Vatican City, 15 April 2013 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon, Pope Francis presided over Mass at Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls on his first visit to that basilica as Bishop of Rome. Concelebrating with the Holy Father were Cardinal James Michael Harvey, archpriest of the basilica, and Abbot Edmund Power, O.S.B., of the St. Paul Outside-the-Walls Abbey.
In his homily, the Holy Father recalled that the basilica is built above the tomb of St. Paul, “a great yet humble Apostle of the Lord, who proclaimed him by word, bore witness to him by martyrdom and worshipped him with all his heart.” He added that these were the three words—proclamation, witness, worship—that he wanted to reflect upon in light of the Word of God in the liturgy's readings.
Commenting on the first reading, in which the Apostles are imprisoned for preaching of the Risen Christ, the Pope observed that Peter and the Twelve “proclaim courageously, fearlessly, what they have received: the Gospel of Jesus. And we? Are we capable of bringing the word of God into the environment in which we live? Do we know how to speak of Christ, of what He represents for us, in our families, among the people who form part of our daily lives? Faith is born from listening, and is strengthened by proclamation.”
“The proclamation made by Peter and the Apostles,” he emphasized, “does not merely consist of words: fidelity to Christ affects their whole lives, which are changed, given a new direction, and it is through their lives that they bear witness to the faith and to the proclamation of Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times to feed his flock, to feed it with his love, and He prophesies to him: 'When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go'. These words are addressed first and foremost to those of us who are pastors: we cannot feed God’s flock unless we let ourselves be carried by God’s will even where we would rather not go, unless we are prepared to bear witness to Christ with the gift of ourselves, unreservedly, not in a calculating way, sometimes even at the cost of our lives.”
“But this also applies to everyone: we all have to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel. … In God’s great plan, every detail is important, even yours, even my humble little witness, even the hidden witness of those who live their faith with simplicity in everyday family relationships, work relationships, friendships. There are the saints of every day, the 'hidden' saints, a sort of 'middle class of holiness', as a French author said, that 'middle class of holiness' to which we can all belong.”
“But in different parts of the world, there are also those who suffer ... on account of the Gospel; there are those who give their lives in order to remain faithful to Christ ... Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life. I am thinking now of some advice that Saint Francis of Assisi gave his brothers: 'Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words'. Preaching with your life, with your witness. Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.”
“All this is possible only if we recognize Jesus Christ, because it is He who has called us, He who has invited us to travel his path, He who has chosen us. Proclamation and witness are only possible if we are close to him, just as Peter, John and the other disciples in today’s Gospel passage were gathered around the Risen Jesus. … And this is important for us: living an intense relationship with Jesus, an intimacy of dialogue and of life, in such a way as to recognize him as 'the Lord'. Worshipping him!”
“I would like all of us to ask ourselves this question: [ask yourself, ask myself] Do we worship the Lord? Do we turn to God only to ask him for things, to thank him, or do we also turn to him to worship him? What does it mean, then, to worship God? … All of us, in our own lives, consciously and perhaps sometimes unconsciously, have a very clear order of priority concerning the things we consider important. Worshipping the Lord means giving him the place that He must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing—not only by our words—that He alone truly guides our lives; worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that He is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history.”
“This has a consequence in our lives,” the pontiff noted. “We have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge and upon which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, careerism, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the centre, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others. This evening I would like a question to resound in each of your hearts, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the centre, as the privileged path of our lives.”
“The Lord,” concluded the Bishop of Rome, “calls us each day to follow him with courage and fidelity. He has made us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples. He invites us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but He asks us to do so by word and by the witness of our lives, in daily life. The Lord is the only God of our lives, and He invites us to strip ourselves of our many idols and to worship him alone. To proclaim, to witness, to worship.”