Please May I
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In the Psalm we said: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things” (Ps 98:1).
Today we consider one of the marvellous things which the Lord has done: Mary! A lowly and weak creature like ourselves, she was chosen to be the Mother of God, the Mother of her Creator.
Considering Mary in the light of the readings we have just heard, I would like to reflect with you on three things: first, God surprises us, second, God asks us to be faithful, and third, God is our strength.
1. First: God surprises us. The story of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, is remarkable. In order to be healed of leprosy, he turns to the prophet of God, Elisha, who does not perform magic or demand anything unusual of him, but asks him simply to trust in God and to wash in the waters of the river. Not, however, in one of the great rivers of Damascus, but in the little stream of the Jordan. Naaman is left surprised, even taken aback. What kind of God is this who asks for something so simple? He wants to turn back, but then he goes ahead, he immerses himself in the Jordan and is immediately healed (cf. 2 Kg 5:1-4). There it is: God surprises us. It is precisely in poverty, in weakness and in humility that he reveals himself and grants us his love, which saves us, heals us and gives us strength. He asks us only to obey his word and to trust in him.
This was the experience of the Virgin Mary. At the message of the angel, she does not hide her surprise. It is the astonishment of realizing that God, to become man, had chosen her, a simple maid of Nazareth. Not someone who lived in a palace amid power and riches, or one who had done extraordinary things, but simply someone who was open to God and put her trust in him, even without understanding everything: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). That was her answer. God constantly surprises us, he bursts our categories, he wreaks havoc with our plans. And he tells us: Trust me, do not be afraid, let yourself be surprised, leave yourself behind and follow me!
Today let us all ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask, or of what he does ask. Do I let myself be surprised by God, as Mary was, or do I remain caught up in my own safety zone: in forms of material, intellectual or ideological security, taking refuge in my own projects and plans? Do I truly let God into my life? How do I answer him?
2. In the passage from Saint Paul which we have heard, the Apostle tells his disciple Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ; if we persevere with him, we will also reign with him (cf. 2 Tim 2:8-13). This is the second thing: to remember Christ always – to be mindful of Jesus Christ – and thus to persevere in faith. God surprises us with his love, but he demands that we be faithful in following him. We can be unfaithful, but he cannot: he is “the faithful one” and he demands of us that same fidelity. Think of all the times when we were excited about something or other, some initiative, some task, but afterwards, at the first sign of difficulty, we threw in the towel. Sadly, this also happens in the case of fundamental decisions, such as marriage. It is the difficulty of remaining steadfast, faithful to decisions we have made and to commitments we have made. Often it is easy enough to say “yes”, but then we fail to repeat this “yes” each and every day. We fail to be faithful.
Mary said her “yes” to God: a “yes” which threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil, and not only once. Any number of times she had to utter a heartfelt “yes” at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the “yes” she spoke at the foot of the Cross. Here today there are many mothers present; think of the full extent of Mary’s faithfulness to God: seeing her only Son hanging on the Cross. The faithful woman, still standing, utterly heartbroken, yet faithful and strong.
And I ask myself: Am I a Christian by fits and starts, or am I a Christian full-time? Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes it toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life. He goes on to say that, even if we are sometimes unfaithful to him, he remains faithful. In his mercy, he never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell him of our weakness, so that he can grant us his strength. This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins. Never to prefer a makeshift path of our own. That kills us. Faith is ultimate fidelity, like that of Mary.
3. The last thing: God is our strength. I think of the ten lepers in the Gospel who were healed by Jesus. They approach him and, keeping their distance, they call out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Lk 17:13). They are sick, they need love and strength, and they are looking for someone to heal them. Jesus responds by freeing them from their disease. Strikingly, however, only one of them comes back, praising God and thanking him in a loud voice. Jesus notes this: ten asked to be healed and only one returned to praise God in a loud voice and to acknowledge that he is our strength. Knowing how to give thanks, to give praise for everything that the Lord has done for us.
Take Mary. After the Annunciation, her first act is one of charity towards her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth. Her first words are: “My soul magnifies the Lord”, in other words, a song of praise and thanksgiving to God not only for what he did for her, but for what he had done throughout the history of salvation. Everything is his gift. If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength! Saying “thank you” is such an easy thing, and yet so hard! How often do we say “thank you” to one another in our families? These are essential words for our life in common. “Sorry”, “May I”, “thank you”. If families can say these three things, they will be fine. “Sorry”, “May I”, “thank you”. How often do we say “thank you” in our families? How often do we say “thank you” to those who help us, those close to us, those at our side throughout life? All too often we take everything for granted! This happens with God too. It is easy to approach the Lord to ask for something, but to go and thank him: “Well, I don’t need to”.
As we continue our celebration of the Eucharist, let us invoke Mary’s intercession. May she help us to be open to God’s surprises, to be faithful to him each and every day, and to praise and thank him, for he is our strength. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
On this first Sunday after Christmas, the Liturgy invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Indeed, every nativity scene shows us Jesus together with Our Lady and St Joseph in the grotto of Bethlehem. God wanted to be born into a human family, he wanted to have a mother and father like us.
And today the Gospel presents the Holy Family to us on the sorrowful road of exile, seeking refuge in Egypt. Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease (cf. Mt 2:13-15; 19-23). Unfortunately, in our own time, millions of families can identify with this sad reality. Almost every day the television and papers carry news of refugees fleeing from hunger, war and other grave dangers, in search of security and a dignified life for themselves and for their families.
In distant lands, even when they find work, refugees and immigrants do not always find a true welcome, respect and appreciation for the values they bring. Their legitimate expectations collide with complex and difficult situations which at times seem insurmountable. Therefore, as we fix our gaze on the Holy Family of Nazareth as they were forced to become refugees, let us think of the tragedy of those migrants and refugees who are victims of rejection and exploitation, who are victims of human trafficking and of slave labour. But let us also think of the other “exiles”: I would call them “hidden exiles”, those exiles who can be found within their own families: the elderly for example who are sometimes treated as a burdensome presence. I often think that a good indicator for knowing how a family is doing is seeing how their children and elderly are treated.
Jesus wanted to belong to a family who experienced these hardships, so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God. The flight into Egypt caused by Herod’s threat shows us that God is present where man is in danger, where man is suffering, where he is fleeing, where he experiences rejection and abandonment; but God is also present where man dreams, where he hopes to return in freedom to his homeland and plans and chooses life for his family and dignity for himself and his loved ones.
Today our gaze on the Holy Family lets us also be drawn into the simplicity of the life they led in Nazareth. It is an example that does our families great good, helping them increasingly to become communities of love and reconciliation, in which tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness is experienced. Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: “may I”, “thank you” and “sorry”. In our family, when we are not intrusive and ask “may I”, in our family when we are not selfish and learn to say “thank you”, and when in a family one realizes he has done something wrong and knows how to say “sorry”, in that family there is peace and joy. Let us remember these three words. Can we repeat them all together: may I, thank you, sorry. (Everyone: may I, thank you, sorry!) I would also like to encourage families to become aware of the importance they have in the Church and in society. The proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, first passes through the family to reach the various spheres of daily life.
Let us fervently call upon Mary Most Holy, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, and St Joseph her spouse. Let us ask them to enlighten, comfort and guide every family in the world, so that they may fulfil with dignity and peace the mission which God has entrusted to them.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today we are confronted with the first of the eight Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus begins to proclaim His way to happiness with a paradoxical proclamation: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"(5:3). A surprising road and a strange object of bliss, poverty.
We must ask ourselves: what does "poor" mean here? If Matthew used only this word, then the meaning would simply be economic, that is, it would indicate people who have little or no means of livelihood and need the help of others.
But the Gospel of Matthew, unlike Luke, speaks of "poor in spirit". What does that mean? The spirit, according to the Bible, is the breath of life that God has communicated to Adam; it is our most intimate dimension, we say the spiritual dimension, the most intimate, the one that makes us human people, the deep core of our being. Then the "poor in spirit" are those who are and feel poor, beggars, in the depths of their being. Jesus proclaims them blessed, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.
How many times have we been told otherwise! You have to be something in life, be someone... You have to make a name for yourself... This is where loneliness and unhappiness arises: if I have to be "someone", I am competing with others and I live in obsessive concern for my ego. If I do not accept being poor, I hate everything that reminds me of my fragility. Because this fragility prevents me from becoming an important person, rich not only in money, but in fame, of everything.
Everyone, in front of himself, knows well that, no matter how hard he tries, he remains radically incomplete and vulnerable. There's no make-up that covers this vulnerability. Each of us is vulnerable inside. Its all from the same place. You can live so badly if you reject your own limits! You live badly. The limits are here within us. Proud people don't ask for help, they can't ask for help, they can't ask for help because they have to prove themselves self-sufficient. And how many of them need help, but pride prevents them from asking for help. And how hard it is to admit a mistake and ask for forgiveness! When I give some advice to newlyweds, who ask me how to carry on their marriage well, I tell them: "There are three magic words: may I, thank you, sorry. " These are the words that come from the poverty of spirit. You don't have to be pushy, but ask permission: "Do you think it's good to do this?", so there is dialogue in the family, dialogue between husband and wife. "You did this for me, thank you I needed it." Then you always make mistakes, you slip: "Excuse me." And usually, couples, new marriages, those who are here and many, tell me: "The third is the most difficult", apologize, ask forgiveness. Because the proud can't do it. They can't apologize: they are always right. They are not poor in spirit. But the Lord never tires of forgiving; unfortunately, we grow tired of asking for forgiveness (cf. Angelus, 17 March 2013). The tiredness of asking for forgiveness: this is an ugly disease!
Why is it difficult to ask forgiveness? Because it humiliates our hypocritical image. Yet living trying to conceal one's own shortcomings is exhausting and distressing. Jesus Christ tells us: being poor is an occasion of grace; and it shows us the way out of this toil. We are given the right to be poor in spirit, because this is the way of the Kingdom of God.
But there is a fundamental thing to reiterate: we must not transform ourselves to become poor in spirit, we must not make any transformation to do this because we already are! We are poor ... or more clearly: we are poor in spirit! We all need this. We are all poor in spirit, we are beggars. It's the human condition.
The Kingdom of God is for the poor in spirit. There are those who have the kingdoms of this world: they have goods and they have comfort. But they are kingdoms that end. The power of men, even the greatest empires, pass and disappear. So many times when we look at the news or in the newspapers we see people governing, powerful people and so that government that was there yesterday is no longer there today, has fallen. The riches of this world will disappear, and also the money. The old men taught us that the shroud had no pockets. It's true. I've never seen a moving truck behind a funeral procession: no one brings anything. These riches remain here.
The Kingdom of God is for the poor in spirit. There are those who have the kingdoms of this world, have goods and have comfort. But we know how they end up. He who knows how to love the true good more than himself truly reigns. And this is the power of God.
How did Christ be powerful? Because He has been able to do what the kings of the earth did not do: giving their lives for men. And that's the real power. The power of brotherhood, the power of charity, the power of love, the power of humility. This is what Christ did.
In this lies true freedom: those who have this power of humility, service and brotherhood are free. At the service of this freedom lies the poverty praised by the Beatitudes.
Because there is a poverty that we must accept, that of our being, and a poverty that we must seek, the concrete one, from the things of this world, in order to be free and to be able to love. We must always seek the freedom of the heart, which has its roots in the poverty of ourselves.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
A few days after Christmas, the liturgy invites us to turn our eyes to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is good to reflect on the fact that the Son of God wanted to be in need of the warmth of a family, like all children. Precisely for this reason, because it is Jesus’ family, the family of Nazareth is the model family, in which all families of the world can find their sure point of reference and sure inspiration. In Nazareth, the springtime of the human life of the Son of God began to blossom at the moment he was conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit in the virginal womb of Mary. Within the welcoming walls of the House of Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood unfolded in joy, surrounded by the maternal attention of Mary and the care of Joseph, in whom Jesus was able to see God’s tenderness (cf. Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, 2).
In imitation of the Holy Family, we are called to rediscover the educational value of the family unit: it must be founded on the love that always regenerates relationships, opening up horizons of hope. Within the family one can experience sincere communion when it is a house of prayer, when the affections are serious, profound, pure, when forgiveness prevails over discord, when the daily harshness of life is softened by mutual tenderness and serene adherence to God's will. In this way, the family opens itself to the joy that God gives to all those who know how to give joyfully. At the same time, it finds the spiritual energy to be open to the outside world, to others, to the service of brothers and sisters, to collaboration in building an ever new and better world; capable, therefore, of becoming a bearer of positive stimuli; the family evangelises by the example of life.
It is true, in every family there are problems, and at times arguments. “And, Father, I argued…” but we are human, we are weak, and we all quarrel within the family at times. I would like to say something to you: if you quarrel within the family, do not end the day without making peace. “Yes, I quarrelled”, but before the end of the day, make peace. And do you know why? Because cold war, day after day, is extremely dangerous. It does not help. And then, in the family there are three words, three phrases that must always be held dear: “Please”, “Thank you”, and “I am sorry”. “Please”, so as not to be intrusive in the life of others. Please: may I do something? Is it alright with you if I do this? Please. Always, so as not to be intrusive. Please, the first word. “Thank you”: so much help, so much service is granted to us in the family: always say thank you. Gratitude is the lifeblood of the noble soul. “Thank you”. And then, the hardest to say: “I am sorry”. Because we always do bad things and very often someone is offended by this: “I am sorry”, “I am sorry”. Do not forget the three worlds: “please”, “thank you”, and “I am sorry”. If in a family, in the family environment there are these three words, the family is fine.
Today's feast reminds us of the example of evangelising with the family, proposing to us once again the ideal of conjugal and family love, as underlined in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, promulgated five years ago this coming 19 March. And it will be a year of reflection on Amoris laetitia and it will be an opportunity to focus more closely on the contents of the document. These reflections will be made available to ecclesial communities and families, to accompany them on their journey. As of now, I invite everyone to take part in the initiatives that will be promoted during the Year and that will be coordinated by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life. Let us entrust this journey, with families all over the world, to the Holy Family of Nazareth, in particular to Saint Joseph, the devoted spouse and father.
May the Virgin Mary, to whom we now address the Angelus prayer, grant that families throughout the world world be increasingly fascinated by the evangelical ideal of the Holy Family, so as to become a leaven of new humanity and of a genuine and universal solidarity.
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
Today, the Gospel presents us with a dramatic parable that has a sad ending (cf. Mt 21:33-43). A landowner planted a vineyard and took good care of it. Then, needing to go away, he entrusted it to some tenants. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to collect his harvest. But the tenants maltreated and killed them. So, the owner sent his son, and those tenants even killed him. How come? What went wrong? There is a message of Jesus in this parable.
The landowner did everything well, with love. He himself toiled to plant the vineyard; he surrounded it with a fence to protect it; dug a winepress, and built a watchtower (cf. v. 33). Then he entrusted his vineyard to some tenants, leasing his prized possession to them, thus treating them on an equal plane, so that his vineyard might be well cultivated and might bear fruit. Given these circumstances, the harvest should have come to a happy end, in a festive atmosphere, with a fair division of the produce to everyone’s satisfaction.
Instead, ungrateful and greedy thoughts insinuated themselves into the minds of the tenants. You see, at the root of conflicts there is always some ungratefulness and greedy sentiments to quickly take possession of things. “We do not need to give anything to the owner. The product of our work belongs to us alone. We need not give an account to anyone!” This is the discourse these labourers make. And this is not true: they should be grateful for what they received and for how they had been treated. Instead, ingratitude gave rise to greed and a progressive sense of rebellion grew within them, which led them to see the situation in a distorted way, to feel that the owner was in their debt rather than that they were in debt to the owner who had given them work. When they saw the son, they end up saying: “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance!” (v. 38). And from being tenants, they become assassins. It is a whole process. And many times, this process takes place in the hearts of people, even in our hearts.
With this parable, Jesus reminds us what happens when a person deceives him/herself into thinking that he or she does things on their own, and they forget to be grateful, they forget the real basis of life: that good comes from the grace of God, that good comes from his free gift. When someone forgets this gratitude to God, he or she ends up no longer facing their own situation and their own limits with the joy of feeling loved and saved, but with the sad illusion of needing neither love nor salvation. That person stops letting him/herself be loved and finds him/herself a prisoner of their own greed, a prisoner to the need to have more than others, of the desire to stand out over others. This process is ugly, and many times it happens to us. Let us think seriously about this. This in turn gives rise to many dissatisfactions and recriminations, so many misunderstandings and so many feelings of envy; and, driven by resentment, the person can fall headlong into a spiral of violence. Yes, dear brothers and sisters, ungratefulness generates violence, it takes peace away, and makes us feel and yell when we speak, without peace, while a simple “thank you” can bring back peace!
So, let us ask ourselves: Am I aware that life and the faith are gifts I have received. Am I aware that I myself am a gift? Do I believe that everything comes from the grace of the Lord? Do I understand that, without merit, I am the beneficiary of these things, that I am loved and saved gratuitously? And above all, in response to grace, do I know how to say “thank you”? Do I know how to say “thanks”? The three phrases that are the secret of human coexistence: thanks, please, I’m sorry. Do I know how to say these three things? Thanks, please, I’m sorry, excuse me. Do I know how to pronounce these three phrases? It is a small word, “thanks” - “please” is a small word, two small words to ask for forgiveness, “I’m sorry” – is what God and our brothers and sisters expect every day. Let us ask ourselves if these small words, “thanks”, “please”, “pardon me, I’m sorry”, are present in our lives. Do I know to thank, to say “thanks”? Do I know how to excuse myself, to ask for forgiveness? Do I know how not to be invasive – “please”? Thank you, I’m sorry, please.
May Mary, whose soul glorifies the Lord, help us make gratitude the light that dawns daily in our hearts.