APARECIDA, Brazil — Openness to being surprised by God is an attitude that marks the life of a Christian, Pope Francis said in his homily at Brazil’s National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida during his first World Youth Day Mass.
“God always surprises us, like the new wine in the Gospel we have just heard. God always saves the best for us,” Pope Francis said at a Mass July 24, after he had venerated the shrine’s image of Our Lady.
“But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God.”
Pope Francis came to Aparecida, “the house of the Mother of every Brazilian,” about 160 miles west of Rio de Janeiro, earlier today by helicopter. He was greeted by Archbishop Raymundo Assis of Aparecida and by the shrine’s rector.
Following the Mass, he will visit Aparecida’s seminary, and then he will return to Rio de Janeiro to visit St. Francis Hospital.
The Pope’s Marian devotion was evident at the Mass, as the shrine of Brazil’s patroness was the site of his first Mass for World Youth Day. He also remembered that, the day after he was elected Bishop of Rome, he consecrated his papal ministry to Our Lady at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Similarly, he had come to Aparecida to “place at her feet the life of the people of Latin America.”
Pope Francis also remembered the 2007 gathering of Latin-American bishops at the shrine, which led to a document which emphasized mission in the region. He noted that “it is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship,” adding, “That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.”
Looking to World Youth Day, he said, “I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary … that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal.”
It was in this context that he introduced three “attitudes” of the Christian life: hopefulness, an openness to being surprised by God and living in joy.
Examining the Mass’ reading from the Book of Revelation about the woman chased by a dragon, Pope Francis said that, while there are “many difficulties” in each person’s life, “God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them.”
“Let us never lose hope,” he urged. Though there are “moments of discouragement” as we try to evangelize or “embody our faith as parents within the family,” he encouraged the faithful to “always know in your heart that God is by your side.”
God is the object of our hope, taught the Bishop of Rome, and he is “the one with the upper hand” in the face of evil and the devil.
Everyone, he said, “to some extent … feels attracted” to the idols of “money, success, power, pleasure,” echoing the three temptations — riches, honor and pride — considered by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.
“Often, a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols,” Pope Francis said.
“Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope,” he said. “Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world.”
Youth do not solely need material things, he taught, but, “above all, they need to have held up to them those non-material values which are the spiritual heart of a people … spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy.”
This attitude of hope leads to an openness to being surprised by God, he said.
“Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope — the great hope that faith gives us — knows that, even in the midst of difficulties, God acts, and he surprises us.”
The Pope recalled the founding of the Aparecida shrine, which was erected after three fisherman discovered in the area an image of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, after a day of catching no fish.
“Whoever would have thought that the site of a fruitless fishing expedition would become the place where all Brazilians can feel that they are children of one Mother,” he said.
Yet this shows that God is always other, always greater, and “God always surprises us … always saves the best for us.”
Being open to the surprise, the utter otherness of God, allows “the wine of joy, the wine of hope” never to run out in the Christian life.
“If we draw near to him, if we stay with him, what seems to be cold water, difficulty, sin, is changed into the new wine of friendship with him.”
Pope Francis finally linked hope and openness to God’s surprises to the final attitude, living in joy.
“If we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts, and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy.”
Joy marks the Christian life, he said, and Christians “are never gloomy,” for “God is at our side. We have a Mother who always intercedes for the life of her children, for us.”
He added, “Jesus has shown us that the face of God is that of a loving Father,” who resurrected his Son so that “sin and death have been defeated.”
“If we are truly in love with Christ, and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will ‘light up’ with a joy that spreads to everyone around us.”
The Pope remembered the words of Benedict XVI at the 2007 meeting at Aparecida, where he said that “the disciple knows that, without Christ, there is no light, no hope, no love, no future.”
Pope Francis concluded by saying, “We have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in, and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to ‘do whatever he tells you.’”
“Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen.”