining what will happen to him in Jerusalem, Jesus looks the Twelve squarely in the eye, as if to say: “Is this clear?” Then he resumes his journey, walking ahead of the group. Two of his disciples break away from the others: James and John. They approach Jesus and tell him what they want: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v. 37). They want to take a different road. Not Jesus’ road, but a different one. The road of those who, perhaps even without realizing it, “use” the Lord for their own advancement. Those who – as Saint Paul says – look to their own interests and not those of Christ (cf. Phil 2:21). Saint Augustine speaks of this in his magnificent sermon on shepherds (No. 46). A sermon we always benefit from rereading in the Office of Readings.
Jesus listens to James and John. He does not get upset or angry. His patience is indeed infinite, also towards us. He tells the two: “You do not know what you are asking” (v. 38). In a way, he excuses them, while at the same time reproaching them: “You do not realize that you have gone off the road”. Immediately after this, the other ten apostles will show by their indignant reaction to the sons of Zebedee how much all of them were tempted to go off the road.
Dear brothers, all of us love Jesus, all of us want to follow him, yet we must always be careful to remain on the road. For our bodies can be with him, but our hearts can wander far afield and so lead us off the road. We can think of so many kinds of corruption in the priestly life. The scarlet of a Cardinal’s robes, which is the colour of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the colour of a secular “eminence”. In that case, you will no longer be a shepherd who is close to his people. You will simply think that you are an “eminence”. Once you feel that way, you are already off the road.
In this passage of the Gospel, we are always struck by the sharp contrast between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is aware of this; he knows it and he accepts it. Yet the contrast is still there: Jesus is on the road, while they are off the road. Two roads that cannot meet. Only the Lord, through his cross and resurrection, can save his straying friends who risk getting lost. It is for them, as well as for all the others, that Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem. For them, and for everyone, will he let his body be broken and his blood shed. For them, and for all, will he rise from the dead, and forgive and transform them by the gift of the Spirit. He will at last put them back on his road.
Saint Mark – like Matthew and Luke – included this story in his Gospel because it contains a saving truth necessary for the Church in every age. Even though the Twelve come off badly, this text entered the canon of Scripture because it reveals the truth about Jesus and about us. For us too, in our day, it is a message of salvation. We too, Pope and Cardinals, must always see ourselves reflected in this word of truth. It is a sharpened sword; it cuts, it proves painful, but it also heals, liberates and converts us. For conversion means precisely this: that we pass from being off the road to journeying on God’s road.
May the Holy Spirit give us this grace, today and for ever.
Dearest brothers and sons,
Let us carefully consider the great responsibility to which these brothers of ours have been called.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father to redeem the human race, in turn sent the Twelve Apostles into the world so that, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they might preach the Gospel to all people and unite them under one Shepherd, and that they might sanctify them and guide them to salvation.
In order to perpetuate this apostolic ministry from one generation to the next, the Twelve chose other men to share in their work. Through the laying on of hands, they passed on to them the gift of the Spirit which they themselves had received from Christ, thereby conferring the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders. Thus, through an uninterrupted succession of bishops this earliest ministry has been preserved in the living Tradition of the Church, and the work of the Saviour continues and develops to our own day. In the bishop surrounded by his priests, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, is present in your midst.
For it is Christ who, through the ministry of the bishop, continues to preach the Gospel of salvation and to sanctify believers by means of the sacraments of faith. It is Christ who, through the paternal role of the bishop, draws new members to his body which is the Church. It is Christ who, in the wisdom and prudence of the bishop, guides the People of God along their pilgrimage here on earth until at last they reach eternal bliss.
Therefore, welcome with gratitude and joy, this brother of ours whom we bishops are about to receive into the episcopal college by the laying on of hands. As for you, dearest brothers, chosen by the Lord, consider that you have been chosen from among men and for men; you have been appointed to the things pertaining to God. Indeed, episcopacy is the name of a service, not of an honour, since the bishop must strive to serve rather than to rule, according to the Master’s commandment: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Lk 22: 26). And by this service you will uphold your vocation and be true shepherds in serving, not in honours, in power, in might. No, to serve, always to serve.
Proclaim the Word at every opportune and inopportune occasion. Admonish, rebuke, but always with kindness; exhort unfailing in patience and teaching. And through prayer and the offer of sacrifice for your people, draw from the fullness of Christ’s holiness the manifold riches of divine grace. You will be the custodians of faith, service and charity in the Church and for this you must be close. Think, closeness is the most typical sign of God. He himself says this to his people in Deuteronomy: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us?”. Closeness, with two accompanying traits: a closeness that is compassion and tenderness. Please, do not leave aside this closeness, come closer to the people, come closer to God, come closer to your brother bishops, come closer to the priests. These are the four forms of closeness of the bishop. The bishop is a man close to God in prayer. Very often one might say: “I have so much to do that I can’t pray. Stop. When the apostles “invented” deacons, what does Peter say? “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word”. The first task of the bishop is to pray – not like a parrot – to pray with the heart, to pray. “I don’t have time”. No! Take away other things, but prayer is the first task of the bishop. Closeness to God in prayer. Then, the second form of closeness, closeness to the other bishops. “No, because those belong to that party, I belong to this party…”. Be bishops! There will be arguments between you, but as brothers, close to one another. Never speak badly of your brother bishops, never. Closeness to the bishops: the second form of closeness, to the episcopal body. The third form of closeness is closeness to priests. Please, do not forget that the priests are the closest of the close. Very often we hear complaints, that a priest says: “I called the bishop but the secretary told me his diary is full, that perhaps, within thirty days, he might be able to see me…”. This is not good enough. If you find out that a priest has called, call him the same day or the day after. And with this, he will know he has a father. Closeness to the priests, and if they do not come to you, go to them: closeness. And the fourth form of closeness, closeness to the holy people of God. As Paul said to Timothy: “Remember your grandmother and your mother” (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). Do not forget that you have been “taken from the flock”, not as a member of an élite that has studied, that has many qualifications and who must be a bishop. No, from the flock. Please, do not forget these four forms of closeness: closeness to God in prayer, closeness to bishops in the episcopal body, closeness to priests, and closeness to the flock. May the Lord let you grow on this path of closeness, so that you will better imitate the Lord, because he has always been and is near to us, and with his closeness that is compassionate and tender he leads us forward. And may Our Lady keep you.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
The Gospel of today’s Liturgy (Mk 10:35-45) narrates that two disciples, James and John, ask the Lord to one day sit beside him in glory, as if they were “prime ministers”, or something like that. But the other disciples hear it and become indignant. At that point, Jesus patiently offers them a great teaching. It is this: true glory is not obtained by rising over others, but by experiencing the same baptism that He, Jesus, would receive just a little later in Jerusalem, that is, the cross. What does this mean? The word “baptism” means “immersion”: through his Passion, Jesus immersed himself into death, offering his life to save us. Therefore, his glory, the glory of God, is love that becomes service, not power that seeks to dominate. Not power that seeks to dominate, no! But love that becomes service. Thus, Jesus ends saying to his disciples and to us as well: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (v. 43). To become great, you should take the path of service, serving others.
We are in front of two different types of logic: the disciples want to rise up and Jesus wants to immerse Himself. Let us spend a few moments on these two verbs. The first is to rise up. It expresses that worldly mentality to which we are always tempted: to experience everything, including relationships, in order to feed our ambition, to climb the ladder of success, to reach important positions. The quest for personal prestige can become a spiritual malady, masquerading itself even behind good intentions: for example, when behind the good we do and preach, we actually seek ourselves alone and our own affirmation, that is, that we get ahead and climb up, we see it even in the Church... How many times, we Christians – who should be servants – try to climb up, to get ahead. We therefore always need to evaluate our heart’s real intentions, to ask ourselves: “Why am I carrying out this work, this responsibility? To offer service or rather to be recognised, praised and to receive compliments?” Jesus contrasts this worldly logic with his own: instead of exalting yourself over others, get off your pedestal to serve them; instead of rising above others, to be immersed in others’ lives. I was watching on the program A Sua Immagine that service carried out by Caritas so that no one might lack food: being concerned about others’ hunger, being concerned about others’ needs. There are so, so many in need, and after the pandemic there are many more. Seek to be immersed in service rather than to climb up for one’s own glory.
Here is the second verb: to be immersed. Jesus asks us to immerse ourselves. And how should we immerse ourselves? Compassionately in the lives of those we meet. We were considering hunger: but do we think compassionately about the hunger of so many people? When we have a meal before us, which is a grace from God that we can eat, there are people who do not have enough food for the entire month. Let’s think about that. And immerse ourselves compassionately, to have compassion, is not a statistic in an encyclopedia… No! They are people. Do I have compassion for people? Compassion for the lives of those we meet, like Jesus has done with me, with you, with all of us, he drew near with compassion. Let us look at the Crucified Lord, completely immersed in our wounded history, and we will discover God’s way of doing things. We see that he did not remain up above in heaven to look down on us from up there, but he lowered himself to wash our feet. God is love and love is humble, it does not exalt itself, but comes down like the rain that falls to the earth and brings life. But how can we adopt the same direction as Jesus, going from raising ourselves up to immersing ourselves, from the mentality of prestige, worldly prestige, to that of service, Christian service? Dedication is needed, but that is not enough. It is difficult alone, but not impossible, for we have a strength within that helps us. It is the strength of Baptism, of that immersion in Jesus that all of us have already received through grace that directs us, moving us to follow him instead of seeking our interests, but to put ourselves at the service of others. It is a grace, a fire that the Spirit has kindled in us that needs to be nurtured. Today, let us ask the Holy Spirit to renew the grace of Baptism in us, that immersion in Jesus, in his way of being, to be more like servants, to be servants like he has been with us.
And let us pray to the Madonna: she – even though she was the greatest – did not seek to rise up, but was the humble servant of the Lord, and is completely immersed in our service to help us encounter Jesus.
The account we have just heard is the last of those that the evangelist Mark relates about the itinerant ministry of Jesus, who is about to enter Jerusalem to die and to rise. Bartimaeus is thus the last of those who follow Jesus along the way: from a beggar along the road to Jericho, he becomes a disciple who walks alongside the others on the way to Jerusalem. We too have walked alongside one another; we have been a “synod”. This Gospel seals three fundamental steps on the journey of faith.
First, let us consider Bartimaeus. His name means “son of Timaeus”. That is how the Gospel describes him: “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus” (Mk 10:46). Yet, oddly, his father is nowhere to be found. Bartimaeus lies alone on the roadside, far from home and fatherless. He is not loved, but abandoned. He is blind and no one listens to him; when he tried to speak, everyone told him to keep quiet. Jesus hears his plea. When he goes to him, he lets him speak. It was not hard to guess what Bartimaeus wanted: clearly, a blind person wants to see or regain his sight. But Jesus takes his time; he takes time to listen. This is the first step in helping the journey of faith: listening. It is the apostolate of the ear: listening before speaking.
Instead, many of those with Jesus ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet (cf. v. 48). For such disciples, a person in need was a nuisance along the way, an obstacle unexpected and unforeseen. They preferred their own timetable above that of the Master, their own talking over listening to others. They were following Jesus, but they had their own plans in mind. This is a risk constantly to guard against. Yet, for Jesus, the cry of those pleading for help is not a nuisance but a challenge. How important it is for us to listen to life! The children of the heavenly Father are concerned with their brothers and sisters, not with useless chatter, but with the needs of their neighbours. They listen patiently and lovingly, just as God does to us and to our prayers, however repetitive they may be. God never grows tired; he is always happy when we seek him. May we too ask for the grace of a heart that listens. I would like to say to the young people, in the name of all of us adults: forgive us if often we have not listened to you, if, instead of opening our hearts, we have filled your ears. As Christ’s Church, we want to listen to you with love, certain of two things: that your lives are precious in God’s eyes, because God is young and loves young people, and that your lives are precious in our eyes too, and indeed necessary for moving forward.
After listening, a second step on the journey of faith is to be a neighbour. Let us look at Jesus: he does not delegate someone from the “large crowd” following him, but goes personally to meet Bartimaeus. He asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). What do you want… – Jesus is completely taken up with Bartimaeus; he does not try to sidestep him. …me to do – not simply to speak, but to do something. …for you – not according to my own preconceived ideas, but for you, in your particular situation. That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message. Faith thus flowers in life.
Faith passes through life. When faith is concerned purely with doctrinal formulae, it risks speaking only to the head without touching the heart. And when it is concerned with activity alone, it risks turning into mere moralizing and social work. Faith, instead, is life: it is living in the love of God who has changed our lives. We cannot choose between doctrine and activism. We are called to carry out God’s work in God’s own way: in closeness, by cleaving to him, in communion with one another, alongside our brothers and sisters. Closeness: that is the secret to communicating the heart of the faith, and not a secondary aspect.
Being a neighbour means bringing the newness of God into the lives of our brothers and sisters. It serves as an antidote to the temptation of easy answers and fast fixes. Let us ask ourselves whether, as Christians, we are capable of becoming neighbours, stepping out of our circles and embracing those who are not “one of us”, those whom God ardently seeks. A temptation so often found in the Scriptures will always be there: the temptation to wash our hands. That is what the crowd does in today’s Gospel. It is what Cain did with Abel, and Pilate with Jesus: they washed their hands. But we want to imitate Jesus and, like him, to dirty our hands. He is the way (cf. Jn 14:6), who stopped on the road for Bartimaeus. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5), who bent down to help a blind man. Let us realize that the Lord has dirtied his hands for each one of us. Let us look at the cross, start from there and remember that God became my neighbour in sin and death. He became my neighbour: it all starts from there. And when, out of love of him, we too become neighbours, we become bringers of new life. Not teachers of everyone, not specialists in the sacred, but witnesses of the love that saves.
The third step is to bear witness. Let us consider the disciples who, at Jesus’ request, called out to Bartimaeus. They do not approach a beggar with a coin to shut him up, or to dispense advice. They go in Jesus’ name. Indeed, they say only three words to him, and all three are words of Jesus: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you” (v. 49). Everywhere else in the Gospel, Jesus alone says, “Take heart”, for he alone “heartens” those who heed him. In the Gospel, Jesus alone says, “Get up”, and heals in spirit and body. Jesus alone calls, transforming the lives of those who follow him, helping raise up the fallen, bringing God’s light to the darkness of life. So many children, so many young people, like Bartimaeus, are looking for light in their lives. They are looking for true love. And like Bartimaeus who in the midst of that large crowd called out to Jesus alone, they too seek life, but often find only empty promises and few people who really care.
It is not Christian to expect that our brothers and sisters who are seekers should have to knock on our doors; we ought to go out to them, bringing not ourselves but Jesus. He sends us, like those disciples, to encourage others and to raise them up in his name. He sends us forth to say to each person: “God is asking you to let yourself be loved by him”. How often, instead of this liberating message of salvation, have we brought ourselves, our own “recipes” and “labels” into the Church! How often, instead of making the Lord’s words our own, have we peddled our own ideas as his word! How often do people feel the weight of our institutions more than the friendly presence of Jesus! In these cases, we act more like an NGO, a state-controlled agency, and not the community of the saved who dwell in the joy of the Lord.
To listen, to be a neighbour, to bear witness. The journey of faith in today’s Gospel ends in a beautiful and surprising way when Jesus says “Go; your faith has made you well” (v. 52). Yet Bartimaeus had made no profession of faith or done any good work; he had only begged for mercy. To feel oneself in need of salvation is the beginning of faith. It is the direct path to encountering Jesus. The faith that saved Bartimaeus did not have to do with his having clear ideas about God, but in his seeking him and longing to encounter him. Faith has to do with encounter, not theory. In encounter, Jesus passes by; in encounter, the heart of the Church beats. Then, not our preaching, but our witness of life will prove effective.
To all of you who have taken part in this “journey together”, I say “thank you” for your witness. We have worked in communion, with frankness and the desire to serve God’s people. May the Lord bless our steps, so that we can listen to young people, be their neighbours, and bear witness before them to Jesus, the joy of our lives.
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!
In today’s liturgy, the Gospel presents a scribe who approaches Jesus and asks him: “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mk 12:28). Jesus responds by citing Scripture and confirms that the first commandment is to love God; from this one then derives the second, as a natural consequence: to love one’s neighbour as oneself (cf. vv. 29-31). Hearing this response, the scribe not only recognises that he is right, but in doing so, in recognising that he is right, he repeats the same words Jesus had said: “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that…to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself is more than a whole burnt offering and sacrifices” (vv. 32-33).
But, we can ask ourselves, in giving his assent, why did that scribe feel the need to repeat Jesus’ same words? This repetition seems to be more surprising if we think that this is the Gospel of Mark, who has a very concise style. So, what could this repetition mean? This repetition is a teaching for all of us who are listening. For the Word of the Lord cannot be received as any other type of news. The Word of the Lord must be repeated, made one’s own, safeguarded. The monastic tradition, of the monks, uses an audacious but very concrete term. It goes thus: the Word of God must be “ruminated”. “To ruminate” the Word of God. We could say that it is so nutritious that it must be ruminated in every aspect of life: to involve, as Jesus says today, the entire heart, the entire soul, the entire mind, all of our strength (cf. v. 30). The Word of the Lord must resound, echo and re-echo within us. When there is this interior echo that repeats itself, it means that the Lord dwells in the heart. And he says to us, just as he did to that excellent scribe in the Gospel: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34).
Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord is not so much looking for skilled Scripture commentators, as he is looking for docile hearts which, welcoming his Word, allow themselves to be changed inside. This is why it is so important to be familiar with the Gospel, to always have it at hand – even a pocket-size Gospel in our pockets, in our purses to read and reread, to be passionate about it. When we do this, Jesus, the Word of the Father, enters into our hearts, he becomes intimate with us and we bear fruit in Him. Let’s take for example today’s Gospel: it is not enough to read it and understand that we need to love God and our neighbour. It is necessary that this commandment, which is the “great commandment”, resound in us, that it be assimilated, that it become the voice of our conscience. This way, it does not remain a dead letter, in the drawer of the heart, because the Holy Spirit makes the seed of that Word germinate in us. And the Word of God works, it is always in motion, it is alive and effective (cf. Heb 4:12). So each one of us can become a living, different and original “translation”, not a repetition but a living, different and original “translation” of the one Word of love that God gives us. This is what we see in the lives of the Saints for example. None of them is the same as another, they are all different, but with the same Word of God.
Today, therefore, let us take the example of this scribe. Let us repeat Jesus’ words, making them resound in us: “To love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength and my neighbour as myself”. And let us ask ourselves: does this commandment truly orient my life? Does this commandment resonate in my daily life? It would be good this evening, before going to sleep, to make an examination of conscience on this Word, to see if we have loved the Lord today and if we have done a little good to those we happened to meet. May every encounter bring about a little bit of good, a little bit of love that comes from this Word. May the Virgin Mary, in whom the Word of God was made flesh, teach us to welcome the living word of the Gospel in our hearts.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning... on this beautiful, sunny day!
This Sunday’s Gospel passage is composed of two parts: one that describes how not to be followers of Christ; the other offers an example of a Christian.
Let’s start with the first: what not to do. In the first part, Jesus accuses the scribes, the teachers of the law, of having three defects in their lifestyle: pride, greed and hypocrisy. They like “to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts” (Mk 12:38-39). But beneath such solemn appearances they are hiding falsehood and injustice.
While flaunting themselves in public, they use their authority — as Jesus says — to devour “the houses of widows” (cf. v. 40); those who, along with orphans and foreigners, were considered to be the people most vulnerable and least protected. Lastly, Jesus says that the scribes, “for a pretence make long prayers” (v. 40). Even today we risk taking on these attitudes. For example, when prayer is separate from justice so that God cannot be worshiped, and causing harm to the poor. Or when one claims to love God, but instead offers him only grandiosity for one’s own advantage.
The second part of the Gospel follows this line of thinking. The scene is set in the temple of Jerusalem, precisely in the place where people are tossing coins as offerings. There are many rich people putting in large sums, and there is a poor woman, a widow, who contributes only two bits, two small coins. Jesus observes the woman carefully and calls the disciples’ attention to the sharp contrast of the scene.
The wealthy contributed with great ostentation what for them was superfluous, while the widow, Jesus says, “put in everything she had, her whole living” (v. 44). For this reason, Jesus says, she gave the most of all. Because of her extreme poverty, she could have offered a single coin to the temple and kept the other for herself. But she did not want to give just half to God; she divested herself of everything. In her poverty she understood that in having God, she had everything; she felt completely loved by him and in turn loved him completely. What a beautiful example this little old woman offers us!
Today Jesus also tells us that the benchmark is not quantity but fullness. There is a difference between quantity and fullness. You can have a lot of money and still be empty. There is no fullness in your heart. This week, think about the difference there is between quantity and fullness. It is not a matter of the wallet, but of the heart. There is a difference between the wallet and the heart.... There are diseases of the heart, which reduce the heart to the wallet.... This is not good! To love God “with all your heart” means to trust in him, in his providence, and to serve him in the poorest brothers and sisters without expecting anything in return.
Allow me to tell you a story, which happened in my previous diocese. A mother and her three children were at the table, the father was at work. They were eating Milan-style cutlets.... There was a knock at the door and one of the children — they were young, 5, 6 and the oldest was 7 — comes and says: “Mom, there is a beggar asking for something to eat”. And the mom, a good Christian, asks them: “What shall we do?” — “Let’s give him something, mom…” – “Ok”. She takes her fork and knife and cuts the cutlets in half. “Ah no, mom, no! Not like this! Take something from the fridge” — “No! Let’s make three sandwiches with this!”. The children learned that true charity is given, not with what is left over, but with what we need. That afternoon I am sure that the children were a bit hungry.... But this is how it’s done!
Faced with the needs of our neighbours, we are called — like these children and the halved cutlets — to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous; we are called to give the time that is necessary, not only what is extra; we are called to give immediately and unconditionally some of our talent, not after using it for our own purposes or for our own group.
Let us ask the Lord to admit us to the school of this poor widow, whom Jesus places in the cathedra and presents as a teacher of the living Gospel even to the astonishment of the disciples. Through the intercession of Mary, the poor woman who gave her entire life to God for us, let us ask for a heart that is poor, but rich in glad and freely given generosity.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel episode (cf. Mk 12:38-44) concludes the series of Jesus’ teachings given in the Temple of Jerusalem and highlights two contrasting figures: the scribe and the widow. But why are they counterposed? The scribe represents important, wealthy, influential people; the other person — the widow — represents the least, the poor, the weak.
In reality, Jesus’ resolute judgment of the scribes is not about the whole profession, but refers to those of them who flaunt their own social position, embellish themselves with the title of ‘rabbi’, that is, teacher, who love to be revered and take the best seats (cf. vv. 38-39).
What is worse is that their ostentation is, above all, of a religious nature, because they pray — Jesus says — and “for a pretense make long prayers” (v. 40), and use God in order to gain respect for themselves as the defenders of his law. This attitude of superiority and vanity causes them to have contempt for those who count for little or who find themselves in an unfavourable economic position, such as widows.
Jesus exposes this perverse mechanism: he denounces the oppression of the weak carried out misleadingly on the basis of religious motivations, declaring clearly that God is on the side of the least.
And to really impress this lesson on the minds of the disciples he offers them a living example: a poor widow, whose social position was irrelevant because she had no husband who could defend her rights, and therefore she became easy prey to unscrupulous creditors, because these creditors hounded the weak so they would pay them. This woman, who goes to the temple treasury to put in just two coins — all that she had left — and makes her offering by seeking to pass by unobserved, almost as if ashamed. But, in this very humility, she performs an act laden with great religious and spiritual significance. That gesture full of sacrifice does not escape the gaze of Jesus, who instead sees shining in it the total self-giving to which he wishes to educate his disciples.
The lesson that Jesus offers us today helps us to recover what is essential in our life and fosters a practical and daily relationship with God.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord’s scales are different from ours. He weighs people and their actions differently: God does not measure quantity but quality; he examines the heart; he looks at the purity of intentions.
This means that our “giving” to God in prayer and to others in charity should always steer clear of ritualism and formalism, as well as of the logic of calculation, and must be an expression of gratuity, as Jesus did with us: he saved us freely. And we must do things as an expression of gratuity.
This is why Jesus points to that poor and generous widow as a model of Christian life to be imitated. We do not know her name; however, we know her heart — we will find her in Heaven and go to greet her, certainly; and that is what counts before God.
When we are tempted by the desire to stand out and give an accounting of our altruistic gestures, when we are too interested in the gaze of others and — might I say — when we act like ‘peacocks’, let us think of this woman. It will do us good: it will help us to divest ourselves of the superfluous in order to go to what truly counts, and to remain humble.
May the Virgin Mary, a poor woman who gave herself totally to God, sustain us in the aim of giving to the Lord and to brothers and sisters not something of ours but ourselves, in a humble and generous offering.
Dear brothers and sisters, yesterday in Barcelona, Fr Theodoro Illera del Olmo and 15 companion martyrs were beatified. They included 13 consecrated and three lay people. Nine religious and lay people belonged to the Congregation of Saint Peter in Chains; three women religious were Capuchins of the Mother of the Divine Shepherd and one was a Franciscan of the Sacred Heart. These new Blesseds were all killed for their faith, in different places and on different dates, during the war and religious persecution of the last century in Spain. Let us praise the Lord for these courageous witnesses of his and give a round of applause for them!
Today is the centenary of the end of World War I , which my Predecessor Benedict XV defined as ‘useless slaughter’. For this reason today, at 1:30 pm Italian time, bells will ring throughout the world, those of Saint Peter’s Basilica too.
The historical page of the first global conflict is for all a severe warning to reject the culture of war and to seek every legitimate means to put an end to the wars that still draw blood in many regions of the world. It seems that we do not learn. As we pray for all the victims of that enormous tragedy, let us say forcefully: let us invest in peace, not in war! And, let us take as an emblematic sign that of the great Saint Martin of Tours, whom we commemorate today: he rent his cloak in half in order to share it with a poor man. May this gesture of human solidarity indicate to all the way to build peace.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The scene described in the Gospel of today’s Liturgy takes place inside the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus looks, he looks at what is happening in this the most sacred of places; and he sees how the scribes love to walk around to be seen, greeted and revered, and to have the places of honour. And Jesus adds that they “devour widows’ houses and recite long prayers in order to be seen” (cf. Mk 12:40). At the same time, another scene catches his eyes: a poor widow, precisely one of those exploited by the powers that be, puts in the Temple treasury “everything she had, her whole living” (Mk 12:44). This is what the Gospel says, she puts everything she had to live on in the Treasury. The Gospel presents us with this striking contrast: the rich who give from their surplus wealth to make themselves seen, and a poor woman, who without seeming to, offers every little bit she has. Two symbols of human attitudes.
Jesus watches the two scenes. And it is specifically this verb – “to watch” – that sums up his teaching: “we must watch out for” those who live their faith with duplicity, like the scribes, so as not to become like them; whereas we must “watch” the widow, and take her as a model. Let us reflect on this: to watch out for hypocrites and to watch the poor widow.
First of all, to watch out for hypocrites, that is, to be careful not to base our life on the cult of appearances, externals, and the exaggerated care of one’s own image. And most importantly, to be careful not to bend faith around our own interests. In the name of God, those scribes covered-up their own vanity, and even worse, they used religion to cultivate their own affairs, abusing their authority and exploiting the poor. Here we see that very bad attitude that we see in many places today, clericalism, this being above the humble, exploiting them, demeaning them, considering oneself perfect. This is the evil of clericalism. This is a warning for all time and for everyone, Church and society: never to take advantage of a specific role to crush others, never to make money off the backs of the weakest! And to watch out so as not to fall into vanity, so as not to be fixated on appearances, losing what is essential and living superficially. Let us ask ourselves, it will help us: do we want to be appreciated and gratified by what we say and what we do, or rather to be of service to God and neighbour, especially the weakest? We must be watch out for falsehood of the heart, against hypocrisy which is a dangerous illness of the soul! It is a dualism of thought, a dual judgement, as the word itself says: “to judge below”, to appear one way and “hypo”, beneath, to think in a different way. Doubles, people with double souls, a duality of the soul.
To heal this illness, Jesus invites us to watch the poor widow. The Lord denounces the exploitation of this woman, who, in making her offering, must return home without even the little she had to live on. How important it is to free the sacred from ties with money! Jesus had already said it elsewhere: you cannot serve two masters. Either you serve God - and we think he says “or the devil”, no - either God or money. He is a master, and Jesus says we must not serve him. But, at the same time, Jesus praises the fact that this widow puts all she has into the treasury. She has nothing left, but finds her everything in God. She is not afraid of losing the little she has because she trusts in God’s abundance, and God’s abundance multiplies the joy of those who give. This also makes us think of that other widow, the one of the prophet Elijah, who was about to make a flatbread with the last of her flour and the last of her oil; Elijah says to her: “Feed me” and she gives; and the flour never runs out, it is a miracle (cf. 1 Kings 17:9-16). The Lord always, in the face of people’s generosity, goes further, is more generous. But it is He, not our avarice. This is why Jesus proposes her as a teacher of faith, this woman: she does not go to the Temple to clear her conscience, she does not pray to make herself seen, she does not show off her faith, but she gives from her heart generously and freely. The sound of her few coins is more beautiful than the grandiose offerings of the rich, since they express a life sincerely dedicated to God, a faith that does not live by appearances but by unconditional trust. Let us learn from her: a faith without external frills, but interiorly sincere; a faith composed of humble love for God and for our brothers and sisters.
And now let us turn to the Virgin Mary, who with a humble and transparent heart made her entire life a gift for God and for his people.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The Gospel of this penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year offers us part of Jesus’ discourse regarding the last events of human history, oriented toward the complete fulfilment of the reign of God (cf. Mk 13:24-32). It is the talk that Jesus gave in Jerusalem before his last Passover. It has certain apocalyptic elements, such as wars, famine, cosmic catastrophes: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (vv. 24-25). However, these segments are not the essential part of the message. The core around which Jesus’ words turn is he himself, the mystery of his person, and of his death and resurrection, and his return at the end of time.
Our final goal is the encounter with the Risen Lord. I would like to ask how many of you think about this. “There will be a day in which I meet the Lord face to face”. And this is our goal: the encounter. We do not await a time or a place, but we are going to encounter a person: Jesus. Thus the problem is not “when” these premonitory signs of the last days will occur, but rather our being prepared. Neither is it about knowing “how” these things will happen, but instead “how” we have to act today, in awaiting these things. We are called to live the present, building our future with serenity and trust in God. The parable of the fig tree that sprouts, as a sign of the approaching summer (cf. vv. 28-29), teaches that the perspective of the end doesn’t distract us from the present life, but rather brings us to look at our current days with an outlook of hope. This virtue of hope that is so hard to live. The smallest but strongest of the virtues. And our hope has a face: the face of the Risen Lord, who comes “with great power and glory” (v. 26), which will manifest his love, crucified and transfigured in the Resurrection. The triumph of Jesus at the end of time will be the triumph of the Cross, the demonstration that the sacrifice of oneself for love of neighbour, in imitation of Christ, is the only victorious power, the only stable point in the midst of the upheavals and tragedies of the world.
The Lord Jesus is not only the destination of our earthly pilgrimage, but also a constant presence in our lives; he is also beside us, he always accompanies. That’s why, when we speak of the future and project ourselves toward it, it is always in order to lead us back to the present. He counters the false prophets, the fortune-tellers who predict that the end of the world is near; he sets himself against fatalism. He is at our side; he walks with us; he loves us. He wants to remove from his disciples of every age the curiosity about dates, predictions, horoscopes, and focus their attention on the today of history. I would like to ask you — don’t answer out loud, each one answer to himself — how many of you read your horoscope every day? Each one answer, and when you feel like reading your horoscope, look to Jesus who is with you. This is better and will be better for you. This presence of Jesus calls us to the anticipation and vigilance that exclude both impatience and lethargy, both the escaping to the future and the becoming prisoners of the current moment and of worldliness.
In our days, too, there is no lack of natural and moral disasters, nor of adversities and difficulties of every kind. Everything passes, the Lord reminds us; he alone, his Word remains as the light that guides and encourages our steps. He always forgives us because he is at our side. We need only look at him and he changes our hearts. May the Virgin Mary help us to trust in Jesus, the firm foundation of our life, and to persevere with joy in his love.
The images that Jesus uses at the beginning of today’s Gospel leave us bewildered: the sun darkened, the moon no longer giving light, stars falling and the powers of heaven shaken (cf. Mk 13:24-25). Yet the Lord then invites us to hope, for precisely in that moment of utter darkness, the Son of Man will come (cf. v. 26). Even now, we can perceive the signs of his coming, just as the leaves that appear on the fig tree make us realize that summer is at hand (cf. v. 28).
This Gospel passage helps us to interpret history in two of its aspects: today’s pain and tomorrow’s hope. It evokes all those painful contradictions in which humanity in every age is immersed, and, at the same time, the future of salvation that awaits us: the encounter with the Lord who comes to set us free from all evil. Let us consider these two aspects through the eyes of Jesus.
First: today’s pain. We are part of a history marked by tribulation, violence, suffering and injustice, ever awaiting a liberation that never seems to arrive. Those who are most wounded, oppressed and even crushed, are the poor, the weakest links in the chain. The World Day of the Poor which we are celebrating asks us not to turn aside, not to be afraid to take a close look at the suffering of those most vulnerable. Today’s Gospel has much to say to them. The sun of their life is often darkened by loneliness, the moon of their expectations has waned and the stars of their dreams have fallen into gloom; their lives have been shaken. All because of the poverty into which they are often forced, victims of injustice and the inequality of a throwaway society that hurries past without seeing them and without scruple abandons them to their fate.
There is, however, another aspect: tomorrow’s hope. Jesus wants to open our hearts to hope, to remove our anxiety and fear before the pain of the world. And so, he tells us that even as the sun grows dark and everything around us seems to be falling, he himself is drawing near. Amid the groans of our painful history, a future of salvation is beginning to blossom. Tomorrow’s hope flowers amid today’s pain. Indeed, God’s salvation is not only a future promise, but is even now at work within our wounded history, spreading in the midst of the oppression and the injustice of our world. All of us have a wounded heart. Amid the tears of the poor, the kingdom of God is blossoming like the tender leaves of the tree and guiding history to its goal, to the final encounter with the Lord, the King of the universe who will definitively set us free.
At this point, let us ask: what is demanded of us as Christians in this situation? We are asked to nurture tomorrow’s hope by healing today’s pain. The two are linked: if you do not work to heal today’s pain, it will be hard to have hope for tomorrow. The hope born of the Gospel has nothing to do with a passive expectation that things may be better tomorrow, but with making God’s promise of salvation concrete today. Today and every day. Christian hope is not the naïve, even adolescent, optimism of those who hope that things may change – that won’t happen – but in the meantime go on with life; it has to do with building daily, by concrete gestures, the kingdom of love, justice, and fraternity that Jesus inaugurated. Christian hope, for example, was not sown by the Levite and the priest who walked by the man wounded by the thieves. It was sown by a stranger, a Samaritan who stopped and did that (cf. Lk 10:30-35). And today it is as if the Church is saying: “Stop and sow hope amid poverty. Draw near to the poor and sow hope”. Hope for that person, your hope and the hope of the Church. This is what is asked of us: to be, amid the ruins of the everyday world, tireless builders of hope; to be light as the sun grows dark, to be loving witnesses of compassion amid widespread disinterest; to be an attentive presence amid growing indifference. Witnesses of compassion. We will never be able to do good except by showing compassion. At most, we will do good things, but they do not touch the Christian way because they do not touch the heart. What touches the heart is compassion: we draw near, we feel compassion and we perform works of tender love. That is God’s way of doing things: closeness, compassion and tenderness. That is what is being asked of us today.
Recently I was thinking about what a bishop close to the poor, and himself poor in spirit, Don Tonino Bello, used to say: “We cannot be content to hope; we have to organize hope”. Unless our hope translates into decisions and concrete gestures of concern, justice, solidarity and care for our common home, the sufferings of the poor will not be relieved, the economy of waste that forces them to live on the margins will not be converted, their expectations will not blossom anew. We Christians, in particular, have to organize hope - this expression of Don Tonino Belli, to organize hope, is very fine – to make it concrete in our everyday lives, in our relationships, in our social and political commitments. I am reminded of the charitable works carried out by so many Christians, the work of the Office of the Papal Almoner… What are they doing there? They are organizing hope. Not giving a coin here and there, but organizing hope. This is what the Church is asking of us today.
Today Jesus offers us a simple yet eloquent image of hope. It is the image of the leaves of the fig tree, which quietly point to the approach of summer. Those leaves appear, Jesus says, when the branch becomes tender (cf. v. 28). Dear brothers and sisters, that is the word that makes hope blossom in the world and relieves the suffering of the poor: tenderness. Compassion that leads you to tenderness. We need to overcome our self-absorption, interior rigidity, which is the temptation nowadays, that of the “restorationists”, who want a Church completely orderly, completely rigid: this is not of the Holy Spirit. We have to overcome this, in order to make hope blossom amid this rigidity. It is up to us to overcome the temptation to be concerned only about our own problems; we need to grow tender before the tragedies of our world, to share its pain. Like the tender leaves of a tree, we are called to absorb the pollution all around us and turn it into goodness. It is useless to keep talking about problems, to argue and to be scandalized – all of us can do that. What we need to do is imitate the leaves that daily, imperceptibly, turn dirty air into clean air. Jesus wants us to be “converters” of goodness: people who breathe the same heavy air as everyone else, but respond to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21). People who act: by breaking bread with the hungry, working for justice, lifting up the poor and restoring their dignity. As the Samaritan did.
How lovely, evangelical and youthful is a Church ready to go out from herself and, like Jesus, proclaim good news to the poor (cf. Lk 4:18). Let me pause at that last adjective: young. A Church that sows hope is young. A prophetic Church that, by her presence, says to the broken-hearted and the outcast of the world, “Take heart, the Lord is near. For you too, summer is being born in the depths of winter. From your pain, hope can arise”. Brothers and sisters, let us bring this outlook of hope to our world. Let us bring it with tenderness to the poor, with closeness, with compassion, without judging them, for we will be judged. For there, with them, with the poor, is Jesus; because there, in them, is Jesus, who awaits us.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The Gospel passage of today’s liturgy opens with a phrase of Jesus that leaves us astonished: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven” (Mk 13:24-25). But what now, even the Lord was a doomsdayer? No, this is certainly not His intention. He wants us to understand that sooner or later everything in this world passes. Even the sun, the moon and the stars that make up the “firmament” - a word that indicates “firmness”, “stability” - are destined to pass away.
In the end, though, Jesus says what does not fall: “Heaven and earth will pass away”, He says, “but my words will not pass away” (v. 31). The Lord’s words will not pass away. He makes a distinction between the penultimate things, which pass, and the ultimate things, that remain. It is a message for us, to guide us in our important decisions in life, to guide us on what it is worth investing our life. In something transitory, or in the words of the Lord, something that remains forever? Obviously on these. But it is not easy. Indeed, the things that come before our senses and give us immediate satisfaction attract us, while the words of the Lord, although beautiful, go beyond the immediate and require patience. We are tempted to cling to what we see and touch and what seems safer to us. It is human, that is temptation. But this is a deception, because “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”. So, here is the invitation: do not build your life on sand. When someone builds a house, they dig deep and lay a solid foundation. Only a fool would say that money would be wasted on something that cannot be seen. According to Jesus, the faithful disciple is the one who founds his life on the rock, which is his Word (cf. Mt 7:24-27), which does not pass away, on the firmness of the Word of Jesus: this is the foundation of the life that Jesus wants from us, and which will not pass away.
And now we wonder – always, when we read the Word of God, questions arise - what is the centre, what is the beating heart of the Word of God? In short, what is it that gives solidity to life, and will never end? Saint Paul tells us. The very centre, the beating heart, that which gives solidity, is love: “Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8), says Saint Paul: love. Those who do good, are investing in eternity. When we see a person who is generous and helpful, meek, patient, who is not envious, does not gossip, does not brag, is not puffed-up with pride, does not lack respect (cf. 1 Cor 13:4-7), this is a person who builds Heaven on earth. They may not be noticed or have a career, they will not make the news, and yet, what they do will not be lost because good is never lost, good lasts forever.
And we, brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: what are we investing our lives in? On things that pass, such as money, success, appearance, physical well-being? We will take away none of these things. Are we attached to earthly things, as if we will live here forever? When we are young and healthy, everything is fine, but when the time comes to depart, we have to leave everything behind.
The Word of God warns us today: this world will pass away. And only love will remain. To base one’s life on the Word of God, therefore, is not an escape from history, but an immersion into earthly realities in order to make them solid, to transform them with love, imprinting on them the sign of eternity, the sign of God. Here then is some advice for making important choices. When I don’t know what to do, how do make a definitive choice, an important decision, a decision that involves Jesus’ love, what must I do? Before deciding, let us imagine that we are standing in front of Jesus, as at the end of life, before Him who is love. And imagining ourselves there, in His presence, at the threshold of eternity, we make the decision for today. We must decide in this way: always looking to eternity, looking at Jesus. It may not be the easiest, it may not be the most immediate, but it will be the right one (cf. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 187), that is sure.
May Our Lady help us to make the important choices in life as she did: according to love, according to God.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today we begin the journey of Advent, which will culminate in Christmas. Advent is the time we are given to welcome the Lord who comes to encounter us, and also to verify our longing for God, to look forward and prepare ourselves for Christ’s return. He will return to us in the celebration of Christmas, when we will remember his historic coming in the humility of the human condition; but he enters our heart each time we are willing to receive him; and he will come again at the end of time to “judge the living and the dead”. Therefore, we must always be vigilant and await the Lord with the hope of encountering him. Today’s liturgy introduces us precisely to this evocative theme of vigilance and waiting.
In the Gospel (cf. Mk 13:33-37) Jesus exhorts us to take heed and watch, so as to be ready to welcome him at the moment of his return. He tells us: “Take heed, watch ... for you do not know when the time will come.... Watch therefore ... lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (vv. 33-37).
The person who takes heed is the one who, amid the worldly din, does not let himself be overwhelmed by distraction or superficiality, but lives in a full and conscious way, with concern first and foremost for others. With this manner we become aware of the tears and the needs of neighbours and we can also understand their human and spiritual strengths and qualities. The heedful person then also turns toward the world, seeking to counter the indifference and cruelty in it, and taking delight in its beautiful treasures which also exist and are to be safeguarded. It is a matter of having an understanding gaze so as to recognize both the misery and poverty of individuals and of society, and to recognize the richness hidden in little everyday things, precisely there where the Lord has placed us.
The watchful person is the one who accepts the invitation to keep watch, that is, not to let himself be overpowered by the listlessness of discouragement, by the lack of hope, by disappointment; and at the same time it wards off the allure of the many vanities with which the world is brimming and for which, now and then, time and personal and familial peace is sacrificed. It is the painful experience of the people of Israel, recounted by the Prophet Isaiah: God seemed to have let his people err from his ways (cf. 63:17), but this was a result of the unfaithfulness of the people themselves (cf. 64:4b). We too often find ourselves in this situation of unfaithfulness to the call of the Lord: He shows us the good path, the way of faith, the way of love, but we seek our happiness elsewhere.
Being attentive and watchful are prerequisites so as not to continue to “err from the Lord’s ways”, lost in our sins and in our unfaithfulness; being attentive and being watchful are the conditions that allow God to permeate our existence, in order to restore meaning and value to it with his presence full of goodness and tenderness. May Mary Most Holy, role model for awaiting God and icon of watchfulness, lead us to her son Jesus, rekindling our love for him.
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).