Francis Homilies - HOLY MASS IN THE BASILICA OF THE SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF THE CONCEPTION OF APARECIDA Wednesday, 24 July 2013
My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
What joy I feel as I come to the house of the Mother of every Brazilian, the Shrine of our Lady of Aparecida! The day after my election as Bishop of Rome, I visited the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, in order to entrust my ministry to Our Lady. Today I have come here to ask Mary our Mother for the success of World Youth Day and to place at her feet the life of the people of Latin America.
There is something that I would like to say first of all. Six years ago the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean was held in this Shrine. Something beautiful took place here, which I witnessed at first hand. I saw how the Bishops – who were discussing the theme of encountering Christ, discipleship and mission – felt encouraged, supported and in some way inspired by the thousands of pilgrims who came here day after day to entrust their lives to Our Lady. That Conference was a great moment of Church. It can truly be said that the Aparecida Document was born of this interplay between the labours of the Bishops and the simple faith of the pilgrims, under Mary’s maternal protection. When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: “Show us Jesus”. It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.
Today, looking forward to the World Youth Day which has brought me to Brazil, I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary – who loved and raised Jesus – that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal. For this reason I would like to speak of three simple attitudes: hopefulness, openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy.
1. Hopefulness.The second reading of the Mass presents a dramatic scene: a woman – an image of Mary and the Church – is being pursued by a Dragon – the devil – who wants to devour her child. But the scene is not one of death but of life, because God intervenes and saves the child (cf. Ap 12,13a Ap 12,15-16a). How many difficulties are present in the life of every individual, among our people, in our communities; yet as great as these may seem, God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them. In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life, in our efforts to evangelize or to embody our faith as parents within the family, I would like to say forcefully: Always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Let us never lose hope! Let us never allow it to die in our hearts! The “dragon”, evil, is present in our history, but it does not have the upper hand. The one with the upper hand is God, and God is our hope! It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure. Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope! Let us maintain a positive outlook on reality. Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world. Young people are a powerful engine for the Church and for society. They do not need material things alone; also and above all, they need to have held up to them those non-material values which are the spiritual heart of a people, the memory of a people. In this Shrine, which is part of the memory of Brazil, we can almost read those values: spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy; they are values whose deepest root is in the Christian faith.
2. The second attitude: openness to being surprised by God. Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope – the great hope which faith gives us – knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and he surprises us. The history of this Shrine is a good example: three fishermen, after a day of catching no fish, found something unexpected in the waters of the Parnaíba River: an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Whoever would have thought that the site of a fruitless fishing expedition would become the place where all Brazilians can feel that they are children of one Mother? God always surprises us, like the new wine in the Gospel we have just heard. God always saves the best for us. But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God! Cut off from him, the wine of joy, the wine of hope, runs out. If we draw near to him, if we stay with him, what seems to be cold water, difficulty, sin, is changed into the new wine of friendship with him.
3. The third attitude: living in joy. Dear friends, if we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy. Christians are joyful, they are never gloomy. God is at our side. We have a Mother who always intercedes for the life of her children, for us, as Queen Esther did in the first reading (cf Est 5,3). Jesus has shown us that the face of God is that of a loving Father. Sin and death have been defeated. Christians cannot be pessimists! They do not look like someone in constant mourning. If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will “light up” with a joy that spreads to everyone around us. As Benedict XVI said here, in this Shrine: “the disciple knows that without Christ, there is no light, no hope, no love, no future” (Inaugural Address, Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 13 May 2007, 3).
Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2,5). Yes, Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Seeing this Cathedral full of Bishops, priests, seminarians, and men and women religious from the whole world, I think of the Psalmist’s words from today’s Mass: “Let the peoples praise you, O God” (Ps 66). We are indeed here to praise the Lord, and we do so reaffirming our desire to be his instruments so that not only some peoples may praise God, but all. With the same parrhesia of Paul and Barnabas, we want to proclaim the Gospel to our young people, so that they may encounter Christ and build a more fraternal world. I wish to reflect with you on three aspects of our vocation: we are called by God, called to proclaim the Gospel, and called to promote the culture of encounter.
1. Called by God – I believe that it is important to rekindle constantly an awareness of our divine vocation, which we often take for granted in the midst of our many daily responsibilities: as Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15,16). This means returning to the source of our calling. For this reason, a Bishop, a priest, a consecrated person, a seminarian cannot be “forgetful”: it would mean losing the vital link to that first moment of our journey. Ask for the grace, ask the Virgin for the grace, she who had a good memory; ask for the grace to preserve the memory of this first call. We were called by God and we were called to be with Jesus (cf. Mc 3,14), united with him. In reality, this living, this abiding in Christ marks all that we are and all that we do. It is precisely this “life in Christ” that ensures our apostolate is effective, that our service is fruitful: “I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit be authentic ” (cf. Jn 15,16). It is not creativity, however pastoral it may be, or meetings or planning that ensure our fruitfulness, even if these are greatly helpful. But what assures our fruitfulness is our being faithful to Jesus, who says insistently: “Abide in me and I in you” (Jn 15,4). And we know well what that means: to contemplate him, to worship him, to embrace him, in our daily encounter with him in the Eucharist, in our life of prayer, in our moments of adoration; it means to recognize him present and to embrace him in those most in need. “Being with” Christ does not mean isolating ourselves from others. Rather, it is a “being with” in order to go forth and encounter others. Here I wish to recall some words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She said: “We must be very proud of our vocation because it gives us the opportunity to serve Christ in the poor. It is in the favelas, ... in the villas miseria, that one must go to seek and to serve Christ. We must go to them as the priest presents himself at the altar, with joy” (Mother’s Instructions p. 80). Jesus is the Good Shepherd; he is our true treasure. Please, let us not erase Jesus from our lives! Let us ground our hearts ever more in him (cf. Lc 12,34).
2. Called to proclaim the Gospel – Many of you, dear Bishops and priests, if not all, have accompanied your young people to World Youth Day. They too have heard the mandate of Jesus: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (cf. Mt 28,19). It is our responsibility as Pastors to help kindle within their hearts the desire to be missionary disciples of Jesus. Certainly, this invitation could cause many to feel somewhat afraid, thinking that to be missionaries requires leaving their own homes and countries, family and friends. God asks us to be missionaries. But where – where he himself places us, in our own countries or wherever he chosen for us. Let us help the young. Let us have an attentive ear to listen to their dreams – they need to be heard – to listen to their successes, to pay attention to their difficulties. You have to sit down and listen to the same libretto, but accompanied by diverse music, with different characteristics. Having the patience to listen! I ask this of you with all my heart! In the confessional, in spiritual direction, in accompanying. Let us find ways to spend time with them. Planting seeds is demanding and very tiring, very tiring! It is much more rewarding to enjoy the harvest! How cunning! Reaping is more enjoyable for us! But Jesus asks us to sow with care and responsibility.
Let us spare no effort in the formation of our young people! Saint Paul uses an expression that he embodied in his own life, when he addressed the Christian community: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (Ga 4,19). Let us embody this also in our own ministry! To help our young people to discover the courage and joy of faith, the joy of being loved personally by God, is very difficult. But when young people understand it, when young people experience it through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, this “being personally loved by God” accompanies them for the rest of their lives. They rediscover the joy that God gave his Son Jesus for our salvation. Let us form them in mission, to go out, to go forth, to be itinerants who communicate the faith. Jesus did this with his own disciples: he did not keep them under his wing like a hen with her chicks. He sent them out! We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, in our parish or diocesan institutions, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! To go out as ones sent. It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome because they come, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Let us urge our young people to go forth. Of course, they will make mistakes, but let us not be afraid! The Apostles made mistakes before us. Let us urge them to go forth. Let us think resolutely about pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church. They are the VIPs who are invited. Go and search for them at the crossroads.
3. To be called by Jesus, to be called to evangelize, and third: to be Called to promote the culture of encounter – In many places, generally speaking, due to the economic humanism that has been imposed in the world, the culture of exclusion, of rejection, is spreading. There is no place for the elderly or for the unwanted child; there is no time for that poor person in the street. At times, it seems that for some people, human relations are regulated by two modern “dogmas”: efficiency and pragmatism. Dear Bishops, priests, religious and you, seminarians who are preparing for ministry: have the courage to go against the tide of this culture. Be courageous! Remember this, which helps me a great deal and on which I meditate frequently: take the First Book of Maccabees, and recall how many of the people wanted to adapt to the culture of the time: “No …! Leave us alone! Let us eat of everything, like the others do… Fine, yes to the Law, but not every part of it …”. And they ended up abandoning the faith and placing themselves in the current of that culture. Have the courage to go against the tide of this culture of efficiency, this culture of waste. Encountering and welcoming everyone, solidarity – a word that is being hidden by this culture, as if it were a bad word – solidarity and fraternity: these are what make our society truly human.
Be servants of communion and of the culture of encounter! I would like you to be almost obsessed about this. Be so without being presumptuous, imposing “our truths”, but rather be guided by the humble yet joyful certainty of those who have been found, touched and transformed by the Truth who is Christ, ever to be proclaimed (cf. Lc 24,13-35).
Dear brothers and sisters, God calls us, by name and surname, each one of us, to proclaim the Gospel and to promote the culture of encounter with joy. The Virgin Mary is our exemplar. In her life she was “a model of that motherly love with which all who join in the Church’s apostolic mission for the regeneration of humanity should be animated” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium LG 65). Let us ask her to teach us to encounter one another in Jesus every day. And when we pretend not to notice because we have many things to do and the tabernacle is abandoned, may she take us by the hand. Let us ask this of her! Watch over me, Mother, when I am disoriented, and lead me by the hand. May you spur us on to meet our many brothers and sisters who are on the outskirts, who are hungry for God but have no one to proclaim him. May you not force us out of our homes, but encourage us to go out so that we may be disciples of the Lord. May you grant all of us this grace.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Young Friends,
“Go and make disciples of all nations”. With these words, Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying: “It was wonderful to take part in World Youth Day, to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go, now you must pass on this experience to others.” Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! Today, in the light of the word of God that we have heard, what is the Lord saying to us? What is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.
1. Go. During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of meeting Jesus, meeting him together with others, and you have sensed the joy of faith. But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history (cf. Rm 10,9).
Careful, though! Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination, from the desire for power, but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and did not give us just a part of himself, but he gave us the whole of himself, he gave his life in order to save us and to show us the love and mercy of God. Jesus does not treat us as slaves, but as people who are free , as friends, as brothers and sisters; and he not only sends us, he accompanies us, he is always beside us in our mission of love.
Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.
In particular, I would like Christ’s command: “Go” to resonate in you young people from the Church in Latin America, engaged in the continental mission promoted by the Bishops. Brazil, Latin America, the whole world needs Christ! Saint Paul says: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1Co 9,16). This continent has received the proclamation of the Gospel which has marked its history and borne much fruit. Now this proclamation is entrusted also to you, that it may resound with fresh power. The Church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you. A great Apostle of Brazil, Blessed José de Anchieta, set off on the mission when he was only nineteen years old. Do you know what the best tool is for evangelizing the young? Another young person. This is the path for all of you to follow!
2. Do not be afraid. Some people might think: “I have no particular preparation, how can I go and proclaim the Gospel?” My dear friend, your fear is not so very different from that of Jeremiah, as we have just heard in the reading, when he was called by God to be a prophet. “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth”. God says the same thing to you as he said to Jeremiah: “Be not afraid ... for I am with you to deliver you” (Jr 1,7-8). He is with us!
“Do not be afraid!” When we go to proclaim Christ, it is he himself who goes before us and guides us. When he sent his disciples on mission, he promised: “I am with you always” (Mt 28,20). And this is also true for us! Jesus never leaves anyone alone! He always accompanies us .
And then, Jesus did not say: “One of you go”, but “All of you go”: we are sent together. Dear young friends, be aware of the companionship of the whole Church and also the communion of the saints on this mission. When we face challenges together, then we are strong, we discover resources we did not know we had. Jesus did not call the Apostles to live in isolation, he called them to form a group, a community. I would like to address you, dear priests concelebrating with me at this Eucharist: you have come to accompany your young people, and this is wonderful, to share this experience of faith with them! Certainly he has rejuvenated all of you. The young make everyone feel young. But this experience is only a stage on the journey. Please, continue to accompany them with generosity and joy, help them to become actively engaged in the Church; never let them feel alone! And here I wish to thank from the heart the youth ministry teams from the movements and new communities that are accompanying the young people in their experience of being Church, in such a creative and bold way. Go forth and don’t be afraid!
3. The final word: serve.The opening words of the psalm that we proclaimed are: “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Ps 95,1). What is this new song? It does not consist of words, it is not a melody, it is the song of your life, it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus, it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, his actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. The life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.
In our Second Reading today, Saint Paul says: “I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1Co 9,19). In order to proclaim Jesus, Paul made himself “a slave to all”. Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did.
Three ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve. Go, do not be afraid, and serve. If you follow these three ideas, you will experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized, the one who transmits the joy of faith receives more joy. Dear young friends, as you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel. In the first Reading, when God sends the prophet Jeremiah, he gives him the power to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jr 1,10). It is the same for you. Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world. Dear young friends, Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you! May Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, always accompany you with her tenderness: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Amen.
In this Eucharist in which we are celebrating our Father, Ignatius of Loyola, in the light of the Readings we have heard I would like to suggest three simple thoughts, guided by three concepts: putting Christ and the Church at the centre; letting ourselves be won over by him in order to serve; feeling ashamed of our shortcomings and sins so as to be humble in his eyes and in those of our brethren.
1. Our Jesuit coat of arms is a monogram bearing the acronym of “Iesus Hominum Salvator” (IHS). Each one of you could say to me: we know that very well! But this coat of arms constantly reminds us of a reality we must never forget: the centrality of Christ, for each one of us and for the whole Society which St Ignatius wanted to call, precisely, “of Jesus” to indicate its point of reference. Moreover, at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises we also place ourselves before Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator and Saviour (cf. EE 6). And this brings us Jesuits and the whole Society to be “off-centre”, to stand before “Christ ever greater”, the “Deus semper maior”, the “intimior intimo meo” ,who leads us continuously out of ourselves, leads us to a certain kenosis, “to give up self love, self-seeking and self-interest”; (EE 189). The question: “is Christ the centre of my life? For us, for any one of us, the question do I truly put Christ at the centre of my life?” should not be taken for granted. Because there is always a temptation to think that we are at the centre; and when a Jesuit puts himself and not Christ at the centre he errs. In the first Reading Moses insistently repeats to the People that they should love the Lord and walk in his ways “for that means life to you” (cf. Dt 30,16 Dt 30,20). Christ is our life! Likewise the centrality of Christ corresponds to the centrality of the Church: they are two focal points that cannot be separated: I cannot follow Christ except in the Church and with the Church. And in this case too we Jesuits — and the entire Society — are not at the centre, we are, so to speak, a corollary, we are at the service of Christ and of the Church, the Bride of Christ Our Lord, who is our holy Mother the hierarchical Church (cf. EE 353). Men rooted in and founded on the Church: this is what Jesus wants us to be. There can be no parallel or isolated path. Yes, ways of research, creative ways, this is indeed important: to move out to the periphery, the many peripheries. For this reason creativity is vital, but always in community, in the Church, with this belonging that gives us the courage to go ahead. Serving Christ is loving this actual Church, and serving her generously and in a spirit of obedience.
2. What road leads to living this double centrality? Let us look at the experience of St Paul which was also the experience of St Ignatius. In the Second Reading which we have just heard, the Apostle wrote: I press on toward the perfection of Christ, because “Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Ph 3,12). For Paul it happened on the road to Damascus, for Ignatius in the Loyola family home, but they have in common a fundamental point: they both let Christ make them his own. I seek Jesus, I serve Jesus because he sought me first, because I was won over by him: and this is the heart of our experience.
However he goes first, always. In Spanish there is very expressive word that explains it well: El nos “primerea”, he“precedes” us. He is always first. When we arrive he is already there waiting for us. And here I would like to recall the meditation on the “Kingdom in the Second Week”. Christ Our Lord, the eternal King, calls each one of us, saying: “to anyone, then, who chooses to join me, I offer nothing but a share in my hardships; but if he follows me in suffering he will assuredly follow me in glory” (EE 95); to be won over by Christ to offer to this King our whole person and our every endeavour (cf. EE 96); saying to the Lord that we intend to do our utmost for the more perfect service and greater praise of his Majesty, putting up with all injustice, all abuse, all poverty (cf EE 98). But at this moment my thoughts turn to our brother in Syria. Letting Christ make us his own always means straining forward to what lies ahead, to the goal of Christ (cf. Ph 3,14), and it also means asking oneself with truth and sincerity: what have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ? (cf. EE 53).
3. And I come to the last point. In the Gospel Jesus tells us: “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.... For whoever is ashamed of me...” (Lc 9,23 Lc 9,26). And so forth. The shame of the Jesuit. Jesus’ invitation is to never be ashamed of him but to follow him always with total dedication, trusting in him and entrusting oneself to him. But as St Ignatius teaches us in the “First Week”, looking at Jesus and, especially, looking at the Crucified Christ, we feel that most human and most noble sentiment which is shame at not being able to measure up to him; we look at Christ’s wisdom and our ignorance, at his omnipotence and our impotence, at his justice and our wickedness, at his goodness and our evil will (cf. EE 59). We should ask for the grace to be ashamed; shame that comes from the continuous conversation of mercy with him; shame that makes us blush before Jesus Christ; shame that attunes us to the heart of Christ who made himself sin for me; shame that harmonizes each heart through tears and accompanies us in the daily “sequela” of “my Lord”. And this always brings us, as individuals and as the Society, to humility, to living this great virtue. Humility which every day makes us aware that it is not we who build the Kingdom of God but always the Lord’s grace which acts within us; a humility that spurs us to put our whole self not into serving ourselves or our own ideas, but into the service of Christ and of the Church, as clay vessels, fragile, inadequate and insufficient, yet which contain an immense treasure that we bear and communicate (cf. 2Co 4,7).
I have always liked to dwell on the twilight of a Jesuit, when a Jesuit is nearing the end of life, on when he is setting. And two images of this Jesuit twilight always spring to mind: a classical image, that of St Francis Xavier looking at China. Art has so often depicted this passing, Xavier’s end. So has literature, in that beautiful piece by Pemán. At the end, without anything but before the Lord; thinking of this does me good. The other sunset, the other image that comes to mind as an example is that of Fr Arrupe in his last conversation in the refugee camp, when he said to us — something he used to say — “I say this as if it were my swan song: pray”. Prayer, union with Jesus. Having said these words he took the plane to Rome and upon arrival suffered a stroke that led to the sunset — so long and so exemplary — of his life. Two sunsets, two images, both of which it will do us all good to look at and to return to. And we should ask for the grace that our own passing will resemble theirs.
Dear brothers, let us turn to Our Lady who carried Christ in her womb and accompanied the Church as she took her first steps. May she help us always to put Christ and his Church at the centre of our life and our ministry. May she, who was her Son’s first and most perfect disciple, help us let Christ make us his own, in order to follow him and serve him in every situation; may she who responded with the deepest humility to the Angel’s announcement: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me me according to your word” (Lc 1,38), enable us to feel ashamed at our own inadequacy before the treasure entrusted to us. May it also enable us to feel humility as we stand before God; and may we be accompanied on our way by the fatherly intercession of St Ignatius and of all the Jesuit Saints who continue to teach us to do all things, with humility, ad maiorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of our Lord God.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
At the end of its Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council left us a very beautiful meditation on Mary Most Holy. Let me just recall the words referring to the mystery we celebrate today: “the immaculate Virgin preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (LG 59). Then towards the end, there is: “the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and the beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come” (LG 68). In the light of this most beautiful image of our Mother, we are able to see the message of the biblical readings that we have just heard. We can focus on three key words: struggle, resurrection, hope.
The passage from Revelation presents the vision of the struggle between the woman and the dragon. The figure of the woman, representing the Church, is, on the one hand, glorious and triumphant and yet, on the other, still in travail. And the Church is like that: if in heaven she is already associated in some way with the glory of her Lord, in history she continually lives through the trials and challenges which the conflict between God and the evil one, the perennial enemy, brings. And in the struggle which the disciples must confront – all of us, all the disciples of Jesus, we must face this struggle - Mary does not leave them alone: the Mother of Christ and of the Church is always with us. She walks with us always, she is with us. And in a way, Mary shares this dual condition. She has of course already entered, once and for all, into heavenly glory. But this does not mean that she is distant or detached from us; rather Mary accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil. Prayer with Mary, especially the rosary – but listen carefully: the Rosary. Do you pray the Rosary every day? But I’m not sure you do [the people shout “Yes!”]… Really? Well, prayer with Mary, especially the Rosary, has this “suffering” dimension, that is of struggle, a sustaining prayer in the battle against the evil one and his accomplices. The Rosary also sustains us in the battle.
The second reading speaks to us of resurrection. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, insists that being Christian means believing that Christ is truly risen from the dead. Our whole faith is based upon this fundamental truth which is not an idea but an event. Even the mystery of Mary’s Assumption body and soul is fully inscribed in the resurrection of Christ. The Mother’s humanity is “attracted” by the Son in his own passage from death to life. Once and for all, Jesus entered into eternal life with all the humanity he had drawn from Mary; and she, the Mother, who followed him faithfully throughout her life, followed him with her heart, and entered with him into eternal life which we also call heaven, paradise, the Father’s house.
Mary also experienced the martyrdom of the Cross: the martyrdom of her heart, the martyrdom of her soul. She lived her Son’s Passion to the depths of her soul. She was fully united to him in his death, and so she was given the gift of resurrection. Christ is the first fruits from the dead and Mary is the first of the redeemed, the first of “those who are in Christ”. She is our Mother, but we can also say that she is our representative, our sister, our eldest sister, she is the first of the redeemed, who has arrived in heaven.
The Gospel suggests to us the third word: hope. Hope is the virtue of those who, experiencing conflict – the struggle between life and death, good and evil – believe in the resurrection of Christ, in the victory of love. We heard the Song of Mary, the Magnificat: it is the song of hope, it is the song of the People of God walking through history. It is the song many saints, men and women, some famous, and very many others unknown to us but known to God: mums, dads, catechists, missionaries, priests, sisters, young people, even children and grandparents: these have faced the struggle of life while carrying in their heart the hope of the little and the humble. Mary says: “My souls glorifies the Lord” – today, the Church too sings this in every part of the world. This song is particularly strong in places where the Body of Christ is suffering the Passion. For us Christians, wherever the Cross is, there is hope, always. If there is no hope, we are not Christian. That is why I like to say: do not allow yourselves to be robbed of hope. May we not be robbed of hope, because this strength is a grace, a gift from God which carries us forward with our eyes fixed on heaven. And Mary is always there, near those communities, our brothers and sisters, she accompanies them, suffers with them, and sings the Magnificat of hope with them.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, with all our heart let us too unite ourselves to this song of patience and victory, of struggle and joy, that unites the triumphant Church with the pilgrim one, earth with heaven, and that joins our lives to the eternity towards which we journey. Amen.
Francis Homilies - HOLY MASS IN THE BASILICA OF THE SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF THE CONCEPTION OF APARECIDA Wednesday, 24 July 2013