Pope Francis’ homily during the service on Sunday, September 4 in St. Peter’s Square, during which Pope John Paul I was beatified.
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER
Mass with the beatification of Pope John Paul I.
September 4, 2022, Vatican City
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and today’s Gospel says that “a great crowd went with him” (Luke 14:25). To go with him is to follow him, that is to become disciples. However, Jesus delivers an unattractive and very demanding speech to these people: one cannot be his disciple who does not love him more than his loved ones, who does not carry his cross, who does not detach himself from earthly possessions (cf. vv. 26-27, 33). Why does Jesus address the crowd with such words? What is the significance of his admonitions? Let’s try to answer these questions.
Above all, we see a large crowd, many people who follow Jesus. We can imagine that many were fascinated by his words and amazed by his actions, and therefore must have seen in him hope for their future. What would any teacher of the day, or—we may ask—what would a far-sighted leader do when he saw that his words and charisma were drawing crowds and strengthening his recognition? It happens even today: especially in times of personal and social crisis, when we are more exposed to feelings of anger or fear of something that threatens our future, we are more vulnerable, and so we rely on the wave of emotions to those who skillfully and cunningly know how to to drive this situation, they use the fear of society and promise to be “saviors” who will solve problems, while in reality they want to gain more recognition and power, status, the ability to have things in their hands.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus did not do this. God’s style is different; it is important to understand God’s style, how God works. God acts according to a certain style. God’s style is different because he does not exploit our needs, he never uses our weaknesses to gain more influence for himself. He does not want to deceive us and does not want to give away cheap pleasures, he does not need multitudes. He does not worship numbers, he does not seek consensus, he is not an idolater of personal success. On the contrary, he seems disturbed when people follow him with euphoria and reckless enthusiasm. And so instead of being drawn in by the lure of popularity—because popularity fascinates—he asks everyone to carefully distinguish between the reasons for following him and the consequences that follow. Many of this crowd may have followed Jesus because they hoped that he would be a leader who would deliver them from their enemies, who would gain power and share it with them, or who would miraculously solve the problems of hunger and disease. A person can come to Christ for various reasons, and some of them, we must admit, are worldly: behind the perfect appearance of godliness can be hidden only the satisfaction of one’s own needs, the pursuit of personal prestige, the desire to play a role, to have things under control, the desire to occupy space and to gain privileges, striving to gain recognition and the like. This is what is happening among Christians today. But that is not Jesus’ style. And that cannot be the style of the disciple and the church. If someone follows Jesus with these personal interests, they have gone the wrong way.
Christ requires a different attitude. Following him does not mean becoming a member of the royal court or participating in a triumphal procession, or getting a life insurance policy. On the contrary, it also means “carrying the cross” (Lk 14:27): just like him, to take on one’s own burdens and the burdens of others, to make life a gift, not a possession, to spend it imitating the generous and merciful love that he has for us. These are choices that bind the whole of existence, and that is why Jesus wants the disciple to put nothing before this love, not even the most expensive feelings and the greatest possessions.
However, in order to do this, we must look at him more than at ourselves, learn love, draw it from the Crucified. There we see that love that gives itself to the end, without measure and without limits. The measure of love is to love without measure. We ourselves,” said Pope Luciani, “are the object of God’s eternal love” (Angel of the Lord, September 10, 1978). Eternal: he never leaves our life, shines on us and illuminates even the darkest nights. And so, looking at the Crucified, we are called , to live according to this love: to cleanse ourselves from our distorted ideas about God and from our closedness, to love Him and others in the church and in society, even those who do not have the same mindset as us, even our enemies.
To love even at the cost of the cross, sacrifice, silence, misunderstanding, loneliness, obstacles and persecution. To love in this way, even at this price, because – as Blessed John Paul I said – if you want to kiss the crucified Jesus, “you cannot help but lean towards the cross and let yourself be pierced by the thorn from the crown that is on head of the Lord” (general audience, September 27, 1978). Love to the end, with all its thorns: not half things, comfort or a quiet life. If we do not aim high, if we do not take risks, if we are satisfied with a fragrant rose faith, we are – as Jesus says – like those who want to build a tower, but do not have the right means; they “lay the foundation” and then “are not able to finish the work” (v. 29). If we stop giving ourselves out of fear of losing ourselves, we leave things unfinished: relationships, work, responsibilities, dreams, and even faith. And then we end up living half-heartedly—and how many people live half-heartedly, so do we! So often we are tempted to live half-heartedly—to live without taking a decisive step—that is, to live half-heartedly—without taking flight, without risk for good, without real commitment to others. Jesus asks us: live according to the Gospel and you will live life not half-heartedly, but fully. Live the gospel, live life without compromise.
Brothers, sisters, this is how today’s new blessed lived: in the joy of the Gospel, without compromise, loving to the end. He embodied the poverty of the disciple, which consists not only in detaching oneself from material possessions, but above all in overcoming the temptation to place oneself in the center of attention and to seek one’s own glory. On the contrary, following the example of Jesus, he was a quiet and humble shepherd. He was considered the dust on which God chose to write (cf. A. LUCIANI/GIOVANNI PAOLO I., Opera omnia, Padua 1988, vol. II, 11). That is why he said: “The Lord has advised us so much to be humble. Even if you have done great things, say: We are unprofitable servants” (general audience, September 6, 1978).
And Pope Luciani was able to convey the goodness of God with a smile. Beautiful is the church with a joyful face, with a calm face, with a smiling face, a church that never closes its doors, that does not harden its hearts, that does not complain and does not hold grudges, is not angry – a church that is not angry -, is not impatient, does not present itself gloomy , does not suffer from nostalgia for the past by falling into retrogression.
Let us ask this father and brother of ours, let us ask him to obtain for us the “smile of the soul”, the transparent one, the one that does not lie: the smile of the soul; let us ask according to his words for what he himself asked for. He said, “Lord, accept me as I am, with my faults, with my shortcomings, but make me as you want me to be” (general audience, September 13, 1978).
Translated by Petr Vacík