Recalling the example of the “smiling pope,” John Paul I, Pope Francis presided over his beatification in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday. The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, with 25 thousand faithful participating in a rainy and later sun-filled square.
In his homily, Pope Francis recalled how in today’s Gospel we hear of large crowds following Jesus who gives them a challenging message: to become His disciple means to put aside earthly attachments, to love Him more than his or her own family, to carry the cross we bear in our lives.
The Pope observed that this admonition of the Lord contrasts with what we often see in our world, where the crowds are taken by the charisma of a teacher or leader, attaching their hopes for the future based on emotions, but they become more susceptible to those who instead shrewdly take advantage of them, telling them what they want to hear for their own profit, glory or power, profiting on society’s fears and needs.
God’s style is different
The Pope explained that God’s way is different, as he does not exploit our needs or vulnerabilities, or offer easy promises and favours. The Lord is not interested in huge crowds, or seeking approval, the Pope went on to say, pointing out that the Lord appears more worried about those who follow with easy enthusiasm but without a more profound understanding of what is needed.
“Instead of yielding to the allure of popularity, (Jesus) asks each person to discern carefully their reason for following him and the consequences that it will entail.”
Many in the crowds recounted in the Gospel reading were hoping Jesus would become their leader and free them from their enemies, the Pope observed, someone who could easily fix all their problems. This worldly focus on only one’s needs, of gaining prestige and status, power and privilege, needs to be challenged he pointed out, as “this is not the style of Jesus…and cannot be the style of his disciples and of his Church.”
Carrying one’s cross
The Lord asks a different attitude of us, the Pope said, he wants his disciples to prefer nothing other than this love, even over their deepest affections and greatest treasures.
“To follow him does not mean to become part of a court or a triumphal procession, or even to receive a lifetime insurance policy. On the contrary, it means “carrying one’s cross” (Lk 14:27): shouldering, like him, one’s own burdens and those of others, making one’s life a gift, spending it in imitation of his own generous and merciful love for us. These are decisions that engage the totality of our lives.”
Love without measure
To commit as a disciple of Jesus means to look to the Lord more than ourselves, to learn how to love from the Crucified One, “the love that bestows itself to the very end, without measure and without limits.”
“In the words of Pope John Paul, “we are the objects of undying love on the part of God.” An undying love: it never sinks beneath the horizon of our lives; it constantly shines upon us and illumines even our darkest nights.”
When we look upon the Crucified Lord, the Pope continued, we are called to overcome the focus on ourselves, to love God and others everywhere, even those who see things differently, even our enemies.
Love calls for sacrifice
To love can involve “sacrifice, silence, misunderstanding, solitude, resistance and persecution,” the Pope pointed out, and it calls on us to take risks, and never to settle for less or we can end up living life “halfway,” without taking the decisive steps needed to be the Lord’s disciples, truly committing ourselves to Him and helping others.
“As Pope John Paul also said, if you want to kiss Jesus crucified, “you cannot help bending over the cross and letting yourself be pricked by a few thorns of the crown on the Lord’s head.” A love that perseveres to the end, thorns and all: no leaving things half done, no cutting corners, no fleeing difficulties.”
Love without compromise
Recalling the example of Blessed John Paul I, Pope Francis recalled how the new Blessed lived the joy of the Gospel, “without compromises, loving to the very end.” He did not seek his own glory, but lived as a “meek and humble pastor.”
“With a smile, Pope John Paul managed to communicate the goodness of the Lord. How beautiful is a Church with a happy, serene and smiling face, that never closes doors, never hardens hearts, never complains or harbours resentment, does not grow angry or impatient, does not look dour or suffer nostalgia for the past.”
In conclusion, the Pope encouraged us to ask Blessed John Paul I to help us obtain from the Lord “the smile of the soul” and to pray in his own words: “Lord take me as I am, with my defects, with my shortcomings, but make me become what you want me to be.”