Pope Francis says Christians who wish to inherit the kingdom of heaven must place God first in their lives and say no to corruption and violence.
The Holy Father made these comments during his homily at a public Mass in the southern Italian city of Caserta Saturday evening, in a square adjacent to the city’s magnificent 18th century Baroque Royal Palace.
Celebrating the Mass for the feast of St. Anne, the mother of Mary and patron of the city, the Pope reflected on Jesus’ teaching on the nature of the kingdom of heaven, how to find it, and what to do to possess it.
The Pontiff said although Jesus “doesn’t bother explaining” what the kingdom is, he says it “is at hand,” for the Lord is not only “near” his people, but “among” them.
“It is the joy of all of us when we discover the closeness and the presence of Jesus in our lives,” Francis said, because it “transforms our lives and makes us sensitive to the needs of our brothers,” including foreigners and immigrants. “The Lord is here with us today,” he said.
Jesus alone, the Holy Father said, gives “the hope which never disappoints.”
Turning to how the kingdom of God is found, Francis reflected that finding it is less dependent on us than we may have thought. Rather, “God lets Himself be found, because it is He who first wants to meet us, and first tries to meet us.” Even for those who don’t seek him, He makes himself discoverable, the Pontiff said, even in “unusual places” and at “unexpected times.”
On how to possess the kingdom, the Pope said Christians must put God first in their lives. “Giving primacy to God means having the courage to say no to evil, violence, oppression, and [instead] living a life of service to others and in favor of the law and the common good,” he said. “When a person finds God, the true treasure, they leave a selfish lifestyle and look to share with others the love that comes from God.”
Putting God first, the Holy Father explained, requires you “to have the courage to say no to any form of corruption and lawlessness” and “to be a servant of the truth and to assume every situation in the style of the living Gospel,” which is “manifested in the gift of self and attention to the poor and the excluded.”
Speaking off the cuff, the Pontiff asked those present a question. “How many of you read a passage of the Gospel every day?” He joked they didn’t need to raise their hands, but suggested they may be misplacing their priorities by asking: “How many of you rush to finish your work to not miss a soap opera?”
“Keep a small Gospel always at hand,” he urged. “Open it to a random page, read what Jesus says, and Jesus is there,” he stressed.
The Holy Father recalled St. Anne, saying he likes to call her the “grandmother of Jesus.” After saying her feast day marks a great occasion to celebrate grandmothers, he encouraged those gathered to live her day “free of every preconception” and to express “only the faith of a people that recognizes God’s family and strengthens bonds of brotherhood and solidarity.”
Pope Francis concluded: “Have hope, the hope that never disappoints. And I would like to repeat: Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope!”
Saturday marked the first day of the Pontiff’s two day visit to Caserta, split between 26 and 28 July, into private and public events. After a 3 p.m. flight from the Vatican into the heliport of the Italian Air Force School in the Royal Palace of Caserta, the Pontiff first visited the Air Force Officers Club, where he met with diocesan priests at 4 p.m. The public Mass followed at 6 p.m., after which the Pope departed for Rome.
The private part of the visit will be Monday when the Pope meets his friend, Rev. Giovanni Traettino, who had invited him to visit Caserta last month when Francis met with a group of evangelical pastors in Rome. Rev. Traettino is a pastor whom Pope Francis has known for many years from his time in Buenos Aires.
Pope Francis chose to make a public visit to Caserta after accepting an invitation from the bishop of the diocese, Giovanni D’Avise, earlier this month to meet Caserta’s faithful and celebrate a public Mass on the feast day of the city’s patron saint.
Caserta has a population of some 80,000 people, mostly Catholic, and is an important agricultural, commercial and industrial comune and city.
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