Matthew Chapter 18-22
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Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. They are the “special helpers” that the Lord promises to His people and to us who travel along the path of life. Life is a journey, along which we must be helped by “companions,” by “protectors,” by “compasses” that guard us against dangers, and from the snares we might encounter along the way.
There is the danger of not going on the journey. And how many people settle down, and don’t set out on the journey, and their whole life is stalled, without moving, without doing anything… It is a danger. Like that man in the Gospel who was afraid to invest the talent. He buried it, and [said] “I am at peace, I am calm. I can’t make a mistake. So I won’t take a risk.” And so many people don’t know how to make the journey, or are afraid of taking risks, and they are stalled. But we know that the rule is that those who are stalled in life end up corrupted. Like water: when the water is stopped up in a place, the mosquitos come, they lay their eggs, and everything is corrupted. Everything. The angels help us, they push us to continue on the journey.
But there are two other dangers we face in our lives. There is the “danger of going astray,” which can be corrected easily only at the beginning; and the danger of leaving the road to lose ourselves in a maze, going “from one part to another,” like a “labyrinth” that traps us, so that we can never escape. The angel, is there “to help us not to mistake the road, and to continue to journey along it” – but our prayer, our request for help, is needed.
And the Lord says, “Have respect for their presence.” The angel is authoritative; he has authority to guide us. Listen to him. “Hearken to his voice, and do not rebel against him.” Listen to the inspirations, which are always from the Holy Spirit – but the angel inspires them. But I want to ask you a question: Do you speak with your angel? Do you know the name of your angel? Do you listen to your angel? Do you allow yourself to be led by hand along the path, or do you need to be pushed to move?
But the presence and the role of the angels in our life is even more important, because they not only help us to journey well, but also show us our destination. In the day’s Gospel, taken from St Matthew, the Lord says “Do not despise one of these little ones,” because “their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” In the mystery of the guardianship of the angels there is also the idea of “the contemplation of God the Father,” which we can only understand if we are given that grace from the Lord.
Our angel is not only with us; he also sees God the Father. He is in relationship with Him. He is the daily bridge, from the moment we arise to the moment we go to bed. He accompanies us and is a link between us and God the Father. The angel is the daily gateway to transcendence, to the encounter with the Father: that is, the angel helps me to go forward because he looks upon the Father, and he knows the way. Let us not forget these companions along the journey.
The first reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (40,1-11), is an invitation to consolation: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” because “her guilt is expiated.” This, refers to the “consolation of salvation,” to the good news that “we are saved.” The Risen Christ, in those forty days after His Resurrection, did just that with His disciples: He consoled them. But, we tend to resist consolation, as if we were safer in the turbulent waters of our problems. We bet on desolation, on problems, on defeat; the Lord works very hard to console us, but encounters resistance. This can be seen even with the disciples on the morning of Easter, who needed to be reassured, because they were afraid of another defeat.
We are attached to this spiritual pessimism. Children who approach me during my public audiences sometimes see me and scream, they begin to cry, because seeing someone in white, they think of the doctor and the nurse, who give them a shot for their vaccines; and [the children] think, ‘No, no, not another one!’ And we are a little like that, but the Lord says, “Comfort, comfort my people.”
And how does the Lord give comfort? With tenderness. It is a language that the prophets of doom do not recognise: tenderness. It is a word that is cancelled by all the vices that drive us away from the Lord: clerical vices, the vices of some Christians who don’t want to move, of the lukewarm… Tenderness scares them. “See, the Lord has His reward with Him, His recompense goes before Him” – this is how the passage from Isaiah concludes. “Like a shepherd He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” This is the way the Lord comforts: with tenderness. Tenderness consoles. When a child cries, a mom will caress them and calm them with tenderness: a word that the world today has practically removed from the dictionary.
The Lord invites us to allow ourselves to be consoled by Him; and this is also helpful in our preparation for Christmas. And today, in the opening prayer from the Mass, we asked for the grace of a sincere joyfulness, of this simple but sincere joy.
And indeed, I would say that the habitual state of the Christian should be consolation. Even in bad moments: The martyrs entered the Colosseum singing; [and] the martyrs of today – I think of the good Coptic workers on the beach in Libya, whose throats were cut – died saying “Jesus, Jesus!” There is a consolation within: a joy even in the moment of martyrdom. The habitual state of the Christian should be consolation, which is not the same as optimism, no. Optimism is something else. But consolation, that positive base… We’re talking about radiant, positive people: the positivity, the radiance of the Christian is the consolation.
When we suffer, we might not feel that consolation; but a Christian will not lose interior peace because it is a gift from the Lord, who offers it to all, even in the darkest moments. And so, in these weeks leading up to Christmas, we should ask the Lord for the grace to not be afraid to allow ourselves to be consoled by Him. Referring back to the Gospel of the day (Mt 18,12-14), he said we should pray:
“That I too might prepare myself for Christmas at least with peace: peace of heart, the peace of Your presence, the peace given by Your caresses.” But [you might say] “I am a great sinner.” – Ok, but what does today’s Gospel tell us? That the Lord consoles like the shepherd who, if he loses one of his sheep, goes in search of it; like that man who has a hundred sheep, and one of them is lost: he goes in search of it. The Lord does just that with each one of us. [But] I don’t want peace, I resist peace, I resist consolation… But He is at the door. He knocks so that we might open our heart in order to allow ourselves to be consoled, and to allow ourselves to be set at peace. And He does it with gentleness. He knocks with caresses.
The Lord guides His people, comforts them but also corrects them and punishes them with the tenderness of a father, a shepherd who carries the lambs in His bosom and leads the ewes with care.
The first reading from the Book of Isaiah speaks about God’s consolation for His people Israel as a proclamation of hope. "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated."
The Lord always consoles us as long as we allow ourselves to be consoled. And God corrects with consolation, but how? "Like a shepherd He feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care." "In His bosom". But this is an expression of tenderness! How does the Lord console? With tenderness. How does the Lord correct? With tenderness. Can you imagine, being in the bosom of the Lord, after having sinned?
The Lord leads, the Lord leads His people, the Lord corrects; I would also say: the Lord punishes with tenderness. The tenderness of God, the caresses of God. It is not a didactic nor diplomatic attitude of God; it comes from within, it is the joy that He has when a sinner approaches. And joy makes Him tender.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father saw his son from afar: because he was waiting for him, he went up on the terrace to see if his son returns. The heart of the father. And when he arrives and begins that speech of repentance he cuts his son's speech off short and starts celebrating. The Lord's tenderness.
In the Gospel, the shepherd returns, the one who has a hundred sheep and one that is lost. "Will he not leave the 99 in the hills and go in search for the one that's lost?" And if he can find her he will rejoice over it more than the 99 that were not lost. This is the joy of the Lord before the sinner, before us when we allow ourselves to be forgiven, we approach Him to forgive us. A joy that makes tenderness and that tenderness comforts us.
Many times, we complain about the difficulties we have: the devil wants us to fall into the spirit of sadness, embittered by life or our sins. I met a person who was consecrated to God who they called "Complaint", because he couldn't do anything other than complain, it was the Nobel Prize for complaints.
But how often do we complain, we complain, and we often think that our sins, our limitations cannot be forgiven. And it is then that the voice of the Lord comes and says, "I comfort you, I am near you", and He holds us tenderly. The powerful God who created the heavens and earth, the God-hero to put it this way, our brother, who allowed Himself to be brought to the cross to die for us, is able to caress us and say, "Do not cry".
With what tenderness, the Lord would have caressed the widow of Nain when he told her "Don't cry". Maybe, in front of her son’s coffin, He caressed her before He said, "Don't cry". Because there was a disaster there. We must believe this consolation of the Lord, because afterwards there is the grace of forgiveness.
"Father, I have so any sins, I have made so many mistakes in my life" - But let yourself be consoled - by the Lord - Ask for forgiveness: go, go! Be brave. Open the door. And He will caress you. He will approach with the tenderness of a father, a brother: "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care", so the Lord comforts us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.
The Gospel this Sunday, taken from Matthew, Chapter 18, presents the theme of brotherly correction within the community of believers: that is, how I must correct another Christian when he does what is not good. Jesus teaches us that, should my Christian brother commit a sin against me, offend me, I must be charitable toward him and, first of all, speak with him personally, explain to him what he said or did that was wrong. What if the brother doesn’t listen to me? Jesus proposes a progressive intervention: first, return and speak to him with two or three other people, so he may be more aware of his error; if, despite this, he does not accept the admonition, the community must be told; and should he also refuse to listen to the community, he must be made aware of the rift and estrangement that he himself has caused, weakening the communion with his brothers in the faith.
The stages of this plan show the effort that the Lord asks of his community in order to accompany the one who transgresses, so that he or she is not lost. It is important above all to prevent any clamour in the news and gossip in the community — this is the first thing, this must be avoided. “Go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (v. 15). The approach is one of sensitivity, prudence, humility, attention towards the one who committed a fault, to avoid wounding or killing the brother with words. Because, you know, words too can kill! When I speak, when I make an unfair criticism, when I “flay” a brother with my tongue, this is killing another person’s reputation! Words kill too. Let us pay attention to this. At the same time, the discretion of speaking to him alone is to avoid needlessly humiliating the sinner. It is discussed between the two, no one is aware of it and then it’s over. This requirement also takes into account the consequent series of interventions calling for the involvement of a few witnesses and then actually of the community. The purpose is to help the person realize what he has done, and that through his fault he has offended not only one, but everyone. But it also helps us to free ourselves from anger or resentment which only causes harm: that bitterness of heart which brings anger and resentment, and which leads us to insult and aggression. It’s terrible to see an insult or taunt issue from the mouth of a Christian. It is ugly. Do you understand? Do not insult! To insult is not Christian. Understood? To insult is not Christian.
Actually, before God we are all sinners and in need of forgiveness. All of us. Indeed, Jesus told us not to judge. Fraternal correction is a mark of the love and communion which must reign in the Christian community; it is, rather, a mutual service that we can and must render to one another. To reprove a brother is a service, and it is possible and effective only if each one recognizes oneself to be a as sinner and in need of the Lord’s forgiveness. The same awareness that enables me to recognize the fault of another, even before that, reminds me that I have likewise made mistakes and I am often wrong.
This is why, at the beginning of Mass, every time, we are called before the Lord to recognize that we are sinners, expressing through words and gestures sincere repentance of the heart. And we say: “Have mercy on me, Lord. I am a sinner! I confess to Almighty God my sins”. And we don’t say: “Lord, have mercy on this man who is beside me, or this woman, who are sinners”. No! “Have mercy on me!”. We are all sinners and in need of the Lord’s forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to our spirit and makes us recognize our faults in light of the Word of Jesus. And Jesus himself invites us all, saints and sinners, to his table, gathering us from the crossroads, from diverse situations of life (cf. Mt 22:9-10). And among the conditions in common among those participating in the Eucharistic celebration, two are fundamental in order to go to Mass correctly: we are all sinners and God grants his mercy to all. These are the two conditions which open wide the doors that we might enter Mass properly. We must always remember this before addressing a brother in brotherly correction.
Let us ask all this through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Nativity we will celebrate in tomorrow’s liturgy.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel passage (cf. Mt 18:21-35) offers us a lesson on forgiveness which does not deny wrongdoing, but recognizes that human beings, created in God’s image, are always greater than the evil they commit. Saint Peter asks Jesus: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (v. 21). To Peter, forgiving the same person seven times already seemed the maximum possible. And perhaps to us it may already seem too much to do so twice. But Jesus answers, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (v. 22), meaning always. You must always forgive. And he confirms this by telling the parable of the merciful king and the wicked servant, in which he shows the inconsistency of the man who was first forgiven and then refused to forgive.
The king in the parable is a generous man who, spurred by compassion, forgives an enormous debt — “10,000 talents”: enormous — to a servant who beseeches him. That same servant, however, as soon as he meets another servant like himself who owes him 100 dinarii — which is much less — behaves in a ruthless way and has him thrown in prison. The servant’s inconsistent behaviour is the same as ours when we refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters. Whereas the king in the parable is the image of God who loves us with a love that is so rich in mercy as to welcome us, love us and forgive us continuously.
From the time of our Baptism, God has forgiven us, releasing us from an intractable debt: original sin. But that is the first time. Then, with boundless mercy, he forgives us all our faults as soon as we show even the least sign of repentance. This is how God is: merciful. When we are tempted to close our heart to those who have offended us and tell us they are sorry, let us remember our Heavenly Father’s words to the wicked servant: “I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (vv. 32-33). Anyone who has experienced the joy, peace and inner freedom which come from being forgiven should open him or herself up to the possibility of forgiving in turn.
Jesus wished to introduce the teaching of this parable into the Our Father. He linked the forgiveness which we ask from God with the forgiveness that we should accord our brothers and sisters: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt 6:12). God’s forgiveness is the symbol of his “overflowing” love for each of us. It is the love that leaves us free to distance ourselves, like the prodigal son, but which awaits our return every day. It is the resourceful love of the shepherd for the lost sheep. It is the tenderness which welcomes each sinner who knocks at his door. The Heavenly Father — our Father — is filled, is full of love and he wants to offer it to us, but he cannot do so if we close our heart to love towards others.
May the Virgin Mary help us to become ever more aware of the gratuitousness and the greatness of the forgiveness received from God, to become merciful like him, Good Father, slow to anger and great in love.
Jesus gives us a catechesis about the unity of brothers and sisters and ends it with a beautiful word: "I assure you that if two of you, two or three, will agree and ask for a grace, it will be granted to you." Unity, friendship and peace among brothers and sisters attracts the benevolence of God. And Peter asks the question: "Yes, but what should we do with the people that offend us? If my brother offends me, he offends me, how many times will I have to forgive him? Seven times?" And Jesus answered with that word that means, in their idiom, "always": "Seventy times seven." You must always forgive.
And it's not easy, to forgive. Because our selfish heart is always attached to hatred, revenge, resentment. We have all seen families destroyed by hate in the family that gets passed down in the family from one generation to the next. Brothers who, in front of the coffin of one of the parents, do not greet each other because they carry on old grudges. It seems that it is stronger to cling to hatred than to love, and this is precisely the treasure – let's say so – of the devil. He always occupies himself among our grudges, among our hates and makes them grow, keeps them there to destroy. Destroy everything. And so often, for small things, he destroys. And he also destroys the Lord who did not come to condemn, but to forgive. This God who is able to celebrate for a sinner who draws near to him and forgets everything.
When God forgives us, he forgets all the evil we have done. Someone said, "It's God's ailment" He has no memory, he is able to lose his memory, in these cases. God loses the memory of the awful stories of so many sinners, of our sins. He forgives us and he goes on. He only asks us: "Do the same: learn to forgive", do not carry on this unfruitful cross of hatred, and resentment, "you will pay for it". This word is neither Christian nor human. The generosity of Jesus who teaches us that in order to enter heaven we must forgive. Indeed, He tells us: "You, go to Mass?" – "Yes" – "But when you go to Mass and you remember that your brother has something against you, reconcile first; don't come to me with love for me in one hand and hate for your brother in the other." Consistency in love. Forgive. Forgiveness from the heart.
There are people who live condemning people, talking ill of people, constantly dirtying their workmates, dirtying neighbours, relatives, because they don't forgive something they've done to them, or they don't forgive something they didn't like. It seems that the devil's wealth is this: sowing love to non-forgiveness, living attached to non-forgiveness. And forgiveness is a condition for entering heaven.
The parable that Jesus tells us is very clear: to forgive. May the Lord teach us this wisdom of forgiveness that is not easy. And let us do one thing: when we go to confession, to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, let us first ask ourselves, "Do I forgive?" If I feel that I do not forgive, do not pretend to ask forgiveness, because I will not be forgiven. Asking for forgiveness is forgiving. They're both together. They can't separate. And those who ask for forgiveness for themselves like this servant, who the master forgives everything, but do not give forgiveness to others, will end up like this servant. "So too, my Heavenly Father will do with you if you do not forgive your brother from the heart."
May the Lord help us understand this and lower our heads, so that we are not proud, to be magnanimous in forgiveness. At least to forgive "out of interest." How come? Yes: forgive, because if I do not forgive, I will not be forgiven. But always forgiveness.
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
In the parable in today’s Gospel reading, that of the merciful King (see Mt 18:21-35), twice we find this plea: “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full” (vv. 26, 29). The first time it is pronounced by the servant who owes his master ten thousand talents, an enormous sum. Today it would be millions and millions of dollars. The second time it is repeated by another servant of the same master. He too is in debt, not towards the master, but towards the same servant who has that enormous debt. And his debt is very small, maybe a week’s wages.
The heart of the parable is the indulgence the master shows towards his servant with the bigger debt. The evangelist underlines that, “moved with compassion the master”- we should never forget this word of Jesus: “Have compassion”, Jesus always had compassion - “moved with compassion the master let him go and forgave him the loan” (v. 27). An enormous debt, therefore a huge remission! But that servant, immediately afterwards, showed himself to be pitiless towards his companion, who owed him a modest sum. He does not listen to him, he is extremely hostile against him and has him thrown in prison until he has paid his debt (see v. 30). The master hears about this and, outraged, calls the wicked servant back and has him condemned (see vv. 32-34). “I forgave you a great deal and you are not capable of forgiving so little?”
In the parable we find two different attitudes: God’s - represented by the king who forgives a lot, because God always forgives - and the human person’s. The divine attitude is justice pervaded with mercy, whereas the human attitude is limited to justice. Jesus exhorts us to open ourselves with courage to the strength of forgiveness, because in life not everything can be resolved with justice. We know this. There is a need for that merciful love, which is also at the basis of the Lord’s answer to Peter’s question, which precedes the parable. Peter’s question goes like this: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?” (v. 21). And Jesus replies, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (v. 22). In the symbolic language of the Bible this means that we are called to forgive always.
How much suffering, how many wounds, how many wars could be avoided if forgiveness and mercy were the style of our life! Even in families, even in families. How many families are disunited, who do not know how to forgive each other. How many brothers and sisters bear resentment within. It is necessary to apply merciful love to all human relationships: between spouses, between parents and children, within our communities, in the Church and also in society and politics.
Today as we were celebrating the Mass, I paused, touched by a phrase in the first reading from the book of Sirach. The phrase says, remember the end and stop hating. A beautiful phrase. But think of the end. Just think, you will be in a coffin… and you take your hatred there. Think about the end, stop hating, stop resenting. Let’s think of this phrase that is very touching. Remember the end and stop hating.
It is not easy to forgive because although in moments of calm we think “Yes, this person has done so many things to me but I have done many too. Better to forgive so as to be forgiven”, but then resentment returns like a bothersome fly in the summer that keeps coming back. Forgiveness isn’t something we do in a moment, it is a something continuous, against that resentment, that hatred that keeps coming back. Let’s think of our end and stop hating.
Today’s parable helps us to grasp fully the meaning of that phrase we recite in the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (see Mt 6:12). These words contain a decisive truth. We cannot demand God’s forgiveness for ourselves if we in turn do not grant forgiveness to our neighbour. It is a condition. Think of your end, of God’s forgiveness, and stop hating. Reject resentment, that bothersome fly that keeps coming back. If we do not strive to forgive and to love, we will not be forgiven and loved either.
Let us entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of the Mother of God: May she help us to realise how much we are in debt to God, and to remember that always, so that our hearts may be open to mercy and goodness.
Dear brothers and sisters, Good morning!
In today’s Gospel reading (cf Mt 20:1-16) there is the parable of the day labourers in the vineyard, which Jesus recounts in order to explain two aspects of the Kingdom of God: the first is that God wants to call everyone to work for his Kingdom; the second is that, in the end, he wants to give everyone the same reward, that is, salvation, eternal life.
The owner of the vineyard who represents God, goes out at dawn and hires a group of workers, agreeing with them on the day’s wages. It was a fair wage. Then he goes out again [several times] later in the day — he goes out five times on that day — until the late afternoon to hire other unemployed labourers whom he sees. At the end of the day, the landowner orders that a denarius be paid to everyone, even to those who had only worked for a few hours. Naturally, the labourers who were hired first complain because they see that they are paid as much as those who worked for fewer hours. The landowner however, reminds them about what had been agreed; if he then wants to be generous with the others, they should not be envious.
In reality, this “injustice” of the owner serves to provoke in those listening to the parable a qualitative leap because here Jesus does not want to speak about the issue of work or of a fair wage, but about the Kingdom of God! And this is the message: there are no unemployed people in the Kingdom of God. Everyone is called to do their part; and there will be a reward from divine justice for everyone in the end — not from human [justice], luckily! —, but the salvation that Jesus Christ acquired for us with his death and Resurrection, a salvation which is not deserved, but donated — salvation is free — thus, “the last will be the first and the first last” (Mt 20:16).
With this parable, Jesus wants to open our hearts to the logic of the Father’s love which is free and generous. It is about allowing oneself to be astonished and fascinated by the “thoughts” and the “ways” of God which, as the Prophet Isaiah recalls, are not our thoughts and not our ways (cf Is 55:8). Human thoughts are often marked by selfishness and personal advantages, and our narrow and contorted paths are not comparable to the wide and straight streets of the Lord. He uses mercy — do not forget this: He uses mercy —, he forgives broadly, is filled with generosity and kindness which he pours forth on each of us. He opens for everyone the boundless territory of his love and his grace, which alone can give the human heart the fullness of joy.
Jesus wants to make us contemplate the gaze of that landowner: the gaze with which he looks upon each of the labourers searching for work and calls them to go to his vineyard. It is a gaze which is filled with attention, kindness. It is a gaze which calls, invites one to get up and begin a journey because he wants life for each of us; he wants a full, committed life, safe from emptiness and inertia. God excludes no one and wants each of us to achieve his or her fullness. This is the love of our God, of our God who is Father.
May Mary Most Holy help us welcome into our lives the logic of love which frees us from the presumption of deserving God’s reward and from the critical judgement of others.
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
Today’s page from the Gospel (see Mt 20:1-16) recounts the parable of the workers called to put in a day’s work by the owner of the vineyard. Through this narrative, Jesus shows us the surprising way God acts, represented by two of the owner’s attitudes: the call and the reward.
First of all, the call. Five times the owner of the vineyard goes out and calls [people] to work for him: at six, at nine, at twelve, at three and at five in the afternoon. The image of this owner, who goes out numerous times to look for day labourers for his vineyard, is touching. That owner represents God who calls everyone and calls always, at any hour. Even today, God acts this way: He continues to call anyone, at whatever hour, to invite them to work in His Kingdom. This is God’s style, which in our turn we are called to receive and to imitate. He does not stay shut in within His world, but “goes out”: God always goes out, in search of us; He is not closed up – God goes out. He continually seeks out people, because He does not want anyone to be excluded from His loving plan.
Our communities are also called to go out to the various types of “boundaries” that there might be, to offer everyone the word of salvation that Jesus came to bring. It means being open to horizons in life that offer hope to those stationed on the existential peripheries, who have not yet experienced, or have lost, the strength and the light that comes with meeting Christ. The Church needs to be like God: always going out; and when the Church does not go out, it becomes sick with the many evils we have in the Church. And why are these illnesses in the Church? Because she does not go out. It is true that when someone goes out there is the danger of getting into an accident. But it is better a Church that gets into accidents because it goes out to proclaim the Gospel, than a Church that is sick because it stays in. God always goes out because He is a Father, because He loves. The Church must do the same: always going out.
The owner’s second attitude, representing God’s, is his way of compensating the workers. How does God pay? The owner agrees to “one denarius” (v. 2) with the first workers he hired in the morning. Instead, to those he hired later, he says: “Whatever is right I will give you” (v. 4). At the end of the day, the owner of the vineyard orders that everyone be given the same pay, that is, one denarius. Those who had worked since morning are outraged and complain against the owner, but he insists: he wants to give the maximum pay to everyone, even to those who arrived last (vv. 8-15). God always pays the maximum amount: He does not pay halfway. He pays everything. In this way, it is understood that Jesus is not speaking about work and just wages – that is another problem – but about the Kingdom of God and the goodness of the heavenly Father who goes out continually to invite, and He pays everyone the maximum amount.
In fact, God behaves like this: He does not look at the time and at the results, but at the availability, He looks at the generosity with which we put ourselves at His service. His way of acting is more than just, in the sense that it goes beyond justice and is manifested in Grace. Everything is Grace. Our salvation is Grace. Our holiness is Grace. Giving us Grace, He bestows on us more than what we merit. And so, those who reason using human logic, that is, the logic of the merits acquired through one’s own greatness, from being first, find themselves last. “But, I have worked a lot, I have done so much in the Church, I have helped a lot and they pay me the same as this person who arrived last…”. Let’s remember who was the first canonized saint in the Church: the Good Thief. He “stole” Paradise at the last minute of his life: this is Grace. This is what God is like, even with us. Instead, those who seek thinking of their own merits, fail; those who humbly entrust themselves to the Father’s mercy, from being last – like the Good Thief – find themselves first (see v. 16).
May Mary Most Holy help us to feel every day the joy and wonder of being called by God to work for Him, in His field which is the world, in His vineyard which is the Church. And to have as our only recompense His love, friendship with Jesus.
I celebrate with you the first Sunday of the Word: the Word of God makes the heart burn (cf. Lk 24:32), because it makes us feel loved and comforted by the Lord. The icon of "Our Lady of St. Luke", the evangelist, can help us to understand the maternal tenderness of the "living" word, which is at the same time "knife-sharp", as in today's Gospel: in fact it penetrates the soul (cf. Heb 4:12) and brings to light the secrets and contradictions of the heart.
Today it challenges us with the parable of the two sons, who respond to the Father's invitation to go into his vineyard: One says no, but then goes; the second says yes, but then doesn't work. There is, however, a big difference between the first son, who is lazy, and the second, who is hypocritical. Let's try to imagine what happened inside them. In the heart of the first, after his no, the invitation of his father still rang out; in the second, however, despite his yes, the father's voice was buried. The memory of the father awakened the first child from laziness, while the second, although he knew the good, contradicted his word with his actions. In fact, he had become impervious to the voice of God and of conscience, and without any problems accepted the duplicity of life. Jesus with this parable places two paths before us. Experience shows that we are not always willing to say yes in word and deed, because we are sinners. But we can choose whether to be sinners on the way, who listen to the Lord, and when they fall they repent and rise, like the first child; or sitting sinners, ready to always justify themselves and only with words according to what suits them.
This parable Jesus was addressed to some religious leaders of the time, the Son with his double life, while ordinary people often behaved like the other son. These leaders knew and explained everything, in a formally flawless way, like true intellectuals of religion. But they did not have the humility to listen, the courage to question themselves, and no strength to repent. And Jesus is very strict: he says that even tax collectors are more likely to enter the Kingdom of God. It is a harsh rebuke, because the tax collectors were corrupt traitors of the homeland. So what was the problem with these leaders? They were not simply mistaken about something, but they were mistaken in the way of life before God: they were, in words and with others, unyielding guardians of human traditions, unable to understand that life according to God is on the way and requires the humility to open up, repent and start again.
What does that say to us? That there is no Christian life designed on the drawing board, scientifically built, where it is sufficient to fulfil a few commandments to soothe consciences: Christian life is a humble path of a conscience never rigid and always relates to God, who knows how to repent and rely on Him in his poverty, without ever assuming that it is sufficient to itself. Thus we overcome the revised and up-to-date versions of that ancient evil, denounced by Jesus in the parable: hypocrisy, duplicity of life, clericalism that is accompanied by legalism, detachment from the people. The key word is repentance: it is repentance that allows us not to harden, to turn no to God into yes, and yes to sin into no for the sake of the Lord. The will of the Father, who every day gently speaks to our conscience, is carried out only in the form of repentance and continuous conversion. In the end, everyone has two paths ahead of them: to be repentant sinners or hypocritical sinners. But what matters is not the reasoning that justifies and attempts to save appearances, but a heart that moves forward with the Lord, struggles every day, repents and returns to Him. Because the Lord seeks the pure of heart, not pure "on the outside".
Thus we see, dear brothers and sisters, that the Word of God goes into the depths, "discerns the feelings and thoughts of the heart"(Heb 4:12). But it is also current: the parable also reminds us of the relationships, not always easy, between fathers and children. Today, at the rate at which one generation changes to the next, we feel more strongly the need for autonomy from the past, sometimes to the point of rebellion. But, after the closures and the long silences on one side or the other, it is good to recover the encounter, even if there are still conflicts simmering, which can become the stimulus to find a new balance. As in the family, so in the Church and in society: never give up encounter, dialogue, seek new ways to walk together.
The question often comes in the journey of the Church: where to go, how to move forward? I would like to leave you, at the end of this day, three reference points, three "P's". The first is the Word, which is the compass for humble walking, so as not to fall away from the way of God and fall into worldliness. The second is Bread, the Eucharistic bread, because from the Eucharist everything begins. It is in the Eucharist that we encounter the Church: not in gossip and chronicles, but here, in the Body of Christ shared by sinful and needy people, but who feel loved and then desire to love. From here we set off and meet again every time, this is the indispensable beginning of our being as a Church. The Eucharistic Congress proclaims it "out loud": the Church gathers like this, is born and lives around the Eucharist, with Jesus present and alive to worship, to receive and to give every day. Finally, the third P: the poor. Unfortunately, so many people lack the necessities. But there are also so many poor people of affection, lonely people, and poor people of God. In all of them we find Jesus, because Jesus in the world followed the path of poverty, of annihilation, as St Paul says in the second Reading: "Jesus emptied himself by assuming a condition of servant" (Ph 2:7) From the Eucharist to the poor, let us meet Jesus. You have reproduced the inscription that the Card. Lercaro loved to see engraved on the altar: "If we share the bread of heaven, how can we not share the earthly bread?" It will do us good to remember that all the time. The Word, the Bread, the poor: let us ask for the grace never to forget these basic foods that support us on our way.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
In my land we say: “A good face in bad weather”. With this “good face” I say to you: good morning!
With His preaching on the Kingdom of God, Jesus opposes a religiosity that does not involve human life, that does not question the conscience and its responsibility in the face of good and evil. This is also demonstrated by the parable of the two sons, which is offered to us in the Gospel of Matthew (cf. 21:28-32). To the father's invitation to go and work in the vineyard, the first son impulsively responds “no, I'm not going”, but then he repents and goes; instead the second son, who immediately replies “yes, yes dad”, does not actually do so; he doesn't go. Obedience does not consist of saying “yes" or “no”, but always of acting, of cultivating the vineyard, of bringing about the Kingdom of God, in doing good. With this simple example, Jesus wants to go beyond a religion understood only as external and habitual practice, which does not affect people's lives and attitudes, a superficial religiosity, merely “ritual”, in the ugly sense of the word.
The exponents of this “façade” of religiosity, of which Jesus disapproves, in that time were “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (Mt 21:23), who, according to the Lord’s admonition, will be preceded in the Kingdom of God by “tax collectors and prostitutes” (see v. 31). Jesus tells them: “the tax collectors, meaning the sinners, and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you”. This affirmation must not induce us to think that those who do not follow God’s commandments, those who do not follow morality, saying “In any case, those who go to Church are worse than us”, do well. No, this is not Jesus' teaching. Jesus does not indicate publicans and prostitutes as models of life, but as “privileged of Grace”. And I would like to underscore this word, “grace”. Grace, because conversion is always a grace. A grace that God offers to anyone who opens up and converts to Him. Indeed, these people, listening to his preaching, repented and changed their lives. Let us think of Matthew, for example. Saint Matthew, who was a tax collector, a traitor to his homeland.
In today’s Gospel, the one who makes the best impression is the first brother, not because he said “no” to his father, but because after his “no” he converted to “yes”, he repented. God is patient with each of us: He does not tire, He does not desist after our “no”; He leaves us free even to distance ourselves from Him and to make mistakes. Thinking about God's patience is wonderful! How the Lord always waits for us; He is always beside us to help us; but He respects our freedom. And He anxiously awaits our “yes”, so as to welcome us anew in His fatherly arms and to fill us with His boundless mercy. Faith in God asks us to renew every day the choice of good over evil, the choice of the truth rather than lies, the choice of love for our neighbour over selfishness. Those who convert to this choice, after having experienced sin, will find the first places in the Kingdom of heaven, where there is greater joy for a single sinner who converts than for ninety-nine righteous people (see Lk 15: 7).
But conversion, changing the heart, is a process, a process that purifies us from moral encrustations. And at times it is a painful process, because there is no path of holiness without some sacrifice and without a spiritual battle. Battling for good; battling so as not to fall into temptation; doing for our part what we can, to arrive at living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes. Today's Gospel passage calls into question the way of living a Christian life, which is not made up of dreams and beautiful aspirations, but of concrete commitments, in order to open ourselves ever more to God's will and to love for our brothers and sisters. But this, even the smallest concrete commitment, cannot be made without grace. Conversion is a grace we must always ask for: “Lord, give me the grace to improve. Give me the grace to be a good Christian”.
May Mary Most Holy help us to be docile to the action of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who melts the hardness of hearts and disposes them to repentance, so we may obtain the life and salvation promised by Jesus.
Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the Lord’s vineyard. The Lord’s vineyard is his “dream”, the plan which he nurtures with all his love, like a farmer who cares for his vineyard. Vines are plants which need much care!
God’s “dream” is his people. He planted it and nurtured it with patient and faithful love, so that it can become a holy people, a people which brings forth abundant fruits of justice.
But in both the ancient prophecy and in Jesus’ parable, God’s dream is thwarted. Isaiah says that the vine which he so loved and nurtured has yielded “wild grapes” (5:2,4); God “expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness, but only a cry of distress” (v. 7). In the Gospel, it is the farmers themselves who ruin the Lord’s plan: they fail to do their job but think only of their own interests.
In Jesus’ parable, he is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the “experts”, the managers. To them in a particular way God entrusted his “dream”, his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field. This is the job of leaders: to nurture the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.
But Jesus tells us that those farmers took over the vineyard. Out of greed and pride they want to do with it as they will, and so they prevent God from realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.
The temptation to greed is ever present. We encounter it also in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds (cf. ch. 34), which Saint Augustine commented upon in one his celebrated sermons which we have just reread in the Liturgy of the Hours. Greed for money and power. And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4)
We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard. Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent… They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.
We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can “thwart” God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.
My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by “the peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s liturgy offers us the parable of the tenants to whom a landowner lends the vineyard which he has planted, and then goes away (cf. Mt 21:33-43). This is how the loyalty of these tenants is tested: the vineyard is entrusted to them, they are to tend it, make it bear fruit and deliver its harvest to the owner. When the time comes to harvest the grapes, the landlord sends his servants to pick the fruit. However, the vineyard tenants assume a possessive attitude. They do not consider themselves to be simple supervisors, but rather landowners, and they refuse to hand over the harvest. They mistreat the servants, to the point of killing them. The landowner is patient with them. He sends more servants, larger in number than the previous ones, but the result is the same. In the end, he patiently decides to send his own son. But those tenants, prisoners to their own possessive behaviour, also kill the son, reasoning that, in this way, they would have the inheritance.
This narrative allegorically illustrates the reproaches of the prophets in the story of Israel. It is a history that belongs to us. It is about the Covenant which God wished to establish with mankind and in which he also called us to participate. Like any other love story, this story of the Covenant has its positive moments too, but it is also marked by betrayal and rejection. In order to make us understand how God the Father responds to the rejection of his love and his proposal of an alliance, the Gospel passage puts a question on the lips of the owner of the vineyard: “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (v. 40). This question emphasizes that God’s disappointment at the wicked behaviour of mankind is not the last word! This is the great novelty of Christianity: a God who, even though disappointed by our mistakes and our sins, does not fail to keep his Word, does not give up and, most of all, does not seek vengeance!
My brothers and sisters, God does not avenge himself. God loves, he does not avenge himself. He waits for us to forgive us, to embrace us. Through the “rejected stones” — and Christ is the first stone that the builders rejected — through situations of weakness and sin, God continues to circulate “the new wine” of his vineyard, namely mercy. This is the new wine of the Lord’s vineyard: mercy. There is only one obstacle to the tenacious and tender will of God: our arrogance and our conceit which, at times also becomes violence! Faced with these attitudes where no fruit is produced, the Word of God retains all its power to reprimand and reproach: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it” (v. 43).
The urgency of replying with good fruits to the call of the Lord, who asks us to become his vineyard, helps us understand what is new and original about the Christian faith. It is not so much the sum of precepts and moral norms but rather, it is first and foremost a proposal of love which God makes through Jesus and continues to make with mankind. It is an invitation to enter into this love story, by becoming a lively and open vine, rich in fruits and hope for everyone. A closed vineyard can become wild and produce wild grapes. We are called to leave this vineyard to put ourselves at the service of our brothers and sisters who are not with us, in order to shake each other and encourage each other, to remind ourselves that we must be the Lord’s vineyard in every environment, even the more distant and challenging ones.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the intercession of the Most Holy Mary, so that she may help us to be everywhere, in particular in the peripheries of society, the vineyard that the Lord planted for the good of all and to bring the new wine of the Lord’s mercy.
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
In today’s Gospel passage (see Mt 21:33-43) Jesus, foreseeing His passion and death, tells the parable of the murderous winemakers, to admonish the chief priests and elders of the people who are about to take the wrong path. Indeed, they have bad intentions towards Him and are seeking a way of eliminating Him.
The allegorical story describes a landowner who, after having taken great care of his vineyard (see v. 33), had to depart and leave it in the hands of farmers. Then, at harvest time, he sends some servants to collect the fruit; but the tenants welcome the servants with a beating and some even kill them. The owner sends other servants, more numerous, but they receive the same treatment (see vv. 34-36). The peak is reached when the landowner decides to send his son: the winegrowers have no respect for him, on the contrary, they think that by eliminating him they can take over the vineyard, and so they kill him too (cf. vv. 37-39).
The image of the vineyard is clear: it represents the people that the Lord has chosen and formed with such care; the servants sent by the landowner are the prophets, sent by God, while the son represents Jesus. And just as the prophets were rejected, so too Christ was rejected and killed.
At the end of the story, Jesus asks the leaders of the people: "When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" (v. 40). And, caught up in the logic of the narrative, they deliver their own sentence: the owner, they say, will severely punish those wicked people and entrust the vineyard “to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him at the proper time” (v. 41).
With this very harsh parable, Jesus confronts his interlocutors with their responsibility, and He does so with extreme clarity. But let us not think that this admonition applies only to those who rejected Jesus at that time. It applies to all times, including our own. Even today God awaits the fruits of His vineyard from those He has sent to work in it. All of us.
In any age, those who have authority, any authority, also in the Church, in God’s people, may be tempted to work in their own interests instead of those of God. And Jesus says that true authority is when you carry out service; it is in serving, not exploiting others. The vineyard is the Lord’s, not ours. Authority is a service, and as such should be exercised, for the good of all and for the dissemination of the Gospel. It is awful to see when people who have authority in the Church seek their own interests.
Saint Paul, in the second reading of today’s liturgy, tells us how to be good workers in the Lord’s vineyard: that which is true, noble, just, pure, loved and honoured; that which is virtuous and praiseworthy, let all this be the daily object of our commitment (cf. Phil 4:8). I repeat: that which is true, noble, just, pure, loved and honoured; that which is virtuous and praiseworthy, let all this be the daily object of our commitment. It is the attitude of authority and also of each one of us, because every one of us, even in a small, tiny way, has a certain authority. In this way we shall become a Church ever richer in the fruits of holiness, we shall give glory to the Father who loves us with infinite tenderness, to the Son who continues to give us salvation, and to the Spirit who opens our hearts and impels us towards the fullness of goodness.
Let us now turn to Mary Most Holy, spiritually united with the faithful gathered in the Shrine of Pompeii for the Supplication, and in October let us renew our commitment to pray the Holy Rosary.
We have heard Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…” (Is 25:8). These words, full of hope in God, point us to the goal, they show the future towards which we are journeying. Along this path the Saints go before us and guide us. These words also describe the vocation of men and women missionaries.
Missionaries are those who, in docility to the Holy Spirit, have the courage to live the Gospel. Even this Gospel which we have just heard: “Go, therefore, into the byways…”, the king tells his servants (Mt 22:9). The servants then go out and assemble all those they find, “both good and bad”, and bring them to the King’s wedding feast (cf. v. 10).
Missionaries have received this call: they have gone out to call everyone, in the highways and byways of the world. In this way they have done immense good for the Church, for once the Church stops moving, once she becomes closed in on herself, she falls ill, she can be corrupted, whether by sins or by that false knowledge cut off from God which is worldly secularism.
Missionaries have turned their gaze to Christ crucified; they have received his grace and they have not kept it for themselves. Like Saint Paul, they have become all things to all people; they have been able to live in poverty and abundance, in plenty and hunger; they have been able to do all things in him who strengthens them (cf. Phil 4:12-13). With this God-given strength, they have the courage to “go forth” into the highways of the world with confidence in the Lord who has called them. Such is the life of every missionary man and woman… ending up far from home, far from their homeland; very often, they are killed, assassinated! This is what has happened even now to many of our brothers and sisters.
The Church’s mission of evangelization is essentially a proclamation of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Missionaries have served the Church’s mission by breaking the bread of God’s word for the poor and those far off, and by bringing to all the gift of the unfathomable love welling up from the heart of the Saviour.
Such was the case with Saint François de Laval and Saint Marie de l’Incarnation. Dear pilgrims from Canada, today I would like to leave you with two words of advice drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews. Keeping missionaries in mind, they will be of great benefit for your communities.
The first is this: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (13:7). The memory of the missionaries sustains us at a time when we are experiencing a scarcity of labourers in the service of the Gospel. Their example attracts us, they inspire us to imitate their faith. They are fruitful witnesses who bring forth life!
The second is this: “Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings… Do not therefore abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance…” (10:32,35-36). Honouring those who endured suffering to bring us the Gospel means being ready ourselves to fight the good fight of faith with humility, meekness, and mercy, in our daily lives. And this bears fruit.
We must always remember those who have gone before us, those who founded the fruitful Church in Quebéc! The missionaries from Quebec who went everywhere were fruitful. The world was full of Canadian missionaries like François de Laval and Marie de l’Incarnation. So a word of advice: remembering them prevents us from renouncing candour and courage. Perhaps – indeed, even without perhaps – the devil is jealous and will not tolerate that a land could be such fertile ground for missionaries. Let us pray to the Lord, that Quebéc may once again bear much fruit, that it may give the world many missionaries. May the two missionaries, who we celebrate today, and who – in a manner of speaking – founded the Church in Québec, help us by their intercession. May the seed that they sowed grow and bear fruit in new courageous men and women, who are far-sighted, with hearts open to the Lord’s call. Today, each one must ask this for your homeland. The saints will intercede for us from heaven. May Quebéc once again be a source of brave and holy missionaries.
This, then, is the joy and the challenge of this pilgrimage of yours: to commemorate the witnesses, the missionaries of the faith in your country. Their memory sustains us always in our journey towards the future, towards the goal, when “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…”.
“Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is 25:9).
The parable we have heard speaks to us of the Kingdom of God as a wedding feast (cf. Mt 22,1-14). The protagonist is the son of the king, the groom, in which it is easy to catch a glimpse of Jesus. In the parable, however, we never talk about the bride, but about the many guests, invited and expected: they are the ones who wear the bridal wear. Those guests are us, all of us, because with each of us the Lord wishes to "celebrate the wedding". Marriage ushers in the communion of all life: it is what God desires with each of us. Our relationship with him, then, cannot be only that of subjects devoted to the king, of faithful servants with the master or of diligent schoolchildren with the master, but is above all that of the beloved bride with the groom. In other words, the Lord desires us, seeks and invites us, and is not satisfied that we fulfil good duties and observe his laws, but he wants with us a true communion of life, a relationship made of dialogue, trust and forgiveness.
This is Christian life, a love story with God, where the Lord takes the initiative for free and where none of us can boast the exclusive invitation: no one is privileged over others, but each one is privileged before God. From this free, tender and privileged love, Christian life is always born and reborn. We can ask ourselves whether, at least once a day, we confess our love for Him to the Lord; if we remember, among many words, to say to him every day: "I love you Lord. You are my life." Because, if love is lost, Christian life becomes sterile, it becomes a soulless body, an impossible morality, a set of principles and laws to make ends meet without a reason. Instead, the God of life awaits a response from life, the Lord of love waits for a response of love. Addressing a Church in the Book of Revelation, He makes a precise rebuke: "You have abandoned your first love" (2:4). Here is the danger: a routine Christian life, where we are content with "normality", without momentum, without enthusiasm, and with short memory. Instead, let us revive the memory of first love: we are the beloved, the wedding guests, and our life is a gift, because every day is the magnificent opportunity to respond to the invitation.
But the Gospel warns us: the invitation can be rejected. Many of the guests said no, because they were taken over by their own interests: "they did not care and went away, one to his farm, and another to his business", says the text (Mt 22.5). One word comes back: "his"; is the key to understanding the reason for rejection. The guests, in fact, did not think that the wedding was sad or boring, but simply "did not care": they were distracted by "their" interests, they preferred to have something rather than get involved, as love requires. This is how one distances oneself from love, not out of malice, but because one prefers one's own: security, self-affirmation, comforts... Then you lie in the armchairs of profits, pleasures, some hobby that makes you feel a little cheerful, but so you get old early and badly, because you get old inside: when your heart does not expand, it closes, it gets old. And when everything depends on the self – what I want, what I need, what I want – you become rigid and evil, you react in a bad way for nothing, like the guests of the Gospel, who came to insult and even to kill (cf. v. 6) those who brought the invitation, just because they bothered them.
Then the Gospel asks us which side we are on: on the side of oneself or on God's side? Because God is the opposite of selfishness, of self-reference. He, the Gospel tells us, in the face of the constant rejections he receives, in the face of the refusals of his invitations, he goes on, he does not postpone the feast. He does not resign, but he continues to invite. In the face of the "no's", he does not slam the door, but includes even more people. God, in the face of the injustices suffered, responds with a greater love. We, when we are wounded by wrongs and waste, often harbour dissatisfaction and resentment. God, while suffering for our "no's", continues to take the initiative again and again, he goes on to prepare good even for those who do evil. Because that's how love is, it makes love; because that's the only way evil can be defeated. Today this God, who never loses hope, invites us to act like Him, to live according to true love, to overcome the resignation and whims of our touchy and lazy self.
There is one final aspect that the Gospel emphasizes: the dress of the guests, which is indispensable. It is not enough to answer once the invitation, to say "yes" and that's it, but you have to put on the clothe, you need the habit of living love every day. Because one cannot say "Lord, Lord" without living and applying God's will (cf. Mt 7,21). We need to clothe ourselves every day with his love, to renew God's choice every day. The Saints canonized today, the many Martyrs above all, point us to this path. They did not say "yes" to love in words and for a while, but with life and to the end. Their daily clothing was the love of Jesus, that mad love that loved us to the end, who left his forgiveness and his robe to those who crucified him. We too received in Baptism the white robe, the bridal garment for God. Let us ask Him, through the intercession of these holy brothers and sisters of ours, for the grace to choose and wear this dress every day and to keep it clean. How do I do it? Above all, by going to receive without fear the Lord's forgiveness: this is the decisive step to enter the wedding hall to celebrate the feast of love with Him.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good afternoon!
With the narrative of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, in today's Gospel passage (cf. Mt 22:1-14), Jesus outlines the plan that God envisaged for humanity. The king who “who gave a marriage feast for his son” (v. 2) is the image of the Father who prepared for the entire human family a wonderful celebration of love and communion around his only begotten Son. Two times the king sends his servants to call the invited guests, but they refuse; they do not want to go to the feast because they have other things to think about: fields and business. So often we too put our interests and material things ahead of the Lord who calls us – and he calls us to a feast. But the king in the parable does not want the hall to remain empty, because he wants to offer the treasures of his kingdom. So he tells his servants: “Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find” (v. 9). This is how God reacts: when he is rejected, rather than giving up, he starts over and asks that all those found at the thoroughfares be called, excluding no one. No one is excluded from the house of God.
The original term that Matthew the Evangelist uses refers to the limits of the roads, or those points at which the city streets end and the paths begin that lead to the area of the countryside, outside the residential area, where life is precarious. It is to this humanity of the thoroughfares that the king in the parable sends his servants, in the certainty of finding people willing to sit at the table. Thus the banquet hall is filled with the “excluded”, those who are “outside” those who never seemed worthy to partake in a feast, in a wedding banquet. In fact, the master, the king, tells the messengers: “Call everyone, both good and bad. Everyone!”. God even calls those who are bad. “No, I am bad; I have done many [bad things]...”. He calls you: “Come, come, come!”. And Jesus went to lunch with the tax collectors, who were public sinners; they were the bad guys. God is not afraid of our spirits wounded by many cruelties, because he loves us; he invites us. And the Church is called to reach the daily thoroughfares, that is, the geographic and existential peripheries of humanity, those places at the margins, those situations in which those who have set up camp are found where and hopeless remnants of humanity live. It is a matter of not settling for comforts and the customary ways of evangelization and witnessing to charity, but of opening the doors of our hearts and our communities to everyone, because the Gospel is not reserved to a select few. Even those on the margins, even those who are rejected and scorned by society, are considered by God to be worthy of his love. He prepares his banquet for everyone: the just and sinners, good and bad, intelligent and uneducated.
Yesterday evening, I was able to make a phone call to an elderly Italian priest, a missionary in Brazil since youth, but always working with the excluded, with the poor. And he lives his old age in peace: he burned his life up with the poor. This is our Mother Church; this is God's messenger who goes to the crossroads.
However, the Lord places one condition: to wear a wedding garment. Let us return to the parable. When the hall is full, the king arrives and greets the latest guests, but he sees one of them without a wedding garment, that kind of little cape that each guest would receive as a gift at the entrance. The people went as they were dressed, as they were able to be dressed; they were not wearing gala attire. But at the entrance they were give a type of capelet, a gift. That man, having rejected the free gift, excluded himself: the king could do nothing but throw him out. This man accepted the invitation but then decided that it meant nothing to him: he was a self-sufficient person; he had no desire to change or to allow the Lord to change him. The wedding garment – this capelet - symbolizes the mercy that God freely gives us, namely, grace. Without grace we cannot take a step forward in Christian life. Everything is grace. It is not enough to accept the invitation to follow the Lord; one must be open to a journey of conversion, which changes the heart. The garment of mercy, which God offers us unceasingly, is the free gift of his love; it is precisely grace. And it demands to be welcomed with astonishment and joy: “Thank you, Lord, for having given me this gift”.
May Mary Most Holy help us to imitate the servants in the Gospel parable by emerging from our frameworks and from our narrow views, proclaiming to everyone that the Lord invites us to his banquet, in order to offer us his saving grace, to give us his gift.
We have just heard one of the most famous phrases in the entire Gospel: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21).
Goaded by the Pharisees who wanted, as it were, to give him an exam in religion and catch him in error, Jesus gives this ironic and brilliant reply. It is a striking phrase which the Lord has bequeathed to all those who experience qualms of conscience, particularly when their comfort, their wealth, their prestige, their power and their reputation are in question. This happens all the time; it always has.
Certainly Jesus puts the stress on the second part of the phrase: “and [render] to God the things that are God’s”. This calls for acknowledging and professing – in the face of any sort of power – that God alone is the Lord of mankind, that there is no other. This is the perennial newness to be discovered each day, and it requires mastering the fear which we often feel at God’s surprises.
God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness”!
“Rendering to God the things that are God’s” means being docile to his will, devoting our lives to him and working for his kingdom of mercy, love and peace.
Here is where our true strength is found; here is the leaven which makes it grow and the salt which gives flavour to all our efforts to combat the prevalent pessimism which the world proposes to us. Here too is where our hope is found, for when we put our hope in God we are neither fleeing from reality nor seeking an alibi: instead, we are striving to render to God what is God’s. That is why we Christians look to the future, God’s future. It is so that we can live this life to the fullest – with our feet firmly planted on the ground – and respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way.
In these days, during the extraordinary Synod of Bishops, we have seen how true this is. “Synod” means “journeying together”. And indeed pastors and lay people from every part of the world have come to Rome, bringing the voice of their particular Churches in order to help today’s families walk the path the Gospel with their gaze fixed on Jesus. It has been a great experience, in which we have lived synodality and collegiality, and felt the power of the Holy Spirit who constantly guides and renews the Church. For the Church is called to waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope.
For the gift of this Synod and for the constructive spirit which everyone has shown, in union with the Apostle Paul “we give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Th 1:2). May the Holy Spirit, who during these busy days has enabled us to work generously, in true freedom and humble creativity, continue to guide the journey which, in the Churches throughout the world, is bringing us to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015. We have sown and we continued to sow, patiently and perseveringly, in the certainty that it is the Lord who gives growth to what we have sown (cf. 1 Cor 3:6).
On this day of the Beatification of Pope Paul VI, I think of the words with which he established the Synod of Bishops: “by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods… to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society” (Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo).
When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!
In his personal journal, the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and saviour” (P. Macchi, Paolo VI nella sua parola, Brescia, 2001, pp. 120-121). In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.
Paul VI truly “rendered to God what is God’s” by devoting his whole life to the “sacred, solemn and grave task of continuing in history and extending on earth the mission of Christ” (Homily for the Rite of Coronation: Insegnamenti I, (1963), 26), loving the Church and leading her so that she might be “a loving mother of the whole human family and at the same time the minister of its salvation” (Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, Prologue).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 22:15-21) presents to us a new face-to-face encounter between Jesus and his adversaries. The theme addressed is that of the tribute to Caesar: a “thorny” issue about whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, to whom Palestine was subject in Jesus’ time. There were various positions. Thus, the question that the Pharisees posed to him — “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17) — was meant to ensnare the Teacher. In fact, depending on how he responded, he could have been accused of being either for or against Rome.
But in this case too, Jesus responds calmly and takes advantage of the malicious question in order to teach an important lesson, rising above the polemics and the alliance of his adversaries. He tells the Pharisees: “Show me the money for the tax”. They present him a coin, and, observing the coin, Jesus asks: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”. The Pharisees can only answer: “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus concludes: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (cf. vv. 19-21). On the one hand, suggesting they return to the emperor what belongs to him, Jesus declares that paying tax is not an act of idolatry, but a legal obligation to the earthly authority; on the other — and it is here that Jesus presents the “thrust” of his response: recalling the primacy of God, he asks them to render to Him that which is His due as the Lord of the life and history of mankind.
The reference to Caesar’s image engraved on the coin says that it is right that they feel fully — with rights and duties — citizens of the State; but symbolically it makes them think about the other image that is imprinted on every man and woman: the image of God. He is the Lord of all, and we, who were created “in his image” belong to Him first and foremost. From the question posed to him by the Pharisees, Jesus draws a more radical and vital question for each of us, a question we can ask ourselves: to whom do I belong? To family, to the city, to friends, to work, to politics, to the State? Yes, of course. But first and foremost — Jesus reminds us — you belong to God. This is the fundamental belonging. It is He who has given you all that you are and have. And therefore, day by day, we can and must live our life in recognition of this fundamental belonging and in heartfelt gratitude toward our Father, who creates each one of us individually, unrepeatable, but always according to the image of his beloved Son, Jesus. It is a wondrous mystery.
Christians are called to commit themselves concretely in the human and social spheres without comparing “God” and “Caesar”; comparing God and Caesar would be a fundamentalist approach. Christians are called to commit themselves concretely in earthly realities, but illuminating them with the light that comes from God. The primary entrustment to God and hope in him do not imply an escape from reality, but rather the diligent rendering to God that which belongs to him. This is why a believer looks to the future reality, that of God, so as to live earthly life to the fullest, and to meet its challenges with courage.
May the Virgin Mary help us to always live in conformity with the image of God that we bear within us, inside, also offering our contribution to the building of the earthly city.
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
This Sunday’s Gospel reading (see Mt 22:15-21) shows us Jesus struggling with the hypocrisy of His adversaries. They pay Him many compliments – at the beginning, many compliments – but then ask an insidious question to put Him in trouble and discredit Him before the people. They ask him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17), that is, to pay their taxes to the emperor. At that time, in Palestine, the domination of the Roman Empire was poorly tolerated – and it is understandable, they were invaders – also for religious reasons. For the people, the worship of the emperor, underscored also by his image on coins, was an insult to the God of Israel. Jesus’ interlocutors are convinced that there is no alternative to their questioning: either a “yes" or a “no”. They were waiting, precisely because they were sure to back Jesus into a corner with this question, and to make Him fall in the trap. But He knows their wickedness and avoids the pitfall. He asks them to show Him the coin, the coin of the taxes, takes it in His hands and asks whose is the imprinted image. They answer that it is Caesar’s, that is, the Emperor's. Then Jesus replies: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21).
With this reply, Jesus places Himself above the controversy. Jesus, always above. On the one hand, He acknowledges that the tribute to Caesar must be paid - for all of us too, taxes must be paid - because the image on the coin is his; but above all He recalls that each person carries within him another image - we carry it in the heart, in the soul - that of God, and therefore it is to Him, and to Him alone, that each person owes his own existence, her own life.
In this sentence of Jesus we find not only the criterion for the distinction between the political sphere and the religious sphere; but clear guidelines emerge for the mission of all believers of all times, even for us today. To pay taxes is a duty of citizens, as is complying with the just laws of the state. At the same time, it is necessary to affirm God’s primacy in human life and in history, respecting God’s right over all that belongs to Him.
Hence the mission of the Church and Christians: to speak of God and bear witness to Him to the men and women of our time. Every one of us, by Baptism, is called to be a living presence in society, inspiring it with the Gospel and with the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit. It is a question of committing oneself with humility, and at the same time with courage, making one's own contribution to building the civilisation of love, where justice and fraternity reign.
May Mary Most Holy help us all to flee from all hypocrisy and to be honest and constructive citizens. And may she sustain us disciples of Christ in the mission to bear witness that God is the centre and the meaning of life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,
Today’s Gospel Reading reminds us that the whole of Divine Law can be summed up in our love for God and neighbour. Matthew the Evangelist recounts that several Pharisees colluded to put Jesus to the test (cf. 22: 34-35). One of them, a doctor of the law, asked him this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (v. 36). Jesus, quoting the Book of Deuteronomy, answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment” (vv. 37-38). And he could have stopped there. Yet, Jesus adds something that was not asked by the doctor of the law. He says, in fact: “And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v. 39). And in this case too, Jesus does not invent the second commandment, but takes it from the Book of Leviticus. The novelty is in his placing these two commandments together — love for God and love for neighbour — revealing that they are in fact inseparable and complementary, two sides of the same coin. You cannot love God without loving your neighbour and you cannot love your neighbour without loving God. Pope Benedict gave us a beautiful commentary on this topic in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (nn. 16-18).
In effect, the visible sign a Christian can show in order to witness to his love for God to the world and to others, to his family, is the love he bears for his brothers. The Commandment to love God and neighbour is the first, not because it is at the top of the list of Commandments. Jesus does not place it at the pinnacle but at the centre, because it is from the heart that everything must go out and to which everything must return and refer.
In the Old Testament, the requirement to be holy, in the image of God who is holy, included the duty to care for the most vulnerable people, such as the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Ex 22:20-26). Jesus brings this Covenant law to fulfilment; He who unites in himself, in his flesh, divinity and humanity, a single mystery of love.
Now, in the light of this Word of Jesus, love is the measure of faith, and faith is the soul of love. We can no longer separate a religious life, a pious life, from service to brothers and sisters, to the real brothers and sisters that we encounter. We can no longer divide prayer, the encounter with God in the Sacraments, from listening to the other, closeness to his life, especially to his wounds. Remember this: love is the measure of faith. How much do you love? Each one answer silently. How is your faith? My faith is as I love. And faith is the soul of love.
In the middle of the dense forest of rules and regulations — to the legalisms of past and present — Jesus makes an opening through which one can catch a glimpse of two faces: the face of the Father and the face of the brother. He does not give us two formulas or two precepts: there are no precepts nor formulas. He gives us two faces, actually only one real face, that of God reflected in many faces, because in the face of each brother, especially of the smallest, the most fragile, the defenceless and needy, there is God’s own image. And we must ask ourselves: when we meet one of these brothers, are we able to recognize the face of God in him? Are we able to do this?
In this way, Jesus offers to all the fundamental criteria on which to base one’s life. But, above all, He gave us the Holy Spirit, who allows us to love God and neighbour as He does, with a free and generous heart. With the intercession of Mary, our Mother, let us open ourselves to welcome this gift of love, to walk forever with this two-fold law, which really has only one facet: the law of love.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday, the Liturgy presents us with a brief, but very important Gospel passage (Mt 22:34-40). Matthew the Evangelist recounts that the Pharisees assemble in order to put Jesus to the test. One of them, a doctor of the Law, asks him this question: “Teacher, which one is the great commandment in the law?” (v. 36). It is an insidious question, because more than 600 precepts are mentioned in the Law of Moses. How should the great commandment be distinguished among these? But Jesus responds without hesitation: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. And he adds: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (vv. 37, 39).
This response of Jesus is not to be taken for granted, because, among the numerous precepts of the Hebrew Law, the most important were the 10 Commandments, communicated directly by God to Moses, as the conditions of the Covenant with the people. But Jesus wants to make it understood that without love for God and for our neighbour there is no true fidelity to this Covenant with the Lord. You may do many good things, fulfil many precepts, many good things, but if you do not have love, this serves no purpose.
It is confirmed by another text in the Book of Exodus, the so-called “Covenant Code”, where it is said that one cannot adhere to the Covenant with the Lord and mistreat those who enjoy his protection. And who are those who enjoy his protection? The Bible says: the widow, the orphan and the stranger, the migrant, that is, the most lonely and defenceless people (cf. Ex 22:20-21). In responding to those Pharisees who question him, Jesus also tries to help them put their religiosity in order, to distinguish what truly matters from what is less important. Jesus says: “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt. 22:40). They are the most important, and the others depend on these two. And Jesus lived his life precisely in this way: preaching and practising what truly matters and is essential, namely, love. Love gives impulse and fruitfulness to life and to the journey of life: without love, both life and faith remain sterile.
What Jesus proposes in this Gospel passage is a wonderful ideal, which corresponds to our heart’s most authentic desire. Indeed, we were created to love and to be loved. God, who is Love, created us to make us participants in his life, to be loved by him and to love him, and with him, to love all other people. This is God’s “dream” for mankind. And to accomplish it we need his grace; we need to receive within us the capacity to love which comes from God himself. Jesus offers himself to us in the Eucharist for this very reason. In it we receive Jesus in the utmost expression of his love, when he offered himself to the Father for our salvation.
May the Blessed Virgin help us to welcome into our life the “great commandment” of love of God and neighbour. Indeed, if we have experienced it ever since we were children, we will never cease converting ourselves to it and putting it into practice in the various situations in which we find ourselves.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In today’s Gospel passage (cf. Mt 22:34-40), a doctor of the Law asks Jesus “which is the great commandment” (v. 36), that is, the main commandment of all divine Law. Jesus simply answers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (v. 37). And he immediately adds: “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v. 39).
Jesus’ response takes up and joins two fundamental precepts, which God gave his people through Moses (cf. Dt 6:5; Lv 19:18). And so he overcomes the trap that has been laid for him in order “to test him” (Mt 22:35). His questioner, in fact, tries to draw him into the dispute between the experts of the Law regarding the hierarchy of prescriptions. But Jesus establishes two essential principles for believers of all times two essential foundations of our lives. The first is that moral and religious life cannot be reduced to an anxious and forced obedience. There are people who seek to fulfil the commandments in an anxious or forced way, and Jesus helps us understand that moral and religious life cannot be reduced to anxious or forced obedience, but must have love as its principle. The second foundation is that love must strive together and inseparably toward God and toward neighbour. This is one of the main innovations of Jesus' teaching and it helps us understand that what is not expressed in love of neighbour is not true love of God; and, likewise, what is not drawn from one’s relationship with God is not true love of neighbour.
Jesus concludes his response with these words: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (v. 40). This means that all the precepts the Lord has given to his people must be related to the love of God and neighbour.
In fact, all the commandments serve to implement, to express that twofold indivisible love. Love for God is expressed above all in prayer, particularly in adoration. We neglect the adoration of God a great deal. We recite the prayer of thanksgiving, we plea to ask for something..., but we neglect worship. Worshipping God is precisely the heart of prayer. And love for neighbour, which is also called fraternal charity, consists of closeness, listening, sharing, caring for others. And so often we neglect to listen to others because it is boring or because it takes up our time, or we neglect to accompany them, to support them in their suffering, in their trials.... But we always find the time to gossip, always! We do not have time to console the afflicted, but so much time to gossip. Be careful!
The Apostle John writes: “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen ” (1 Jn 4:20). This is how we see the unity of these two commandments.
In today’s Gospel passage, once again, Jesus helps us go to the living and gushing source of Love. And this source is God himself, to be totally loved in a communion that nothing and no one can break. A communion that is a gift to be requested each day, but also a personal commitment not to let our lives become enslaved by the idols of the world. And the proof of our journey of conversion and holiness always consists in love of our neighbour. This is the test: if I say “I love God” and do not love my neighbour, it does not work. The verification that I love God is that I love my neighbour. As long as there is a brother or sister to whom we close our hearts, we will still be far from being disciples as Jesus asks us. But his divine mercy does not allow us to be discouraged, but rather calls us to begin anew each day to live the Gospel consistently.
May the intercession of Mary Most Holy open our hearts to welcome the “great commandment”, the twofold commandment of love, which sums up the whole law of God and on which our salvation depends.