Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Edmunds Retreat Center, Enders Island, Mystic, CT
Day of Recollection for Faculty of St. Mary-St. Joseph School, Willimantic, CT
“Pope Francis and the Missionary Transformation of the Church”
Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter
May 23, 2014
Acts 15:22-31, Ps 57, Jn 15:12-17
To listen to an audio recording of this homily please click here:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today Jesus’ gives “his” commandment, which he also calls “new.” It’s the summary of the Christian moral life. “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loves us, he told us yesterday, as much as the Father loves him, which is a total, self-sacrificial love to the extreme. Jesus didn’t call us to love him as he loved us, but to love others at that level. Jesus teaches us this same truth after the resurrection when he gives St. Peter three times to reconstitute his fidelity after his three fold denial. Jesus asks three times whether he loves him more than everything else and three times Peter replies that he does. Jesus, in response to each, doesn’t stop there in mutual love. He says, “Feed my sheep.” “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” Peter’s love for Jesus would be shown in how he cares for those Christ has entrusted to him, both old (sheep) as well as young or vulnerable (lambs). It’s the same way with all of us. Our love for the Lord will be shown by our love for others.
- As we ponder Pope Francis’ call for the reform of the Church, it is fundamentally a reform of love, of true faithful love to God and a passionate Christ-like love for others. Pope Francis said in an interview last September, “The church’s ministers …take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. … The structural and organizational reforms are secondary — that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.” This change in attitude from running an institution to being Good Samaritans, doing the dirty work to clean and raise up neighbors is the first aspect of the reform. And that goes for all those who lead in the Church, including those who work in the first line of the Church’s new evangelization efforts in schools.
- Pope Francis is summoning all of us to that type of love by his own example. On his first Holy Thursday, he pondered Jesus’ example of washing feet and he said to incarcerated teens: “[Jesus] himself explains to his disciples: ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you”'(Jn 13:12-15). It is the Lord’s example: he is the most important, and he washes feet, because with us what is highest must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign, right? Washing feet means: ‘I am at your service.’ And with us too, don’t we have to wash each other’s feet day after day? But what does this mean? That all of us must help one another. … Help one another: this is what Jesus teaches us and this what I am doing, and doing with all my heart, because it is my duty. As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart: I love it. I love this and I love to do it because that is what the Lord has taught me to do. … Let each one of us think: ‘Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?’ … This is the real reason why Jesus came: to serve, to help us.”
- Pope Francis recognizes, however, that far too many in the world don’t make the effort really to love others, to serve them, to be compassionate toward them, to weep over their misfortune. Last July 8, he preached what I’m convinced will remain the most powerful homily of his pontificate even if he concerns to serve well past his one-hundredth birthday. He journeyed to a small Italian island called Lampedusa, which is about 110 miles south of Sicily and 70 miles north of Algeria in Africa. Much like Miami is the destination for Cubans trying to escape communism on small boats no matter how stormy the Atlantic, so Lampedusa is a point of refuge for so many Africans freeing persecution and poverty. These people are often at the mercy of basically pirates who charge them a fortune (sometimes up to $40,000) to pack them as sardines on boats that wouldn’t pass inspection here in our country for a perilous 16 hour journey on a rough stretch of see. These mercenaries take advantage of them the same way the ‘coyotes’ abuse Mexicans trying to cross the US-Mexican border illegally to find work to support their families. As the situation has gotten worse because of Muslim persecution of Christians in Africa and the problems of violence and lack of security flowing from the so-called Arab spring, more and more Africans are trying to escape — and more are dying. Last April a boat carrying 260 immigrants from Libya drowned off the coast of Lampedusa when their boat ran out of fuel, stalled, and capsized in rough seas. 47 passengers, including a pregnant women, were rescued, but 213 perished. Lat May 8, another boat crashed onto the rocky cliffs on the south side ofLampedusa, and several passengers were crushed to death by the underside of the boat pressing them against the rocks. More shipwrecks have been happening since then, including another just a few weeks ago just 11 days ago as another 14 perishes. Over the last 25 years — get ready for this — about 20,000 people have died on that journey. But I bet you’re like me and, prior to Pope Francis’ decision to visit Lampedusa, had never heard of this small island. The death of 20,000 just doesn’t make the international radar. Even for those who survive, after risking their life and often being abused by those who ferried them, they’re often met by welcoming xenophobia by many in Europe, similar to the hostility with which many Americans treat illegal immigrants to our country. Pope Francis went to Lampedusa last July to draw near to all those who are suffering and to draw the attention of the entire world to what is going on. I want to share some excerpts of what he said with you, because it is a powerful commentary on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and a concrete application for how we, and others, are called to be neighbor to those in need.
- He said that there are three questions we all need to answer. First, the question “Adam, where are you?,” which is the question of trying to hide ourselves from our sins. The second is, “Where is your brother?,” which God asked Cain after he slew Abel. The third is, “Has anyone wept?”
- “How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed. ‘Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me,’ says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! … ‘Where is your brother?’ Who is responsible for this blood? In Spanish literature we have a comedy of Lope de Vega that tells how the people of the town of Fuente Ovejuna kill their governor because he is a tyrant. They do it in such a way that no one knows who the actual killer is. So when the royal judge asks: ‘Who killed the governor?,’ they all reply: ‘Fuente Ovejuna, sir.’ Everybody and nobody! Today too, the question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: ‘Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?’ Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: ‘poor soul…!,’ and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles that… offer a fleeting and empty illusion that results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business. ‘Adam, where are you?’ ‘Where is your brother?’ These are the two questions which God asks at the dawn of human history, and which he also asks each man and woman in our own day, which he also asks us. But I would like us to ask a third question: ‘Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?’ Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society that has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – ‘suffering with’ others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep! … Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this.”
- God’s world, Pope Francis said last September 7, is a world “where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other. This evening … each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living?… When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the center, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall. It is exactly in this chaos that God asks man’s conscience: ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ and Cain responds: ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Gen 4:9). We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another!”
- We all have to make our neighbor’s welfare part of our business. We need to love him as Jesus has first loved us. When Pope Francis was in Brazil last July, he visited a hospital and commented about the practical consequences of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. “In the Gospel, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, that speaks of a man assaulted by robbers and left half dead at the side of the road. People pass by him and look at him. But they do not stop, they just continue on their journey, indifferent to him: it is none of their business! How often we say: it’s not my problem! How often we turn the other way and pretend not to see! Only a Samaritan, a stranger, sees him, stops, lifts him up, takes him by the hand, and cares for him (cf. Lk 10:29-35).” If the parable were told today, those who would pass by would be a Pope, a social worker and a Missionary of Charity. Those who stopped to care would be a pimp, an Al Qaeda member or a child molester. That’s the point Jesus was making by citing a priest and levite and a Samaritan respectively. The Samaritan would have been the last person on the planet a Jew would have ever thought would have stopped to lend a hand, but he hadn’t lost his humanity. Failing to be a Good Samaritan, failing to be other brothers’ keeper, is not only not to fulfill Christ’s commandment of love, but to fail to be truly human.
- If we’re going to love our neighbor as Jesus calls to do, we can’t just love a little, because then in many cases we won’t love at all. We need to be willing to love fully and once we do, then we will be capable of what Jesus calls us to do. Last May, when this Gospel came up at daily Mass, Pope Francis made this point: “Jesus says something remarkable to us: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Love always takes this path: to give one’s life. To live life as a gift, a gift to be given — not a treasure to be stored away. And Jesus lived it in this manner, as a gift. … We must not burn out life with selfishness.”
- We learn how to love like this at Mass, as Jesus gives himself totally to us on the altar and tells us, “Do this in memory of me!” This is where receive each day his total love and are made capable, from the inside out, of loving others as he has loved us, because we’re loving others as he loves them through us. The reform that the Church is always in need of is a revolution of love. And here’s where it starts. May we with Pope Francis allow this love of Christ to triumph in us so that it may save the world!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
decided to choose representatives
and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas,
and Silas, leaders among the brothers.
This is the letter delivered by them:
“The Apostles and the presbyters, your brothers,
to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia
of Gentile origin: greetings.
Since we have heard that some of our number
who went out without any mandate from us
have upset you with their teachings
and disturbed your peace of mind,
we have with one accord decided to choose representatives
and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we are sending Judas and Silas
who will also convey this same message by word of mouth:
‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us
not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,
namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols,
from blood, from meats of strangled animals,
and from unlawful marriage.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’“And so they were sent on their journey.
Upon their arrival in Antioch
they called the assembly together and delivered the letter.
When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation.
PS 57:8-9, 10 AND 12
My heart is steadfast, O God; my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and chant praise.
Awake, O my soul; awake, lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn.
R. I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
I will give thanks to you among the peoples, O LORD,
I will chant your praise among the nations.
For your mercy towers to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the skies.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
above all the earth be your glory!
R. I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”