Articles of the Month
The desire to climb
The temptation to “division”: the “thirst for worldly power”, envy and the desire “to climb higher”. Pope Francis remarked on this temptation during Mass at Santa Marta on Tuesday morning. This temptation, he explained, is a response to worldly thinking, while Jesus, on the other hand, speaks of service and humiliation.
Turning to the day’s Gospel passage taken from Mark (9:30-37), the Pontiff’s entire meditation grew from the juxtaposition between these “two modes of speaking”. Indeed, Scripture presents Jesus who was “teaching his disciples” and telling them “the truth about a proper life” — about his own life, Francis explained, but “also about the life of Christians, the ‘true’ truth”. He revealed that “the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise”.
Confronted with this truth — “I have come for this task, to fulfil this mission: to give my life for the salvation of all” — the disciples did not understand. Indeed, “they did not want to understand” and as they were “afraid to ask”, they decided to let it go, as if to say: “things will take care of themselves”. The Pope explained that “fear closed their heart, it closed their heart to the truth that Jesus was teaching them”.
The Gospel narrative continues and we read that they “went along the way, but not in silence”. The disciples “continued to talk”. When they arrived in Capernaum, Jesus asked: “What were you discussing on the way?”. There was no answer. Indeed, they “were ashamed to tell Jesus what they were discussing. Along the way, in fact, they were discussing who among them was the greatest”.
Here then, is the juxtaposition: “Jesus speaks a language of humiliation, of death, of redemption, and they speak a language of climbers: who will climb the highest in terms of power?”. This, Francis said, is a temptation that they had — “they were tempted by a worldly way of thinking” — but they were not the only ones. The mother of James and John too, the Pontiff recalled, went to Jesus — the episode can be found in the pages of Matthew (20:20-21) — “to ask that one of her sons be on the right and the other on the left, when He arrived in the Kingdom”. As if she were to ask today “that one be prime minister and the other the minister of the economy”, so as to share “all the power”. For this very reason, “it is worldly thinking: who is the greatest?”. Therefore Jesus takes care to tell them: “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all”.
Jesus’ words to the disciples is a lesson for everyone: “On the path that Jesus points out to us in order to go forward”, Francis said, “service is the rule. The one who is greatest is the one who serves most, who is most at the service of others, not the one who boasts, who seeks power, money vanity, pride”. The lesson is important, the Pope noted, because “it is a story that happens every day in the Church, in every community” where it is often asked: “Who is the greatest among us? Who is in charge?”. Thus, “ambitions” emerge, along with the “desire to climb, to have power”.
The argument is also addressed in the first reading, taken from The Letter of James (4:1-10), in which the Apostle writes: my brothers, “what causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?”. He continues: “Is it not your passions”, or rather the “passion for power, to command, to dominate”? James accuses them: “You are full of desires”, alluding to their envy and jealousy. He then adds: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly”.
At this point the Pontiff invited a careful evaluation of the passage that follows, “so as to consider how we pray wrongly”. The Apostle explains to his interlocutors: “you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”. He continues: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”. This is precisely the “core of this passage” and of the message addressed to the Church today.
The synthesis is in the juxtaposition previously mentioned: “Jesus speaks a language of service, of humiliation; moreover, he says: ‘I have not come ... to be served, but to serve”. On the other hand, “the language of the world is: ‘who has more power to command?’. This worldly language is enmity with God”. When there is vanity, Francis continued, and the “worldly desire to have power, not to serve, but to be served”, all means are used. Thus, for example, there is “gossip”, and the “sullying of others”. It is something “we all know”, he added: “envy and jealousy take this path and destroy”.
All this, the Pontiff noted, “happens today in every institution of the Church: parishes, colleges, other institutions, even in the bishoprics... everyone”. These are the “two ways of speaking”: on the one hand is the “worldly spirit, which is the spirit of wealth, vanity and pride”. On the other hand, Jesus said: “the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him”. He “came to serve and he taught us the way in Christian life: service, humility”. After all, Francis explained, “when the great saints said they felt they were such sinners, it was because they understood this worldly spirit that was inside them, and they had many worldly temptations”. Indeed, “none of us can say: ‘No, not me, not me... I am a holy, clean person’. We are all tempted by these things, we are tempted to destroy others in order to climb higher”. It is a “worldly temptation” which “divides and destroys the Church”, and it is certainly not “the Spirit of Jesus”.
Concluding his reflection, the Pope said that, observing the Gospel scene, “it will do us good to think about the many times that we have seen this in the Church and the many times we have done this, and ask the Lord to enlighten us, in order to understand that love for the world, that is, for this worldly spirit, is enmity with God”.
Look in the mirror
Jesus proposes clear rules to help us avoid falling into hypocrisy: to not judge others so that we, in turn, will not be judged by the same measure; and when the temptation to do so arises, it is best to first look in the mirror, not to hide behind makeup, but to clearly see how we really are. Pointing out that the only true judgment is that of God with his mercy, Pope Francis — in the Mass he celebrated on Monday morning — urged that we not give in to the temptation of taking God’s place, of doubting his word.
“Jesus speaks to the people and teaches them many things about prayer, riches, many vain worries, and how his disciples should conduct themselves”, the Pope said. “This passage from the Gospel concerning judgment”, proposed in the Liturgy of the day (Mt 7:1-15), is a passage in which “the Lord is very concrete”. Sometimes “the Lord uses parables to make us understand. He is direct, because judgment is something that only he can do”.
“The fact begins” with a clear word from Jesus: “Judge not, that you be not judged”. Therefore, “if you do not want to be judged, do not judge others: it is clear”. And the Lord “goes one step further”, precisely indicating the criterion of this measure: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get”.
“We all desire that, on the day of judgment, the Lord will look upon us with kindness, that the Lord will forget the many bad things we have done in life”, Pope Francis said. “This is right, because we are children, and a child of the father expects this, always”. However, “if you constantly judge others, you will be judged by the same measure: that is clear”.
“First, the commandment, the fact: Judge not, that you be not judged”, the Pope repeated. “Second, the measure will be the same as that which you use with your brothers”. Then “the third step: look in the mirror, do not put on makeup in order to cover your wrinkles; no, no, no, that is not my advice!”. Rather, Pope Francis suggested, “look in the mirror to see yourself as you are”. Jesus’ words are clear: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye?”.
“How does the Lord characterize us when we do this?”, the Pope asked. With one word: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”. Indeed, it should not surprise us that the Lord “gets angry; he is very strong, and it also seems that he insults us: he says ‘hypocrite’ to those who judge others”.
The reason is that “those who judge put themselves in the place of God”, the Pope said. “They make themselves God and doubt the word of God”. This is precisely “what the serpent persuaded our fathers to do, saying: ‘No, no, God is a liar, if you eat this you will be like Him’. And they wanted to take God’s place”.
This is why, the Pope insisted, “judgment is so wrong: judgment is only for God to do, him alone!”. Our responsibility is instead to “love, understand, and pray for others when we see things that are not good”, and if need be, to “even speak to them”, to warn them if something does not seem to be going in the right direction. In every case, “never judge, never”, because “if we judge that is hypocrisy”.
Moreover, Pope Francis said, “when we judge we put ourselves in God’s place. This is true, but our judgment is a poor judgment: it can never, never be a true judgment”, precisely because “true judgment is what God gives”. Why “can’t our judgment be like that of God?”. Is it “because God is omnipotent and we are not? No, because our judgement lacks mercy”. And “when God judges, he judges with mercy”.
In conclusion, the Pope suggested that today we think about “what the Lord says to us: not to judge, so that we will not be judged; the measure by which we judge will be the measure we are judged by. And, thirdly, let us look in the mirror before we judge”. Therefore, when we want to say: “he does this, or she does that”, it is better to look in the mirror before we speak. Otherwise, “I am being a hypocrite because I put myself in God’s place”, Pope Francis repeated, and “my judgment is a poor judgment: it lacks a very important thing that we find in God’s judgment: mercy”. May the Lord “allow us to understand this well”, the Pope said.
© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana. From the Meditations of Pope Francis.