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Homily of Pope Francis

Holy Mass, Havana, Plaza de la Revolución - Havana

Sunday September 20, 2015

 

The Gospel shows us Jesus asking a seemingly indiscreet question of his disciples: “What were you discussing along the way?”  It is a question which he could also ask each of us today: “What do you talk about every day?”  “What are your aspirations?”  The Gospel tells us that the disciples “did not answer because on the way they had been arguing about who was the most important”.  The disciples were ashamed to tell Jesus what they were talking about.  As with the disciples then, we too can be caught up in these same arguments: who is the most important?

Jesus does not press the question.  He does not force them to tell him what they were talking about on the way.  But the question lingers, not only in the minds of the disciples, but also in their hearts.

Who is the most important?  This is a life-long question to which, at different times, we must give an answer.  We cannot escape the question; it is written on our hearts.  I remember more than once, at family gatherings, children being asked: “Who do you love more, Mommy or Daddy”?  It’s like asking them: “Who is the most important for you?”  But is this only a game we play with children?  The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question.

Jesus is not afraid of people’s questions; he is not afraid of our humanity or the different things we are looking for.  On the contrary, he knows the “twists and turns” of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, he is always ready to encourage and support us.  As usual, he takes up our searching, our aspirations, and he gives them a new horizon.  As usual, he somehow finds the answer which can pose a new challenge, setting aside the “right answers”, the standard replies we are expected to give.  As usual, Jesus sets before us the “logic” of love.  A mindset, an approach to life, which is capable of being lived out by all, because it is meant for all.

Far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points us is not for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality.  The horizon to which Jesus points us always has to do with daily life, also here on “our island”, something which can season our daily lives with eternity.

Who is the most important?  Jesus is straightforward in his reply: “Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the last of all, and the servant of all”.  Whatever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others.

Here lies the great paradox of Jesus.  The disciples were arguing about who would have the highest place, who would be chosen for privileges, who would be above the common law, the general norm, in order to stand out in the quest for superiority over others.  Who would climb the ladder most quickly to take the jobs which carry certain benefits. Jesus upsets their “logic”, their mindset, simply by telling them that life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbor.

The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive.  Serving others chiefly means caring for their vulnerability.  Caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people.  Theirs are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love.  With a love which takes shape in our actions and decisions.  With a love which finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform.  People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty: these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve.  Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it.  That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.

There is a kind of “service” which truly “serves”, yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a “service” which is “self-serving”.  There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping “my people”, “our people”.  This service always leaves “your people” outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion.

All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another not to be tempted by a “service” which is really “self-serving”.  All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love.  Without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing.  Jesus tells us: Whoever would be first among you must be the last, and the servant of all”.  He does not say: if your neighbor wants to be first, let him be the servant!  We have to be careful to avoid judgmental looks and renew our belief in the transforming look to which Jesus invites us.

This caring for others out of love is not about being servile.  Rather, it means putting our brothers and sisters at the center.  Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, “suffers” in trying to help.  Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.

God’s holy and faithful people in Cuba is a people with a taste for parties, for friendship, for beautiful things. It is a people which marches with songs of praise.  It is a people which has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur.  Today I ask you to care for this vocation of yours, to care for these gifts which God has given you, but above all I invite you to care for and be at the service of the frailty of your brothers and sisters.  Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you.  We know, we are witnesses of the incomparable power of the resurrection, which “everywhere calls forth the seeds of a new world” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 276, 278).

Let us not forget the Good News we have heard today: the importance of a people, a nation, and the importance of individuals, which is always based on how they seek to serve their vulnerable brothers and sisters.   Here we encounter one of the fruits of a true humanity.

“Whoever does not live to serve, does not ‘serve’ to live”.

 

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Angelus Message of Pope Francis

Havana, Plaza de la Revolución

Sunday, 20 September 2015

 

I thank Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, for his kind words, and I greet all my brother bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful. I also greet the President and all the authorities present.

We have heard in the Gospel how the disciples were afraid to question Jesus when he spoke to them about his passion and death.  He frightened them, and they could not grasp the idea of seeing Jesus suffer on the cross.  We too are tempted to flee from our own crosses and those of others, to withdraw from those who suffer.  In concluding this Holy Mass, in which Jesus has once more given himself to us in his body and blood, let us now lift our gaze to the Virgin Mary, our Mother.  We ask her to teach us to stand beside the cross of our brothers and sisters who suffer.  To learn to see Jesus in every person bent low on the path of life, in all our brothers and sisters who hunger or thirst, who are naked or in prison or sick.  With Mary our Mother, on the cross we can see who is truly “the greatest” and what it means to stand beside the Lord and to share in his glory.

Let us learn from Mary to keep our hearts awake and attentive to the needs of others.  As the wedding feast of Cana teaches us, let us be concerned for the little details of life, and let us not tire of praying for one another, so that no one will lack the new wine of love, the joy which Jesus brings us.

At this time I feel bound to direct my thoughts to the beloved land of Colombia, “conscious of the crucial importance of the present moment when, with renewed effort and inspired by hope, its sons and daughters are seeking to build a peaceful society”.  May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict, united to that of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation.  Thus may the long night of pain and violence can, with the support of all Colombians, become an unending day of concord, justice, fraternity and love, in respect for institutions and for national and international law, so that there may be lasting peace.  Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation.

I ask you now to join with me in praying to Mary, that we may place all our concerns and hopes before the heart of Christ.  We pray to her in a special way for those who have lost hope and find no reasons to keep fighting, and for those who suffer from injustice, abandonment and loneliness.  We pray for the elderly, the infirm, children and young people, for all families experiencing difficulty, that Mary may dry their tears, comfort them with a mother’s love, and restore their hope and joy.  Holy Mother, I commend to you these your sons and daughters in Cuba.  May you never abandon them!

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Celebration of Vespers with Priests, Men and Women Religious and Seminarians at the Cathedral of Havana

Homily of Pope Francis (includes improvised remarks)

We are gathered in this historic Cathedral of Havana to sing with psalms the faithfulness of God towards his people, with thanksgiving for his presence and his infinite mercy.  A faithfulness and mercy not only commemorated by this building, but also by the living memory of some of the elderly among us, who know from experience that “his mercy endures forever and his faithfulness throughout the ages”.  For this, brothers and sisters, let us together give thanks.

Let us give thanks for the Spirit’s presence in the rich and diverse charisms of all those missionaries who came to this land and became Cubans among Cubans, a sign that God’s mercy is eternal.

The Gospel presents Jesus in dialogue with his Father.  It brings us to the heart of the prayerful intimacy between the Father and the Son.  As his hour drew near, Jesus prayed for his disciples, for those with him and for those who were yet to come (cf. Jn 17:20).  We do well to remember that, in that crucial moment, Jesus made the lives of his disciples, our lives, a part of his prayer.  He asked his Father to keep them united and joyful.  Jesus knew full well the hearts of his disciples, and he knows full well our own.  And so he prays to the Father to save them from a spirit of isolation, of finding refuge in their own certainties and comfort zones, of indifference to others and division into “cliques” which disfigure the richly diverse face of the Church.  These are situations which lead to a kind of isolation and ennui, a sadness that slowly gives rise to resentment, to constant complaint, to boredom; this “is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2) to which he invited them, to which he has invited us.  That is why Jesus prays that sadness and isolation will not prevail in our hearts.  We want to do the same, we want to join in Jesus’ prayer, in his words, so that we can say together: “Father, keep them in your name… that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11), “that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).

Jesus prays and he invites us to pray, because he knows that some things can only be received as gifts; some things can only be experienced as gifts.  Unity is a grace which can be bestowed upon us only by the Holy Spirit; we have to ask for this grace and do our best to be transformed by that gift.

Unity is often confused with uniformity; with actions, feelings and words which are all identical.  This is not unity, it is conformity.  It kills the life of the Spirit; it kills the charisms which God has bestowed for the good of his people.  Unity is threatened whenever we try to turn others into our own image and likeness.  Unity is a gift, not something to be imposed by force or by decree.  I am delighted to see you here, men and women of different generations, backgrounds and experiences, all united by our common prayer.  Let us ask God to increase our desire to be close to one another.  To be neighbors, always there for one another, with all our many differences, interests and ways of seeing things.  To speak straightforwardly, despite our disagreements and disputes, and not behind each other’s backs.  May we be shepherds who are close to our people, open to their questions and problems.  Conflicts and disagreements in the Church are to be expected and, I would even say, needed.  They are a sign that the Church is alive and that the Spirit is still acting, still enlivening her.  Woe to those communities without a “yes” and a “no”!  They are like married couples who no longer argue, because they have lost interest, they have lost their love.

The Lord prays also that we may be filled with his own “complete joy” (cf. Jn 17:13).  The joy of Christians, and especially of consecrated men and women, is a very clear sign of Christ’s presence in their lives.  When we see sad faces, it is a warning that something is wrong.  Significantly, this is the request which Jesus makes of the Father just before he goes out to the Garden to renew his own “fiat”.  I am certain that all of you have had to bear many sacrifices and, for some of you, for several decades now, these sacrifices have proved difficult.  Jesus prays, at the moment of his own sacrifice, that we will never lose the joy of knowing that he overcomes the world.  This certainty is what inspires us, morning after morning, to renew our faith.  “With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy” – by his prayer, and in the faces of our people – Christ “makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3).

How important, how valuable for the life of the Cuban people, is this witness which always and everywhere radiates such joy, despite our weariness, our misgivings and even our despair, that dangerous temptation which eats away at our soul!

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus prays that all of us may be one, and that his joy may abide within us.  May we do likewise, as we unite ourselves to one another in prayer.