On Sunday evening, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, one of the four major Papal basilicas in Rome. The Holy Father took possession of the Basilica of St. John Lateran and is expected to celebrate Mass at the remaining two papal basilicas.
The Basilica of St. Paul, whose archpriest is American Cardinal James Harvey, contains the tomb of St. Paul underneath its altar.
“ We are at the tomb of Saint Paul, a great yet humble Apostle of the Lord, who proclaimed him by word, bore witness to him by martyrdom and worshipped him with all his heart,” the Holy Father said as he began his homily.
The Pope wished to focus his homily on three “key ideas”: proclamation, witness, and worship.
Commenting on the first reading, Pope Francis recalled the courageous and fearless witness given by St. Peter and the Apostles despite being “flogged, ill-treated and imprisoned.”
“And we? Are we capable of bringing the word of God into the environment in which we live?” he asked the faithful. “Do we know how to speak of Christ, of what he represents for us, in our families, among the people who form part of our daily lives?”
“Faith is born from listening, and is strengthened by proclamation.”
Continuing his discourse on the proclamation made by Peter and the Apostles, Pope Francis stated that it did not consist solely on words, but also on their faithfulness to Christ with their lives. The Holy Father then reflected on the Gospel of the day, specifically on Jesus’ prophecy to Peter: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go (Jn. 21:18).”
“These words are addressed first and foremost to those of us who are pastors: we cannot feed God’s flock unless we let ourselves be carried by God’s will even where we would rather not go, unless we are prepared to bear witness to Christ with the gift of ourselves, unreservedly, not in a calculating way, sometimes even at the cost of our lives,” the Holy Father said.
The Pope called on the faithful to reflect on this essential element of Christianity: to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel. Comparing the testimony of faith to a fresco, Pope Francis stated that while there are a “variety of colors and shades”, all are important.
“In God’s great plan, every detail is important, even yours, even my humble little witness, even the hidden witness of those who live their faith with simplicity in everyday family relationships, work relationships, friendships,” he said.
“There are the saints of every day, the hidden saints, a sort of middle class of holiness to which we can all belong. But in different parts of the world, there are also those who suffer, like Peter and the Apostles, on account of the Gospel; there are those who give their lives in order to remain faithful to Christ by means of a witness marked by the shedding of their blood.”
Pope Francis went on to say that it is crucial to remember that one can’t proclaim the Gospel without being a true witness in their own lives. Inconsistency on the sayings and actions of both pastors and faithful, he stressed, undermines the Church’s credibility.
The Holy Father concluded his homily calling on all those present to place God first in their lives above all things, to “empty ourselves of the many small and great idols we have and in which we take refuge.”
“They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the center, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others.”
“This evening,” he continued, “I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the centre, as the highway of our lives.”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis said that Christ calls us everyday to follow Him with “courage and fidelity” while inviting the faithful to heed the Lord’s invitation to “proclaim Him with joy as the Risen one.”