— — —
The proclamation of the Gospel is destined first of all to the poor, to all those who often lack what is necessary to lead a fitting life. To them is proclaimed first the happy message that God loves them with predilection and comes to visit them through the works of charity that Christ’s disciples carry out in his name. First of all, go to the poor: this is the first thing. We can read in Matthew 25 that at the Last Judgment we will all be judged on this. But some, then, think that Jesus’ message is destined to those who don’t have a cultural preparation. No! No! The Apostle states forcefully that the Gospel is for all, also for the learned. Wisdom, which stems from the Resurrection, is not opposed to human wisdom but, on the contrary, purifies and elevates it. The Church has always been present in places where culture is elaborated. But the first step is always priority to the poor. But we must also go to the frontiers of the intellect, of culture, in the loftiness of dialogue, of dialogue that makes peace, of intellectual dialogue, of reasonable dialogue. The Gospel is for all! This question of going to the poor does not mean that we must become paupers, or a sort of “spiritual vagrants”! No, no, it doesn’t mean this! It means that we must go to the flesh of the suffering Jesus, but the flesh of Jesus also suffers in those who do not know him with their study, with their intelligence, with their culture. We must go there! This is why, I like to use the expression ”go to the peripheries,” to the existential peripheries — to all, all those of physical and real poverty, ofintellectual poverty, which is real as well. All the peripheries, all the crossroads: to go there and to sow the Gospel there with the word and with witness.
And this means that we must have courage. Paul VI said that he didn’t understand disheartened Christians; he didn’t understand them. These sad, anxious Christians, these Christians of whom one wonders if they believe in Christ or in a “complaining goddess”: one never knows. They lament every day, they lament how the world is, what calamity, what calamities there are. But think: the world isn’t worse than it was five centuries ago! The world is the world, and it has always been the world. And when one laments, and is thus, nothing can be done. Ah young people, I ask you a question: do you know Christians who are like this? There are, there are! But, a Christian must be courageous in face of a problem, in face of a social, religious crisis he must have the courage to go forward, to go forward with courage. And when nothing can be done, he must endure with patience, he must endure; he must have courage and patience, these two virtues of Paul. Courage: to go forward, to do things, to give strong witness; to go forward! Endure: to bear on one’s shoulders the things that can’t be changed now. But to go forward with patience, with the patience that grace gives us. However, what must we do with courage and patience? We must come out of ourselves, come out of ourselves. We must come out of our communities and go where men and women live, work and suffer and proclaim to them the mercy of the Father who made Himself known to men in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. To proclaim this grace which was given by Jesus. If I asked priests on Maundy Thursday to be shepherds with the scent of sheep, to you, dear brothers and sisters, I say: be bearers everywhere of the Word of life in our neighborhoods, in places of work, and wherever people meet and develop relations. You must go out. I don’t understand Christian communities that are closed in the parish. I want to say something to you. Beautiful in the Gospel is the passage that talks of the shepherd who, when he returns to the fold, realizes that a sheep is missing, he leaves the 99 and goes to look for it, to look for the one. But, brothers and sisters, we have one; we are missing the 99! We must go out, we must go to them! In this culture — let’s say the truth to ourselves – we have only one, we are a minority! And do we feel the fervor, the apostolic zeal to go out to look for the other 99? This is a great responsibility, and we must ask the Lord for the grace of generosity, courage and patience to go out, to go out to proclaim the Gospel. Ah, this is difficult. It’s easier to stay at home, with just the one sheep! It’s easier with that sheep, to comb it, to pet it … however, we priests, and also all you Christians: the Lord wants us to be shepherds, not combers of sheep; shepherds! And when a community is closed, always among the same persons who speak, such a community is not one that gives life. It’s a sterile community, not fecund. The fecundity of the Gospel comes by the grace of Jesus Christ, but through us, through our preaching, our courage, and our patience.
This is all somewhat long, no? But it isn’t easy. We must tell the truth: the work of evangelizing, of freely taking grace forward isn’t easy, because we are not alone with Jesus Christ; there is also an adversary, an enemy who wants to keep men separated from God. And because of this, he instills disappointment in hearts, when we don’t see our apostolic commitment recompensed immediately. Every day the devil flings in our hearts seeds of pessimism and bitterness, and we get discouraged, we get discouraged. “It’s not working! We have done this, and it’s not working: we have done that and it’s not working. And look how that religion attracts so many people and we don’t!” It’s the devil who puts these thoughts in us. We must prepare ourselves for the spiritual battle. This is important. The Gospel can’t be preached without this spiritual battle: a daily battle against sadness, against bitterness, against pessimism, a daily battle! It’s not easy to sow. It’s nicer to gather, but to sow isn’t easy, and this is the battle of Christians every day.
Paul said he had the urgency to preach and he had the experience of this spiritual battle, when he said: “I have a thorn of Satan in my flesh and I feel it every day.” We also have thorns of Satan that make us suffer and make us move with difficulty, and how often we are discouraged. We must prepare ourselves for the spiritual battle: evangelization asks real courage from us also for this interior battle, in our heart, to say with prayer, with mortification, with the wish to follow Jesus, with the Sacraments which are an encounter with Jesus, to say to Jesus: thank you, thank you for your grace. I want to take it to others. But this is work, this is work. This is called — don’t be frightened – it’s called martyrdom. This is martyrdom: to engage in the fight every day, to witness. This is martyrdom. And the Lord asks some the martyrdom of their life, but there is the martyrdom of every day, of every hour: the testimony against the spirit of evil who does not want us to be evangelizers.
And now I would like to end saying one thing. At this time, in which gratuitousness seems to be weakening in inter-personal relations because everything is sold and everything is bought, it’s difficult to find gratuitousness; we Christians proclaim a God who to be our friend doesn’t ask for anything other than to be heard. The only thing that Jesus asks is to be received. We think of all those who live in despair because they have never met someone who showed them that they cared, who consoled them, who made them feel precious and important. Can we, disciples of the Crucified, refuse to go to those places where no one wants to go because of the fear of committing themselves and of others’ judgment, and thus deny to our brothers the proclamation of the Word of God? Gratuitousness! We have received this gratuitousness, this grace, freely; we must give it freely. And this is, finally, what I want to say to you. Be not afraid, be not afraid. Be not afraid of love, of the love of God, our Father. Be not afraid. Be not afraid to receive the grace of Jesus Christ, be not afraid of the freedom that is given us by the grace of Jesus Christ or, as Paul said: “You are no longer under the Law but under grace.” Be not afraid of grace, let’s not be afraid to go out of ourselves, to go out of our Christian communities to go find the 99 that aren’t at home. And go to dialogue with them, and tell them what we think, go to show them our love which is the love of God.
Dear, dear brothers and sisters: let’s not be afraid. Let’s go forward to tell our brothers and our sisters that we are under grace, that Jesus gives us grace and this doesn’t cost anything: just receive it! Onwards![Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
— — —
On ZENIT’s web page: