POPE FRANCIS’ HOMILY ON THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL (FEAST)
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Monday, 25 January 2021
[H. Em. Card. Kurt Koch read the homily prepared by Pope Francis for the occasion]
“Abide in my love” (Jn 15:9). Jesus links this request to the image of the vine and the branches, the final image that he offers us in the Gospels. The Lord himself is the vine, the “true” vine (v. 1), who does not betray our expectations, but remains ever faithful in love, despite our sins and our divisions. Onto this vine, which is himself, all of us, the baptized, are grafted like branches. This means that we can grow and bear fruit only if we remain united to Jesus. Tonight let us consider this indispensable unity, which has a number of levels. With the vine in mind, we can imagine unity as consisting of three concentric rings, like those of a tree trunk.
The first circle, the innermost, is abiding in Jesus. This is the starting point of the journey of each person towards unity. In today’s fast-paced and complex world, it is easy to lose our compass, pulled as we are from every side. Many people feel internally fragmented, unable to find a fixed point, a stable footing, amid life’s changes. Jesus tells us that the secret of stability is to abide in him. In this evening’s reading, he says this seven times (cf. vv. 4-7.9-10). For he knows that “apart from him, we can do nothing” (cf. v. 5). Jesus also showed us how to abide in him. He left us his own example: each day he withdrew to pray in deserted places. We need prayer, as we need water, to live. Personal prayer, spending time with Jesus, adoration, these are essential if we are to abide in him. In this way, we can place our worries, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows in the Lord’s heart. Most of all, centred on Jesus in prayer, we can experience his love. And in this way receive new vitality, like the branches that draw sap from the trunk. This is the first unity, our personal integrity, the work of the grace we receive by abiding in Jesus.
The second circle is that of unity with Christians. We are branches of the same vine, we are “communicating vessels”, in the sense that the good or the evil that each of us does affects all others. In the spiritual life, then, there is also a sort of “law of dynamics”: to the extent that we abide in God, we draw close to others, and to the extent that we draw close to others, we abide in God. This means that if we pray to God in spirit and truth, then we come to realize our need to love others while, on the other hand, “if we love one another, God abides in us” (1 Jn 4:12). Prayer unfailingly leads to love; otherwise, it is empty ritual. For it is not possible to encounter Jesus apart from his Body, made up of many members, as many as are the baptized. If our worship is genuine, we will grow in love for all those who follow Jesus, regardless of the Christian communion to which they may belong, for even though they may not be “one of ours”, they are his.
Even so, we know that loving our brothers and sisters is not easy, because their defects and shortcomings immediately become apparent, and past hurts come to mind. Here the Father comes to our aid, for as an expert farmer (cf. Jn 15:1), he knows exactly what to do: “every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (Jn 15:2). The Father takes away and prunes. Why? Because in order to love, we need to be stripped of all that leads us astray and makes us withdraw into ourselves and thus fail to bear fruit. Let us ask the Father, then, to prune our prejudices with regard to others, and the worldly attachments that stand in the way of full unity with all his children. Thus purified in love, we will be able to be less concerned about the worldly obstacles and stumbling stones from the past, which nowadays distract us from the Gospel.
The third circle of unity, the largest, is the whole of humanity. Here, we can reflect on the working of the Holy Spirit. In the vine that is Christ, the Spirit is the sap that spreads to all the branches. The Spirit blows where he wills, and everywhere he wants to restore unity. He impels us to love not only those who love us and think as we do, but to love everyone, even as Jesus taught us. He enables us to forgive our enemies and the wrongs we have endured. He inspires us to be active and creative in love. He reminds us that our neighbours are not only those who share our own values and ideas, and that we are called to be neighbours to all, good Samaritans to a humanity that is frail, poor and, in our own time, suffering so greatly. A humanity lying by the roadsides of our world, which God wants to raise up with compassion. May the Holy Spirit, the source of grace, help us to live in gratuitousness, to love even those who do not love us in return, for it is through pure and disinterested love that the Gospel bears fruit. A tree is known by its fruits: by our gratuitous love it will be known if we are part of the vine of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit thus teaches us the concreteness of love for all those brothers and sisters with whom we share the same humanity, the humanity which Christ inseparably united to himself by telling us that we will always find him in the poor and those in greatest need (cf. Mt 25: 31-45). By serving them together, we will realize once more that we are brothers and sisters, and will grow in unity. The Spirit, who renews the face of the earth, also inspires us to care for our common home, to make bold choices about how we live and consume, for the opposite of fruitfulness is exploitation, and it is shameful for us to waste precious resources of which many others are deprived.
That same Spirit, the architect of the ecumenical journey, has led us this evening to pray together. As we experience the unity that comes from addressing God with one voice, I would like to thank all those who in the course of this week have prayed, and continue to pray, for Christian unity. I offer a fraternal greeting to the representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here, to the young Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox studying here in Rome under the aegis of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and to the professors and students of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, who would have come to Rome as in previous years, but were unable to do so because of the pandemic and are following us through the media. Dear brothers and sisters, may we remain united in Christ. May the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts make us feel children of the Father, brothers and sisters of one another, brothers and sisters in our one human family. May the Holy Trinity, communion of love, make us grow in unity.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Saturday, 25 January 2020
Three different groups were on board the ship that brought Saint Paul to Rome as a prisoner. The most powerful group was made up of soldiers under a centurion. Then there were the sailors, upon whom naturally everyone on board depended during the long voyage. Finally, there were the weakest and most vulnerable: the prisoners.
When the ship ran aground off the coast of Malta, after having been at the mercy of a storm for several days, the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to ensure that no one would escape, but they were stopped by the centurion who wanted to save Paul. Although he was among the most vulnerable, Paul offered something important to his traveling companions. While everyone was losing all hope of survival, the Apostle brought an unexpected message of hope. An angel had reassured him, saying to him: “Do not be afraid, Paul; God has granted safety to all those who sail with you” (Acts 27:24). Paul’s trust proved to be well founded, and in the end all the travellers were saved. Once they landed at Malta, they experienced the hospitality, kindness and humanity of the island’s inhabitants. This important detail provided the theme of the Week of Prayer that concludes today.
Dear brothers and sisters: this account from the Acts of the Apostles also speaks to our ecumenical journey towards that unity which God ardently desires. In the first place, it tells us that those who are weak and vulnerable, those who have little to offer materially but find their wealth in God, can present valuable messages for the good of all. Let us think of Christian communities: even the smallest and least significant in the eyes of the world, if they experience the Holy Spirit, if they are animated by love for God and neighbour, have a message to offer to the whole Christian family. Let us think of marginalized and persecuted Christian communities. As in the account of Paul’s shipwreck, it is often the weakest who bring the most important message of salvation. This was what pleased God: to save us not with the power of this world, but with the weakness of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:20-25). As disciples of Jesus, we must be careful not to be attracted by worldly logic, but rather to listen to the small and the weak, because God loves to send his messages through those who most resemble his Son made man.
The account in Acts reminds us of a second aspect: God’s priority is the salvation of all. As the angel said to Paul: “God has granted safety to all those who sail with you”. Paul insists on this point. We too need to repeat it: it is our duty to put into effect the paramount desire of God who, as Paul himself writes, “desires everyone to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). This is an invitation not to devote ourselves exclusively to our own communities, but to open ourselves to the good of all, to the universal gaze of God who took flesh in order to embrace the whole human race and who died and rose for the salvation of all. If we, with his grace, can assimilate his way of seeing things, we can overcome our divisions. In Paul’s shipwreck, each person contributed to the salvation of all: the centurion made important decisions, the sailors put to use their knowledge and abilities, the Apostle encouraged those without hope. Among Christians as well, each community has a gift to offer to the others. The more we look beyond partisan interests and overcome the legacies of the past in the desire to move forward towards a common landing place, the more readily we will recognize, welcome and share these gifts.
We thus arrive at a third aspect that was at the centre of this Week of Prayer: hospitality. In the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke says, with regard to the inhabitants of Malta, “The natives showed us unusual kindness” (v. 2). The fire kindled on the shore to warm the shipwrecked travellers is a fine symbol of the human warmth that unexpectedly surrounded them. Even the governor of the island showed himself welcoming and hospitable to Paul, who repaid him by healing his father and later many other sick people (cf. vv. 7-9). Finally, when the Apostle and those with him departed for Italy, the Maltese generously resupplied them with provisions (v. 10).
From this Week of Prayer we want to learn to be more hospitable, in the first place among ourselves as Christians and among our brothers and sisters of different confessions. Hospitality belongs to the tradition of Christian communities and families. Our elders taught us this by their example: there was always something extra on the table of a Christian home for a passing friend or a person in need who knocked on the door. In monasteries a guest is treated with great respect, as if he or she were Christ. Let us not lose, indeed let us revive, these customs that have the flavour of the Gospel!
Dear brothers and sisters, with these thoughts I offer my cordial and fraternal greetings to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to His Grace Ian Ernest, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here to conclude together the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet the students of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church. I welcome too the young people of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches who are studying on a scholarship from the Committee for Cultural Cooperation with the Orthodox Churches, under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, to whose members I extend my greetings and gratitude. Together, without ever tiring, let us continue to pray and to beg from God the gift of full unity among ourselves.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls
Thursday, 25 January 2018
The reading from the book of Exodus tells us about Moses and Mary, brother and sister, who raise a hymn of praise to God on the shores of the Red Sea, together with the community that God has freed from Egypt. They sing their joy because in those waters God saved them from an enemy who sought to destroy them. Moses himself had previously been saved from the water and his sister had witnessed the event. Indeed, the Pharaoh had ordered: “Every son that is born … you shall cast into the Nile” (Ex 1: 22). Having instead found the basket with the child inside the rushes of the Nile, the daughter of Pharaoh had called him Moses, because she said: “I took him from the waters!” (Ex 2: 10). The story of the rescue of Moses from the waters thus prefigures a greater rescue, that of the entire people, whom God would let pass through the waters of the Red Sea, before closing them on their enemies.
Many ancient Fathers understood this liberating passage as an image of Baptism. It is our sins that have been drowned by God in the living waters of Baptism. Much more than Egypt, sin threatened to make us slaves forever, but the power of divine love overwhelmed it. Saint Augustine (Sermon 223E) interprets the Red Sea, where Israel saw the salvation of God, as an anticipatory sign of the blood of Christ crucified, source of salvation. All of us as Christians have passed through the waters of Baptism, and the grace of the Sacrament has destroyed our enemies, sin and death. Leaving the waters we have attained the freedom of children; we emerged as a people, as a community of saved brothers and sisters, as “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2: 19). We share the fundamental experience: the grace of God, His mercy powerful in saving us. And precisely because God has accomplished this victory in us, together we can sing His praises.
In life we then experience the tenderness of God, Who in our daily life saves us lovingly from sin, fear and anguish. These precious experiences must be conserved in the heart and in the memory. But, as it was for Moses, individual experiences are linked to an even greater history, that of the salvation of the people of God. We see it in the song intoned by the Israelites. It begins with an individual story: “The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation” (Ex 15: 2). But later it becomes a narrative of salvation for all the people: “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed” (v. 13). Those who raise this song have realized that they are not alone on the shores of the Red Sea, but rather that they are surrounded by brothers and sisters who have received the same grace and proclaim the same praise.
Saint Paul, whose conversion we celebrate today, also had the powerful experience of grace, which called him to transform from a persecutor to an apostle of Christ. God’s grace also led him to seek communion with other Christians, immediately: first in Damascus and then in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 9: 19, 26-27). This is our experience as believers. As we grow in spiritual life, we increasingly understand that grace reaches us together with others and is to be shared with others. So, when I raise my thanksgiving to God for what He has done in me, I find I do not sing alone, because other brothers and sisters sing my same song of praise.
The various Christian Confessions have had this experience. In the last century we finally understood that we are together on the shores of the Red Sea. In Baptism we have been saved and the grateful song of praise, which other brothers and sisters sing, belongs to us, because it is also ours. When we say we recognize the baptism of Christians of other traditions, we confess that they too have received the Lord’s forgiveness and His grace which operates in them. And we welcome their worship as an authentic expression of praise for what God does. We wish then to pray together, uniting our voices even more. And even when divergences separate us, we recognize that we belong to the people of the redeemed, to the same family of brothers and sisters, beloved by the one Father.
After their liberation, the chosen people undertook a long and difficult journey through the desert, often wavering, but drawing strength from the memory of God’s saving work and His presence, always close. Today’s Christians too encounter many difficulties along the way, surrounded by so many spiritual deserts, which cause hope and joy to dry up. Along the way there are also serious dangers, which endanger life: how many brothers today suffer persecution for the name of Jesus! When their blood is shed, even if they belong to different Confessions, they become together witnesses of faith, martyrs, united in the bond of baptismal grace. Together with friends of other religious traditions, Christians today still face challenges that demean human dignity: they flee situations of conflict and misery; they are victims of human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery; they suffer hardship and hunger, in a world that is increasingly rich in means and poor in love, where inequalities continue to increase. But like the Israelites of Exodus, Christians are called to conserve together the memory of what God has accomplished in them. By reviving this memory, we can support each other and face, armed only with Jesus and the sweet power of His Gospel, every challenge with courage and hope.
Brothers and sisters, with a heart full of joy for having sung together today a hymn of praise to the Father, through Christ our Saviour and in the Spirit that gives life, I wish to extend my warm greetings to you, to all of you: to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; to His Grace Bernard Ntahoturi, personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury; and to all the representatives and members of the various Christian Confessions gathered here. I was pleased to greet the Ecumenical Delegation of Finland, whom I had the pleasure of meeting this morning. I also greet the students of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox who study here thanks to the generosity of the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with the Orthodox Churches, which works at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Together we have given thanks to God for what He has accomplished in our lives and in our communities. Let us present to Him today our needs and those of the world, trusting that He, in His faithful love, will continue to save and accompany His people on their journey.
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