Articles of the Month
Christians? Yes, but....
How many people say they are Christians but don’t accept “the way” that God wants to save us? They are the ones Pope Francis defined as “Christians, yes, but...”, incapable of understanding that salvation passes through the Cross. And Jesus on the Cross — the Pontiff explained in his homily during Mass at Santa Marta on Tuesday — is the very “core of the message of the day’s Liturgy”.
In the passage from the Gospel according to John (8:21-30), Jesus says: “When you have lifted up the Son of man...” and, foretelling of his death on the cross, evokes the bronze serpent that Moses raised “to heal the Israelites in the desert” and which was recounted in the First Reading from the Book of Numbers (21:4-9). The People of God enslaved in Egypt, the Pope explained, had been freed: “They had truly seen miracles. And when they were afraid, at the time of the Pharaoh’s persecution, when they were faced with the Red Sea, they saw the miracle” that God performed for them. The “journey of liberation” thus began in joy.
The Israelites “were happy” because they had been “liberated from slavery”, happy because “they carried with them the promise of a very good land, a land for them alone”, and because “none of them had died” on the first part of the journey. The women were also happy because they had “the jewels of the Egyptian women” with them.
At a certain point though, the Pontiff continued, at the moment in which “the journey was getting long”, the people could no longer bear it and “they grew tired”. Therefore they began to speak “against God and against Moses: why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?”. They began to “criticize: to speak against God, against Moses”, saying: “Here there is no bread and no water, and we loathe this worthless food, this manna”. In other words, the Israelites “loathed God’s help, a gift of God. And thus that initial joy of liberation became sorrow, lamenting”.
They would have probably preferred to be freed by “a magician performing magic with a wand” rather than a God who made them walk and made them “earn salvation” or “at least deserve it in part” by acting “in a certain way”.
In the Scripture we meet a “discontented people” and, Francis pointed out, “criticizing is a way out of this discontentment”. In their discontent, “they vented, but they didn’t realize that the soul becomes poisoned with this attitude ”. Thus, the serpents arrive, because “like this, like the venom of serpents, at this moment these people had a poisoned spirit”.
Jesus, too, speaks of the same attitude, of “this way of not being content, not satisfied”. The Pontiff then referred to a passage from the Gospels of both Matthew (11:17) and Luke (7:32): “When Jesus speaks of this attitude He says: ‘How are you to be understood? Are you like those youths in the square: we played for you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn. Does nothing satisfy you?’”. The problem “wasn’t salvation” but rather “liberation”, because “everyone wanted this”; the problem was “God’s way: they didn’t like dancing to God’s song; they didn’t like mourning to God’s lamentations”. So “what did they want”? They wanted, the Pope explained, to act “according to their own thoughts, to choose their own path to salvation”. But that path “didn’t lead anywhere”.
This is an attitude that we still encounter today. “Among Christians”, Francis asked, how many are “somewhat poisoned” by this discontentment? We hear: “Yes, truly, God is good. Christians, yes, but...”. They are the ones, he continued, “who end up not opening their heart to God’s salvation” and who “always ask for conditions”; the ones who say: “Yes, yes, yes, I want to be saved,” but on the path of their own choosing. This is how “the heart becomes poisoned”. This is the heart of “lukewarm Christians” who always have something to complain about: “‘Why has the Lord done this to me?’ — ‘But He saved you, He opened the door for you, He forgave you of so many sins’ — ‘Yes, yes, it’s true, but...’”. Thus the Israelites in the desert said: “I would like water, bread, but the kind I like, not this worthless food. I loathe it”. And we too “so often say that we loathe the divine way”.
Francis emphasized: “Not accepting the gift of God in his way, that is the sin; that is the venom; that poisons the soul, it takes away your joy, it doesn’t let you go”.
So “how does the Lord resolve this? With the poison itself, with sin itself”: in other words “He takes the poison, the sin, upon Himself and is lifted up”. Thus “this warmth of soul, this being halfway Christians” this being “Christians, yes, but...” becomes healed. The healing, the Pope explained, comes only by “looking to the Cross”, by looking to God who takes on our sins: “my sin is there”. However “how many Christians in the desert die of their sorrow, of their lamenting, of their not wanting God’s way”. This is for every Christian to reflect upon: while God “saves us and shows us what salvation is like”, I “am not really able to tolerate a path that I don’t like much”. This is the “selfishness that Jesus rebukes in his generation”, which said of John the Baptist: “He has a demon”. And when the Son of Man came, He was defined as a “glutton” and a “drunkard”. And so, the Pope asked, “who understands you?”. He added, “I too, with my spiritual caprice regarding the salvation that God gives me, who understands me?”.
Therefore, there is an invitation to the faithful: “Look at the serpent, the venom there in the Body of Christ, the poison of all the sins of the world, and let ask for the grace to accept the divine way of salvation; to also accept this food, so wretched that the Hebrews complained about it”: the grace, that is, “to accept the ways by which the Lord leads me forth”. Francis concluded by praying that Holy Week may “help us to leave behind this temptation to become “ Christians, yes, but...’”.
Prayers for Benedict XVI on his birthday
Francis offered Mass for Benedict XVI on his 88th birthday, inviting those present to join in praying “that the Lord sustain him and grant him much joy and happiness”.
In his homily, the Pontiff spoke of obedience, a prominent theme in the day’s liturgy. He began by quoting words from the end of the passage from the Gospel according to John (3:36): “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life”. Then, referring to the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:27-33), the Pontiff also recalled what “the Apostles said to the high priests: we must obey God rather than men”.
Obedience, Francis explained, “often leads us down a path which isn’t the one we think it should be: there is another, the obedience of Jesus who says to the Father in the Mount of Olives: “Thy will be done”. In so doing Jesus “obeys and saves us all”. Thus, we must be ready to “obey, to have the courage to change directions when the Lord asks this of us”. And “for this reason, he who obeys will have eternal life”, whereas for “he who does not obey, the wrath of God rests upon him”.
“Within this framework”, the Pontiff said, “we can reflect upon the First Reading” — more specifically on the “dialogue between the Apostles and the high priests”. The “story began a bit earlier” in the same chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Thus, he summarized, “the Apostles preached to the people and would stand at Solomon’s Portico. The whole populace would go there to hear them: they worked miracles and the number of believers was growing”. But “a small group wouldn’t dare join them, out fear, they were distant”. Yet, the Pope said, “even from nearby places, from nearby villages, they brought the sick to the squares, on pallets, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them and would heal them. And they were healed”.
However, the narrative of the Acts continues, “the priests and the people’s leaders became angry”: indeed, they were “filled with jealousy because the people were following the Apostles, exalting them, praising them”. And therefore they gave the order to “throw them in prison”. But, Francis continued, “at night an angel of God freed them, and this was not the first time”.
That’s why, when “the priests met in the morning to judge them, the prison was closed, securely locked, and they weren’t there”. Then they learned that the Apostles had gone back again to Solomon’s Portico, to preach to the people. And so once again the priests had them brought in.
The passage from the Acts of the Apostles offered in the day’s liturgy, the Pontiff stated, recounts just what happened at that moment: the captain and the officers “brought the Apostles and presented them to the Sanhedrin”. And again, the Scripture reads that “the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us’”.
In response to these accusations, Peter replied: “We must obey God rather than men”. And thus “salvation history repeats up to Jesus”. But “in hearing Peter’s kerygma, Peter’s preaching on the people redemption which God performed through Jesus”, the members of the Sanhedrin “were enraged and wanted to kill them”. They were, in fact, “incapable of recognizing the salvation of God” despite being “doctors” who had “studied the history of the people, studied the prophecies, studied the law, thus they knew all the theology of the people of Israel, the revelation of God, they knew everything: they were doctors”.
The question is “why was there this hardness of heart?”. Yes, the Pope said, it wasn’t a matter of “hardheadedness, it wasn’t simple stubbornness”. The hardness was in their hearts. And therefore “one could ask: what is the route to this total stubbornness of head and heart? How does one reach this closure, which even the Apostles had before the Holy Spirit came”. Indeed, Jesus said to the two disciples at Emmaus: “O foolish men, and slow to believe the things of God”.
At its root, Francis explained, “they story of this stubbornness, the route, is in closing oneself off, not engaging in dialogue, it is the lack of dialogue”. Those were people who “didn’t know how to dialogue, they didn’t know how to dialogue with God because they didn’t know how to pray and to hear the Lord’s voice; and they didn’t know how to dialogue with others”.
This closure to dialogue led them to interpret “the law in order to make it more precise, but they were closed to the signs of God in history, they were closed to the people: they were closed, closed”. And “the lack of dialogue, this closure of heart, led them not to obey God”.
After all, “this is the tragedy of these doctors of Israel, these theologians of the People of God: they didn’t know how to listen, they didn’t know how to dialogue”. This is because, the Pope explained, “dialogue is done with God and with our brothers”. And “this rage and desire to silence all those who preach, in this case the newness of God, that is, Jesus is Risen” is clearly “the sign that one doesn’t know how to dialogue, that a person isn’t open to the voice of the Lord, to the signs that the Lord makes among his people”. Therefore, although they had no reason to, they became infuriated and wanted to put the disciples to death. “It is a painful route”, Francis remarked, also because “these are the same men who paid the guards at the tomb to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body: they do everything possible not to open themselves to God’s voice”.
Before continuing with the celebration of the Eucharist — “which is the life of God, who speaks to us from on high, as Jesus says to Nicodemus” — Francis prayed “for the teachers, for the doctors, for those who teach the People of God, that they never be closed, that they dialogue, and thus save themselves from the wrath of God which, should they not change their attitude, will rest upon them”.
Credits: These articles are directly from Meditations of Pope Francis at the Vatican--Vatican.va --March/April 2015
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