POPE FRANCIS ON THE 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
If anyone wishes to come after me…
“Steppe Arena” (Ulaanbaatar), Mongolia
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time year A, 3 September 2023
With the words of the Responsorial Psalm, we prayed: “O God… my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:2). This magnificent plea accompanies our journey through life, amid all the deserts we are called to traverse. It is precisely in those deserts that we hear the good news that we are not alone in our journey; those times of dryness cannot render our lives barren forever; our cry of thirst does not go unheard. God the Father has sent his Son to give us the living water of the Holy Spirit to satisfy our souls (cf. Jn 4:10). Jesus, as we heard in the Gospel, shows us the way to quench our thirst. It is the way of love, which he followed even to the cross, and on which he calls us to follow him, losing our lives in order to find them (cf. Mt 16:24-25).
Let us reflect together on these two things: the thirst within us, and the love that quenches that thirst.
First, we are called to acknowledge the thirst within us. The Psalmist cries out to God in his aridity, for his life has become like a desert. His words have a particular resonance in a land like Mongolia: immense, rich in history and culture, yet a land also marked by the aridity of the steppes and the desert. Many of you know both the satisfaction and the fatigue of journeying, which evokes a fundamental aspect of biblical spirituality represented by Abraham and, in a broader sense, by the people of Israel and indeed every disciple of the Lord. For all of us are “God’s nomads”, pilgrims in search of happiness, wayfarers thirsting for love. The desert of which the Psalmist speaks, then, is our life. We are that dry land thirsting for fresh water, water that can slake our deepest thirst. Our hearts long to discover the secret of true joy, a joy that even in the midst of existential aridity, can accompany and sustain us. Deep within us, we have an insatiable thirst for happiness; we seek meaning and direction in our lives, a reason for all that we do each day. More than anything, we thirst for love, for only love can truly satisfy us, bring us fulfilment; only love can make us happy, inspire inner assurance and allow us to savour the beauty of life. Dear brothers and sisters, the Christian faith is the answer to this thirst; it takes it seriously, without dismissing it or trying to replace it with tranquilizers or surrogates. For in this thirst lies the great mystery of our humanity: it opens our hearts to the living God, the God of love, who comes to meet us and to make us his children, brothers and sisters to one another.
This brings us to the second thing: the love that quenches our thirst. First was our deep, existential thirst, and now we reflect on the love that quenches our thirst. This is the heart of the Christian faith: God, who is Love, has drawn near to you, to me, to everyone, in his Son Jesus, and wants to share in your life, your work, your dreams and your thirst for happiness. It is true that, at times, we feel like a “dry and weary land where there is no water”, yet it is equally true that God cares for us and offers us clear, refreshing water, the living water of the Spirit, springing up within us to renew us and free us from the risk of drought. Jesus gives us that water. As Saint Augustine tells us, “…if we recognize ourselves in those who thirst, we can also recognize ourselves in those who quench that thirst” (On the Psalms, 63:1). Indeed, if in this life we often experience the desert with loneliness, fatigue and emptiness, we should also remember, with Augustine, that, “lest we grow faint in this desert, God refreshes us with the dew of his word… True, he makes us feel thirst, but then comes to satisfy that thirst… God has been merciful to us; he has opened for us a highway in the desert:our Lord Jesus Christ”. And that is the path through the desert of our lives. “He has offered us a source of consolation in that desert: the preachers of his word. He has offered us water in that desert, by filling those preachers with the Holy Spirit, so as to create, in them, a fount of water springing up to life everlasting” (ibid.,1, 6). These words, dear friends, speak to you of your own history. Amid the deserts of life and in the difficulties associated with being a small community, the Lord has ensured that you not lack the water of his word, thanks especially to the preachers and missionaries who, anointed by the Holy Spirit, sow among you the seeds of its beauty. That word always brings us back to what is essential, to the very heart of our faith: allowing ourselves to be loved by God and in turn to make our lives an offering of love. For love alone truly quenches our thirst. Let us never forget: love alone truly quenches our thirst.
That is precisely what Jesus tells the apostle Peter in today’s Gospel. Peter cannot accept the fact that Jesus must suffer, be charged by the leaders of the people, undergo his passion and then die on the cross. Peter reacts, he protests, he tries to convince Jesus that he is wrong, because, in Peter’s mind – and we too often have the same idea – the Messiah cannot possibly end in failure, dying on a cross like a criminal forsaken by God. The Lord then rebukes Peter because he thinks “as the world does”, and not as God does (cf. Mt 16:21-23). If we think that success, power, or material things suffice to satisfy the thirst in our lives, then we are thinking as the world does. That kind of worldliness leads nowhere; indeed, it leaves us thirstier than before. Jesus instead shows us the way: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).
This, dear brothers and sisters, is surely the best way: to embrace the cross of Christ. At the heart of Christianity is an amazing and extraordinary message. If you lose your life, if you make it a generous offering in service, if you risk it by choosing to love, if you make it a free gift for others, then it will return to you in abundance, and you will be overwhelmed by endless joy, peace of heart, and inner strength and support; and we need inner peace.
This is the truth that Jesus wants us to discover, the truth he wants to reveal to all of you and to this land of Mongolia. You need not be famous, rich or powerful to be happy. No! Only love satisfies our hearts’ thirst, only love heals our wounds, only love brings us true joy. This is the way that Jesus taught us; this is the path that he opened up before us.
May we too, dear brothers and sisters, heed what the Lord said to Peter in response: “Get behind me” (Mt 16:23). In other words, be my disciple, walk in my footsteps and stop thinking as the world does. If we do this, we will be able, with the grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit, to journey along the path of love. Even when love calls for denying ourselves, combatting our personal and worldly forms of selfishness, and taking the risk of living a life of genuine fraternity. For while it is true that all these things entail effort and sacrifice, and sometimes taking up the cross, it is even more true that, when we lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel, the Lord gives them back to us abundantly, in the fullness of love and joy for all eternity.
Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time year A, 30 August 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Gospel passage (cf. Mt 16:21-27) is linked to that of last Sunday (cf. Mt 16:13-20). After Peter, on behalf of the other disciples as well, has professed his faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, Jesus Himself begins to speak to them about His Passion. Along the path to Jerusalem, He openly explains to His friends what awaits Him at the end in the Holy City: He foretells the mystery of His death and Resurrection, of His humiliation and glory. He says that He will have to “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21). But His words are not understood, because the disciples have a faith that is still immature and too closely tied to the mentality of this world (cf. Rom 12:2). They think of too earthly a victory, and therefore they do not understand the language of the cross.
At the prospect that Jesus may fail and die on the cross, Peter himself resists and says to Him: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (v. 22). He believes in Jesus – Peter is like this, he has faith, he believes in Jesus, he believes – he wants to follow Him, but does not accept that His glory will pass through the Passion. For Peter and the other disciples – but for us too! – the cross is a stumbling block, a ‘hindrance’, whereas Jesus considers the ‘hindrance’ escaping the cross, which would mean avoiding the Father’s will, the mission that the Father has entrusted to Him for our salvation. For this reason Jesus responds to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (v. 23). Ten minutes earlier, Jesus praised Peter, He promised him he would be the base of His Church, its foundation; ten minutes later He says to him, “Satan”. How can this be understood? It happens to us all! In moments of devotion, of fervour, of good will, of closeness to our neighbour, we look at Jesus and we go forward; but in moments in which we approach the cross, we flee. The devil, Satan – as Jesus says to Peter – tempts us. It typical of the evil spirit, it is typical of the devil to make us stray from the cross, from the cross of Jesus.
Addressing everyone then, Jesus adds: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24). In this way He indicates the way of the true disciple, showing two attitudes. The first is ‘to renounce oneself’, which does not mean a superficial change, but a conversion, a reversal of mentality and of values. The other attitude is that of taking up one’s own cross. It is not just a matter of patiently enduring daily tribulations, but of bearing with faith and responsibility that part of toil, and that part of suffering that the struggle against evil entails. The life of Christians is always a struggle. The Bible says that the life of Christians is a military undertaking: fighting against the evil spirit, fighting against Evil.
Thus the task of “taking up the cross” becomes participating with Christ in the salvation of the world. Considering this, we allow the cross hanging on the wall at home, or that little one that we wear around our neck, to be a sign of our wish to be united with Christ in lovingly serving our brothers and sisters, especially the littlest and most fragile. The cross is the holy sign of God’s Love, it is a sign of Jesus’ Sacrifice, and is not to be reduced to a superstitious object or an ornamental necklace. Each time we fix our gaze on the image of Christ crucified, let us contemplate that He, as the true Servant of the Lord, has accomplished His mission, giving life, spilling His blood for the pardoning of sins. And let us not allow ourselves to be drawn to the other side, by the temptation of the Evil One. As a result, if we want to be his disciples, we are called to imitate him, expending our life unreservedly out of love of God and neighbour.
May the Virgin Mary, united to her Son unto Calvary, help us not to retreat in the face of the trials and suffering that witnessing to the Gospel entails.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel passage (cf. Mt 16:21-27) is the continuation of last Sunday’s, which highlighted the profession of faith of Peter, the “rock” upon which Jesus wishes to build his Church. Today, in stark contrast, Matthew shows us the reaction of the same Peter when Jesus reveals to his disciples that He will have to suffer, be killed, and rise again (cf. 21). Peter takes the Teacher aside and reproaches Him because this — he says — cannot happen to Him, to Christ. But Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter with harsh words: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (v. 23). A moment before, the Apostle had been blessed by the Father, because he had received that revelation from Him; he was a solid “rock” so that Jesus could build His community upon him; and immediately afterwards he becomes an obstacle, a rock but not for building, a stumbling block on the Messiah’s path. Jesus knows well that Peter and the others still have a long way to go to become his Apostles!
At that point, the Teacher turns to all those who were following Him, clearly presenting them the path to follow: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24). Always, today too, the temptation is that of wanting to follow a Christ without the cross, on the contrary, of teaching God which is the right path; like Peter: “No, no Lord! This shall never happen”. But Jesus reminds us that his way is the way of love, and that there is no true love without self sacrifice. We are called to not let ourselves be absorbed by the vision of this world, but to be ever more aware of the need and of the effort for we Christians to walk against the current and uphill.
Jesus completes his proposal with words that express a great and ever valid wisdom, because they challenge the egocentric mentality and behaviour. He exhorts: “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (v. 25). This paradox contains the golden rule that God inscribed in the human nature created in Christ: the rule that only love gives meaning and happiness to life. To spend one’s own talents, one’s energy and one’s time only to save, protect and fulfil oneself, in reality leads to losing oneself, i.e. to a sad and barren existence. Instead let us live for the Lord and base our life on love, as Jesus did: we will be able to savour authentic joy, and our life will not be barren; it will be fruitful.
In the Eucharistic celebration we relive the mystery of the Cross; we not only remember, but we commemorate the redeeming Sacrifice in which the Son of God completely loses Himself so as to be received anew by the Father and thus find us again, we who were lost, together with all creatures. Each time we take part in the Holy Mass, the love of the crucified and Risen Christ is conveyed to us as food and drink, so that we may follow Him on the daily path, in concrete service to our brothers and sisters.
May Mary Most Holy, who followed Jesus up to Calvary, accompany us too and help us not to be afraid of the cross, but with Jesus nailed [to it], not a cross without Jesus, the Cross with Jesus, which is the cross of suffering for love of God and of our brothers and sisters, because this suffering, by the grace of Christ, bears the fruit of resurrection.
31 August 2014
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,
Sunday’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew brings us to the critical point at which Jesus, after having ascertained that Peter and the other eleven believed in Him as the Messiah and Son of God, “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (16:21). It is a critical moment at which the contrast between Jesus’ way of thinking and that of the disciples emerges. Peter actually feels duty bound to admonish the Master because the Messiah could not come to such an ignominious end. Then Jesus, in turn, severely rebukes Peter and puts him in his place, because he is “not on the side of God, but of men” (v. 23), unintentionally playing the part of Satan, the tempter. In the liturgy for this Sunday [22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A] the Apostle Paul also stresses this point when he writes to the Christians in Rome, telling them: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
Indeed, we Christians live in the world, fully integrated into the social and cultural reality of our time, and rightly so; but this brings with it the risk that we might become “worldly”, that “the salt might lose its taste”, as Jesus would say (cf. Mt 5:13). In other words, the Christian could become “watered down”, losing the charge of newness which comes to him from the Lord and from the Holy Spirit. Instead it should be the opposite: when the power of the Gospel remains alive in Christians, it can transform “criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life” (Paul VI Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 19). It is sad to find “watered-down” Christians, who seem like watered-down wine. One cannot tell whether they are Christian or worldly, like watered-down wine; one cannot tell whether it is wine or water! This is sad. It is sad to find Christians who are no longer the salt of the earth, and we know that when salt loses its taste, it is no longer good for anything. Their salt has lost its taste because they have delivered themselves up to the spirit of the world, that is, they have become worldly.
This is why it is necessary to renew oneself by continually drawing sap from the Gospel. And how can one do this in practice? First of all by actually reading and meditating on the Gospel every day, so the Word of Jesus may always be present in our life. Remember: it will help you to always carry the Gospel with you: a small Gospel, in a pocket, in a bag, and read a passage during the day. But always with the Gospel, because it is carrying the Word of Jesus, and being able to read it. In addition, attending Sunday Mass, where we encounter the Lord in the community, we hear his Word and receive the Eucharist which unites us with Him and to one another; and then days of retreat and spiritual exercises are very important for spiritual renewal. Gospel, Eucharist, Prayer. Do not forget: Gospel, Eucharist, Prayer. Thanks to these gifts of the Lord we are able to conform not to the world but to Christ, and follow him on his path, the path of “losing one’s life” in order to find it (Mt 16:25). “To lose it” in the sense of giving it, offering it through love and in love — and this leads to sacrifice, also the cross — to receive it liberated from selfishness and from the mortgage of death, newly purified, full of eternity.
May the Virgin Mary always go before us on this journey; let us be guided and accompanied by her.
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