VATICAN CITY — On Sunday, Pope Francis paid a visit to Rome’s Lutheran community, where he took questions and told attendees that what we will ultimately be judged on is how we cared for the poor and less fortunate.
“What will the Lord ask us on that day? Did you go to Mass? Have you prepared a good catechesis?” the Pope said Nov. 15.
While these things are important, the deeper questions will be “on the poor, because poverty is the center of the Gospel. He, being rich, was made poor in order to enrich us with his poverty.”
Jesus didn’t consider it a privilege to be God, but “humbled himself unto death, death on a cross. It’s the choice of service,” Francis said.
It’s the choice we will be faced with when we meet Jesus face to face: “Did you use your life for yourself or to serve? To defend yourself from others with walls or to welcome with love? This will be the final decision of Jesus.”
Pope Francis traveled to the Lutheran evangelical parish of Christuskirche Sunday afternoon, where he met with leaders and other members of the community and participated in their liturgy.
After answering three questions from members of the community, the Pope gave a brief homily on the day’s Gospel, taken from Matthew Chapter 13, in which Jesus speaks of the end times.
In his homily, Francis said Jesus had to make choices, from calling the first disciples to curing the sick.
People listened to Jesus because “he spoke as one who had authority, not like the doctors of the Law, who strutted around,” flaunting their knowledge, he said.
Jesus gained followers because he was authentic and made his choices with love, as well as his corrections, the Pope continued. “He always guided and accompanied.”
An example the Pope gave was how Jesus walked with the disciples from Emmaus, who were leaving Jerusalem. In an act of “visible tenderness,” Jesus accompanied them; and when the time was right, he revealed himself, giving them hope.
Francis concluded his homily by saying that the day’s passage has a lot to show us about Jesus and asked the congregation where they, as Catholics and Lutherans, stand.
“What side are we on?” he asked, saying that all of us, as Lutherans and Catholics, have a choice to make: “the choice of service as he taught us, being the servant of the Lord.”
Jesus “also serves for unity, which helps us to walk together,” he said, noting how the two congregations had just prayed together and, in many situations, “loved together” by working to care for the poor and the needy.
He closed by praying for the grace of “reconciled diversity ... (to be like) God, who came to us to serve and not to be served.”
Before his homily, Pope Francis took questions from a child in the community, a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man and a woman who works in a project that helps refugees from North Africa.
When asked by 8-year-old Julius what his favorite thing about being pope is, Francis said, “Honestly, being a priest, being a shepherd.”
“I don’t like the bureaucratic work; I don’t like interviews, protocol, but I have to do it. But what I like most is being a pastor,” he said, adding that his favorite part of being a pastor is working with children.
He also said he likes to serve and that he feels good when he visits prisoners and the sick and is able to speak “with people who are a little desperate or sad.”
“To be pope is to be a bishop, to be a priest, to be a shepherd. If a Pope isn’t a bishop, a priest and a shepherd, he will be very important, very intelligent and very influential in society ... but I think that, in his heart, he’s not happy.”
When asked by Anke de Bernardinis, a Lutheran woman married to a Roman Catholic man, how she and her husband can be united in communion, Pope Francis said that the answer is “not easy.”
While someone with more background in theology might be able to give a better answer, Francis said that, as Christians, we all have the same baptism and that going to each other’s services is a way to participate in the Lord’s Supper together.
“You are a witness of a profound journey, because it’s a conjugal journey, the journey of a family, of human love, of shared faith,” he said, noting that praying together helps keep their common baptism alive.
Francis said he would “never dare to give permission” on anything regarding Communion, because “it’s not my competence,” but stressed that we all share “one baptism, one Lord, one faith.”
The last question was posed by Gertude Witmer, the community’s treasurer, who aids efforts to help 80 young mothers and children from North Africa. She asked what Christians can do in order to eliminate walls and resentment toward refugees.
“There is a fantasy behind human walls, the fantasy of becoming like God,” he said, adding that this is also the case behind the destruction of the Tower of Babel.
“The Tower of Babel is exactly the attitude of the men and woman who build walls, because to build walls is to say, ‘We are powerful, and you are outside,’” he said. “Walls always exclude; they prefer power, in this case the power of money.”
Francis said that the wall can be considered “the monument of exclusion” and questioned attendees on how often “the riches” of vanity and pride have become a wall for them, separating them from the Lord.
He said the remedy for building walls is found in one word: “service.”
Jesus gives us the example of what this service looks like when he washes the feet of his disciples and serves those most in need, he said.
The human ego always wants to defend itself and its own power, Francis observed, but noted that, in doing so, “it distances itself from the source of wealth.”
“In the end, walls are like a suicide; they make you closed. It’s a terrible thing to see a closed heart, and today we see it,” the Pope said.
In a final remark, he noted how Mother Theresa’s effort to help the poor die in dignity has been criticized as not making a difference, but was a small drop in a vast ocean.
However, “after this drop, the ocean is not the same,” the Pope said, adding that, “with service, the walls always fall on their own, but our egoism, our desire for power always tries to make them” do so.