VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ early-morning homilies in the Casa Santa Marta residence chapel — often underreported — continue to challenge the faithful, and this past week was no exception.
On Monday, the Holy Father set the tone for the week leading up to Pentecost Sunday. He focused on the Holy Spirit who, he said, helps Christians remember the history of the faith and the gifts God has given. Without this grace, he said, the faithful risk slipping into idolatry.
Many Christians don’t know who the Holy Spirit is or what he is, he said, and the Holy Spirit “is always somewhat ‘the unknown’ of the faith.” And yet, he continued, the Holy Spirit is “God active in us” and “awakens our memory” of how Christ redeemed us of our misery and sin.
Without this memory, a Christian is not a true Christian, but becomes an “idolator,” the Pope went on, a “prisoner of circumstance, a man or woman who has no history.” To remember the grace of God is especially important, he said, when, for example, “a little vanity creeps in, when someone believes themselves to be a winner of the Nobel Prize for Holiness.”
The Holy Father concluded with an invitation to Christians to ask for the grace of memory, so that “they will not forget that they were slaves, and the Lord has saved them.”
On Tuesday, the Holy Father again mined the theme of idolatry, but also the selfishness personified by Judas. Selfish people like Judas do not understand what giving and love are and become traitors, isolated and alone, he said. But if we really want to follow Jesus, we must “live life as a gift” to give to others, “not as a treasure to be kept to ourselves.”
Judas “never understood what gift really means,” the Pope said, and this was clearly seen when he bitterly criticized Mary Magdalene for washing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, saying that it could be used for the poor. “This is the first reference that I personally found in the Gospel of poverty as an ideology,” the Pope said.
But whereas the selfish person, an ideologue, is always alone, those who “give their life for love are never alone: They are always in the community, part of the family,” he said. “The Christian who gifts his or her life, who loses it, as Jesus says, finds it again, finds it in its fullness. And those who, like Judas, want to keep it for themselves lose it in the end.”
The Pope closed by calling on the Holy Spirit to provide big hearts capable of “loving with humility, with meekness, an open heart that is capable of loving” and to “always free us from selfishness.”
On Wednesday, the Holy Father exhorted worshippers to pray for priests and bishops, that they not yield to the temptation of money and vanity, but serve the people of God. Shepherds must be on guard for ravenous wolves, Francis said, and be at the service of others — preserving them, building them up and defending them.
He explained it is a relationship of protection and love between God and the pastor and the pastor and the people. But he said, like us all, priests and bishops are sinners and may be tempted by greed for wealth and power. When this happens, he said, people do not love them.
On Thursday, the Pope highlighted St. Paul’s capacity for “being a nuisance” — unsettling those who had become too comfortable in their faith and imbuing them with an apostolic zeal necessary to move the Church forward.
Such zeal, he said, implies “an element of madness,” but it’s a “spiritual madness, a healthy madness.” It can lead to persecution, but even so, we cannot be “backseat Christians” (some also translated this as “couch-potato Christians”) cozy in our comfort zones. Such Christians, he said, “are well mannered, do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal.”
But he said the Lord “always wants us to move forward, forward, forward,” and not take refuge in a comfortable, quiet life. Furthermore, he said apostolic zeal, which is not a zest for power or possession, comes from knowing Christ, principally through the heart and a personal encounter, the Pope said.
And he closed by again calling on the Holy Spirit to give us apostolic fervor “to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church and the grace to go out to the outskirts of life,” where many people are yearning to hear the Gospel.
On Friday, the Pope preached that the fact we are all sinners is not the problem — the real problem is “not allowing ourselves be transformed by the love of Christ.” Dwelling on St. Peter’s relationship with Christ, he explained how the apostle matured in love in his encounter with Jesus.
“This great man, Peter, is a sinner,” the Holy Father said, “but the Lord makes him feel, and he makes us feel too, that we are all sinners.” But this is not the problem, he said. The problem “is not repenting of sin, not being ashamed of what we have done.”
“Peter was a sinner, but not corrupt,” the Pope said, adding, “All are sinners, but corrupt — no!”
Francis recalled how a good parish priest he knew did not feel worthy and was spiritually tormented when appointed to be a bishop. His confessor told him not to worry, saying: “If after everything Peter did, they still made him Pope, you go right ahead!”
The Pope said the Lord makes us mature through our many encounters with him when we recognize him, even with our weaknesses and our sins.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.