See who Jesus is: He who sees you first; He who loves you first; He who receives you first. When we discover that His love anticipates us, that it reaches us first of all, life changes…
Saturday afternoon, after leaving his residence, Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis made an excursion outside of Rome, to Albano, and during the Mass he celebrated, this was at the heart of his message for those present.
During the Holy Father’s homily, while reflecting on the day’s readings, the Holy Father reminded that Zacchaeus overcomes his shame and, in a certain sense, he became a child. In this context, Francis stressed it is important for us “to become simple,” “open.”
“To guard God’s “first,” namely, His mercy,” the Holy Father said, “it’s not necessary to be complicated Christians, who elaborate thousands of theories and disperse themselves to seek answers on the network, but we must be like children.”
Children, he noted, are in need of parents and of friends, adding we also are in need of God and of others.
“We are not sufficient to ourselves; we are in need of unmasking our self-sufficiency, to overcome our closures, to become small again inside, simple and enthusiastic, full of impetus towards God and of love for our neighbour.”
The Pope was welcomed, in front of the Cathedral of Albano, by the Bishop, Monsignor Marcello Semeraro; by the city’s Mayor, Dr Nicola Marini and by the Cathedral’s parish priest, Father Adriano Gibellini. The Mayor gave Pope Francis a gift and showed him a “mural” commemorating the visit. Two children gave the Pope a floral tribute.
Before entering the Cathedral to pray together with the priests, the Holy Father addressed a few words of greeting to the numerous faithful present outside.
The Pope entered the Cathedral immediately after, walked down the central nave and recollected himself in silent prayer before the altar.
After the prayer with priests in the Cathedral, at 5:50 pm the Holy Father presided over the Eucharistic Celebration.
At the end of Holy Mass, after the greeting of the Bishop of Albano, H.E. Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, the Pontiff returned to the Vatican.
Here is a ZENIT translation of the homily the Holy Father gave, in the course of the Eucharistic Celebration.
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The Holy Father’s Homily
The episode we just heard happened at Jericho, the famous city destroyed at the time of Joshua, that, according to the Bible, would not be rebuilt (Cf. Js 6): it should have been “the forgotten city.” But Jesus, says the Gospel, entered and passed through (Cf. Luke 19:1). And in this city, which is below sea level, He didn’t fear to reach the lowest level, represented by Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector, in fact, the “chief tax collector,” namely <one> of those Jews hated by the people, who collected the taxes for the Roman Empire. He was “rich” (v. 2) and it’s easy to intuit how he became so: at the expense of his fellow citizens, exploiting his fellow citizens. In their eyes, Zacchaeus was the worst, unable to be saved. But not in Jesus’ eyes, who called him by name, Zacchaeus, which means “God remembers.” In the forgotten city, God remembers the greatest sinner.
First of all, the Lord remembers us. He doesn’t forget; He doesn’t lose sight of us despite the obstacles that can keep us far from Him. Obstacles that weren’t lacking in Zacchaeus’ case: his low stature — physical and moral –, but also his shame, so he sought Jesus hidden between the branches of a tree, probably hoping he wouldn’t be seen. And then the outside criticisms: because of that meeting, “all murmured” in the city (v. 7) — however, I believe it’s the same at Albano: there is murmuring . . . Limitations, sins, shame, gossip and prejudices: no obstacle makes Jesus forget the essential: the man to love and save.
What does this Gospel say to us on the anniversary of your Cathedral? That every church, that the Church with a capital <C> exists to keep alive in men’s heart the memory that God loves them. She exists to say to each one, even the most estranged: You are loved and Jesus calls you by name; God doesn’t forget you, He has you at heart.” Dear brothers and sisters, like Jesus, don’t be afraid to go “through” your city — to go to the one most forgotten, the one who is hidden behind the branches because of shame, fear, loneliness –, to say to him: “God remembers you.”
I would like to underscore another action of Jesus. In addition to remembering, to recognizing Zacchaeus, He anticipates <him>. We see it in the exchange of looks with Zacchaeus. “He sought to see who Jesus was.” (v. 3). It’s interesting that Zacchaeus did not only seek to see Jesus, but to see who Jesus was, namely, to understand what sort of teacher He was, what was His distinctive trait. And he discovers it, not when he looks at Jesus, but when Jesus looks at him, because, while Zacchaeus sought to see Him, Jesus saw him first, before Zacchaeus spoke, Jesus spoke to him; before inviting Jesus, Jesus comes to his house. See who Jesus is: He who sees you first; He who loves you first; He who receives you first. When we discover that His love anticipates us, that it reaches us first of all, life changes. Dear brother, dear sister, if, as Zacchaeus, you are looking for the meaning of life but, not finding it, you are throwing yourself away with “surrogates of love,” such as riches, a career, pleasure, an addiction, let Jesus look at you. Only with Jesus will you discover that you have always been loved and you will make “the” discovery of life. You will feel touched within by God’s invincible tenderness, which overwhelms and moves the heart. That’s how it was for Zacchaeus, and that’s how it is for each one of us, when we discover the first of Jesus: Jesus who anticipates us, who looks at us first, who speaks to us first, who waits for us first. As Church, let us ask ourselves if Jesus comes first with us: is He first or our agenda, is He first or our structures? Every conversion is born of an anticipation of mercy; it’s born of God’s tenderness that ravishes the heart. If all that we do doesn’t start from Jesus’ look of mercy, we run the risk of making the faith worldly, of complicating it, of filling it with so many boundaries: cultural arguments, efficient visions, political options, partisan choices . . . But the essential is forgotten, the simplicity of the faith, what comes first of all: the living encounter with God’s mercy. If this isn’t the center, if it isn’t at the beginning and at the end of every activity of ours, we risk having God “outside the home,” namely, in the church, which is His house, but not with us. Today’s invitation is: let God be “merciful” to you. He comes with His mercy. To guard God’s first, there is Zacchaeus’ example. Jesus sees him first because he had climbed up a sycamore tree. It’s a gesture that required courage, dash, <and> imagination: not many adults are seen climbing up trees; youngsters do this, it’s something that is done as children, we’ve all done it. Zacchaeus overcomes his shame and, in a certain sense, he became a child. It’s important for us to become simple, open. To guard God’s “first,” namely, His mercy, it’s not necessary to be complicated Christians, who elaborate thousands of theories and disperse themselves to seek answers on the network, but we must be like children. They are in need of parents and of friends: we also are in need of God and of others. We are not sufficient to ourselves; we are in need of unmasking our self-sufficiency, to overcome our closures, to become small again inside, simple and enthusiastic, full of impetus towards God and of love for our neighbour.
I would like to make evident a last action of Jesus, who makes one feel at home. He says to Zacchaeus: “I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). At your house, Zacchaeus, who felt foreign in his city, who returns to his house a loved person. And, loved by Jesus, he rediscovers the people close to him and says: “the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, — this man had stolen so much — I restore it fourfold” (v. 8). The Law of Moses asked to restore adding a fifth (Cf. Leviticus 5:24), Zacchaeus gives fourfold: he goes well beyond the Law because he has found love. Feeling at home, he opened the door to his neighbour.
How good it would be if our neighbours and acquaintances felt the Church as their home! Unfortunately, it happens that our communities become foreign to so many and not very attractive. Sometimes we also suffer the temptation of creating closed circles, intimate places among the elect. We feel chosen, we feel <ourselves> elite . . . However, there are so many brothers and sisters that have a nostalgia for home, who don’t have the courage to approach, perhaps because they haven’t felt welcome; perhaps because they have met a priest that treated them badly, or chased them out, who wanted to make them pay for the Sacraments — an awful thing — , and they moved away. The Lord wants His Church to be a house among houses, a hospital tent where everyone, wayfarer of existence, encounters Him, who came to dwell in our midst (Cf. John 1:14).
Brothers and sisters, may the Church be the place where one never looks down on others but, as Jesus with Zacchaeus, looks up from below. Remember that the only moment in which it’s licit to look at a person from the top down is to help him rise again; otherwise it isn’t licit; only in that moment <can one> look at him that way, because he has fallen. Let us never look at people as judges, <but> always as brothers. We are not inspectors of others’ life but promoters of the good of all. And to be promoter of the good of all, something that helps a lot is to keep the tongue still: not to speak badly of others. However, sometimes when I say these things, I hear it said: “Father, look, it’s an awful thing, but it comes to me, because I see something and the desire comes to criticize.” I suggest a good medicine for this — apart from prayer — the effective medicine is: bite your tongue. It will swell in your mouth and you won’t be able to talk!” The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” concludes the Gospel (Luke 19:10). If we avoid someone who seems lost, we aren’t of Jesus. Let us ask for the grace to go to meet each one as a brother, and not see in any one an enemy. And if we have been harmed, let us restore the good. Jesus’ disciples aren’t slaves of past evils but, forgiven by God, they do as Zacchaeus: they only think of the good they can do. Let us give freely. Let us love the poor and those that can’t restore to us: we will be rich in the eyes of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, I hope your Cathedral, as every church, is the place in which each one feels remembered by the Lord, anticipated by His mercy and received at home, so that the most beautiful thing happens in the Church: to rejoice because salvation has entered life (Cf. v. 9). So be it.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]