Works of charity and mercy
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We must come out of ourselves, we must take human routes if we are to discover that Jesus’ wounds are still visible today on the bodies of all our brothers and sisters who are hungry, thirsty, naked, humiliated or slaves, in prisons and hospitals. By touching and caressing these wounds we can adore God alive in our midst.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday we continue reading the 10 chapters of the Evangelist Luke. The passage today is that on Martha and Mary. Who are these two women? Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, are the relatives and faithful disciples of the Lord, who lived in Bethany. St Luke describes them in this way: Mary, at the feet of Jesus, “listened to his teaching”, while Martha was burdened with much serving (cf. Lk 10:39-40). Both welcome the Lord on his brief visit, but they do so differently. Mary sets herself at the feet of Jesus to listen but Martha lets herself become absorbed in preparing everything, and so much so that she says to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (v. 40). And Jesus answers scolding her sweetly: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing” (v. 41).
What does Jesus mean? What is this one thing that we need? First of all, it is important to understand that this is not about two contradictory attitudes: listening to the word of the Lord, contemplation, and practical service to our neighbour. These are not two attitudes opposed to one another, but, on the contrary, they are two essential aspects in our Christian life; aspects that can never be separated, but are lived out in profound unity and harmony. Why then was Martha scolded, even if kindly, by Jesus? Because she considered only what she was doing to be essential; she was too absorbed and worried by the things “to do”. For a Christian, works of service and charity are never detached from the principle of all our action: that is, listening to the Word of the Lord, to be — like Mary — at the feet of Jesus, with the attitude of a disciple. And that is why Martha was scolded.
In our Christian life too, dear brothers and sisters, may prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother — the poor, the sick, those in need of help, a brother in difficulty — is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ. When time is not set aside for dialogue with him in prayer, we risk serving ourselves and not God present in our needy brother and sister. St Benedict sums up the kind of life that indicated for his monks in two words: ora et labora, pray and work. It is from contemplation, from a strong friendship with the Lord that the capacity is born in us to live and to bring the love of God, his mercy, his tenderness, to others. And also our work with brothers in need, our charitable works of mercy, lead us to the Lord, because it is in the needy brother and sister that we see the Lord himself.
Let us ask the Virgin Mary, the Mother of listening and of service, to teach us to meditate in our hearts on the Word of her Son, to pray faithfully, to be ever more attentive in practical ways to the needs of our brothers and sisters.
Today’s liturgy invites us to fix our gaze on Christ, the King of the Universe. The beautiful prayer of the Preface reminds us that his kingdom is “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace”. The readings we have listened to show us how Jesus established his kingdom; how he brings it about in history; and what he now asks of us.
First, how Jesus brought about his kingdom: he did so through his closeness and tenderness towards us. He is the Shepherd, of whom the Prophet Ezekiel spoke in the First Reading (cf. 34:11-12, 15-17). These verses are interwoven with verbs which show the care and love that the Shepherd has for his flock: to search, to look over, to gather the dispersed, to lead into pasture, to bring to rest, to seek the lost sheep, to lead back the confused, to bandage the wounded, to heal the sick, to take care of, to pasture. All of these are fulfilled in Jesus Christ: he is truly the “great Shepherd of the sheep and the protector of our souls” (cf. Heb 13:20; 1 Pt 2:25).
Those of us who are called to be pastors in the Church cannot stray from this example, if we do not want to become hirelings. In this regard the People of God have an unerring sense for recognizing good shepherds and in distinguishing them from hirelings.
After his victory, that is after his Resurrection, how has Jesus advanced his kingdom? The Apostle Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, says: “for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (15:25). The Father, little by little, subjects all to the Son and, at the same time, the Son subjects all to the Father, including even himself in the end. Jesus is not a King according to earthly ways: for him, to reign is not to command, but to obey the Father, to give himself over to the Father, so that his plan of love and salvation may be brought to fulfilment. In this way there is full reciprocity between the Father and the Son. The period of Christ’s reign is the long period of subjecting everything to the Son and consigning everything to the Father. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). And in the end, when all things will be under the sovereignty of Jesus, and everything, including Jesus himself, will be subjected to the Father, God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).
The Gospel teaches what Jesus’ kingdom requires of us: it reminds us that closeness and tenderness are the rule of life for us also, and that on this basis we will be judged. This is how we will be judged. This is the great parable of the final judgement in Matthew 25. The King says: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (25:34-36). The righteous will ask him: when did we do all this? And he will answer them: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
The starting point of salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which he brought about his kingdom. The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity. In the twilight of life we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters. Upon this will depend our entry into, or exclusion from, the kingdom of God: our belonging to the one side or the other. Through his victory, Jesus has opened to us his kingdom. But it is for us to enter into it, beginning with our life now – his kingdom begins now – by being close in concrete ways to our brothers and sisters who ask for bread, clothing, acceptance, solidarity, catechesis. If we truly love them, we will be willing to share with them what is most precious to us, Jesus himself and his Gospel.
Today the Church places before us the example of these new saints. Each in his or her own way served the kingdom of God, of which they became heirs, precisely through works of generous devotion to God and their brothers and sisters. They responded with extraordinary creativity to the commandment of love of God and neighbour. They dedicated themselves, without holding back, to serving the least and assisting the destitute, sick, elderly and pilgrims. Their preference for the smallest and poorest was the reflection and measure of their unconditional love of God. In fact, they sought and discovered love in a strong and personal relationship with God, from whence springs forth true love for one’s neighbour. In the hour of judgement, therefore, they heard that tender invitation: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).
Through the rite of canonization, we have confessed once again the mystery of God’s kingdom and we have honoured Christ the King, the Shepherd full of love for his sheep. May our new saints, through their witness and intercession, increase within us the joy of walking in the way of the Gospel and our resolve to embrace the Gospel as the compass of our lives. Let us follow in their footsteps, imitating their faith and love, so that our hope too may be clothed in immortality. May we not allow ourselves to be distracted by other earthly and fleeting interests. And may Mary, our Mother and Queen of all Saints, guide us on the way to the kingdom of heaven.
In these days the key word in the liturgy is ‘manifestation’: the Son of God manifests Himself in the Feast of the Epiphany, to the Gentiles; in Baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends upon Him; in the wedding at Cana, when he performs the miracle of changing water into wine. Indeed, these are the three signs that the liturgy brings in these days in order to speak to us about the manifestation of God: God makes Himself known. But the question is this: how can we know God? (1 Jn 4:7-10) The theme that the Apostle John takes up in the First Reading: knowledge of God. What does it mean to know God? How can one know God?
A first reply would be: one can know God through reason. But really, can I know God through reason? Somewhat, yes. Indeed, through my intellect, reasoning, looking at worldly things, one can begin to understand that there is a God and the existence of God can be understood in some of God’s personality traits. However, this is insufficient for knowing God, in so far as God is known totally in the encounter with Him, and reason alone does not suffice for the encounter, something more is needed: reason helps you to reach a certain point, then He accompanies you onward.
In his letter, John clearly states what God is: God is love. For this reason, only on the path of love can you know God. Of course, reasonable love, accompanied by reason, but love. Perhaps one could ask at this point how can I love whom I don’t know?. The answer is clear: “Love those whom you have near”. In fact, this is the doctrine of two commandments: the most important one is to love God, for He is love. The second is to love your neighbour, but to get to the first, we have to climb the steps of the second. In a word, through love of our neighbour, we come to know God, who is love and only by loving reasonably, but by loving, we can reach this love.
John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God”. But, you cannot love if God doesn’t give the love, doesn’t generate this love for you because he who loves knows God. On the contrary, St John writes, “he who does not love does not know God; for God is love”. This is not “soap opera love”, but rather sound, strong love, an eternal love that manifests itself — these days the word is ‘manifest’ — in his Son who has come to save us. It is, therefore, a concrete love, a love of works and not of words. It is here, then, that it takes a lifetime to know God: a journey, a journey of love, of knowledge, of love for our neighbour, of love for those who hate us, of love for all.
Jesus himself gave us the example of love. And, indeed, in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his Son to be the victim of expiation for our sins. This is why we are able to contemplate the love of God in the person of Jesus. And by doing what Jesus taught us about love for our neighbour, we reach — step by step — the love of God, knowledge of God who is love.
The Apostle John, in his letter, goes a little ahead when he states that in this is love and not that we loved God, but that He loved us first: God precedes us in love. In fact, when I meet God in prayer, I feel that God loved me before I began to seek Him. Yes, He is always first, He waits for us, He calls us. And when we arrive, He is there!
(Jer 1:11-12) How beautiful were God’s words to Jeremiah: ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ — ‘a rod of almond, Lord’ — ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’. The flower of the almond tree is the first to blossom in spring, the first. This signifies that the Lord is there, watching over, and He is always the first, like the almond tree, He loves us first. And we, too, will always have this surprise: when we draw near to God through works of charity, through prayer, in Communion, in the Word of God, we find that He is there, first, waiting for us, this is how He loves us. And just like the flower of the almond tree, He is the first. Truly, that verse from Jeremiah tells us so much.
A similar proposal can be gleaned from the episode presented in today’s Reading from the Gospel according to Mark (6:34-44), which first says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd of people, it is the love of Jesus: He saw a large crowd, like sheep without a shepherd, confused. But today as well, there are so many confused people in our cities, in our countries: so many people.
When Jesus saw these confused people He was moved: He began to teach them the doctrine, the matters of God and the people heard Him, listened to Him very closely because the Lord was good at speaking, He spoke to the heart.
Then, Mark recounts in his Gospel that, realizing that those 5,000 people hadn’t eaten, Jesus asks his disciples to see to it. Thus, Christ is first to go meet with the people. Perhaps on their part, the disciples got somewhat upset, felt annoyed, and their response was harsh: ‘shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?’. Thus, God’s love was first; the disciples hadn’t understood. But God’s love is really like this: He is always waiting for us, He always surprises us. It is the Father, our Father who loves us so much, who is always ready to forgive us, always. And not once, but 70 times seven. Always!. Indeed, like a Father full of love. Therefore, in order to know this God who is love, we must climb the steps of love for our neighbour, by works of charity, by the acts of mercy that our Lord has taught us.
Lord, in these days in which the Church makes us ponder the manifestation of God, grant us the grace to know Him on the path of love.
John writes that all who keep his commandments ‘abide’ in God, and God in them. This ‘abiding’ in God is like the breath and the manner of Christian life. Thus we can say that “a Christian is one who abides in God”. John also writes in his letter: “by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us”. Therefore, a Christian is one who ‘has’ the Holy Spirit and is guided by God. We abide in God and God abides in us by the Spirit which he has given us. Then the problem comes. Be mindful, ‘do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God’. This is precisely the rule for daily life which John teaches us.
Therefore, we should “test the spirits”, but what does it mean to test the spirits? It seems as if they are ghosts.... However, that is not the case, because John tells us to “test the spirits in order to gauge where they come from: to gauge the spirit, what is happening in my heart”. Thus, “it leads us there, to the heart”, to ask ourselves “what is happening, what do I feel in my heart, what do I want to do? The root of what is happening now, where does it come from?”.
This, is testing in order to ‘gauge’. Indeed, the verb ‘gauge’ is the most appropriate verb to truly determine “whether what I feel comes from God, from the spirit that enables me to abide in God, or if it comes from the other one”. Who is the other one: “the antichrist”. After all John’s reasoning is simple, direct, I would say circular, because it turns on the same topic: either you are of Jesus or you are of the world. John also takes up what Jesus, too, asked of the Father for all of us: not to take us from the world, but to protect us from the world. Because worldliness is the spirit which distances us from the Spirit of God that enables us to abide in the Lord.
Okay Father, yes it is all clear, but what are the criteria to truly discern what is happening in my soul? John offers only one criterion, and he presents it in these words: ‘By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit’ — every emotion, every inspiration that I feel — ‘which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God’.
In other words, the criterion is that Jesus has come in the flesh, the criterion is the incarnation. This means that I can feel many things inside, even good things, good ideas, but if these good ideas, if these feelings do not lead me to God who has come in the flesh, if they do not lead me to my neighbour, to my brother, then they are not of God. This is why John begins this passage of his letter by saying: ‘this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another’.
We can make many pastoral plans, conceive of new methods for drawing people close, but if we don’t take the path of God who has come in the flesh, of the Son of God who became man in order to walk with us, then we are not on the path of the good spirit. Instead what prevails is the antichrist, worldliness, the spirit of the world.
Yes, how many people do we find in life who seem spiritual, but who do not speak of doing works of mercy? Yet why is this? Because the works of mercy are precisely the concrete sign of our confession that the Son of God has come in the flesh: visiting the sick, feeding those who do not have food, taking care of outcast. We must perform “works of mercy”, therefore, because each of our brothers and sisters, whom we must love, is the flesh of Christ: God has come in the flesh to identify himself with us and, and one who suffers is Christ who suffers.
Hence, if you take this path, if you feel this, you are on the right path because this is the criterion of discernment, so as not to confuse feelings, spirits, so as not to go down a path that isn’t right.
Returning then to the words of John: ‘do not believe every spirit’ — be mindful — ‘but test the spirits to see whether they are of God’. For this reason, “service to the neighbour, brother, sister who is in need — there are so many needs — of advice or of a listening ear: these are signs that we are on the path of the good spirit, that is, on the path of the Word of God who has come in the flesh”.
Ask the Lord for the grace to be well aware of what is happening in our hearts, what we prefer doing, that is to say, what touches me most: whether it is the Spirit of God, which leads me to the service of others, or the spirit of the world that roams within me, in my closure, in my selfishness, in so many other things. Yes, let us ask for the grace to know what is happening in our hearts.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s liturgy presents us with the parable of the “Good Samaritan”, taken from the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37). This passage, this simple and inspiring story, indicates a way of life, which has as its main point not ourselves, but others, with their difficulties, whom we encounter on our journey and who challenge us. Others challenge us. And when others do not challenge us, something is not right; something in the heart is not Christian. Jesus uses this parable in his dialogue with a lawyer when asked about the twofold commandment that allows us to enter into eternal life: to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself (cf. vv. 25-28). “Yes”, the lawyer replies, “but, tell me, who is my neighbour?” (v. 29). We too can ask ourselves this question: Who is my neighbour? Who must I love as myself? My parents? My friends? My fellow countrymen? Those who belong to my religion?... Who is my neighbour?
Jesus responds with this parable. A man, along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, was attacked, beaten and abandoned by robbers. Along that road, a priest passed by, then a Levite, and upon seeing this wounded man, they did not stop, but walked straight past him (vv. 31-32). Then a Samaritan came by, that is, a resident of Samaria, a man who was therefore despised by the Jews because he did not practise the true religion; and yet he, upon seeing that poor wretched man, “had compassion. He went to him, bandaged his wounds [...], brought him to an inn and took care of him” (vv. 33-34); and the next day he entrusted him to the care of the innkeeper, paid for him and said that he would pay for any further costs (cf. v. 35).
At this point, Jesus turns to the lawyer and asks him: “Which of these three — the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan — do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell victim to the robbers?”. And the lawyer, of course — because he was intelligent —, said in reply: “The one who had compassion on him” (vv. 36-37). In this way, Jesus completely overturned the lawyer’s initial perspective — as well as our own! —: I must not categorize others in order to decide who is my neighbour and who is not. It is up to me whether to be a neighbour or not — the decision is mine — it is up to me whether or not to be a neighbour to those whom I encounter who need help, even if they are strangers or perhaps hostile. And Jesus concludes, saying: “Go and do likewise” (v. 37). What a great lesson! And he repeats it to each of us: “Go and do likewise”, be a neighbour to the brother or sister whom you see in trouble. “Go and do likewise”. Do good works, don’t just say words that are gone with the wind. A song comes to mind: “Words, words, words”. No. Works, works. And through the good works that we carry out with love and joy towards others, our faith emerges and bears fruit. Let us ask ourselves — each of us responding in his own heart — let us ask ourselves: Is our faith fruitful? Does our faith produce good works? Or is it sterile instead, and therefore more dead than alive? Do I act as a neighbour or simply pass by? Am I one of those who selects people according to my own liking? It is good to ask ourselves these questions, and to ask them often, because in the end we will be judged on the works of mercy. The Lord will say to us: Do you remember that time on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? That man who was half dead was me. Do you remember? That hungry child was me. Do you remember? That immigrant who many wanted to drive away, that was me. That grandparent who was alone, abandoned in nursing homes, that was me. That sick man, alone in the hospital, who no one visited, that was me.
May the Virgin Mary help us to walk along the path of love, love that is generous towards others, the way of the Good Samaritan. My she help us to live the first commandment that Christ left us. This is the way to enter into eternal life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In today’s Gospel the Evangelist Luke writes about Jesus who, on the way to Jerusalem, enters a village and is welcomed into the home of two sisters: Martha and Mary (cf. Lk 10:38-42). Both welcome the Lord, but they do so in different ways. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to his words (cf. v. 39), whereas Martha is completely caught up in preparing things; at a certain point she says to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (v. 40). Jesus responds to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42).
In bustling about and busying herself, Martha risks forgetting — and this is the problem — the most important thing, which is the presence of the guest, Jesus in this case. She forgets about the presence of the guest. A guest is not merely to be served, fed, looked after in every way. Most importantly he ought to be listened to. Remember this word: Listen! A guest should be welcomed as a person, with a story, his heart rich with feelings and thoughts, so that he may truly feel like he is among family. If you welcome a guest into your home but continue doing other things, letting him just sit there, both of you in silence, it is as if he were of stone: a guest of stone. No. A guest is to be listened to. Of course, Jesus’ response to Martha — when he tells her that there is only one thing that needs to be done — finds its full significance in reference to listening to the very word of Jesus, that word which illuminates and supports all that we are and what we do. If we go to pray, for example, before the Crucifix, and we talk, talk, talk, and then we leave, we do not listen to Jesus. We do not allow him to speak to our heart. Listen: this is the key word. Do not forget! And we must not forget that in the house of Martha and Mary, Jesus, before being Lord and Master, is a pilgrim and guest. Thus, his response has this significance first and foremost: “Martha, Martha why do you busy yourself doing so much for this guest even to the point of forgetting about his presence? — A guest of stone! — Not much is necessary to welcome him; indeed, only one thing is needed: listen to him — this is the word: listen to him — be brotherly to him, let him realize he is among family and not in a temporary shelter.
Understood in this light, hospitality, which is one of the works of mercy, is revealed as a truly human and Christian virtue, a virtue which in today’s world is at risk of being overlooked. In fact, nursing homes and hospices are multiplying, but true hospitality is not always practised in these environments. Various institutions are opened to care for many types of disease, of loneliness, of marginalization, but opportunities are decreasing for those who are foreign, marginalized, excluded, from finding someone ready to listen to them: because they are foreigners, refugees, migrants. Listen to that painful story. Even in one’s own home, among one’s own family members, it might be easier to find services and care of various kinds rather than listening and welcome. Today we are so taken, by excitement, by countless problems — some of which are not important — that we lack the capacity to listen. We are constantly busy and thus we have no time to listen. I would like to ask you, to pose a question to you, each one answer in your own heart: do you, husband, take time to listen to your wife? And do you, woman, take time to listen to your husband? Do you, parents, take time, time to “waste”, to listen to your children? or your grandparents, the elderly? — “But grandparents always say the same things, they are boring...” — But they need to be listened to! Listen. I ask that you learn to listen and to devote more of your time. The root of peace lies in the capacity to listen.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of listening and of service and of attentive care, teach us to be welcoming and hospitable to our brothers and our sisters.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In the text of today’s Gospel (Lk 12:32-48), Jesus speaks to his disciples about the attitude to assume in view of the final encounter with him, and explains that the expectation of this encounter should impel us to live a life full of good works. Among other things he says: “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (v. 33). It is a call to give importance to almsgiving as a work of mercy, not to place trust in ephemeral goods, to use things without attachment and selfishness, but according to God’s logic, the logic of attention to others, the logic of love. We can be so attached to money, and have many things, but in the end we cannot take them with us. Remember that “the shroud has no pockets”.
Jesus’ lesson continues with three short parables on the theme of vigilance. This is important: vigilance, being alert, being vigilant in life. The first is the parable of the servants waiting for their master to return at night. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (v. 37): it is the beatitude of faithfully awaiting the Lord, of being ready, with an attitude of service. He presents himself each day, knocks at the door of our heart. Those who open it will be blessed, because they will have a great reward: indeed, the Lord will make himself a servant to his servants — it is a beautiful reward — in the great banquet of his Kingdom He himself will serve them. With this parable, set at night, Jesus proposes life as a vigil of diligent expectation, which heralds the bright day of eternity. To be able to enter one must be ready, awake and committed to serving others, from the comforting perspective that, “beyond”, it will no longer be we who serve God, but He himself who will welcome us to his table. If you think about it, this already happens today each time we meet the Lord in prayer, or in serving the poor, and above all in the Eucharist, where he prepares a banquet to nourish us of his Word and of his Body.
The second parable describes the unexpected arrival of the thief. This fact requires vigilance; indeed, Jesus exhorts: “You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (v. 40).
The disciple is one who awaits the Lord and his Kingdom. The Gospel clarifies this perspective with the third parable: the steward of a house after the master’s departure. In the first scene, the steward faithfully carries out his tasks and receives compensation. In the second scene, the steward abuses his authority, and beats the servants, for which, upon the master’s unexpected return, he will be punished. This scene describes a situation that is also frequent in our time: so much daily injustice, violence and cruelty are born from the idea of behaving as masters of the lives of others. We have only one master who likes to be called not “master” but “Father”. We are all servants, sinners and children: He is the one Father.
Jesus reminds us today that the expectation of the eternal beatitude does not relieve us of the duty to render the world more just and more liveable. On the contrary, this very hope of ours of possessing the eternal Kingdom impels us to work to improve the conditions of earthly life, especially of our weakest brothers and sisters. May the Virgin Mary help us not to be people and communities dulled by the present, or worse, nostalgic for the past, but striving toward the future of God, toward the encounter with him, our life and our hope.
“Who can learn the counsel of God?” (Wis 9:13). This question from the Book of Wisdom that we have just heard in the first reading suggests that our life is a mystery and that we do not possess the key to understanding it. There are always two protagonists in history: God and man. Our task is to perceive the call of God and then to do his will. But in order to do his will, we must ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in my life?”
We find the answer in the same passage of the Book of Wisdom: “People were taught what pleases you” (Wis 9:18). In order to ascertain the call of God, we must ask ourselves and understand what pleases God. On many occasions the prophets proclaimed what was pleasing to God. Their message found a wonderful synthesis in the words “I want mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13). God is pleased by every act of mercy, because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognize the face of God which no one can see (cf. Jn 1:18). Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we clothe, we help, and we visit the Son of God (cf. Mt 25:40). In a word, we touch the flesh of Christ.
We are thus called to translate into concrete acts that which we invoke in prayer and profess in faith. There is no alternative to charity: those who put themselves at the service of others, even when they don’t know it, are those who love God (cf. 1 Jn 3:16-18; Jas 2:14-18). The Christian life, however, is not merely extending a hand in times of need. If it is just this, it can be, certainly, a lovely expression of human solidarity which offers immediate benefits, but it is sterile because it lacks roots. The task which the Lord gives us, on the contrary, is the vocation to charity in which each of Christ’s disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so to grow each day in love.
We heard in the Gospel, “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus” (Lk 14:25). Today, this “large crowd” is seen in the great number of volunteers who have come together for the Jubilee of Mercy. You are that crowd who follows the Master and who makes visible his concrete love for each person. I repeat to you the words of the Apostle Paul: “I have indeed received much joy and comfort from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philem 1:7). How many hearts have been comforted by volunteers! How many hands they have held; how many tears they have wiped away; how much love has been poured out in hidden, humble and selfless service! This praiseworthy service gives voice to the faith – it gives voice to the faith! – and expresses the mercy of the Father, who draws near to those in need.
Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and those who are cast aside, and to give oneself in their service. In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love. And each one of us can say: “Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenceless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own. Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be”. And I do this, keeping alive the memory of those times when the Lord’s hand reached out to me when I was in need.
Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”. She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.
Her mission to the urban and existential peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor. Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness! I think, perhaps, we may have some difficult in calling her “Saint Teresa”: her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continual to spontaneously call her “Mother Teresa”. May this tireless worker of mercy help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion. Mother Teresa loved to say, “Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile”. Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer. In this way, we will open up opportunities of joy and hope for our many brothers and sisters who are discouraged and who stand in need of understanding and tenderness.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
These Sundays the liturgy offers us the so-called Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew. After presenting the Beatitudes last Sunday, today [Matthew] emphasizes Jesus’ words describing his disciples’ mission in the world. (cf. Mt 5:13-16). He uses the metaphors of salt and light, and his words are directed to the disciples of every age, therefore also to us.
Jesus invites us to be a reflection of his light, by witnessing with good works. He says: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16). These words emphasize that we are recognizable as true disciples of the One who is the Light of the World, not in words, but by our works. Indeed, it is above all our behaviour that — good or bad — leaves a mark on others. Therefore, we have a duty and a responsibility towards the gift received: the light of the faith, which is in us through Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit; and we must not withhold it as if it were our property. Instead we are called to make it shine throughout the world, to offer it to others through good works. How much the world needs the light of the Gospel which transforms, heals and guarantees salvation to those who receive it! We must convey this light through our good works.
The light of our faith, in giving of oneself, does not fade but strengthens. However it can weaken if we do not nourish it with love and with charitable works. In this way the image of light complements that of salt. The Gospel passage, in fact, tells us that, as disciples of Christ, we are also “the salt of the earth” (v. 13). Salt is an ingredient which, while it gives flavour, keeps food from turning and spoiling — in Jesus’ time there were no refrigerators! Thus, Christians’ mission in society is that of giving “flavour” to life with the faith and the love that Christ has given us, and at the same time, keeping away the contaminating seeds of selfishness, envy, slander, and so on. These seeds degrade the fabric of our communities, which should instead shine as places of welcome, solidarity and reconciliation. To fulfil this mission, it is essential that we first free ourselves from the corruptive degeneration of worldly influences contrary to Christ and to the Gospel; and this purification never ends, it must be done continuously; it must be done every day!
Each one of us is called to be light and salt, in the environment of our daily life, persevering in the task of regenerating the human reality in the spirit of the Gospel and in the perspective of the Kingdom of God. May there always be the helpful protection of Mary Most Holy, first disciple of Jesus and model for believers who live their vocation and mission each day in history. May our Mother help us to let ourselves always be purified and enlightened by the Lord, so as to become, in our turn, “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday, the Gospel (cf. Mt 25:1-13) indicates the condition that would allow us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and it does so with the parable of the 10 virgins: it is about those maiden brides who were designated to welcome and accompany the bridegroom to the wedding ceremony and, since at that time it was customary to celebrate the ceremony at night, the maiden brides were provided with lamps. The parable states that five of these maidens are wise and five are foolish: indeed, the wise ones have brought oil for their lamps, while the foolish have brought none. The bridegroom’s arrival is delayed and they all fall asleep. At midnight the bridegroom’s arrival is announced; at that moment the foolish maidens realize they have no oil for their lamps, and they ask the wise ones for some. But the latter reply that they cannot give them any because there would not be enough for everyone. Thus, while the foolish maidens go in search of oil, the bridegroom arrives; the wise maidens go in with him to the marriage feast and the door is shut. The five foolish maidens return too late; they knock on the door, but the response is “I do not know you” (v. 12), and they remain outside.
What does Jesus wish to teach us with this parable? He reminds us that we must be ready for the encounter with him. Many times, in the Gospel, Jesus exhorts keeping watch, and he also does so at the end of this narrative. He says: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (v. 13). But with this parable he tells us that keeping watch does not only mean not to sleep, but to be ready; in fact all the maidens are asleep before the bridegroom’s arrival, but upon waking some are ready and others are not. Thus, here is the meaning of being wise and prudent: it is a matter of not waiting until the last minute of our lives to cooperate with the grace of God, but rather to do so as of now. It would be good to consider for a moment: one day will be the last. If it were today, how prepared am I? But I must do this and that.... Be ready as if it were the last day: this does us good.
The lamp is a symbol of the faith that illuminates our life, while the oil is a symbol of the charity that nourishes the light of faith, making it fruitful and credible. The condition for being prepared for the encounter with the Lord is not only faith, but a Christian life abundant with love and charity for our neighbour. If we allow ourselves to be guided by what seems more comfortable, by seeking our own interests, then our life becomes barren, incapable of giving life to others, and we accumulate no reserve of oil for the lamp of our faith; and this — faith — will be extinguished at the moment of the Lord’s coming, or even before. If instead we are watchful and seek to do good, with acts of love, of sharing, of service to a neighbour in difficulty, then we can be at peace while we wait for the bridegroom to come: the Lord can come at any moment, and even the slumber of death does not frighten us, because we have a reserve of oil, accumulated through everyday good works. Faith inspires charity and charity safeguards faith.
May the Virgin Mary help our faith to be ever more effective through charity; so that our lamp may already shine here, on the earthly journey and then for ever, at the marriage feast in heaven.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
On this last Sunday of the liturgical year we are celebrating the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe. His is a kingship of guidance, of service and also a kingship which at the end of time will be fulfilled as judgment. Today, we have Christ before us as King, shepherd and judge, who reveals the criteria for belonging to the Kingdom of God. Here are the criteria.
The Gospel passage opens with a grandiose vision. Jesus, addressing his disciples, says: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Mt 25:31). It is a solemn introduction to the narrative of the Last Judgment. After having lived his earthly existence in humility and poverty, Jesus now shows himself in the divine glory that pertains to him, surrounded by hosts of angels. All of humanity is summoned before him and he exercises his authority, separating one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
To those whom he has placed at his right he says: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (vv. 34-36). The righteous are taken aback, because they do not recall ever having met Jesus, much less having helped him in that way, but he declares: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (v. 40). These words never cease to move us, because they reveal the extent to which God’s love goes: up to the point of taking flesh, but not when we are well, when we are healthy and happy, no; but when we are in need. And in this hidden way he allows himself to be encountered; he reaches out his hand to us as a mendicant. In this way Jesus reveals the decisive criterion of his judgment, namely, concrete love for a neighbour in difficulty. And in this way the power of love, the kingship of God is revealed: in solidarity with those who suffer in order to engender everywhere compassion and works of mercy.
The Parable of the Judgment continues, presenting the King who shuns those who, during their lives, did not concern themselves with the needs of their brethren. Those in this case too are surprised and ask: “Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?” (v. 44). Implying: “Had we seen you, surely we would have helped you!”. But the King will respond: “as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (v. 45). At the end of our life we will be judged on love, that is, on our concrete commitment to love and serve Jesus in our littlest and neediest brothers and sisters. That mendicant, that needy person who reaches out his hand is Jesus; that sick person whom I must visit is Jesus; that inmate is Jesus, that hungry person is Jesus. Let us consider this.
Jesus will come at the end of time to judge all nations, but he comes to us each day, in many ways, and asks us to welcome him. May the Virgin Mary help us to encounter him and receive him in his Word and in the Eucharist, and at the same time in brothers and sisters who suffer from hunger, disease, oppression, injustice. May our hearts welcome him in the present of our life, so that we may be welcomed by him into the eternity of his Kingdom of light and peace.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel (cf. Jn 12:20-33) narrates an episode which took place in the last days of Jesus’ life. The scene takes place in Jerusalem where he finds himself for the feast of the Jewish Passover. Several Greeks had also arrived there for this celebration. These men were driven by religious sentiment, attracted by the faith of the Jewish People and, having heard of this great prophet, they approach Philip, one of the 12 Apostles, and say to him: “we wish to see Jesus” (v. 21). John highlights this sentence, that is centred on the verb to see, which in the evangelical lexicon means to go beyond appearances in order to comprehend the mystery of a person. The verb John uses, “to see”, means to reach the depths of the heart, to reach through sight, with understanding, the depths of a person’s soul, within the person.
Jesus’ reaction is surprising. He does not answer with a “yes” or with a “no” but says: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (v. 23). These words which at first glance appear to ignore the question of those Greeks, in reality provide the true response because those who seek to know Jesus must look within the Cross where his glory is revealed; to look within the Cross. Today’s Gospel invites us to turn our gaze to the Crucifix which is not an ornamental object or a clothing accessory — abused at times! Rather, it is a religious symbol to contemplate and to understand. Within the image of Jesus crucified is revealed the mystery of the death of the Son as a supreme act of love, the source of life and salvation for humanity of all ages. We have been healed in his wounds.
I may think: “How do I look at the Crucifix? As a work of art, to see if it is beautiful or not? Or do I look within; do I penetrate Jesus’ wounds unto the depths of his heart? Do I look at the mystery of God who was humiliated unto death, like a slave, like a criminal?”. Do not forget this: look to the Crucifix, but look within it. There is a beautiful devotional way of praying one “Our Father” for each of the five wounds. When we pray that “Our Father”, we are trying to enter within, through the wounds of Jesus, inside his very heart. And there we will learn the great wisdom of the mystery of Christ, the great wisdom of the Cross.
And in order to explain the meaning of his death and Resurrection, Jesus uses an image and says: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (v. 24). He wants to explain that his extreme fate — that is the Cross, death and Resurrection — is an act of fruitfulness — his wounds have healed us — a fruitfulness which will bear fruit for many. He thus compares himself to a grain of wheat which, rotting in the earth, generates new life. Jesus came to earth through the Incarnation, but this is not enough. He must also die to redeem man from the slavery of sin and to offer him a new life reconciled in love. I said “to redeem man”: but to redeem me, you, all of us, each of us. He paid that price. This is the mystery of Christ. Go towards his wounds, enter, contemplate, see Jesus — but from within.
And this dynamism of the grain of wheat which was accomplished in Jesus must also take place within us, his disciples. We are called to take on the Paschal law of losing life in order to receive it renewed and eternal. And what does losing life mean? That is, what does it mean to be the grain of wheat? It means to think less about oneself, about personal interests and to know how to “see” and to meet the needs of our neighbours, especially the least of them. To joyfully carry out works of charity towards those who suffer in body and spirit is the most authentic way of living the Gospel. It is the necessary foundation upon which our communities can grow in reciprocal fraternity and welcome. I want to see Jesus, but from within. Penetrate his wounds and contemplate that love in his heart for you, for you, for you, for me, for everyone.
May the Virgin Mary who, from the manger in Bethlehem to the Cross on Calvary, has always kept her heart’s gaze fixed on her Son, help us to meet and know him just as he desires so that we may live enlightened by Him and bring to the world fruits of justice and peace.
The parable of the man who gave a great banquet, and sent out many invitations. His servants told the guests, “‘Come: everything is now ready.’ But one by one they all began to excuse themselves. There is always an apology. They apologize. Apologizing is the polite word we use in order not to say, ‘I refuse.’
And so the master then told his servants to bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.
This passage, ends with a second refusal, this one from the mouth of Jesus Himself. When someone rejects Jesus, the Lord waits for them, gives them a second chance, perhaps even a third, a fourth, a fifth… but in the end, He rejects them.
And this refusal makes us think of ourselves, of the times that Jesus calls us; calls us to celebrate with Him, to be close to Him, to change our life. Think about seeking out His most intimate friends and they refuse! Then He seeks out the sick… and they go; perhaps some refuse. How many times do we hear the call of Jesus to come to Him, to do a work of charity, to pray, to encounter Him, and we say: “Excuse me Lord, I’m busy, I don’t have time. Yes, tomorrow today I can’t…” And Jesus remains there.
How often do we, too, ask Jesus to excuse us when “He calls us to meet Him, to speak with Him, to have a nice chat.” “We, too, refuse Him."
Each one of us should think: In my life, how many times have I felt the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to do a work of charity, to encounter Jesus in that work of charity, to go to pray, to change your life in this area, in this area that is not going well? And I have always found a reason to excuse myself, to refuse.
In the end, those who do not reject Jesus, and are not rejected by Him, will enter the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Father had a warning for those who think to themselves “Jesus is so good, in the end He forgives everything”.
Yes, He is good, He is merciful – He is merciful, but He is also just. And if you close the door of your heart from within, He cannot open it, because He is very respectful of our heart. Refusing Jesus is closing the door from within, and He cannot enter.
It is Jesus Himself who pays for the feast. In the first Reading, St Paul reveals the cost of the banquet, speaking of Jesus, who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, humbling Himself to the point of dying on the Cross.” Jesus, paid for the feast with His life.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In this Sunday's Gospel passage, Luke the evangelist tells us of Jesus's visit to the house of Martha and Mary, the Sisters of Lazarus (cf. Lk 10: 38-42). They welcome Him, and Mary sits at His feet to listen to Him; she leaves what she was doing to be close to Jesus: she does not want to miss any of His words. As it was for Mary it can be said for each of us. There should be no occupation or concern that can keep us away from the divine master. Everything should always be put aside because, when He comes to visit us in our lives, His presence and His word come before everything else. The Lord always surprises us: when we really listen to Him, the clouds vanish, doubts give way to truth, fears to serenity, and the numerous situations of life find their rightful place. The Lord always, fixes things as well. Even for us.
In this scene of Mary of Bethany at the feet of Jesus, St. Luke shows the prayerful attitude of the believer, who knows how to be in the presence of the Master in order to listen to Him and to be in harmony with Him. It is a matter of taking a break during the day, of gathering together in silence for a few minutes to make room for the Lord who passes and of finding the courage to remain a little on the side lines with Him in order to then return, with more serenity and effectiveness to the aspects of everyday life. Praising the behaviour of Mary, who has chosen the better part (v. 42), Jesus seems to repeat to each of us: "do not be carried away by things to do but listen to the voice of the Lord, to carry out well the tasks that life gives you."
Then there is the other sister, Martha. Saint Luke says that she was the one who welcomed Jesus (cf. v. 38). Perhaps Martha was the older of the two sisters, we don't know, but certainly this woman had the charism of hospitality. In fact, while Mary is listening to Jesus, she's taken with many services. Therefore, Jesus says to her, "Martha, Martha, you anxious and worried about many things" (v. 41). With these words He certainly doesn't intend to condemn the attitude of service, but rather the anxiety with which it is sometimes experienced. We also share Saint Martha's concern and, following her example, we propose to make sure that in our families and in our communities, there is a sense of welcome, of fraternity, so that everyone can feel at home, especially the little ones and the poor and those who knock on our door.
Therefore, today's Gospel reminds us that the wisdom of the heart lies precisely in knowing how to combine these two elements: contemplation and action. Martha and Mary show us the way. If we want to savour life with joy, we must associate these two attitudes: on the one hand, to stand at the feet of Jesus, to listen to Him as He reveals to us the secret of everything; on the other, to be attentive and ready in hospitality, when He passes by and knocks on our door, with the face of a friend who needs a moment of refreshment and fraternity. It wants our hospitality.
May Mary most Holy, Mother of the Church, give us the grace to love and serve God and our brothers and sisters with the hands of Martha and the heart of Mary, so that by always listening to Christ can we be artisans of peace and hope. And this is interesting: with these two attitudes we can become artisans of peace and hope.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the Lenten journey, a forty-day journey towards Easter, towards the heart of the liturgical year and of the faith. It is a journey that follows that of Jesus, who at the beginning of his ministry withdrew for forty days to pray and fast, tempted by the devil, into the desert. I would like to speak to you today about the spiritual significance of the desert. What the desert means spiritually to all of us, even us who live in the city, what the desert means.
Let's imagine you're in a desert. The first feeling would be to be enveloped by a great silence: no noise, apart from the wind and our breath. Here, the desert is the place of detachment from the din that surrounds us. It is the absence of words to make room for another Word, the Word of God, which as a light breeze caresses our heart (cf. 1 Kings 19:12). The desert is the place of the Word, with a capital W. In the Bible, in fact, the Lord loves to speak to us in the desert. In the desert he gives Moses the "ten words", the ten commandments. And when the people distance themselves from him, becoming like an unfaithful bride, God says, "Here, I will lead you into the desert and speak to your heart. There you will answer me, as in the days of your youth"(Hosea 2:13-14). In the desert you hear the Word of God, which is like a slight sound. The Book of Kings says that the Word of God is like a thread of silence that makes a sound. In the desert we find intimacy with God, the love of the Lord. Jesus loved to retreat every day to deserted places to pray (cf. Luke 5:16). He taught us how to look for the Father, who speaks to us in silence. And it is not easy to be silent in our hearts, because we always try to talk a little, to be with others.
Lent is a good time to make space for the Word of God. It's the time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It's a time to disconnect from your phones and connect to the Gospel. When I was a child there was no television, but there was a custom of not listening to the radio. Lent is deserted, it is a time to give up, to disconnect from our phones and connect to the Gospel. It is time to give up useless words, gossip, rumours and to speak intimately with the Lord. It's time to devote yourself to a healthy ecology of the heart, to clean it. We live in an environment polluted by too much verbal violence, by so many offensive and harmful words, that the web amplifies. Today we insult as if we were saying "Good Morning". We are inundated with empty words, advertising, deceitful messages. We have become accustomed to hearing everything about everyone and we risk slipping into a mundaneness that atrophies our heart and there is no by-pass to heal this, but only silence. We struggle to distinguish the voice of the Lord who speaks to us, the voice of conscience, the voice of good. Jesus, calling us into the desert, invites us to listen to what matters, to the important, to the essential. To the devil who tempted Him He replied, "It is not only by bread alone that man lives, but by every word that comes out of God's mouth" (Matthew 4:4). Like bread, more than bread we need the Word of God, we need to speak with God: we need to pray. Because only before God do the inclinations of the heart come to light and the duplicity of our souls fall. Here is the desert, a place of life, not of death, because dialogue in silence with the Lord gives us life.
Let's try to think of a desert again. The desert is the place of the essential. Let's look at our lives: how many useless things surround us! We chase a thousand things that seem necessary and are not really. How good would it be for us to get rid of so many superfluous realities, to rediscover what matters, to find the faces of those around us! Jesus also sets an example on this, fasting. Fasting is to know how to give up the vain things, the superfluous, to go to the essentials. Fasting is not just about losing weight, fasting is going to the essentials, it is seeking the beauty of a simpler life.
Finally, the desert is the place of solitude. Even today, near us, there are many deserts. They are lonely and abandoned people. How many poor and elderly people stand by us and live in silence, without any noise, marginalized and discarded! Talking about them doesn't create an audience, ratings. But the desert leads us to them, to all those who are silenced, silently ask for our help. So many silent glances asking for our help. The journey through the Lent desert is a journey of charity to those who are weakest.
Prayer, fasting, works of mercy: this is the path in the Lenten desert.
Dear brothers and sisters, with the voice of the prophet Isaiah, God has made this promise: "Here, I will do something new, I will open a path in the desert"(Is 43:19). In the desert the path is opened up that brings us from death to life. Let us enter the desert with Jesus, and we will come out of it savouring Easter, the power of God's love that renews life. The same will happen to us that happens in the deserts that bloom in spring, making buds suddenly, "out of nothing", buds and plants. Take courage, let us enter this desert of Lent, follow Jesus into the desert: with him our deserts will flourish.
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
This Sunday’s Gospel reading (see Mt 16:13-20) presents the moment in which Peter professes his faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. The Apostle’s confession is provoked by Jesus Himself, who wishes to lead His disciples to take the decisive step in their relationship with Him. Indeed, the entirety of Jesus’s journey with those who follow Him, especially with the Twelve, is one of educating their faith. First of all, He asks: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (v. 13). The Apostles liked talking about people, as we all do. We like to gossip. Speaking of others is not so demanding, this is why we like it; even “flaying” others. In this case the perspective of faith rather than gossip is already required, and so He asks, “What do the people say I am?”. And the disciples seem to compete in reporting the different opinions, which perhaps, to a large extent, they themselves shared. They too shared them. In essence, Jesus of Nazareth was considered to be a prophet (v. 14).
With the second question, Jesus touches them to the core: “But what about you? … Who do you say I am?” (v. 15). At this point, we seem to perceive a moment of silence, as each one of those present is called to put themselves on the line, manifesting the reason why they follow Jesus; therefore a certain hesitation is more than legitimate. Even if I were to ask you now, “For you, who is Jesus?”, there would be a little hesitation. Simon takes them off the hook by declaring forthrightly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). This answer, so complete and enlightening, does not come from an impulse of his own, however generous - Peter was generous - but rather is the fruit of a particular grace of the heavenly Father. Indeed, Jesus Himself says, “This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood” - that is, by culture, what you have studied, no this has not revealed it to you. It was revealed to you “by my Father in heaven” (v. 17). To confess Jesus is a grace of the Father. To say that Jesus is the Son of the living God, who is the Redeemer, is a grace that we must ask for: “Father, give me the grace of confessing Jesus”. At the same time, the Lord acknowledges Simon’s prompt response to the inspiration of grace and therefore adds, in a solemn tone, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”. (v. 18). With this affirmation, Jesus makes Simon aware of the meaning of the new name He has given him, “Peter”: the faith he has just shown is the unshakeable “rock” on which the Son of God wishes to build His Church, that is, community. And the Church goes forward always on the basis of Peter’s faith, that faith that Jesus recognises [in Peter] and which makes him the head of the Church.
Today, we hear Jesus’s question directed to each one of us: “And you, who do you say I am?”. To each one of us. And every one of us must give not a theoretical answer, but one that involves faith, that is, life, because faith is life! “For me you are …” and then to confess Jesus. An answer that demands that we too, like the first disciples, inwardly listen to the voice of the Father and its consonance with what the Church, gathered around Peter, continues to proclaim. It is a matter of understanding who Christ is for us: if He is the centre of our life, if He is the goal of our commitment in the Church, our commitment in society. Who is Jesus Christ for me? Who is Jesus Christ for you, for you, for you …? An answer that we should give every day.
But beware: it is indispensable and praiseworthy that the pastoral care of our communities be open to many forms of poverty and crises, which are everywhere. Charity is always the high road of the journey of faith, of the perfection of faith. But it is necessary that works of solidarity, the works of charity that we carry out, not divert us from contact with the Lord Jesus. Christian charity is not simple philanthropy but, on the one hand, it is looking at others through the eyes of Jesus Himself and, on the other hand, seeing Jesus in the face of the poor. This is the true path of Christian charity, with Jesus at the centre, always.
May Mary Most Holy, blessed because she believed, be our guide and model on the path of faith in Christ, and make us aware that trust in Him gives full meaning to our charity and to all our existence.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
This Sunday’s Gospel passage (Mt 25:1-13) invites us to prolong the reflection on eternal life that we began on the occasion of the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Jesus recounts the parable of the ten virgins invited to a wedding feast, symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In Jesus' time it was customary for weddings to be celebrated at night; so the procession of guests took place with lit lamps. Some bridesmaids are foolish: they take their lamps but do not take oil with them; instead, the wise ones take the oil with them together with their lamps. The bridegroom is late, late in coming, and they all fall asleep. When a voice alerts them that the bridegroom is about to arrive, the foolish ones, at that moment, realise that they do not have oil for their lamps; they ask the wise ones for some, but they reply that they cannot give any oil, because there would not be enough for them all. While the foolish virgins go to buy oil, the bridegroom arrives. The wise virgins enter the banquet hall with him, and the door is closed. The others arrive too late and are turned away.
It is clear that with this parable, Jesus wants to tell us that we must be prepared for His coming. Not only the final coming, but also for the everyday encounters, great and small, with a view to that encounter, for which the lamp of faith is not enough; we also need the oil of charity and good works. As the apostle Paul says, the faith that truly unites us to Jesus is, “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). It is what is represented by the behaviour of the wise virgins. Being wise and prudent means not waiting until the last moment to correspond to God’s grace, but to do so actively and immediately, starting right now. “I… yes, I will convert soon”… “Convert today! Change your life today!” “Yes, yes, tomorrow”. And the same thing is said tomorrow, and so it never arrives. Today! If we want to be ready for the final encounter with the Lord, we must cooperate with Him now and perform good deeds inspired by His love.
We know that it happens that, unfortunately, we forget the purpose of our life, that is, the definitive appointment with God, thus losing the sense of expectation and making the present absolute. When one makes the present absolute, he or she looks only to the present, losing the sense of expectation, which is so good, and so necessary, and also pulls us away from the contradictions of the moment. This attitude - when one loses the sense of expectation - precludes any view of the hereafter: people do everything as if we they will never depart for the other life. And so people care only about possessing, of going about, establishing themselves… And more and more. If we allow ourselves to be guided by what seems most attractive to us, of what we like, by the search for our interests, our life becomes sterile; we do not accumulate any reserve of oil for our lamp, and it will be extinguished before the Lord’s coming. We must live today, but a today that goes towards tomorrow, towards that coming, a present full of hope. If, on the other hand, we are vigilant and correspond to God’s grace by doing good, we can serenely await the bridegroom’s coming. The Lord will be able to come even while we are sleeping: this will not worry us, because we have the reserve of oil accumulated through our daily good works, accumulated with that expectation of the Lord, that He may come as soon as possible and that He may come to take us with Him.
Let us invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she may help us to live an active faith, as she did: it is the shining lamp with which we can pass through the night beyond death and reach the great feast of life.
The parable we have just listened to has a beginning, a middle and an end, which shed light on the beginning, the middle and the end of our lives.
The beginning. Everything begins with a great good. The master does not keep his wealth to himself, but gives it to his servants; five talents to one, two to another, one to a third, “to each according to his ability” (Mt 25:15). It has been calculated that a single talent was equivalent to the income of some twenty years’ work: it was of enormous value, and would be sufficient for a lifetime. This is the beginning. For us too, everything began with the grace of God – everything always begins with grace, not with our own efforts – with the grace of God, who is a Father and has given us so many good things, entrusting different talents to each of us. We possess a great wealth that depends not on what we possess but on what we are: the life we have received, the good within us, the indelible beauty God has given us by making us in his image… All these things make each of us precious in his eyes, each one of us is priceless and unique in history! This is how God looks at us, how God feels towards us.
We need to remember this. All too often, when we look at our lives, we see only the things we lack, and we complain about what we lack. We then yield to the temptation to say: “If only…!” If only I had that job, if only I had that home, if only I had money and success, if only I didn’t have this or that problem, if only I had better people around me…! But those illusory words – if only! – prevent us from seeing the good all around us. They make us forget the talents we possess. You may not have that, but you do have this, and the “if only” makes us forget this. Yet God gave those talents to us because he knows each of us and he knows our abilities. He trusts us, despite our weaknesses. God even trusts the servant who will hide his talent, hoping that despite his fears, he too will put to good use what he received. In a word, the Lord asks us to make the most of the present moment, not yearning for the past, but waiting industriously for his return. How ugly is that nostalgia, which is like a black mood poisoning our soul and making us always look backwards, always at others, but never at our own hands or at the opportunities for work that the Lord has given us, never at our own situation… not even at our own poverty.
This brings us to the centre of the parable: the work of the servants, which is service. Service is our work too; it makes our talents bear fruit and it gives meaning to our lives. Those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. We must repeat this, and repeat it often: those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. We should reflect on this: those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. But what kind of service are we speaking of? In the Gospel, good servants are those who take risks. They are not fearful and overcautious, they do not cling to what they possess, but put it to good use. For if goodness is not invested, it is lost, and the grandeur of our lives is not measured by how much we save but by the fruit we bear. How many people spend their lives simply accumulating possessions, concerned only about the good life and not the good they can do. Yet how empty is a life centred on our needs and blind to the needs of others! The reason we have gifts is so that we can be gifts for others. And here, brothers and sisters, we should ask ourselves the question: do I only follow my own needs, or am I able to look to the needs of others, to whoever is in need? Are my hands open, or are they closed?
It is significant that fully four times those servants who invested their talents, who took a risk, are called “faithful” (vv. 21, 23). For the Gospel, faithfulness is never risk-free. “But, father, does being a Christian mean taking risks?” – “Yes, dearly beloved, take a risk. If you do not take risks, you will end up like the third [servant]: burying your abilities, your spiritual and material riches, everything”. Taking risks: there is no faithfulness without risk. Fidelity to God means handing over our life, letting our carefully laid plans be disrupted by our need to serve. “But I have my plans, and if I have to serve…”. Let your plans be upset, go and serve. It is sad when Christians play a defensive game, content only to observe rules and obey commandments. Those “moderate” Christians who never go beyond boundaries, never, because they are afraid of risk. And those, allow me this image, those who take care of themselves to avoid risk begin in their lives a process of mummification of their souls, and they end up as mummies. Following rules is not enough; fidelity to Jesus is not just about not making mistakes, this is quite wrong. That is what the lazy servant in the parable thought: for lack of initiative and creativity, he yielded to needless fear and buried the talent he had received. The master actually calls him “wicked” (v. 26). And yet he did nothing wrong! But he did nothing good either. He preferred to sin by omission rather than to risk making a mistake. He was not faithful to God, who spends freely, and he made his offence even worse by returning the gift he had received. “You gave me this, and I give it to you”, nothing more. The Lord, for his part, asks us to be generous, to conquer fear with the courage of love, to overcome the passivity that becomes complicity. Today, in these times of uncertainty, in these times of instability, let us not waste our lives thinking only of ourselves, indifferent to others, or deluding ourselves into thinking: “peace and security!” (1 Thess 5:3). Saint Paul invites us to look reality in the face and to avoid the infection of indifference.
How then do we serve, as God would have us serve? The master tells the faithless servant: “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” (v. 27). Who are the “bankers” who can provide us with long-term interest? They are the poor. Do not forget: the poor are at the heart of the Gospel; we cannot understand the Gospel without the poor. The poor are like Jesus himself, who, though rich, emptied himself, made himself poor, even taking sin upon himself: the worst kind of poverty. The poor guarantee us an eternal income. Even now they help us become rich in love. For the worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love. The worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love. The Book of Proverbs praises the woman who is rich in love, whose value is greater than that of pearls. We are told to imitate that woman who “opens her hand to the poor” (Prov 31:20): that is the great richness of this woman. Hold out your hand to the poor, instead of demanding what you lack. In this way, you will multiply the talents you have received.
The season of Christmas is approaching, the holiday season. How often do we hear people ask: “What can I buy? What more can I have? I must go shopping”. Let us use different words: “What can I give to others?”, in order to be like Jesus, who gave of himself and was born in the manger”.
We now come to the end of the parable. Some will be wealthy, while others, who had plenty and wasted their lives, will be poor (cf. v. 29). At the end of our lives, then, the truth will be revealed. The pretence of this world will fade, with its notion that success, power and money give life meaning, whereas love – the love we have given – will be revealed as true riches. Those things will fall, yet love will emerge. A great Father of the Church wrote: “As for this life, when death comes and the theatre is deserted, when all remove their masks of wealth or of poverty and depart hence, judged only by their works, they will be seen for what they are: some truly rich, others poor” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Poor Man Lazarus, II, 3). If we do not want to live life poorly, let us ask for the grace to see Jesus in the poor, to serve Jesus in the poor.
I would like to thank all those faithful servants of God who quietly live in this way, serving others. I think, for example, of Father Roberto Malgesini. This priest was not interested in theories; he simply saw Jesus in the poor and found meaning in life in serving them. He dried their tears with his gentleness, in the name of God who consoles. The beginning of his day was prayer, to receive God’s gifts; the centre of his day was charity, to make the love he had received bear fruit; the end was his clear witness to the Gospel. This man realized that he had to stretch out his hand to all those poor people he met daily, for he saw Jesus in each of them. Brothers and sisters, let us ask for the grace to be Christians not in word, but in deed. To bear fruit, as Jesus desires. May this truly be so.
We have just heard the page of Matthew’s Gospel that comes immediately before the account of Christ’s Passion. Before pouring out his love for us on the cross, Jesus shares his final wishes. He tells us that the good we do to one of our least brothers and sisters – whether hungry or thirsty, a stranger, in need, sick or in prison – we do to him (cf. Mt 25:37-40). In this way, the Lord gives us his “gift list” for the eternal wedding feast he will share with us in heaven. Those gifts are the works of mercy that make our life eternal. Each of us can ask: Do I put these works into practice? Do I do anything for someone in need? Or do I do good only for my loved ones and my friends? Do I help someone who cannot give anything back to me? Am I the friend of a poor person? And there are many other similar questions we can ask ourselves. “There I am”, Jesus says to you, “I am waiting for you there, where you least think and perhaps may not even want to look: there, in the poor”. I am there, where the dominant thought, according to which life is going well if it goes well for me, does not find interesting. I am there. Jesus also says these words to you, young people, as you strive to realize your dreams in life.
I am there. Jesus spoke these words centuries ago, to a young soldier. He was eighteen years old and not yet baptized. One day he saw a poor man who was begging people for help but received none, since “everyone walked by”. That young man, “seeing that others were not moved to compassion, understood that the poor person was there for him. However, he had nothing with him, only his uniform. He cut his cloak in two and gave half to the poor person, and was met with mocking laughter from some of the bystanders. The following night he had a dream: he saw Jesus, wearing the half of the cloak he had wrapped around the poor person, and he heard him say: ‘Martin, you covered me with this cloak’” (cf. Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini, III). Saint Martin was that young man. He had that dream because, without knowing it, he had acted like the righteous in today’s Gospel.
Dear young people, dear brothers and sisters, let us not give up on great dreams. Let us not settle only for what is necessary. The Lord does not want us to narrow our horizons or to remain parked on the roadside of life. He wants us to race boldly and joyfully towards lofty goals. We were not created to dream about vacations or the weekend, but to make God’s dreams come true in this world. God made us capable of dreaming, so that we could embrace the beauty of life. The works of mercy are the most beautiful works in life. They go right to the heart of our great dreams. If you are dreaming about real glory, not the glory of this passing world but the glory of God, this is the path to follow. Read today’s Gospel passage again and reflect on it. For the works of mercy give glory to God more than anything else. Listen carefully: the works of mercy give glory to God more than anything else. In the end we will be judged on the works of mercy.
Yet how do we begin to make great dreams come true? With great choices. Today’s Gospel speaks to us about this as well. Indeed, at the last judgement, the Lord will judge us on the choices we have made. He seems almost not to judge, but merely to separate the sheep from the goats, whereas being good or evil depends on us. He only draws out the consequences of our choices, brings them to light and respects them. Life, we come to see, is a time for making robust, decisive, eternal choices. Trivial choices lead to a trivial life; great choices to a life of greatness. Indeed, we become what we choose, for better or for worse. If we choose to steal, we become thieves. If we choose to think of ourselves, we become self-centred. If we choose to hate, we become angry. If we choose to spend hours on a cell phone, we become addicted. Yet if we choose God, daily we grow in his love, and if we choose to love others, we find true happiness. Because the beauty of our choices depends on love. Remember this because it is true: the beauty of our choices depends on love. Jesus knows that if we are self-absorbed and indifferent, we remain paralyzed, but if we give ourselves to others, we become free. The Lord of life wants us to be full of life, and he tells us the secret of life: we come to possess it only by giving it away. This is a rule of life: we come to possess life, now and in eternity, only by giving it away.
It is true that there are obstacles that can make our choices difficult: fear, insecurity, so many unanswered questions… Love, however, demands that we move beyond these, and not keep wondering why life is the way it is, and expecting answers to fall down from heaven. The answer has come: it is the gaze of the Father who loves us and who has sent us his Son. No, love pushes us to go beyond the why, and instead to ask for whom, to pass from asking, “Why am I alive?” to “For whom am I living?” From “Why is this happening to me?” to “Whom can I help?” For whom? Not just for myself! Life is already full of choices we make for ourselves: what to study, which friends to have, what home to buy, what interests or hobbies to pursue. We can waste years thinking about ourselves, without ever actually starting to love. Alessandro Manzoni offered a good piece of advice: “We ought to aim rather at doing well than being well: and thus we should come, in the end, to be even better” (I Promessi Sposi [The Betrothed], Chapter XXXVIII - 78).
Not only doubts and questions can undermine great and generous choices, but many other obstacles as well every day. Feverish consumerism can overwhelm our hearts with superfluous things. An obsession with pleasure may seem the only way to escape problems, yet it simply postpones them. A fixation with our rights can lead us to neglect our responsibilities to others. Then, there is the great misunderstanding about love, which is more than powerful emotions, but primarily a gift, a choice and a sacrifice. The art of choosing well, especially today, means not seeking approval, not plunging into a consumerist mentality that discourages originality, and not giving into the cult of appearances. Choosing life means resisting the “throwaway culture” and the desire to have “everything now”, in order to direct our lives towards the goal of heaven, towards God’s dreams. To choose life is to live, and we were born to live, not just get by. A young man like yourselves, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, said this: “I want to live, not just get by”.
Each day, in our heart, we face many choices. I would like to give you one last piece of advice to help train you to choose well. If we look within ourselves, we can see two very different questions arising. One asks, “What do I feel like doing?” This question often proves misleading, since it suggests that what really counts is thinking about ourselves and indulging in our wishes and impulses. The question that the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts is a very different one: not “What do you feel like doing?” but “What is best for you?” That is the choice we have to make daily: what do I feel like doing or what is best for me? This interior discernment can result either in frivolous choices or in decisions that shape our lives – it depends on us. Let us look to Jesus and ask him for the courage to choose what is best for us, to enable us to follow him in the way of love. And in this way to discover joy. To live, and not just get by.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The great parable with which the liturgical year closes is that which unfolds the mystery of Christ, the entire liturgical year. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of history; and today’s liturgy focuses on the “Omega”, that is, on the final goal. The meaning of history is understood by keeping its culmination before our eyes: the goal is also the end. And it is precisely this that Matthew accomplishes in this Sunday’s Gospel (25:31-46), placing Jesus’s discourse on the universal judgement at the end of His earthly life: He, the one whom men are about to condemn is, in reality, the supreme judge. In His death and resurrection, Jesus will manifest Himself as the Lord of History, the King of the Universe, the Judge of all. But the Christian paradox is that the Judge is not vested in the fearful trappings of royalty, but is the shepherd filled with meekness and mercy.
Jesus, in fact, in this parable of the final judgement, uses the image of a shepherd, He picks up these images from the prophet Ezekiel who had spoken of God’s intervention in favour of His people against the evil pastors of Israel (see 34:1-10). They had been cruel exploiters, preferring to feed themselves rather than the flock; therefore, God Himself promises to personally take care of His flock, defending it from injustice and abuse. This promise God made on behalf of His people is fully accomplished in Jesus Christ, the shepherd: He Himself is the good shepherd. He Himself even said of Himself: “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11, 14).
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus identifies Himself not only with the king-shepherd, but also with the lost sheep, we can speak of a double identity: the king-shepherd, and also Jesus and the sheep: that is, He identifies Himself with the least and most in need of His brothers and sisters. And He thus indicates the criterion of the judgement: it will be made on the basis of concrete love given or denied to these persons, because He Himself, the judge, is present in each one of them. He is the judge. He is God and Man, but He is also the poor one, He is hidden and present in the person of the poor people that He mentions: right there. Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it (or did it not) to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it (you did it not) to me” (vv. 40, 45). We will be judged on love. The judgement will be on love, not on feelings, no: we will be judged on works, on compassion that becomes nearness and kind help. Have I drawn near to Jesus present in the persons of the sick, the poor, the suffering, the imprisoned, of those who are hungry and thirsty for justice? Do I draw near to Jesus present there? This is the question for today.
Therefore, at the end of the world, the Lord will inspect the flock, and he will do so not only from the perspective of the shepherd, but also from the perspective of the sheep, with whom He has identified Himself. And He will ask us: “Were you a little bit like a shepherd as myself?” “Where you a shepherd to me who was present in those people who were in need, or were you indifferent?” Brothers and sisters, let us look at the logic of indifference, of those who come to mind immediately. Looking away when we see a problem. Let us remember the parable of the Good Samaritan. That poor man, wounded by the brigands, thrown to the ground, between life and death, he was alone. A priest passed by, saw, and went on his way. He looked the other way. A Levite passed by, saw and looked the other way. I, before my brothers and sisters in need, am I indifferent like the priest, like the Levite and look the other way? I will be judged on this: on how I drew near, how I looked on Jesus present in those in need. This is the logic, and I am not saying it: Jesus says it. “What you did to that person and that person and that person, you did it to me. And what you did not do to that person and that person and that person, you did not do it to me, because I was there”. May Jesus teach us this logic, this logic of being close, of drawing near to Him, with love, to the person who is suffering most.
Let us ask the Virgin Mary to teach us to reign by serving. The Madonna, assumed into Heaven, received the royal crown from her Son because she followed Him faithfully – she is the first disciple – on the way of Love. Let us learn from her to enter God’s Kingdom even now through the door of humble and generous service. And let us return home with this phrase only: “I was present there. Thank you!" or, "You forgot about me”.
Today’s readings propose two key words for the Advent season: closeness and watchfulness. God’s closeness and our watchfulness. The prophet Isaiah says that God is close to us, while in the Gospel Jesus urges us to keep watch in expectation of his return.
Closeness. Isaiah begins by speaking personally to God: “You, O Lord, are our father” (63:16). “Never has anyone heard”, he continues, “[of] any God, other than you, who has done so much for those who trust in him” (cf. 64:3). We are reminded of the words of Deuteronomy: who is like the Lord our God, so close to us whenever we call upon him? (cf. 4:7). Advent is the season for remembering that closeness of God who came down to dwell in our midst. The prophet goes on to ask God to draw close to us once more: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Is 64:1). We prayed for this in today’s responsorial psalm: “Turn again… come to save us” (Ps 80:15.3). We often begin our prayers with the invocation: “God, come to my assistance”. The first step of faith is to tell God that we need him, that we need him to be close to us.
This is also the first message of Advent and the liturgical year: we need to recognize God’s closeness and to say to him: “Come close to us once more!” God wants to draw close to us, but he will not impose himself; it is up to us to keep saying to him: “Come!” This is our Advent prayer: “Come!” Advent reminds us that Jesus came among us and will come again at the end of time. Yet we can ask what those two comings mean, if he does not also come into our lives today? So let us invite him. Let us make our own the traditional Advent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20). The Book of Revelation ends with this prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus”. We can say that prayer at the beginning of each day and repeat it frequently, before our meetings, our studies and our work, before making decisions, in every more important or difficult moment in our lives: Come, Lord Jesus! It is a little prayer, yet one that comes from the heart. Let us say it in this Advent season. Let us repeat it: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
If we ask Jesus to come close to us, we will train ourselves to be watchful. Today Mark’s Gospel presented us with the end of Jesus’ final address to his disciples, which can be summed up in two words: “Be watchful!” The Lord repeats these words four times in five verses (cf. Mk 13:33-35.37). It is important to remain watchful, because one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a thousand things and not to notice God. Saint Augustine said: “Timeo Iesum transeuntem” (Sermons, 88, 14, 13), “I fear that Jesus will pass by me unnoticed”. Caught up in our own daily concerns (how well we know this!), and distracted by so many vain things, we risk losing sight of what is essential. That is why today the Lord repeats: “To all, I say: be watchful!” (Mk 13:37). Be watchful, attentive.
Having to be watchful, however, means it is now night. We are not living in broad daylight, but awaiting the dawn, amid darkness and weariness. The light of day will come when we shall be with the Lord. Let us not lose heart: the light of day will come, the shadows of night will be dispelled, and the Lord, who died for us on the cross, will arise to be our judge. Being watchful in expectation of his coming means not letting ourselves be overcome by discouragement. It is to live in hope. Just as before our birth, our loved ones expectantly awaited our coming into the world, so now Love in person awaits us. If we are awaited in Heaven, why should we be caught up with earthly concerns? Why should we be anxious about money, fame, success, all of which will pass away? Why should we waste time complaining about the night, when the light of day awaits us? Why should we look for “patrons” to help advance our career? All these things pass away. Be watchful, the Lord tells us.
Staying awake is not easy; it is really quite hard. At night, it is natural to sleep. Even Jesus’s disciples did not manage to stay awake when told to stay awake “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn” (cf. v. 35). Those were the very times they were not awake: in the evening, at the Last Supper, they betrayed Jesus; at midnight, they dozed off; at the cock’s crow, they denied him; in the morning, they let him be condemned to death. They did not keep watch. They fell asleep. But that same drowsiness can also overtake us. There is a dangerous kind of sleep: it is the slumber of mediocrity. It comes when we forget our first love and grow satisfied with indifference, concerned only for an untroubled existence. Without making an effort to love God daily and awaiting the newness he constantly brings, we become mediocre, lukewarm, worldly. And this slowly eats away at our faith, for faith is the very opposite of mediocrity: it is ardent desire for God, a bold effort to change, the courage to love, constant progress. Faith is not water that extinguishes flames, it is fire that burns; it is not a tranquilizer for people under stress, it is a love story for people in love! That is why Jesus above all else detests lukewarmness (cf. Rev 3:16). God clearly disdains the lukewarm.
How can we rouse ourselves from the slumber of mediocrity? With the vigilance of prayer. When we pray, we light a candle in the darkness. Prayer rouses us from the tepidity of a purely horizontal existence and makes us lift our gaze to higher things; it makes us attuned to the Lord. Prayer allows God to be close to us; it frees us from our solitude and gives us hope. Prayer is vital for life: just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying. How much we need Christians who keep watch for those who are slumbering, worshipers who intercede day and night, bringing before Jesus, the light of the world, the darkness of history. How much we need worshipers. We have lost something of our sense of adoration, of standing in silent adoration before the Lord. This is mediocrity, lukewarmness.
There is also another kind of interior slumber: the slumber of indifference. Those who are indifferent see everything the same, as if it were night; they are unconcerned about those all around them. When everything revolves around us and our needs, and we are indifferent to the needs of others, night descends in our hearts. Our hearts grow dark. We immediately begin to complain about everything and everyone; we start to feel victimized by everyone and end up brooding about everything. It is a vicious circle. Nowadays, that night seems to have fallen on so many people, who only demand things for themselves, and are blind to the needs of others.
How do we rouse ourselves from the slumber of indifference? With the watchfulness of charity. To awaken us from that slumber of mediocrity and lukewarmness, there is the watchfulness of prayer. To rouse us from that slumber of indifference, there is the watchfulness of charity. Charity is the beating heart of the Christian: just as one cannot live without a heartbeat, so one cannot be a Christian without charity. Some people seem to think that being compassionate, helping and serving others is for losers. Yet these are the only things that win us the victory, since they are already aiming towards the future, the day of the Lord, when all else will pass away and love alone will remain. It is by works of mercy that we draw close to the Lord. This is what we asked for in today’s opening prayer: “Grant [us]… the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming”. The resolve to run forth to meet Christ with good works. Jesus is coming, and the road to meet him is clearly marked: it passes through works of charity.
Dear brothers and sisters, praying and loving: that is what it means to be watchful. When the Church worships God and serves our neighbour, she does not live in the night. However weak and weary, she journeys towards the Lord. Let us now call out to him. Come, Lord Jesus, we need you! Draw close to us. You are the light. Rouse us from the slumber of mediocrity; awaken us from the darkness of indifference. Come, Lord Jesus, take our distracted hearts and make them watchful. Awaken within us the desire to pray and the need to love.