Progress means "lowering oneself" on the road of humility in order to allow God's love to emerge and be clearly seen.
This was the central focus of Pope Francis' homily this morning at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae chapel, according to L'Osservatore Romano. The feast of the Annunciation was marked today, as it was moved from the typical date of March 25, since that fell within Holy Week this year.
Among the congregation were Sisters of Charity who renewed their vows, the staff of the Vatican Television Center, staff of the Brazilian section of Vatican Radio, and longtime Papal photographer, Arturo Mari.
The way of Christian humility rises up to God, as those who bear witness to it "stoop low" to make room for charity, the Holy Father reflected.
The Pope said that the road taken by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the imperial census was a road of humility. There was the humility of Mary, who "did not understand well," but "[entrusted] her soul to the will of God." Joseph was humble, as he "lowered himself" to take on the "great responsibility" of the bride who was with child.
"So it is always with God's love," said Francis, "that, in order to reach us, takes the way of humility." This was the same way that Jesus walked, a way that humbled itself even unto the Cross. Pope Francis went on to say that, for a Christian, "[T]his is the golden rule," according to which progress and advancement always come through lowering oneself. "One can take no other road," he said, adding, "if I do not lower myself, if you do not lower yourself, you are not a Christian."
Pope Francis went on to say, "Being humble does not mean going on the road," with "downcast eyes." Such was not the humility of Jesus, or his mother or his foster father, Joseph. The Holy Father underlined that the way of humility is the one that leads to the triumph of the Resurrection. "Let us ask God for the grace of humility," he prayed, "that humility, which is the way by which charity surely passes," for, "if there is no humility, love remains blocked, it cannot go [forward]."
At his Saturday morning Mass, L'Osservatore Romano reported that the Pontiff spoke about martyrdom.
"To find martyrs we don't need to go to the Catacombs or to the Colosseum: today martyrs are alive in a great many countries. Christians are persecuted for their faith. In some countries they cannot carry the cross: they are penalized for doing so. Today, in the 21st century, our Church is a Church of martyrs," he said.
Pope Francis began his homily commenting with a quip on the Gospel passage of St Mark (16:9-15), in which are recounted the appearances of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples of Emmaus and to the Eleven. "When I read this Gospel it occurs to me that St Mark may not have liked Mary Magdalen much, since he recalled that the Lord had driven seven demons out of her, didn't he? It was a question of liking...".
He then presented a reflection on faith: "a grace", and "a gift of the Lord" which should not be glossed over — and is thus extended "to the peoples who believe in you", as the Collect of Mass says, for "we are not attached to a fantasy", but "to a reality we have seen and heard."
The Pope mentioned the passage from the Acts of the Apostles (4:13-21) proclaimed in the First Reading. In response to the order given by the head priests and Pharisees not to speak of Jesus, Peter and John, "stood firm in the faith" saying, "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
Their testimony, he added, "reminds me of our faith. And what is our faith like? Is it strong? Or is it at times a little like rosewater, a somewhat watered down faith? When problems arise are we brave like Peter or inclined to be lukewarm?"
Peter, Pope Francis said, teaches us that "faith is not negotiable. Among the People of God this temptation has always existed: to downsize faith, and not even by 'much.'" However, he explained, we must must get the better of "the temptation to behave more or less 'like everyone else', not to be too, too rigid", because it is "from this that a path which ends in apostasy unfolds."
Indeed, "when we begin to cut faith down, to negotiate faith and more or less to sell it to the one who makes the best offer, we are setting out on the road of apostasy, of non fidelity to the Lord".
Yet the very "example of Peter and John helps us, gives us strength"; as does the example of the martyrs in the Church's history. It is they "who say, like Peter and John, 'we cannot but speak'. And this gives strength to us, whose faith is at times rather weak. It gives us the strength to carry on living with this faith we have received, this faith which is the gift that the Lord gives to all peoples".
The Pope ended by suggesting a daily prayer: "Lord, thank you so much for my faith. Preserve my faith, increase it. May my faith be strong and courageous. And help me in the moments when, like Peter and John, I must make it public."