Open door Church
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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that St. Paul, after that transforming encounter with Jesus, is taken into the Church of Jerusalem through the mediation of Barnabas and begins to announce Christ. However, due to the hostility of some, he is forced to move to Tarsus, his hometown, where Barnabas joins him to involve him in the long journey of the Word of God. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which we are commenting on in these catechesis's can be said to be the book of the long voyage of the Word of God: the Word of God must be announced, and announced everywhere. This journey begins after a strong persecution (cf. Acts 11:19); but this, instead of causing a setback for evangelization, becomes an opportunity to enlarge the field where the good seed of the Word is spread. Christians are not afraid. They must flee, but they flee with the Word, and they spread the Word everywhere.
Paul and Barnabas first arrive in Antioch of Syria, where they stop for a whole year to teach and help the community to put down roots (cf. Acts 11:26). They were telling the Jewish community, about the Jews. Antioch thus becomes the centre of missionary propulsion, thanks to the preaching with which the two evangelizers – Paul and Barnabas – influence the hearts of the believers, who here, in Antioch, are called for the first time "Christians" (cf. Acts 11:26).
The nature of the Church emerges from the Book of Acts, it is not a fortress, but a tent capable of enlarging its space (cf. Is 54:2) so that all can enter. The Church is "outgoing" or it is not Church, it is either on the path, enlarging itself always, or is not Church. "It is a Church with its doors open" (Exorc. Evangelii gaudium,46),always with the doors open. When I see some little church here, in this city, or when I see it in another diocese where I go, with the its doors closed, that's a bad sign. Churches must always have their doors open because this is a symbol of what a church is: always open. The Church is called to always be the open house of the Father. So that, if someone wants to follow a movement of the Spirit and approaches looking for God, they will not find themselves coming face to face with the coldness of a closed door(ibid., 47).
But now here come the problems, this newness of the open doors open to the pagans? To the pagans, because the Apostles preached to the Jews, but the pagans also came to knock on the door of the Church; and this novelty of the doors open to pagans unchains a very animated controversy. Some Jews affirm the necessity of circumcision for being saved, and then to receive baptism. They say, "If you do not let yourself be circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved"(Acts 15:1), that is, you cannot receive baptism later. First the Jewish rite and then the baptism: this was their position. And to resolve the issue, Paul and Barnabas consult the council of the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and what is considered to be the first council in the history of the Church, the council or assembly of Jerusalem, referred to by Paul in the Letter to Galatians (2:1-10).
A very delicate theological, spiritual and disciplinary question is addressed: that is, the relationship between faith in Christ and the observance of the Law of Moses. Decisive in the course of the assembly were the speeches of Peter and James, "pillars" of the Mother Church (cf. Acts 15.7-21; Gal 2.9). They invite them not to impose circumcision on the pagans, but to ask them only to reject idolatry in all of its expressions. From this comes a common path, and this decision is ratified by the apostolic letter sent to Antioch.
The Jerusalem Assembly offers us an important light on how to deal with differences and how to seek "truth in charity"(Ef 4.15). It reminds us that the Church's method for conflict resolution is based on dialogue of attentive and patient listening and discernment in the light of the Spirit. It is the Spirit, in fact, that helps to overcome closures and tensions and works in our hearts so that we may reach, in truth and good, unity. This text helps us to understand the synodality. It is interesting as the Letter writes: they begin, the Apostles, saying: "The Holy Spirit and we think that ...". It is precisely synodality, the presence of the Holy Spirit, otherwise it is not synodality, it is talk, it is a parliament, an other thing ...
Let us ask the Lord to strengthen in all Christians, especially in bishops and priests, the desire and responsibility of communion. May He help us to live the dialogue, the listening and the encounter with our brothers and sisters in faith and with those far from it, in order to taste and manifest the fruitfulness of the Church, called to be in every time the "joyful mother" of many children (cf. Psalm 113.9).
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”.
The testimony given by the two great Apostles Peter and Paul today comes to life once more in the Church’s liturgy. Peter, imprisoned by King Herod, is told by an angel of the Lord: “Get up quickly” (Acts 12:7), while Paul, looking back on his entire life and apostolate says: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7). Let us reflect on these two phrases – “get up quickly” and “fight the good fight” – and ask what they have to say to today’s Christian community, engaged in the synodal process.
First, the Acts of the Apostles tell us of the night that Peter was freed from the chains of prison. An angel of the Lord tapped him on the side as he was sleeping, “and woke him, saying, ‘get up quickly’” (Acts 12:7). The angel awakens Peter and tells him to get up. The scene reminds us of Easter, because it contains two verbs present in the accounts of the resurrection: awaken and get up. In effect, the angel awakens Peter from the sleep of death and urges him to get up, to rise and set out towards the light, letting himself be guided by the Lord in passing through all the closed doors along the way (cf. v. 10). This image has great meaning for the Church. We too, as disciples of the Lord and the Christian community, are called to get up quickly, to enter into the mystery of the resurrection, and to let the Lord guide us along the paths that he wishes to point out to us.
Still, we experience many inward forms of resistance that prevent us from setting out. At times, as Church, we are overcome by laziness; we prefer to sit and contemplate the few sure things that we possess, rather than getting up and looking to new horizons, towards the open sea. Often we are like Peter in chains, imprisoned by our habits, fearful of change and bound to the chains of our routine. This leads quietly to spiritual mediocrity: we run the risk of “taking it easy” and “getting by”, also in our pastoral work. Our enthusiasm for mission wanes, and instead of being a sign of vitality and creativity, ends up appearing tepid and listless. Then, the great current of newness and life that is the Gospel becomes in our hands – to use the words of Father de Lubac – a faith that “falls into formalism and habit…, a religion of ceremonies and devotions, of ornaments and vulgar consolations… a Christianity that is clerical, formalistic, anemic and callous” (The Drama of Atheist Humanism).
The Synod that we are now celebrating calls us to become a Church that gets up, one that is not turned in on itself, but capable of pressing forward, leaving behind its own prisons and setting out to meet the world, with the courage to open doors. That same night, there was another temptation (cf. Act 12:12-17): that young girl so taken aback that, instead of opening the door, went back to tell what seemed like a dream. Let us open the door. The Lord calls. May we not be like Rhoda who turned back.
A Church without chains and walls, in which everyone can feel welcomed and accompanied, one where listening, dialogue and participation are cultivated under the sole authority of the Holy Spirit. The Church that is free and humble, that “gets up quickly” and does not temporize or dilly-dally before the challenges of the present time. A Church that does not linger in its sacred precincts, but is driven by enthusiasm for the preaching of the Gospel and the desire to encounter and accept everyone. Let us not forget that word: everyone. Everyone! Go to crossroads and bring everyone, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the sick, the righteous and the sinner: everyone! This word of the Lord should continue to echo in our hearts and minds: in the Church there is a place for everyone. Many times, we become a Church with doors open, but only for sending people away, for condemning people. Yesterday one of you said to me “This is no time for the Church to be sending away, it is the time to welcome”. “They did not come to the banquet…” – so go to the crossroads. Bring everyone, everyone! “But they are sinners…” – Everyone!
In the second reading, we hear the words of Paul who, looking back on his whole life, says: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7). The Apostle is referring to the countless situations, some marked by persecution and suffering, in which he did not spare himself in preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Now at the end of his life, he sees that a great “fight” is still taking place in history, since many are not disposed to accept Jesus, preferring to pursue their own interests and follow other teachers, more accommodating, easier, more to our liking. Paul has fought his own battles and, now that he has run his race, he asks Timothy and the brethren of the community to carry on his work with watchful care, preaching and teaching. Each, in a word, is to accomplish the mission he or she has received; each must do his or her part.
Paul’s exhortation is also a word of life for us; it makes us realize that, in the Church, all of us are called to be missionary disciples and to make our own contribution. Here two questions come to my mind. The first is: What can I do for the Church? Not complaining about the Church, but committing myself to the Church. Participating with passion and humility: with passion, because we must not remain passive spectators; with humility, because being committed within the community must never mean taking centre stage, considering ourselves better and keeping others from drawing near. That is what a synodal Church means: everyone has a part to play, no individual in the place of others or above others. There are no first or second class Christians; everyone has been called.
Participating also means carrying on “the good fight” of which Paul speaks. For it is a “fight”, since the preaching of the Gospel is never neutral – may the Lord free us from watering down the Gospel to make it neutral – it is never neutral, it does not leave things the way they are; it accepts no compromise with the thinking of this world, but instead lights the fire of the kingdom of God amid the reign of human power plays, evil, violence, corruption, injustice and marginalization. Ever since Jesus rose from the dead, and became the watershed of history, “there began a great fight between life and death, between hope and despair, between being resigned to the worst and struggling for the best. A fight that will know no truce until the definitive defeat of all the powers of hatred and destruction (C.M. MARTINI, Easter Homily, 4 April 1999).
So the second question is: What can we do together, as Church, to make the world in which we live more humane, just and solidary, more open to God and to fraternity among men? Surely we must not retreat into our ecclesial circles and remain pinned to some of our fruitless debates. Let us take care not to fall into clericalism, for clericalism is a perversion. A minister who is clerical, who has a clerical attitude, has taken the wrong road; even worse are clericalized lay people. Let us be on our guard against this perversion which is clericalism. Let us help one another to be leaven in the dough of this world. Together we can and must continue to care for human life, the protection of creation, the dignity of work, the problems of families, the treatment of the elderly and all those who are abandoned, rejected or treated with contempt. In a word, we are called to be a Church that promotes the culture of care, tenderness and compassion towards the vulnerable. A Church that fights all forms of corruption and decay, including those of our cities and the places we frequent, so that in the life of every people the joy of the Gospel may shine forth. This is our “fight”, and this is our challenge. The temptation to stand still is great; the temptation of that nostalgia which makes us look to look at other times as better. May we not fall into the temptation of “looking back”, which is becoming fashionable today in the Church.
Brothers and sisters today, according to a fine tradition, I have blessed the Pallia for the recently named Metropolitan Archbishops, many of whom are present at our celebration. In communion with Peter, they are called to “get up quickly”, not to sleep, and to serve as vigilant sentinels over the flock. To get up and “fight the good fight”, never alone, but together with all the holy and faithful people of God. And as good shepherds, to stand before the people, among the people, and behind the people, but always with the God’s holy and faithful people, since they themselves are also part of the holy and faithful People of God.
I cordially greet the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate sent by my dear brother Bartholomew. Thank you for your presence and for the message you have brought from Bartholomew! Thank you for walking together because only together can we be the seed of the Gospel and witnesses of fraternity.
May Peter and Paul intercede for us, for the city of Rome, for the Church and for our entire world. Amen.
As Jesus was walking along, ten lepers met him and cried out: “Have mercy on us!” (Lk 17:13). All ten were healed, yet only one of them returned to thank Jesus. He was a Samaritan, a kind of heretic for the Jewish people. At the beginning, they were walking together, but then the Samaritan left the others and turned back, “praising God with a loud voice” (v. 15). Let us stop and reflect on these two aspects of today’s Gospel: walking together and giving thanks.
First, walking together. At the beginning of the account, there is no difference between the Samaritan and the other nine. We only hear that they are lepers, who together, as a group, approach Jesus. Leprosy, as we know, was not only a physical affliction, one which even today we must make every effort to eliminate, but also a “social disease”, since in those days, for fear of contagion, lepers had to remain apart from the community (cf. Lev 13:46). Hence, they could not enter villages; they were kept at a distance, isolated and relegated to the margins of social and even religious life. By walking together, these lepers indicted a society that excluded them. We should also note that the Samaritan, although considered a heretic, “a foreigner”, is part of their group. Brothers and sisters, whenever disease and fragility are shared, barriers fall and exclusion is overcome.
This image is also meaningful for us: when we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are all sick at heart, all sinners in need of the Father’s mercy. Then we stop creating divisions on the basis of merit, social position or some other superficial criterion; our interior barriers and prejudices likewise fall. In the end, we realize once more that we are brothers and sisters. Even Naaman the Syrian, as the first reading reminded us, for all his wealth and power, could only be healed by doing something simple: wash in the river in which everyone else was bathing. First of all, he had to remove his armour and his robes (cf. 2 Kings 5). We would do well to set aside our own outer armour, our defensive barriers, and take a good bath of humility, mindful that all of us are vulnerable within and in need of healing. All of us are brothers and sisters. Let us remember this: the Christian faith always asks us to walk alongside others, never to be solitary wayfarers. Faith always urges us to move beyond ourselves and towards God and our brothers and sisters, never to remain enclosed within ourselves. Faith invites us to acknowledge constantly that we are in need of healing and forgiveness, and to share in the frailty of those who are near to us, without feeling ourselves superior.
Brothers and sisters, let us reflect and see if in our lives, in our families, in the places where we daily work and spend our time, we are capable of walking together with others, listening to them, resisting the temptation to lock ourselves up in self-absorption and to think only of our own needs. To walk together – to be “synodal” – is also the vocation of the Church. Let us ask ourselves if we are really communities truly open and inclusive of all; if we cooperate, as priests and laity, in the service of the Gospel; and if we show ourselves welcoming, not only in words but with concrete gestures, to those both near and far, and all those buffeted by the ups and downs of life. Do we make them feel a part of the community? Or do we exclude them? I am troubled when I see Christian communities that divide the world into the good and the bad, saints and sinners: this makes them feel superior to others and exclude so many people that God wants to embrace. Please, always be inclusive: in the Church and in society, which is still marred by many forms of inequality and marginalization. Always be inclusive. Today, the day in which Bishop Scalabrini becomes a saint, I think of emigrants. The exclusion of emigrants is scandalous. Actually, the exclusion of emigrants is criminal. They are dying right in front of us, as the Mediterranean is the largest cemetery in the world. The exclusion of emigrants is revolting, sinful and criminal. Not opening doors to those in need – “No, we do not exclude them, we send them away” to camps, where they are exploited and sold like slaves. Brothers and sisters, today let us call to mind these emigrants, especially those who are dying. And those who are able to enter, do we welcome them as brothers and sisters or do we exploit them? I simply pose the question.
The second thing is giving thanks. In the group of the ten lepers, there was only one who, realizing that he was cured, turned back to praise God and to show gratitude to Jesus. The other nine were healed, but then went their own way, forgetting the one who had healed them. They forgot the graces given to them by God. The Samaritan, on the other hand, makes the gift he received the first step of a new journey: he returns to the one who healed him; he goes back to Jesus in order to know him better; he enters into a relationship with the Lord. His grateful attitude, then, is no mere act of courtesy, but the start of a journey of thanksgiving: he falls at Jesus’ feet (cf. Lk 17:16) and worships him. He recognizes that Jesus is the Lord, that Jesus is more important than the healing he received.
This is a great lesson also for us, brothers and sisters, who daily benefit from the gifts of God, yet so often go our own way, failing to cultivate a living and real relationship with him. This is a nasty spiritual disease: we take everything for granted, including faith, including our relationship with God, to the point where we become Christians no longer able to be amazed or to give thanks, lacking in gratitude and incapable of seeing the wonders of the Lord. A woman I know used to say, “They are rose-water Christians”. We end up thinking that all the gifts we receive each day are natural and due to us. Gratitude, the ability to give thanks, makes us appreciate instead the presence in our lives of the God who is love. And to recognize the importance of others, overcoming the dissatisfaction and indifference that disfigure our hearts. It is essential to know how to say “thank you”. To thank the Lord each day and to thank one another. In our families, for the little gifts we receive daily and so often do not even think about. In the places we spend our days, for the many services which we enjoy and for all those people who support us. In our Christian communities, for the love of God that we experience in the closeness of our brothers and sisters who, often silently, pray, sacrifice, suffer and journey with us. So please, let us not forget to say these key words: thank you!
The two saints canonized today remind us of the importance of walking together and being able to give thanks. Bishop Scalabrini, who founded two Congregations – one male and one female – for the care of emigrants, used to say that in the shared journeying of emigrants we should see not only problems, but also a providential plan. In his words: “Precisely because of the migrations imposed by persecutions, the Church pressed beyond the confines of Jerusalem and of Israel, and became ‘catholic’; thanks to the migrations of our own days, the Church will be an instrument of peace and of communion among peoples” (L’emigrazione degli operai italiani, Ferrara, 1899). The emigration currently taking place in Europe is causing great suffering and forcing us to open our hearts – that is the emigration of Ukrainians who are fleeing from war. Let us not forget the beleaguered Ukrainian emigrants. With great vision, Scalabrini looked forward to a world and a Church without barriers, where no one was a foreigner. For his part, the Salesian Brother Artemide Zatti – with his bicycle - was a living example of gratitude. Cured of tuberculosis, he devoted his entire life to serving others, caring for the infirm with tender love. He was said to have carried on his shoulders the dead body of one of his patients. Filled with gratitude for all that he had received, he wanted to say his own “thank you” by taking upon himself the wounds of others.
Let us pray that these Saints, our brothers, may help us to walk together, without walls of division; and to cultivate that nobility of soul, so pleasing to God, which is gratitude.