Trials of life
Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
28.04.13 Holy Mass and Conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation,
St Peter's Square 5th Sunday of Easter Year C
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like to offer three short and simple thoughts for your reflection.
1. In the second reading, we listened to the beautiful vision of Saint John: new heavens and a new earth, and then the Holy City coming down from God. All is new, changed into good, beauty and truth; there are no more tears or mourning… This is the work of the Holy Spirit: he brings us the new things of God. He comes to us and makes all things new; he changes us. The Spirit changes us! And Saint John’s vision reminds us that all of us are journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the ultimate newness which awaits us and all reality, the happy day when we will see the Lord’s face – that marvellous face, the most beautiful face of the Lord Jesus - and be with him for ever, in his love.
You see, the new things of God are not like the novelties of this world, all of which are temporary; they come and go, and we keep looking for more. The new things which God gives to our lives are lasting, not only in the future, when we will be with him, but today as well. God is even now making all things new; the Holy Spirit is truly transforming us, and through us he also wants to transform the world in which we live. Let us open the doors to the Spirit, let ourselves be guided by him, and allow God’s constant help to make us new men and women, inspired by the love of God which the Holy Spirit bestows on us! How beautiful it would be if each of you, every evening, could say: Today at school, at home, at work, guided by God, I showed a sign of love towards one of my friends, my parents, an older person! How beautiful!
2. A second thought. In the first reading Paul and Barnabas say that “we must undergo many trials if we are to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The journey of the Church, and our own personal journeys as Christians, are not always easy; they meet with difficulties and trials. To follow the Lord, to let his Spirit transform the shadowy parts of our lives, our ungodly ways of acting, and cleanse us of our sins, is to set out on a path with many obstacles, both in the world around us but also within us, in the heart. But difficulties and trials are part of the path that leads to God’s glory, just as they were for Jesus, who was glorified on the cross; we will always encounter them in life! Do not be discouraged! We have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome these trials!
3. And here I come to my last point. It is an invitation which I make to you, young confirmandi, and to all present. Remain steadfast in the journey of faith, with firm hope in the Lord. This is the secret of our journey! He gives us the courage to swim against the tide. Pay attention, my young friends: to go against the current; this is good for the heart, but we need courage to swim against the tide. Jesus gives us this courage! There are no difficulties, trials or misunderstandings to fear, provided we remain united to God as branches to the vine, provided we do not lose our friendship with him, provided we make ever more room for him in our lives. This is especially so whenever we feel poor, weak and sinful, because God grants strength to our weakness, riches to our poverty, conversion and forgiveness to our sinfulness. The Lord is so rich in mercy: every time, if we go to him, he forgives us. Let us trust in God’s work! With him we can do great things; he will give us the joy of being his disciples, his witnesses. Commit yourselves to great ideals, to the most important things. We Christians were not chosen by the Lord for little things; push onwards toward the highest principles. Stake your lives on noble ideals, my dear young people!
The new things of God, the trials of life, remaining steadfast in the Lord. Dear friends, let us open wide the door of our lives to the new things of God which the Holy Spirit gives us. May he transform us, confirm us in our trials, strengthen our union with the Lord, our steadfastness in him: this is a true joy! So may it be.
29.09.13 Holy Mass, Saint Peter's Square
The Day for Catechists
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
1. “Woe to the complacent in Zion, to those who feel secure … lying upon beds of ivory!” (Am 6:1,4). They eat, they drink, they sing, they play and they care nothing about other people’s troubles.
These are harsh words which the prophet Amos speaks, yet they warn us about a danger that all of us face. What is it that this messenger of God denounces; what does he want his contemporaries, and ourselves today, to realize? The danger of complacency, comfort, worldliness in our lifestyles and in our hearts, of making our well-being the most important thing in our lives. This was the case of the rich man in the Gospel, who dressed in fine garments and daily indulged in sumptuous banquets; this was what was important for him. And the poor man at his doorstep who had nothing to relieve his hunger? That was none of his business, it didn’t concern him. Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the centre of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings. Think of it: the rich man in the Gospel has no name, he is simply “a rich man”. Material things, his possessions, are his face; he has nothing else.
Let’s try to think: How does something like this happen? How do some people, perhaps ourselves included, end up becoming self-absorbed and finding security in material things which ultimately rob us of our face, our human face? This is what happens when we become complacent, when we no longer remember God. “Woe to the complacent in Zion”, says the prophet. If we don’t think about God, everything ends up flat, everything ends up being about “me” and my own comfort. Life, the world, other people, all of these become unreal, they no longer matter, everything boils down to one thing: having. When we no longer remember God, we too become unreal, we too become empty; like the rich man in the Gospel, we no longer have a face! Those who run after nothing become nothing – as another great prophet Jeremiah, observed (cf. Jer 2:5). We are made in God’s image and likeness, not the image and likeness of material objects, of idols!
2. So, as I look out at you, I think: Who are catechists? They are people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others. This is something beautiful: to remember God, like the Virgin Mary, who sees God’s wondrous works in her life but doesn’t think about honour, prestige or wealth; she doesn’t become self-absorbed. Instead, after receiving the message of the angel and conceiving the Son of God, what does she do? She sets out, she goes to assist her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. And the first thing she does upon meeting Elizabeth is to recall God’s work, God’s fidelity, in her own life, in the history of her people, in our history: “My soul magnifies the Lord … For he has looked on the lowliness of his servant … His mercy is from generation to generation” (Lk 1:46, 48, 50). Mary remembers God.
This canticle of Mary also contains the remembrance of her personal history, God’s history with her, her own experience of faith. And this is true too for each one of us and for every Christian: faith contains our own memory of God’s history with us, the memory of our encountering God who always takes the first step, who creates, saves and transforms us. Faith is remembrance of his word which warms our heart, and of his saving work which gives life, purifies us, cares for and nourishes us. A catechist is a Christian who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation, not to seem important, not to talk about himself or herself, but to talk about God, about his love and his fidelity. To talk about and to pass down all that God has revealed, his teaching in its totality, neither trimming it down nor adding on to it.
Saint Paul recommends one thing in particular to his disciple and co-worker Timothy: Remember, remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, whom I proclaim and for whom I suffer (cf. 2 Tim 2:8-9). The Apostle can say this because he too remembered Christ, who called him when he was persecuting Christians, who touched him and transformed him by his grace.
The catechist, then, is a Christian who is mindful of God, who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life and who is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others. This is not easy! It engages our entire existence! What is the Catechism itself, if not the memory of God, the memory of his works in history and his drawing near to us in Christ present in his word, in the sacraments, in his Church, in his love? Dear catechists, I ask you: Are we in fact the memory of God? Are we really like sentinels who awaken in others the memory of God which warms the heart?
3. “Woe to the complacent in Zion!”, says the prophet. What must we do in order not to be “complacent” – people who find their security in themselves and in material things – but men and woman of the memory of God? In the second reading, Saint Paul, once more writing to Timothy, gives some indications which can also be guideposts for us in our work as catechists: pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness (cf. 1 Tim 6:11).
Catechists are men and women of the memory of God if they have a constant, living relationship with him and with their neighbour; if they are men and women of faith who truly trust in God and put their security in him; if they are men and women of charity, love, who see others as brothers and sisters; if they are men and women of “hypomoné”, endurance and perseverance, able to face difficulties, trials and failures with serenity and hope in the Lord; if they are gentle, capable of understanding and mercy.
Let us ask the Lord that we may all be men and women who keep the memory of God alive in ourselves, and are able to awaken it in the hearts of others. Amen
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). The Lord does not reserve this phrase for certain friends of his, no; he addresses it to “all” those who are weary and overwhelmed by life. And who could feel excluded from this invitation? The Lord knows how arduous life can be. He knows that many things weary the heart: disappointments and wounds of the past, burdens to carry and wrongs to bear in the present, uncertainties and worries about the future.
In the face of all this, Jesus’ first word is an invitation, a call to move and respond: “Come”. The mistake, when things go wrong, is to stay where we are, lying there. It seems obvious, but how difficult it is to respond and open ourselves! It is not easy. In dark times it feels natural to keep to ourselves, to ruminate over how unfair life is, over how ungrateful others are, how mean the world is, and so on. We all know it. We have had this awful experience a few times. But in this way, locked up inside ourselves, we see everything as grim. Then we even grow accustomed to sadness, which becomes like home: that sadness overcomes us; this sadness is a terrible thing. Jesus, however, wants to pull us out of this “quicksand” and thus says to each one: “Come! — Who? — You, you, you”. The way out is in connecting, in extending a hand and lifting our gaze to those who truly love us.
In fact it is not enough to come out of ourselves; it is important to know where to go. Because many aims are illusory: they promise comfort and distract just a little; they guarantee peace and offer amusement, then leave us with the loneliness there was before; they are “fireworks”. Therefore Jesus indicates where to go: “Come to me”. And many times, in the face of a burden of life or a situation that saddens us, we try to talk about it with someone who listens to us, with a friend, with an expert.... This is a great thing to do, but let us not forget Jesus. Let us not forget to open ourselves to him and to recount our life to him, to entrust people and situations to him. Perhaps there are “areas” of our life that we have never opened up to him and which have remained dark, because they have never seen the Lord’s light. Each of us has our own story. And if someone has this dark area, seek out Jesus; go to a missionary of mercy; go to a priest; go.... But go to Jesus, and tell Jesus about this. Today he says to each one: “Take courage; do not give in to life’s burdens; do not close yourself off in the face of fears and sins. Come to me!”.
He awaits us; he always awaits us. Not to magically resolve problems, but to strengthen us amid our problems. Jesus does not lift the burdens from our life, but the anguish from our heart; he does not take away our cross, but carries it with us. And with him every burden becomes light (cf. v. 30), because he is the comfort we seek.
When Jesus enters life, peace arrives, the kind that remains even in trials, in suffering. Let us go to Jesus; let us give him our time; let us encounter him each day in prayer, in a trusting and personal dialogue; let us become familiar with his Word; let us fearlessly rediscover his forgiveness; let us eat of his Bread of Life: we will feel loved; we will feel comforted by him.
It is he himself who asks it of us, almost insists on it. He repeats it again at the end of today’s Gospel: “learn from me, and you will find rest for your life” (cf. v. 29). And thus, let us learn to go to Jesus and, in the summer months, as we seek a little rest from what wearies the body, let us not forget to find true comfort in the Lord. May the Virgin Mary our Mother, who always takes care of us when we are weary and overwhelmed, help us and accompany us to Jesus.
25.02.18 Holy Mass, Parish of San Gelasio I Papa, Ponte Mammolo, Rome
2nd Sunday of Lent Year B
Jesus shows the Apostles how he is in Heaven: glorious, luminous, triumphant, victorious. He does this in order to prepare them to withstand the Passion, the scandal of the Cross, because they could not understand that Jesus was to die as a criminal; they could not understand it. They thought that Jesus was a liberator, but as earthly liberators are, those who win in battle, those who are always triumphant. But Jesus’ path is a different one: Jesus triumphs through humiliation, the humiliation of the Cross. But seeing that this would be a scandal for them, Jesus shows them what happens afterwards, what happens after the Cross, what awaits us, all of us: this glory and this Heaven. And this is really beautiful! It is really beautiful because Jesus — and listen carefully to this — always prepares us for trial; in one way or another, but this is the message: he always prepares us. He gives us the strength to go forward in times of trial and to overcome them with his strength. Jesus never forsakes us in the trials of life: he always prepares us, helps us, as he prepared [his disciples], with the vision of his glory. This way they will then remember this [moment] in order to bear the burden of humiliation. This is the first thing the Church teaches us: Jesus always prepares us for trials and in the trials he is with us; he never forsakes us. Never.
We can glean the second thing from the Word of God: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mk 9:7). This is the message the Father gives to the Apostles. Jesus’ message is preparing them by showing them his glory; the Father’s message is: “Listen to him”. There is no moment in life that cannot be fully lived by listening to Jesus. In beautiful moments, let us stop and listen to Jesus; in difficult moments, let us stop and listen to Jesus. This is the way. He will tell us what we have to do. Always.
And let us go forward this Lent with these two things: in trials, to remember the glory of Jesus, namely, what awaits us; that Jesus is always present with that glory to give us strength. And throughout life, to listen to Jesus, to what Jesus tells us: in the Gospel, in the liturgy, he always speaks to us; or in our heart.
In daily life perhaps we may have problems, or we may have many things to resolve. Let us ask ourselves this question: what is Jesus telling me today? And let us try to listen to Jesus’ voice, the inspiration from within. And in this way we follow the Father’s advice: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him”. Our Lady will give you the second piece of advice, at Cana in Galilee, when there is the miracle of the [transformation] of water into wine. What does our Lady say? “Do whatever he tells you”. Listen to Jesus and do what he says: this is the sure path. Go forth with the memory of the glory of Jesus, with this advice: Listen to Jesus and do what he tells us to do.
10.05.20 Regina Caeli, Apostolic Palace Library
Fifth Sunday of Easter - Year A
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
In today's Gospel passage (John 14:1-12) we hear the beginning of Jesus' so-called "farewell discourse." These are the words he addressed to the disciples at the end of the last Supper, just before facing the Passion. In such a dramatic moment Jesus began by saying, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." He says it to us, too, in the dramas of life. But how can we make sure that our hearts are not troubled? Because our hearts do become troubled.
The Lord points out two remedies to being troubled. The first is, "Believe in me" (14: 1). It would seem to be rather theoretical, or abstract advice. Instead Jesus wants to tell us something specific. He knows that, in life, the worst anxiety, anguish, comes from the feeling of not being able to cope, from feeling alone and without points of reference when faced with events. This anguish, in which difficulties are added to difficulties, cannot be overcome alone. We need Jesus' help, and that is why Jesus asks us to have faith in him, that is, not to rely on ourselves, but on him. Because liberation from being troubled requires trust. Relying on Jesus, taking the leap. And this is the freedom from being troubled. And Jesus has risen and is alive precisely to be always by our side. So we can say to him, "Jesus, I believe that you have risen and that you are by my side. I believe that you are listening to me. I bring you what upsets me, my troubles: I have faith in you and I entrust myself to you."
Then there is a second remedy to being troubled, which Jesus expresses with these words: "In my Father's house there are many rooms. I'm going to prepare a place for you" (14: 2). This is what Jesus did for us: he reserved us a place in Heaven. He took our humanity upon himself to take it beyond death, to a new place, to Heaven, so that where he is, we might also be there. It is the certainty that consoles us: there is a reserved place for everyone. There's a place for me, too. Each of us can say: there is a place for me. We do not live aimlessly and without destination. We are expected, we are precious. God is in love with us, we are his children. And for us he has prepared the most worthy and beautiful place: Paradise. Let us not forget this: the dwelling place that awaits us is Paradise. Here we are passing through. We are made for Heaven, for eternal life, to live forever. Forever: it's something we can't even imagine now. But it is even more beautiful to think that this forever will be entirely in joy, in full communion with God and with others, without more tears, without resentments, without divisions and troubles.
But how to reach Heaven? What's the way? This is the decisive sentence of Jesus. Today he says: "I am the way" (14: 6). To ascend to Heaven the way is Jesus: it is to have a living relationship with him, it is to imitate him in love, it is to follow his steps. And I, a Christian, you, a Christian, each of us Christians, can ask ourselves: "What path do I follow?" There are ways that do not lead to Heaven: the ways of worldliness, the ways of self-assertion, the ways of selfish power. And there is the way of Jesus, the way of humble love, of prayer, of meekness, of trust, of service to others. It is not the way that puts me at the centre, it is the way of Jesus being the centre of my life. It is to go ahead every day asking him: "Jesus, what do you think of my choice? What would you do in this situation, with these people?" It will do us good to ask Jesus, who is the way, for the directions to Heaven. May Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, help us to follow Jesus, who opened Heaven for us.
09.08.20 Angelus, St Peter's Square
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good day!
This Sunday's Gospel passage (see Mt 14:22-33) speaks of Jesus walking on the water of the stormy lake. After feeding the crowds with five loaves and two fish – as we saw last Sunday – Jesus commands the disciples to get into the boat and return to the other shore. He dismisses the people and then climbs the hill, alone, to pray. He immerses Himself in communion with the Father.
During the crossing of the lake by night, the disciples' boat is hindered by a sudden wind storm. This is normal on a lake. At a certain point, they see someone walking on the water, coming toward them. Upset, they think it is a ghost and cry out in fear. Jesus reassures them: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear”. Then Peter – Peter who was so decisive – answers: “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water”. A challenge. And Jesus tells him: “Come”. Peter gets out of the boat and takes a few steps; then the wind and waves frighten him and he begins to sink. “Lord, save me”, he cries, and Jesus grasps him by the hand and says to him: “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”.
This Gospel narrative is an invitation to abandon ourselves trustingly to God in every moment of our life, especially in the moment of trial and turmoil. When we have strong feelings of doubt and fear and we seem to be sinking, in life’s difficult moments where everything becomes dark, we must not be ashamed to cry out like Peter: “Lord, save me” (v. 30). To knock on God’s heart, on Jesus’s heart. “Lord, save me.” It is a beautiful prayer! We can repeat it many times. “Lord, save me.” And Jesus’s gesture, who immediately reaches out His hand and grasps that of His friend, should be contemplated at length: this is Jesus. Jesus does this. Jesus is the Father’s hand who never abandons us, the strong and faithful hand of the Father, who always and only wants what is good for us. God is not in the loud sound, God is not the hurricane, He is not in the fire, He is not in the earthquake – as the narrative about the Prophet Elijah also recalls today that says God is the light breeze – literally it says this: He is in the “ thread of melodious silence” – that never imposes itself, but asks to be heard (see 1 Kgs 19:11-13). Having faith means keeping your heart turned to God, to His love, to His Fatherly tenderness, amid the storm. Jesus wanted to teach this to Peter and the disciples, and also to us today. In dark moments, in sad moments He is well aware that our faith is weak –all of us are people of little faith, all of us, myself included, everyone – and that our faith is weak our journey can be troubled, hindered by adverse forces. But He is the Risen One! Let’s not forget this: He is the Lord who passed through death in order to lead us to safety. Even before we begin to seek Him, He is present beside us lifting us back up after our falls, He helps us grow in faith. Maybe in the dark, we cry out: “Lord, Lord!” thinking He is far away. And He says, “I am here.” Ah, He was with me! That is the Lord.
The boat at the mercy of the storm is the image of the Church, which in every age encounters headwinds, very harsh trials at times: we recall certain long and ferocious persecutions of the last century and even today in certain places. In situations like that, she may be tempted to think that God has abandoned her. But in reality it is precisely in those moments that the witness of faith, the witness of love, the witness of hope shines the most. It is the presence of the Risen Christ in His Church that gives the grace of witness unto martyrdom, from which buds new Christians and fruit of reconciliation and peace for the entire world.
May the intercession of Mary help us to persevere in faith and fraternal love when the darkness and storms of life place our trust in God in crisis.
28.02.21 Angelus, St Peter's Square
The Transfiguration of Jesus
2nd Sunday of Lent Year B
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.
This Second Sunday of Lent invites us to contemplate the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, before three of his disciples (cf. Mk 9:2-10). Just before, Jesus had announced that in Jerusalem he would suffer a greatly, be rejected and put to death. We can imagine what must have happened in the heart of his friends, of those close friends, his disciples: the image of a strong and triumphant Messiah is put into crisis, their dreams are shattered, and they are beset by anguish at the thought that the Teacher in whom they had believed would be killed like the worst of wrongdoers. And in that very moment, with that anguish of soul, Jesus calls Peter, James and John and takes them up the mountain with him.
The Gospel says: He “led them up a high mountain” (v. 2). In the Bible, the mountain always has a special significance: it is the elevated place where heaven and earth touch each other, where Moses and the prophets had the extraordinary experience of encountering God. Climbing the mountain is drawing somewhat close to God. Jesus climbs up with the three disciples and they stop at the top of the mountain. Here, he is transfigured before them. His face radiant and his garments glistening, providing a preview of the image as the Risen One, offer to those frightened men the light, the light of hope, the light to pass through the shadows: death will not be the end of everything, because it will open to the glory of the Resurrection. Thus, Jesus announces his death; he takes them up the mountain and shows them what will happen afterwards, the Resurrection.
As the Apostle Peter exclaimed (cf. v. 5), it is good to pause with the Lord on the mountain, to live this “preview” of light in the heart of Lent. It is a call to remember, especially when we pass through a difficult trial – and so many of you know what it means to pass through a difficult trial – that the Lord is Risen and does not permit darkness to have the last word.
At times we go through moments of darkness in our personal, family or social life, and of fear that there is no way out. We feel frightened before great enigmas such as illness, innocent pain or the mystery of death. In the same journey of faith, we often stumble encountering the scandal of the cross and the demands of the Gospel, which calls us to spend our life in service and to lose it in love, rather than preserve it for ourselves and protect it. Thus, we need a different outlook, of a light that illuminates the mystery of life in depth and helps us to move beyond our paradigms and beyond the criteria of this world. We too are called to climb up the mountain, to contemplate the beauty of the Risen One who enkindles glimmers of light in every fragment of our life and helps us to interpret history beginning with his paschal victory.
Let us be careful, however: that feeling of Peter that “it is well that we are here” must not become spiritual laziness. We cannot remain on the mountain and enjoy the beauty of this encounter by ourselves. Jesus himself brings us back to the valley, amid our brothers and sisters and into daily life. We must beware of spiritual laziness: we are fine, with our prayers and liturgies, and this is enough for us. No! Going up the mountain does not mean forgetting reality; praying never means avoiding the difficulties of life; the light of faith is not meant to provide beautiful spiritual feelings. No, this is not Jesus’ message. We are called to experience the encounter with Christ so that, enlightened by his light, we might take it and make it shine everywhere. Igniting little lights in people’s hearts; being little lamps of the Gospel that bear a bit of love and hope: this is the mission of a Christian.
Let us pray to Mary Most Holy, that she may help us to welcome the light of Christ with wonder, to safeguard it and share it.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In today’s liturgy the episode of the storm calmed by Jesus (Mk 4:35-41) is told. The boat on which the disciples are crossing the lake is beaten by the wind and waves and they are afraid they will sink. Jesus is with them on the boat, yet he is in the stern asleep on the cushion. The disciples, filled with fear, cry out to him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38).
And quite often we too, beaten by the trials of life, have cried out to the Lord: “Why do you remain silent and do nothing for me?”. Especially when it seems we are sinking, because of love or the project in which we have laid great hopes disappears; or when we are at the mercy of the unrelenting waves of anxiety; or when we feel we are drowning in problems or lost in the middle of the sea of life, with no course and no harbour. Or even, in the moments in which the strength to go forward fails us, because we have no job, or an unexpected diagnosis makes us fear for our health or that of a loved one. There are many moments in which we feel we are in a storm; we feel we are almost done in.
In these situations and in many others, we too feel suffocated by fear and, like the disciples, risk losing sight of the most important thing. On the boat, in fact, even if he is sleeping, Jesus is there, and he shares with his own all that is happening. His slumber, on the one hand surprises us, yet on the other it puts us to the test. The Lord is there, present; indeed, he waits – so to speak – for us to engage him, to invoke him, to put him at the centre of what we are experiencing. His slumber causes us to wake up. Because to be disciples of Jesus it is not enough to believe God is there, that he exists, but we must put ourselves out there with him; we must also raise our voice with him. Listen to this: we must cry out to him. Prayer, many times, is a cry: “Lord, save me!”. I was watching, on TV the programme “In his image”, today, the Day of Refugees, many who come in large boats and at the moment of drowning cry out: “Save us!”. In our life too the same thing happens: “Lord, save us!”, and prayer becomes a cry.
Today we can ask ourselves: what are the winds that beat against my life? What are the waves that hinder my navigation, and put my spiritual life, my family life, even my mental health in danger? Let us say all this to Jesus; let us tell him everything. He wants this; he wants us to grab hold of him to find shelter from the unexpected waves of life. The Gospel recounts that the disciples approach Jesus, wake him and speak to him (cf. v. 38). This is the beginning of our faith: to recognize that alone we are unable to stay afloat; that we need Jesus like sailors need the stars to find their course. Faith begins from believing that we are not enough in ourselves, from feeling in need of God. When we overcome the temptation to close ourselves off, when we overcome the false religiosity that does not want to disturb God, when we cry out to him, he can work wonders in us. It is the gentle and extraordinary power of prayer, which works miracles.
Jesus, begged by the disciples, calms the wind and waves. And he asks them a question, a question which also pertains to us: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40). The disciples were gripped with fear, because they were focused on the waves more than looking at Jesus. And fear leads us to look at the difficulties, the awful problems and not to look at the Lord, who many times is sleeping. It is this way for us too: how often we remain fixated on problems rather than going to the Lord and casting our concerns into him! How often we leave the Lord in a corner, at the bottom of the boat of life, to wake him only in a moment of need! Today, let us ask for the grace of a faith that never tires of seeking the Lord, of knocking at the door of his Heart. May the Virgin Mary, who in her life never stopped trusting in God, reawaken in us the basic need of entrusting ourselves to him each day.
26.10.22 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square
Catechesis on Discernment. 7. The subject of discernment. Desolation
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Discernment, as we have seen in the previous catecheses, is not primarily a logical procedure; it is based on actions, and actions also have an affective connotation, which must be acknowledged, because God speaks to the heart. Let us then enter into the first affective mode, an object of discernment: desolation. What does this mean?
Desolation has been defined as follows: “Darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad and as if separated from his Creator and Lord” (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 317). We all have experience of this. I believe that, in one way or another, we all have experienced of this, of desolation. The problem is how to interpret it, because it too has something important to tell us, and if we are in a hurry to free ourselves of it, we risk losing this.
No-one wants to be desolate, sad: this is true. We would all like a life that is always joyful, cheerful and fulfilled. Yet, besides not being possible – because it is not possible – this would not be good for us either. Indeed, the change from a life oriented towards vice can start from a situation of sadness, of remorse for what one has done. The etymology of this word, “remorse”, is very beautiful: the remorse of the conscience, we all know this. Remorse: literally, it is the conscience that bites [in Italian, mordere] that does not permit peace. Alessandro Manzoni, in The Betrothed, gave us a wonderful description of remorse as an opportunity to change one’s life. It is about the famous dialogue between Cardinal Federico Borromeo and the Unnamed, who, after a terrible night, presents himself destroyed by the cardinal, who addresses him with surprising words: “You have some good news for me; why do you hesitate to tell it?” “Good news?” says the other. “I have hell in my soul [...]. Tell me, tell me, if you know, what good news could you expect from such a one as I”. “‘That God has touched your heart, and is drawing you to himself’ replied the cardinal calmly” (Ch. 23). God touches the heart, and something comes to you inwardly, sadness, remorse for something, and it is an invitation to set out on a new path. The man of God knows how to notice in depth what moves in the heart.
It is important to learn how to read sadness. We all know what sadness is: all of us. But do we know how to interpret it? Do we know what it means for me, this sadness today? In our time, it – sadness – is mostly considered negatively, as an ill to avoid at all costs, and instead it can be an indispensable alarm bell for life, inviting us to explore richer and more fertile landscapes that transience and escapism do not permit. Saint Thomas defines sadness as a pain of the soul: like the nerves for the body, it redirects our attention to a possible danger, or a disregarded benefit (cf. Summa Theologica I-II, q. 36, a.1). Therefore, it is indispensable for our health; it protects us from harming ourselves and others. It would be far more serious and dangerous not to feel this, and to go ahead. At times sadness works like a traffic light: “Stop, stop! It is red, here. Stop”.
For those, on the other hand, who have the desire to do good, sadness is an obstacle with which the tempter tries to discourage us. In that case, one must act in a manner exactly contrary to what is suggested, determined to continue what one had set out to do (cf. Spiritual Exercises, 318). Think of work, study, prayer, a commitment undertaken: if we abandoned them as soon as we felt boredom or sadness, we would never complete anything. This is also an experience common to the spiritual life: the road to goodness, the Gospel reminds us, is narrow and uphill, it requires combat, self-conquest. I begin to pray, or dedicate myself to a good work, and strangely enough, just then things come to mind that need to be done urgently – so as not to pray or do good works. We all experience this. It is important, for those who want to serve the Lord, not to be led astray by desolation. And this.. “But no, I don’t want to, tis is boring…” – beware. Unfortunately, some people decide to abandon the life of prayer, or the choice they have made, marriage or religious life, driven by desolation, without first pausing to consider this state of mind, and especially without the help of a guide. A wise rule says not to make changes when you are desolate. It will be the time afterwards, rather than the mood of the moment, that will show the goodness or otherwise of our choices.
It is interesting to note, in the Gospel, that Jesus repels temptations with an attitude of firm resolution (cf. Mt 3:14-15; 4:1-11; 16; 21-23). Trials assail him from all sides, but always, finding in him this steadfastness, determined to do the will of the Father, they fail and cease to hinder his path. In spiritual life, trial is an important moment, as the Bible recalls explicitly, and says: “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials” (Sir 2:1). If you want to take the good path, prepare yourself: there will be obstacles, there will be temptations, there will be moments of sadness. It is like when a professor examines a student: if he sees that the student knows the essentials of the subject, he does not insist: the student has passed the test. But he must pass the test.
If we know how to traverse loneliness and desolation with openness and awareness, we can emerge strengthened in human and spiritual terms. No trial is beyond our reach; no trial will be greater than what we can do. But do not flee from trials: see what this test means, what it means that I am sad: why am I sad? What does it mean that in this moment I am in desolation? What does it mean that I am in desolation and cannot go on? Saint Paul reminds us that no-one is tempted beyond his or her ability, because the Lord never abandons us and, with him close by, we can overcome every temptation (cf. 1 Cor 10:13). And if we do not overcome it today, we get up another time, we walk and we will overcome it tomorrow. But we must not remain dead – so to speak – we must not remain defeated by a moment of sadness, of desolation: go forward. May the Lord bless this path – courageous! – of spiritual life, which is always a journey.