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WE CANNOT REMAIN WITH ARMS CROSSED BEFORE A CITY THAT ASK HOPE OF US
A revolution, in order to transform history, must profoundly change human hearts. Revolutions that have taken place throughout the centuries have changed political and economic systems, but none of them have truly changed the human heart. Only Jesus Christ accomplished the true revolution, the one that radically transforms life, with his Resurrection that, as Benedict XVI loves to recall, was ‘the greatest mutation in the history of humanity’ and it gave birth to a new world.
This is the experience that the Apostle Paul lives. After having met Jesus on the way to Damascus, he radically changes his perspective on life and receives Baptism. God transforms his heart. Before he was a violent persecutor of Christians, now he becomes an Apostle, a courageous witness of Jesus Christ. With Baptism, the paschal sacrament, we to are made to participate in that same change and, like Paul, ‘we too might live in newness of life’. We are led to believe that it is primarily in changing structures that we can build a new world. Faith tells us that only a new heart, one regenerated by God, can create a new world: a heart ‘of flesh’ that loves, suffers, and rejoices with others; a heart full of tenderness for those who, bearing the wounds of their lives, feel themselves to be on the outskirts of society. Love is the greatest force for transforming reality because it breaks down the walls of selfishness and fills the chasms that keep us apart from one another.
Even in Rome there are people who live without hope and who are immersed in deep sadness that they try to get out of, believing to have found happiness in alcohol, in drugs, in gambling, in the power of money, in sex without rules. But they find themselves still more dejected and sometimes vent their anger towards life with violent acts that are unworthy of the human person. We who have discovered the joy of having God for our Father and his love for us, can we stand idly by in front of our brothers and sisters and not proclaim the Gospel to them? We who have found in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, the meaning of life, can we be indifferent towards this city that asks us, perhaps even unconsciously, for hope? We are Christians; we are disciples of Jesus not to be wrapped up in ourselves but to open ourselves to others in order to help them, in order to bring them to Christ and to protect every creature.
St. Paul is aware that Jesusas his name signifiesis the Saviour of all humanity, not just of persons of a certain age or geographical area. The Gospel is for all because God loves everyone and wants to save everyone. The proclamation of the Gospel is destined primarily to the poor, to those who often lack the essentials for a decent life. The good news is first announced to them, that God loves them before all others and comes to visit them through the acts of charity that the disciples of Christ carry out in his name. Others think that Jesus’ message is destined to those who don’t have cultural training and who therefore find in faith the answer to the many ‘whys’ that are present in their hearts. Instead, the Apostle strongly affirms that the Gospel is for everyone, even experts. The wisdom that comes from Revelation is not opposed to human wisdom, but rather purifies and elevates it. The Church has always been present in the places where culture develops.
The Pope then improvised: The Gospel is for all! Going out toward the poor doesn’t mean that we must become paupers or some sort of ‘spiritual bums’! No, that’s not what it means! It means that we must go towards the flesh of the suffering Jesus but Jesus’ flesh also suffers in those who don’t know it, with their studies, their intelligence, their culture. We must go there! That’s why I like to use the expression ‘go to the outskirts’, the existential peripheries. Everyone, all of them, [who suffer] from physical and real poverty to intellectual poverty, which is also real. All the outskirts, all the intersections of paths: go there. And there sow the seed of the Gospel by word and by witness.
This means that we must have courage. I want to tell you something. In the Gospel there’s that beautiful passage that tells us of the shepherd who, on returning to the sheepfold and realizing that a sheep is missing, leaves the 99 and goes to look for it, to look for the one. But, brothers and sisters, we have one. It’s the 99 who we’re missing! We have to go out, we must go to them! In this culturelet’s face itwe only have one. We are the minority. And do we feel the fervour, the apostolic zeal to go out and find the other 99? This is a big responsibility and we must ask the Lord for the grace of generosity and the courage and the patience to go out, to go out and proclaim the Gospel.
Sustained by this certainty that comes from Revelation, we have the courage, the confidence, to go out of ourselves, to go out of our communities, to go where men and women live, work, and suffer, and to proclaim the Father’s mercy to them, which was made known to humanity in Jesus of Nazareth. Let us always remember, however, that the Adversary wants to keep us separated from God and therefore instils disappointment in our hearts when we do not see our apostolic commitment immediately rewarded. Every day the devil sows the seeds of pessimism and bitterness in our hearts. Let us open ourselves to the breath of the Holy Spirit, who never ceases to sow seeds of hope and confidence. Don’t forget that God is the strongest and that if we allow him into our lives nothing and no one can oppose his action. So let’s not be overcome by the discouragement that we encounter in facing difficulties when we talk of Jesus and the Gospel. Let’s not think that faith doesn’t have a future in our city!
St. Paul then adds: ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel’. For him, the Gospel is the proclamation of Jesus’ death on the cross. The cross forcefully reminds us that we are sinners, but above all that we are love, that we are so dear to God’s heart that, to save us, He didn’t hesitate to sacrifice his Son Jesus. The Christian’s only boast is knowing that they are loved by God. Every person needs to feel themself loved the way they are because this is the only thing that makes life beautiful and worthy of being lived. In our time, when [what is freely given] seems to fade in our interpersonal relationships, we Christians proclaim a God who, to be our friend, asks nothing but to be accepted. Think of how many live in desperation because they have never met someone who has shown them attention, comforted them, made them feel precious and important. We, the disciples of Christ, can we refuse to go to those places that no one wants to go out of fear of compromising ourselves or the judgement of others, and thus deny our brothers and sisters the announcement of God’s mercy?
Speaking off the cuff again, the Pope added: Freely given! We have received this gratuity, this grace, freely. We must give it freely. And this is what, in the end, I want to tell you Don’t be afraid of love, of the love of God our Father. Don’t be afraid to receive the grace of Jesus Christ. Don’t be afraid of our freedom that is given by the grace of Jesus Christ, or, as Paul said: ‘You are not under the law but under grace’. Don’t be afraid of grace. Don’t be afraid to go out of yourselves to go and find the 99 who aren’t home. Go out to dialogue with them and tell them what we think. Go show them our love, which is God’s love.