Saints, action, and Lenten inquiry: “Am I on the road of life or the road of lies? Where is my joy: in doing or in talking?”
These are the days of Lent, and thus one should think like this: “Am I on the road of life or the road of lies? Where is my joy: in doing or in talking? In going outside of myself to reach out to others, to help? – The works of mercy, eh! Or is my joy in having everything settled, closed off within myself?”
True faith is found in this: to recognize the poor who are near to us. There is also where Jesus is found, knocking on the door of the heart. Therefore, Christians must be careful not to close themselves off in a separate world, in a “bubble” of banquets, clothing and vanity. Pope Francis stressed and emphasized this in early morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, as reported by Vatican Radio.
The Pontiff expounded his homily on today’s Gospel, in which Christ tells the parable of the rich man “who wore purple garments and fine linen, and gave lavish banquets every day” and who does not realize that at his door there was a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores. Francis urges all to ask themselves this question: “Am I a Christian on the path of lies, of mere talk, or am I a Christian on the path of life, that is, of good works, of action?” Since this wealthy person “knew the commandments, surely went to synagogue every Saturday and once a year to the temple,” he has “a certain religiosity.”
But there is a caveat: “He was a closed man, closed off in his little world – the world of banquets, clothing, vanity, friends – a closed man, truly in a bubble of vanity. He did not have,” highlights Pope Bergoglio, “the ability to look beyond, he sees only his own world. And this man did not notice what was going on outside of his closed world. He did not think, for instance, of the needs of many people and the necessity of keeping the sick company, he only thought of himself, of his wealth, of his good life: he gave himself to the good life.” Selfishness and worldliness, then.
Francis defines him as a “feigned religious type” who “did not recognize any external periphery; everything was closed off within himself. Even that periphery, which was closest to the door of his home, he did not know.” On the contrary, he took the road “of lies,” trusting only “in himself, in his things, not in God.” The Pontiff adds he is “a man who has left no inheritance, who leaves behind him no life, because he was only closed in on himself.”
There is an important detail, for the Pope: “it is odd” that “he had lost his name. The Gospel does not say who he was, referring to him only as a rich man, and when your name is only an adjective it is because you have lost: you have lost substance, you have lost strength.”
Francis explains and actualizes his point: “This one is rich, this one is powerful, this one can do it all, this is a career priest, a career bishop … How often we … end up naming people with adjectives, not with names, because they have no substance.”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio then asks: “God who is Father, did He not have mercy on this man? Did he not knock at his heart to move him?” But yes, he was at the door, he was at the door, in the person of that Lazarus, who yes,” noted the Pope, “had a name.” And that Lazarus, with his needs and his miseries, his diseases, was the Lord who was knocking at the door, so that this man could open his heart and mercy could enter. But no, he did not see, for he was closed off: for him, beyond the door, there was nothing.”
Francis recalls that these are the days of Lent, and thus one should think like this: “Am I on the road of life or the road of lies? How many closed-off places do I still have in my heart? Where is my joy: in doing or in talking? In going outside of myself to reach out to others, to help? – The works of mercy, eh! Or is my joy in having everything settled, closed off within myself?”; and it is necessary to call upon God, “while we are thinking on this, in our life, that it is a grace to see every Lazarus who is at our door, every Lazarus who knocks on the heart, and to go outside of ourselves with generosity, with an attitude of mercy, so that – he concludes – the mercy of God may enter into our hearts!”
A few weeks earlier, also in a homily at Santa Marta, the Pope also talked about how the Lord does not go by appearances but goes deeper, looking right into people’s hearts. Temptations and sins exist even in the lives of saints, as the existence of David, King of Israel shows. At the same time, however, repentant sinners always have a future with Christ. Pope Francis affirmed this in the homily he delivered at this morning’s mass in St. Martha’s House, warning that we must never use God for our own purposes, Vatican Radio reports.
Drawing inspiration from the First Reading of the day that tells of the choice of the young David as king of Israel, the Pope pointed out that even in the lives of the saints there are temptations and sins, as demonstrated by the life of David. The Lord, Francis said, rejected Saul “because his heart was closed”, he had not obeyed Him, and He decided to choose another king. The choice He made was far from human standards since David was the youngest son of Jesse, he was only a boy. But God made it clear to the prophet Samuel that he looks beyond appearances: “the Lord looks into the heart”.
The Pope observed that “we are often the slaves of appearances and allow ourselves to pursue appearances: ‘But God knows the truth’. And that is so in this story… Jesse’s seven sons are presented and the Lord does not choose any of them, he lets them pass by. Samuel is in a bit of difficulty and says to Jesse: ‘The Lord has not chosen any of them, are these all the sons you have? And Jesse replied that there was still the youngest, who is tending the sheep’. To the eyes of man this boy did not count”.
He did not matter to men, but the Lord chose him and ordered Samuel to anoint him and “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David” and from that day on “the whole of David’s life was the life of a man anointed by the Lord, chosen by the Lord”.
So, the Pope asked a rhetorical question: “Did the Lord make him a saint?” No, is the answer – he said: “King David is saint King David, this is true, but he became a saint after living a long life” a life during which he sinned: “A saint and a sinner. A man who managed to unite the Kingdom, he was able to lead the people of Israel. But he fell into temptation … he committed sins: he was also a murderer. To cover up his lust, the sin of adultery. he commissioned a murder. He did! Did saint King David commit murder? When God sent the prophet Nathan to point this reality out to him, because he was not aware of the barbarity he had ordered, he acknowledged his sin and asked for forgiveness.”
Thus “his life went on. He suffered personally following the betrayal of his son, but he never he never used God for his own purpose”.
And he recalled that when David was forced to flee from Jerusalem he sent back the ark and declared that he would not use the Lord in his defence. And when he was insulted, David would say to himself: “It’s what I deserve”.
Francis added that David ” was magnanimous”: he could have killed Saul “but he did not do so.” Saint King David, a great sinner, but a repentant one. “The life of this man moves me” – the Pope said – it makes us think of our own lives. Francis admitted: “This man’s life moves me,” it encourages us to reflect on our own lives. Indeed, “we have all been chosen by the Lord to be Baptized, to be part of His people, to be saints; we have been consecrated by the Lord on the path towards sainthood. Reading about this life, the life of a child – no. not a child, he was a boy – from boyhood to old age, during which he did many good things and others that were not so good. It makes me think that during the Christian journey, the journey the Lord has invited us to undertake, there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future”.
The first letter of the Pope Emeritus “deals with a theme that allows one to retrace the whole history of the Church, which is also a story of charity,” said Francis. “It is a story of love received from God, which must be brought to the world: this charity received and given is the mainstay of church history and the history of each one of us. The act of charity, in fact, is not just alms in exchange for a clean conscience; it includes an attention of love turned towards another, that considers the other to be part of oneself,” the Pope continued, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, “and wants to share our friendship with God. Charity is therefore the focus of the life of the Church and it is truly the heart, in the words of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. Both for the individual believer, and for the Christian community as a whole, the word of Jesus is valid, that charity is the first and highest of the commandments.”
The year of Jubilee which is now underway “is also an opportunity to return to this beating heart of our lives and of our testimony, at the center of our faith: God is love,” said the Pope. In this sense, “charity and mercy are so closely related, because they are God’s way of being and acting: his identity and his name.”
“Our every form of love, of solidarity, of sharing,” said the Pope, “is only a reflection of that charity which is God. He, without getting tired, pours out His love on us and we are called to become witnesses of this love in the world. Therefore we must look to divine charity as the compass that guides our life, before making our way in any activity: there we find our direction, and we learn how to see our brothers and the world. “Ubi amor, ibi oculus,” as the Medievals said: where there is love, there is the ability to see. Only “if we remain in his love,” will we understand and love those around us.” The Pope then emphasized that the encyclical “reminds us that this charity wants to be reflected more and more in the life of the Church. How I wish,” Francis stressed, “that everyone in the Church, every institution, every activity would show that God loves man! The mission that our charitable organizations are undertaking is important, because they help many poor people to live a life that is more dignified, more human, something which is more necessary than ever; but this mission is very important because, not with words, but with concrete love you can make each man feel loved by the Father, as a son, destined to eternal life with God. I would like to thank all those who are committed every day in this mission, which calls upon every Christian. In this Jubilee Year, I wanted to emphasize that we can all live the grace of the Jubilee by truly putting into practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy: to live the works of mercy means to associate the verb of love with Jesus. And like this, all together, we contribute concretely to the great mission of the Church to communicate the love of God, who wants to be diffused throughout the world.” Francis, who yesterday canceled scheduled talks due to a slight ailment, and today had a hoarse voice, concluded his speech by saying: “Please, do an act of charity, and do not forget to pray for me.”
From the Pope’s visit with children, also published on 26 February:
When you are with an elderly person, a child, a girl, a grown man, each one teaches you something about life and helps you to live life. And it creates a relationship with people. When I am with people, I always learn something. And this is very important for life: when I meet someone I wonder what this person has that is nice, what good things he/she taught me or what I did not like.” On this subject, he also wanted to raise a question: “Is it better to be with people or to be separated from people?” And after receiving the answer “Better together!” he reiterated: “To be happy in life we must build bridges between people.”
The young Faith, from Singapore, asked him about his favourite saints. “I have so many Saints I consider my friends,” Bergoglio answered, “and I do not know which one I admire the most. But I am a friend of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis. I admire each one of them for a different reason, however, they are the three that are in my heart the most.”
Alessio, an Italian child, asked the Pope what persuaded him to accept the election. “Next to me,” the Pope recalled, “I had a great friend, a Brazilian who is over eighty years old now, Cardinal Hummes. And when I saw that I could be elected he told me, ‘Do not worry, the Holy Spirit is at work here.’ And then when I was elected, he hugged me and told me, ‘Do not forget about the poor.’He put two entities in front of me, the Holy Spirit and the poor. And this convinced me to accept and to choose the name of Francis.”
The same child from Catania then asked in a direct way and a bit unexpectedly: “And what love do you feel for Jesus Christ?” The Pope responded with humility that he was not sure if he really loved him but that he “tries” to love him. Moreover, he continued, “what I am sure of is that he loves me: of this I am very sure.”
A boy from Canada asked him if he had been as religious as he is now before being Pope. “I am old,” confided Francis, “I am eighty. The life of a person is not always like this (drawing a straight line with his finger, [ed.]); the life of a person is like this (drawing a series of waves, [ed.]): there are joyful moments and times when you are down; there are moments of great love for Jesus and for our companions and for all people. And there are moments when there is no love for people and you betray Jesus’ love a little. There are times when you seem to be more holy and others in which you are more sinful. My life is like this (drawing the waves again, [ed.]): don’t be afraid if you are experiencing a bad time. Do not be afraid if you commit a sin. The love of Jesus is greater than anything: go to him and let him embrace you.”
And from the Pope’s general Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis returned to the discussion on mercy in the Bible: power without service turns into arrogance, domination and oppression. The story of Naboth’s vineyard is not an episode from the past
The Pope: Isaiah was not a communist, he warned against greed
“Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land” Thus spoke the prophet Isaiah, quoted by the Pope at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square: “And the prophet Isaiah was not a communist!” said Francis, using the episode of King Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard within the framework of the Jubilee to continue a series of catecheses on mercy in the Bible and to point out that “if the dimension of service is lost, power is transformed into arrogance and becomes domination and oppression”.
The Pope states that several passages of Sacred Scripture “speak of the powerful, of kings, and of men who are ’on top’ and of their arrogance and abuses. Wealth and power are realities that can be good and useful to the common good if placed at the service of the poor and of everyone, with justice and charity. But when, as too often happens, they are experienced as privilege, with selfishness and arrogance, they are transformed into instruments of corruption and death.”
This is what happens in the story of Naboth’s vineyard, described in the First Book of Kings, chapter 21, of which the Pope spoke. The biblical story tells of a king, Ahab, who wanted to buy the vineyard of a man named Naboth, who refused due to an ancient custom in Israel, according to which land is the Lord’s gift and therefore inalienable. The king “reacts to this refusal with bitterness and anger” and decides to kill Naboth.
“Jesus, recalling these things, tells us: ’You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whosoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you must be your slave’”, the Pope continued. “If the dimension of service is lost, power is transformed into arrogance and becomes domination and oppression. This is precisely what happens in the episode of Naboth’s vineyard. Jezebel, the queen, unscrupulously decides to eliminate Naboth and implement her plan. She makes use of the deceptive appearance of a perverse law: on behalf of the king, she sends letters to the elders and nobles of the city, ordering them, on false testimony, to accuse Naboth publicly of having cursed God and the king, a crime punishable by death. With Naboth dead, the king could take possession of his vineyard. This” – he continued extemporaneously – “is not just a story from the past, is it?! It is also relevant today where the powerful exploit the poor, exploit the people, to get more money. We see it in the story of human trafficking, slave labor, poor people working off the books for a minimal salary to enrich the powerful. It is the story of corrupt politicians who want more and more and more.
That is why I said we would do well to read St. Ambrose’s book of Naboth, because it is a very relevant book. This”, said the Pope, “is where the exercise of authority without respect for life, without justice, and without mercy leads. And this is what the thirst for power leads to: it becomes a greed that wants to possess everything. A text of the prophet Isaiah is especially illuminating in this regard. In it, the Lord warns against the greed of wealthy landowners who want to possess more and more houses and land. And the prophet Isaiah says: ’Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land’. And the prophet Isaiah”, said Francis, “was not a communist, was he?! God, however, is greater than the wickedness and dirty tricks carried out by human beings. In his mercy he sends the prophet Elijah to help Ahab change his ways. Now let’s turn the page…and how does the story end? God sees this crime and knocks at Ahab’s heart. And the king, placed before his sin, understands, humbles himself and asks for forgiveness. How lovely it would be if today’s powerful exploiters would do the same. The Lord accepts his repentance. However, an innocent man was killed, and the fault committed will have inevitable consequences. The evil done leaves its painful traces, and human history bears its wounds. “
“Mercy”, the Pope concluded, “can heal wounds and change history. Open your heart to mercy! Divine mercy is stronger than the sins of men. It is stronger. This is what Ahab’s example shows us. We come to know its power when we remember the coming of the Innocent Son of God who became man to destroy evil through his forgiveness. Jesus Christ is the true king but his power is completely different. His throne is the Cross. He is not a king who kills; on the contrary, he gives life. His reaching out to others, especially the weakest, defeats the loneliness and the fate of death to which sin leads. Jesus Christ, through his closeness and tenderness, leads sinners into the arms of grace and forgiveness. And this is God’s mercy.”
Among the people greeted at the end of the audience, Francis mentioned, in particular, the bishops of the Focolari movement, who are in Rome for their annual conference, urging them to “always keep alive the charism of unity in the apostolic ministry, in communion with the Successor of Peter”; the faithful of the diocese of Cremona, accompanied by bishop Monsignor Antonio Napoleoni; the Community of Giovanni XXIII with the bishop of Rimini Monsignor Francesco Lambiasi and the former workers of Videocon in Anagni.
Francis said Catholics must realize: “We are not living an era of change but a change of era.”
“Before the problems of the church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally,” the pontiff said at one point during his remarks.
“Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives — but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened,” said the pope. “It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.”
“The reform of the church then, and the church is semper reformanda … does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures,” he continued. “It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit — so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”
Francis was speaking Tuesday on the second day of the Italian church meeting, being held in Florence through Friday.
The pope also said there were two specific temptations he wanted to warn the national church against, tying modern day struggles to two ancient heresies of the church: Pelagianism and Gnosticism.
Speaking to Pelagianism, which holds that humans can achieve salvation on their own without divine help, the pontiff said that in the modern day it “brings us to have trust in structures, in organizations, in perfect plans, however abstract.”
“Often it brings us to assume a style of control, of hardness, of normalcy,” said Francis. “The norm gives to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this is found its force, not in the lightness of the breath of the Spirit.”
“The Italian church should let itself be carried by [the Spirit’s] powerful breath and for this, sometimes, be settled,” the pope said, after his words that the church is always in reform.
“Assume always the Spirit of the great explorers, that on the sea were passionate for navigation in open waters and were not frightened by borders and of storms,” the pontiff told the Italians. “May it be a free church and open to the challenges of the present, never in defense for fear of losing something.”
Speaking to Gnosticism, which widely held that people should shun the material world in favor of the spiritual realm, Francis identified such thinking today with that which “brings us to trust in logical and clear reasoning … which however loses the tenderness of the flesh of the brother.”
“The difference between Christian transcendence and any form of gnostic spiritualism remains in the mystery of the incarnation,” said the pontiff. “Not putting it in practice, not guiding the Word to reality, means building on sand, remaining in pure idea … which does not give fruit, which make sterile [God’s] dynamism.”
Francis then asked the Italians, “people and pastors together,” to turn to the image of Jesus in Florence’s Cathedral and imagine what he might say to them as a sign of how they should go forward in their national work.
Quoting twice from Matthew’s Gospel, the pontiff said they could imagine Jesus saying either: “I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” or “I was thirsty and you did not give me anything to drink.”
“May the beatitudes and the words that we have just read on the universal judgment help us to live the Christian life to the level of sainthood,” the pope exhorted. “They are few words, simple, but practical. May the Lord give us the grace to understand this, his message!”
Explaining the beatitudes earlier in the speech, Francis said that in those eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount “the Lord shows us the way.”
“Following it, we human beings can come to more authentic and divine happiness,” said the pope. “Jesus speaks of the happiness that we feel only when we are poor in spirit.”
“On the part of the most humble of our people there is much of this beatitude,” said the pontiff. “It is that of who knows the richness of solidarity, of sharing even the little that you have; the richness of the daily sacrifice of work, sometimes hard and poorly paid, but carried out for love towards dear persons.”
“If the church does not assume the sentiments of Jesus, it is disoriented, it loses its sense,” said Francis. “The beatitudes, in the end, are the mirror in which we see ourselves, that which permits us to know if we are walking on the right path: it is a mirror that does not lie.”
Speaking later directly to the prelates in the Cathedral, Francis said bluntly: “To the bishops, I ask you to be pastors. May this be your glory. It will be the people, your flock, that sustain you.”
The pontiff said he asked “that nothing and no-one takes away the joy of being sustained by your people.”
“As pastors may you not be preachers of complex doctrine, but pronouncers of Christ, dead and resurrected for us,” he said. “Aim for the essential, the kerygma.”
Francis also spoke about church teaching on the preferential option for the poor — which holds that Catholics must consider the impact all choices will have on the poorest — forcefully declaring: “The Lord poured out his blood not for some, not for the few or the many, but for all!”
The pope also spoke at length about the role of dialogue in society, saying it is not simply a negotiation but searching for the good of all people.
Ending the speech, Francis said: “You can say today we are not living an era of change but a change of era.”
“The situations that we live today therefore bring new challenges that for us sometimes are difficult to understand,” said the pontiff. “This, our time, requires living problems as challenges and not obstacles: the Lord is active in the work of the world.
“You, therefore, go forth to the streets and go to the crossroads: all who you find, call out to them, no one is excluded,” he exhorted. “Wherever you are, never build walls or borders, but meeting squares and field hospitals.”
“I would like an Italian church that is unsettled, always closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect,” said Francis. “I desire a happy church with face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses.”
“Dream of this church, believe in it, innovate it with freedom,” exhorted the pope.
The national gathering of the Italian church began Monday afternoon with an outdoor walking procession from four of Florence’s basilica churches to its central Cathedral, famously known for its colorful marble facade and ancient baptistery.
The thousands of participants will be breaking into 20 separate working groups throughout the week, with sections of four groups each focused on one of five themes: A church that goes forth; that announces; that dwells with; that educates; and that transfigures.
Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia, president of the preparatory commission for the conference, opened the event Monday evening by saying: “We are not here to prepare pastoral plans, nor to exchange information, or to attend scholarly conferences or a refresher course.”
“The purpose of our Florentine appointment is to take stock of our journey of fidelity to the renewal promoted by the Council and open new avenues to the proclamation of the Gospel,” said Nosiglia.
Dozens of cultural events are taking place in Florence around the conference, including a special exhibition at the city’s Accademia Gallery on the life of St. Francis of Assisi that was organized especially for the pope with the saint’s name.
The exhibition, which is being housed at the same museum that exhibits Michelangelo’s famous marble statue of David, gathers a number of striking early depictions of the saint as well as some of his personal effects.
Among them are the horn said to be given to the saint by Egyptian Sultan al-Kamil when Francis is recounted to have made an extraordinary pilgrimage of peace to the Middle East during the fifth Crusade.
The following is also encouraging: