Here is the homily Pope Francis gave during the Mass he celebrated this morning, Oct. 12, 2017, in Rome’s Marian Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, to commemorate the centenary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches and the Pontifical Oriental Institute:
Today we thank the Lord for the founding of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, the work of Pope Benedict XV one hundred years ago, in 1917. The First World War was raging at the time; today, as I have already had the occasion to say, we are living in another world war, if piecemeal. And we see many of our Christian brothers and sisters of the Oriental Churches who experience dramatic persecutions and an increasingly troubling diaspora. This poses many questions, many “Whys”, that resemble those of the first Letter today, from the book of Malachi (3: 13-20a).
The Lord laments with His people and says: “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape” (v.13-15).
How many times we too have this experience, and how often we hear it in the confidences and confessions of the people who open their heart to us. We see the wicked, those who unscrupulously serve their own interests, crushing others, and it seems that things go well for them; they obtain what they want and think only of enjoying life. From this there comes the question, “Why, Lord?
These “Whys”, which recur also in the sacred Scripture, we all ask. And to these, the same Word of God replies. Precisely in this passage from the prophet Malachi we read, “The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name” (v. 16). So, God does not forget His children, His memory is for the righteous, for those who suffer, who are oppressed and who ask themselves, “Why?”, yet do not cease to confide in the Lord.
How often the Virgin Mary, along her path, asked herself, “Why?”; but in her heart, which meditated all things, the grace of God made faith and hope shine.
And there is a way to enter into God’s memory: our prayer , as we are taught in the passage from the Gospel we have listened to (cf. Lk 11: 5-13).
When we pray it takes the courage of faith : to trust that the Lord listens to us, the courage to knock on the door. The Lord says: “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (v. 10). And this takes courage.
But, I wonder, is our prayer truly like this? Does it truly involve us, does it involve our heart and our life? Do we know how to knock on the heart of God? At the end of the Gospel passage (cf. v. 11-13), Jesus says: what father among you, if his son asks him for a fish, will give him a serpent? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you are fathers, you will act for the good of your children. And then it goes on: if you, then, who are wicked, know how to give good things to your children, more so your Father in heaven… And we expect it to continue, saying: he will give good things to you. Instead no, He does not say this! He says: the Holy Spirit will give to those who ask. It is precisely this that is the gift, this is the “more” that God gives. That which the Lord, the Father gives, is the Spirit: here is the true gift of the Father. Man knocks with prayer on God’s door to ask for a grace. And He, Who is the Father, gives me that, and more: the gift, the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, let us learn to knock on the heart of God! And let us learn to do so courageously. May this courageous prayer inspire and nurture also your service in the Church. In this way your effort will yield “fruit in its season” and you will be like trees whose “leaf does not wither” (cf. Psalm 1: 3).
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