Articles of the Month
Fear and sadness cause illness in people and in the Church too; they cause paralysis and selfishness, and in the end spoil the air of a community, which hangs a “forbidden” sign on its door, fearful of everything. However, a Christian sustained by the fear of God and by the Holy Spirit has the courageous attitude of joy, which in pain becomes peace. This was the Pope’s message on Friday during Mass at Santa Marta.
In the Liturgy of the Word, Francis began, “there are two powerful words that the Church has us meditate on: fear and joy”. This is seen in the Acts of the Apostles (18:9-18), when the Lord says to Paul: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking”.
“Fear”, the Pope explained, “is an attitude that harms us, weakens us, diminishes us, even paralyzes us”. It is such that “a person in fear does nothing, doesn’t know what to do: is fearful, frightened, focused on herself so that something harmful or bad won’t happen to her”. Thus, “fear leads to selfish egocentrism and it paralyzes us”. For this very reason, “Jesus says to Paul: ‘Do not be afraid. Go on speaking’”.
Indeed, fear “is not a Christian attitude”. But “it is an attitude, we can say, of an imprisoned soul, without freedom, which doesn’t have the freedom to look ahead, to create something, to do good”. Thus one who has fear keeps repeating: “No, there is this danger, there is that other one”, and so on. “It’s too bad, fear causes harm!”, Francis again noted.
Fear must, however, be “distinguished from the fear of God, which has nothing to do with it”. The fear of God, the Pontiff stated, “is holy, it is the fear of adoration before the Lord”, and therefore “fear of God is a virtue”. Indeed, “it does not diminish, it does not weaken, it does not paralyze”; but on the contrary, “it carries forth the mission that the Lord gives”. In this regard, the Pontiff added: “The Lord, in Chapter 18 of the Gospel according to Luke, speaks of a judge who neither feared God nor had regard for anyone, and did whatever he wanted”. This “is a sin: a lack of fear of God and also self-sufficiency”. For “it detracts from the relationship with God as well as from adoration”.
However, Francis said, “the fear of God, which is good, is one thing; but fear is another thing”. Moreover, “a fearful Christian is insignificant: he is a person who doesn’t understand what Jesus’ message is”.
The “other word” proposed by the liturgy, “after the Ascension of the Lord”, is “joy”. In the passage from the Gospel of John (16:20-23), “the Lord speaks of the passage from sadness to joy”, preparing the disciples “for the moment of the Passion: ‘you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy’”. Jesus offers “the example of a woman in her hour of labour, who has great pain but afterwards, when the child is born, forgets the pain” to make room for joy. And “no one will take your joy away from you”, the Lord thus assures them.
However, the Pope advised, “Christian joy is not simply enjoyment, it isn’t fleeting lightheartedness”. Instead, “Christian joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit: it is having one’s heart ever joyful because the Lord has triumphed, the Lord reigns, the Lord is at the right hand of the Father, the Lord has looked at me and sent me and has given me his grace and has made me a child of the Father”. This is what “Christian joy” really is.
A Christian, therefore, “lives in joy”. But, Francis asked, “where is this joy in the saddest moments, in times of anguish? Let’s think about Jesus on the Cross: did He have joy? Eh, no! But yes, He had peace!”. Indeed, the Pope explained, “Joy, in the moment of anguish, of trial, becomes peace”. On the other hand, “lightheartedness in a moment of anguish becomes darkness, becomes troublesome”.
This is why “a Christian without joy isn’t Christian; a Christian who lives continuously in sadness is not a Christian”. A “Christian who loses peace in trying times, in times of illness, of so many difficulties, is missing something”.
Francis urged: “do not have fear” but instead “have joy”. He explained that “not having fear is asking for the grace of courage, the courage of the Holy Spirit; and having joy is asking for the gift of the Holy Spirit, even in the most difficult times, through that peace that the Lord gives us”.
This is what “happens in Christians, happens in communities, in the entire Church, in parishes, in so many Christian communities”. Indeed “there are fearful communities that always stay on the safe side: ‘No, no, let’s not do this.... No, no, this can’t be done, we can’t do this”. At that point “it seems they have written ‘forbidden’ on the door: everything is forbidden out of fear”. Thus, “when one enters that community the air is spoiled, because the community is ill: fear makes a community ill; a lack of courage makes a community ill”.
Yet “even a community without joy is a community fallen ill, for when there is no joy there is emptiness. No, actually there is lightheartedness”. Thus, in the final analysis, “it will be a fine, lighthearted community, but worldly, ill with worldliness because it doesn’t have the joy of Jesus Christ”. And one of the effects of worldliness, the Pontiff warned, “is that of speaking ill of others”. Thus, “when the Church is fearful and when the Church doesn’t receive the joy of the Holy Spirit, the Church falls ill, the communities fall ill, the faithful fall ill”.
In the prayer at the opening of Mass, the Pope recalled, “we asked the Lord for the grace to lift us up toward Christ seated at the right hand of the Father”. This “contemplation of Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father”, Francis stated, “will give us courage, give us joy, take away our fear and help us to avoid falling into a superficial and lighthearted life”.
“With this intention to lift up our spirit toward Christ seated at the right hand of the Father”, Francis concluded, “let us continue our celebration, by asking the Lord: lift up our spirit, take away all of our fears and give us joy and peace”..
Salvation is drawn from rejection
God always gives life to a “love story” with each one of us. And despite the seeming “failures”, both great and small, the “dream of love” wins in the end. At Mass at Santa Marta on Monday morning, Francis reflected on this, our journey down a “difficult path”, with a God who saves by what is rejected.
The day’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark (12:1-12) presented the parable of the farmers and the master of the vineyard. According to the Pope, it “summarizes the history of salvation which Jesus delivers — as we heard — to the chief priests, the scribes, the elders: that is, to the leaders of the people of Israel, to those who held the government of the people in their hands, to those who held the promise of God in their hands”.
Francis noted that “it’s a beautiful Parable”, which “begins with a dream, a project of love: that man who plants the vineyard, sets a hedge around it, digs a pit for the wine press”, and builds a tower. It is “all done with love”. Indeed the man “loves this seedling vineyard” and therefore “rents it out, consigns it” so that it may bear fruit. Then, “when the time comes, he sends a servant to the farmers to collect his share of the harvest”, and there “begins all that we have heard: they club one, beat another, and kill another”. Finally “he sends his son” but those farmers “kill him: that’s how the story ends”.
In the final analysis, the Pope explained, “this story, which seems like a love story, which should trace the steps of love between God and his people”, instead appears to be “a history of failures”. At this point, “God — the Father of the people, who takes this people as they are, for they are a small people and they love Him, they dream with love — seems to fail”. And “this history of salvation can well be called a history of failure”. But “the failure”, the Pontiff said, “begins from the first moment and even in this failure of God’s dream, from the beginning, there is blood — the blood of Abel — and from there it continues: the blood of all the prophets who went to speak to the people, to help protect the vineyard, until the blood of his Son”. However, Francis added, “in the end there is God’s word, which makes us think”.
“What, then, will the master of the vineyard do?”, asked Francis. He answered: “He will come and place his people before the judge”. On this subject, Jesus says “a word that seems somewhat out of place: ‘Have you not read this scripture: The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes’”. The Pope than clarified that “that history of failure turns around, and what was rejected becomes strength”. Thus, “the prophets, the men of God who spoke to the people, who weren’t listened to, who were rejected, will be his glory”. And “the Son, the last one sent, who was truly cast out, judged, not listened to and killed, will become the cornerstone”.
It is here, then, that “this history, which begins with a dream of love and seems to be a history of love, but then seems to end in a history of failures, ends with the great love of God, who draws forth salvation from rejection; by his outcast Son, He saves us all”.
“Reading in the Bible the many, many lamentations of God” is a beautiful thing, according to the Pontiff. After all, “when God speaks to his people He says: ‘Why do you do this? Remember all that I have done for you: that I chose you, that I set you free. Why do you do this to me?’”. The Father “laments, even weeps”, Francis remarked. And in the end there is “Jesus weeping over Jerusalem: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets”. This, the Pope explained, “is the history of a people who cannot free itself from that desire that Satan sowed in the first parents: you will become gods”. It is “a people who don’t know how to obey God, because they want to become gods” in their own right.
This attitude renders them “a closed people, a people whose ministers are rigid”. This is why, the Pope noted, “the end of this passage that we read is sad”, because what emerges is “the rigidity of those priests, of those doctors of the law: they try to capture Jesus in order to kill Him but they were afraid of the crowd”. In fact, “they understand that He told that parable against them”. And thus, “they leave Him and they go”.
“The path of our redemption is a road on which there is no shortage of failures”, the Pontiff acknowledged. Indeed, “even the last, that of the Cross, is a scandal: but precisely there, love wins”. And “that history, which begins with a dream of love and continues with a history of failures, ends in the victory of love: the Cross of Jesus”. Pope Francis asked that we “not forget this path”, even though “it is a difficult path”. But “ours too” is always a difficult path. Thus, “if each one of us examines his conscience, we will see how many times we have cast out the prophets; how many times we have said to Jesus: ‘Go away!’; how many times we have wanted to save ourselves; how many times we have thought of being just”.
“The love of God for his people is manifest in the sacrifice of his Son who we will now celebrate once again, truly”, Francis said before taking up the Eucharistic celebration. “When He descends upon the altar and we offer Him to the Father, it will do us good to remember this story of love which seems to fail but wins in the end”. Therefore it is important “to remember, in the history of our life, that seed of love which God has sown in us”. And as a result, “to do what Jesus did on our behalf: He humbled Himself”. Thus, we too, the Pope concluded, “will do well to humble ourselves before this Lord who now comes to celebrate with us the remembrance of his victory.