Monday, 29 April 2013

Joy and humility, instead of rules and political correctness

Francis cast

What would it be like if the Pope were just a simple parish priest, saying daily morning masses in a small side-chapel and addressing a few simple words to his small flock. Well, that is precisely what has been going on since around a month ago in the Domus Sanctae Marthae - the Vatican guest house, where Pope Francis choses to reside and where he says daily morning mass. He invites various small groups of Vatican employees and addresses short sermons to them that are always rooted in the mass readings of the day and that have an immediately accessible style. Reading excerpts from these short homilies has been a daily joy for me over these last weeks and I would here like to share my favorite bits with you. If you’d like to follow these very short sermons yourself, the quickest way is to look at the Vatican Radio website, where they get published a couple of hours after their delivery.

Instead of trying to be in any way comprehensive, let me just pick out a few gems and leave you to follow up on their context if you wish. First, here are a couple of excerpts that show Francis’ take on what it means to be a Christian:
  1. Wonder and joy: “Wonder is a great grace, the grace that God gives us in our encounter with Jesus Christ. It is something that draws us outside of ourselves with joy … it is not a mere enthusiasm like that of sports fans when their favorite team wins, but it’s something deeper. Of course we cannot live forever in a state of wonder, but it is the beginning which leads to spiritual consolation. It is the consolation of those who have encountered Jesus Christ.”

  2. God spray: “Faith is not an impalpable presence, like an essence of mist that spreads around without really knowing what it is. God is a concrete ‘Person,’ and therefore faith in Him comes from a living encounter, which we experience as tangible. We believe in God who is Father, who is the Son, who is the Holy Spirit. We believe in people, and when we talk to God we talk to People: I speak with the Father, with the Son or with the Holy Spirit. And this is the faith. But faith is a gift, the Father gives it. This faith that makes us strong, it makes us joyful, this faith that always begins with the encounter with Jesus.”

  3. Facing difficulties: “When there are difficulties, we need to look closely at them, and confront them and speak about them. But never hide them. We must not be afraid of problems: Jesus himself said to his disciples: ‘It is I. Do not be afraid’. In life’s difficulties, with problems, with new things that we must face: the Lord is always with us. We may make mistakes, certainly, but he is always with us and says: ‘You made a mistake, now get back on the right path.’ Masquerading life, disguising life, is not a very good way to behave: no no. Life is what it is, that’s the reality. It’s exactly as God wants it to be, or as God allows it to be, it is what it is, and we have to accept it as it is.”

  4. Gossip: “When we prefer to gossip, gossip about others, criticize others - these are everyday things that happen to everyone, including me – these are the temptations of the evil one who does not want the Spirit to come to us and bring about peace and meekness in the Christian community. These struggles always exist in the parish, in the family, in the neighborhood, among friends. Instead, keep quiet and if you have something to say, say it to the interested parties, to those who can remedy the situation, but not to the entire neighborhood.”

  5. Love instead of rules: “The Lord saves us by His love: not with a letter, nor with a decree, but with his love, a love so great that it led him to send his Son, who, became one of us, walked with us, and this saves us. We are worthy, we are men and women of hope: this is what it means to be saved by love. The problem is that sometimes we want to save ourselves, and we believe we can do it, for example basing our security on money - and we think: ‘I have money, I am secure, I have it all, there are no worries, I have dignity: the dignity of a rich person.’ This is not enough. Think of the parable of the Gospel, of the man who had the full granary, who said, ‘I’ll make another to get more, and then I’ll sleep soundly,’ and the Lord says, ‘You fool! This evening you will die.’ That salvation is wrong, it is a temporary salvation, it is also only apparent salvation.”

  6. Normality, not magic: “God does not act like a fairy with a magic wand. Rather, he gives grace and says, as he said to all those he healed, ‘Go, walk.’ He says the same to us: ‘Move forward in your life, witness to everything the Lord does with us.’ Triumphalism is not of the Lord. The Lord came to Earth humbly; he lived his life for 30 years; he grew up like a normal child; he experienced the trial of work and the trial of the Cross. Then, in the end, he rose from the dead. The life of the Christian consists of a normality that is lived daily with Christ.”

  7. Forgiveness: “St. Paul said that his glory was Christ crucified in his sins. Why? Because he, in his sins, found Christ crucified who forgave him. In the middle of the ‘night,’ the many ‘nights,’ the many sins that we commit, because we are sinners, there is always the embrace of the Lord that helps us say: ‘This is my glory. I am a poor sinner, but You are my Savior.’ We think of how nice it is to be saints, but also how nice it is to be forgiven.”

  8. Peace: “Even in the most painful tests, a Christian never loses the peace and presence of Jesus. With a little courage we can pray: ‘Lord, grant me this grace which is the hallmark of our encounter with you: spiritual consolation and peace.’ A peace that we cannot lose because it is ours, it is the Lord’s true peace that cannot be bought or sold. It is a gift from God.”

Francis also presents are very beautiful view of the Church, both by pointing to its treasures and by warning against its pitfalls:
  1. Taming the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the Church forward. We wish to calm down the Holy Spirit, we want to tame it and this is wrong. The Holy Spirit gives us the strength to go forward but many find this upsetting and prefer the comfort of the familiar. Nowadays everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit, but it’s not really the case and there is still that temptation to resist it. The Second Vatican council was a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit. But 50 years later, have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council? The answer is ‘No.’ We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don’t want it to upset us. We don’t want to change and what’s more there are those who wish to turn the clock back. This is called stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit. The same thing happens in our personal life. The Spirit pushes us to take a more evangelical path but we resist this.”

  2. Saints v. ideologues: “The Word of Jesus goes to the heart because it is the Word of love, it is a beautiful word and brings love, makes us to love. But, ideologues cut off the road of love, and also that of beauty. And when ideology enters into the Church, when ideology enters into our understanding of the Gospel, no authentic comprehension is possible. And these ideologues, on the road of duty, load everything on the shoulders of the faithful. The ideologues falsify the gospel. Every ideological interpretation, wherever it comes from - is a falsification of the Gospel. And these ideologues – as we have seen in the history of the Church – end up being intellectuals without talent, ethicists without goodness – and let us not so much as mention beauty, of which they understand nothing. Rather, the path of love, the way of the Gospel, is simple: it is the road that the Saints understood. The saints are those who lead the Church forward! The road of conversion, the way of humility, of love, of the heart, the way of beauty …”

  3. The Church dormant: “The early Christians had nothing but the power of baptism that gave them their apostolic courage, the strength of the Spirit. I think of us, the baptized: do we really have this strength – and I wonder – do we really believe in this? Is Baptism enough? Is it sufficient for evangelization? Or do we rather ‘hope’ that the priest should speak, that the bishop might speak ... and what of us? Then, the grace of baptism is somewhat closed, and we are locked in our thoughts, in our concerns. Or do we sometimes think: ‘No, we are Christians, I was baptized, I made Confirmation, First Communion ... I have my identity card alright. And now, go to sleep quietly, you are a Christian.’ But where is this power of the Spirit that carries us forward? We need to be faithful to the Spirit, to proclaim Jesus with our lives, through our witness and our words. When we do this, the Church becomes a mother church that produces children and more children, because we, the children of the Church, we carry that. But when we do not, the Church is not the mother, but the babysitter, that takes care of the baby – to put the baby to sleep. It is a Church dormant. Let us reflect on our Baptism, on the responsibility of our Baptism.”

  4. Mother, not domestic administrator: “We, the women and men of the Church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is. The Church does not grow by human strength. Some Christians have gone wrong for historical reasons, they have taken the wrong path, they have raised armies, they have waged wars of religion: that is another story, that is not the story of love. Yet we learn, with our mistakes, how the story of love goes. But how does it increase? Jesus said simply: like the mustard seed, it grows like yeast in the flour, without noise. The Church is not just another organization: she is Mother. How would you feel if someone said: she’s a domestic administrator? ‘No, I am the mother!’ And the Church is Mother. And we are in the middle of a love story that continues thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit. All of us together are a family in the Church, who is our Mother.”

  5. Humility, not conquest: “The style of evangelical preaching should have this attitude: humility, service, charity, brotherly love. ‘But … Lord, we must conquer the world!’ That word, conquer, doesn’t work. We must preach in the world. The Christian must not be like soldiers who when they win the battle make a clean sweep of everything. The Christian proclaims the Gospel with his witness, rather than with words. As St. Thomas Aquinas says: "A great soul that is not afraid of great things, that moves forward towards infinite horizons, and the humility to take into account the small things.” This is divine, it is like a tension between the great and the small. The triumph of the Church is the Resurrection of Jesus. But there is first the Cross. Today we ask the Lord to become missionaries in the Church, apostles in the Church but in this spirit: a great magnanimity and also a great humility. So be it.”