In his homily at Holy Mass on Friday, 17 January, Pope Francis commented on the first Reading from the first Book of Samuel (8:4-7,10-22).
Continuing the reflection he began in recent days, the Pope said: “We have seen how the people had distanced themselves from God, they had lost their knowledge of the word of God; they did not listen to it, they did not meditate on it,” adding, “when the word of God is absent, its place is taken by another word: by one's own word, the word of one's egoism, the word of one's desires, and also the word of the world”.
“We saw how the people, who were far from God's word, suffered defeat”. Distancing oneself from God leads to taking a path that inevitably “leads to what we heard about today: the people reject God. Not only do they not listen to the word of God, but they reject it” and eventually say “we can govern ourselves, are free and we want to go down this road”.
Samuel “suffers because of this and goes to the Lord. And the Lord with good sense says to Samuel: 'Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them'”.
Essentially, the Pope explained, “the Lord lets the people continue to distance themselves from him”, and he allows them to “experience” what this departure means. “Samuel tries to convince them and he he says all the things we have heard, what they king would do with them, with their sons, with their daughters”. And yet, despite all these warnings, “the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel” and they asked to have “a king as judge”.
Here, the Pope said, we come to “the interpretative key” to understanding the question. They people respond to Samuel: “We also will be like all the nations”. And so they demand: give us “a king who 'may judge us', like the rest of the peoples”.
Their request, the Pope continued, was motivated by the fact that they had “forgotten that they were a chosen people, a people of the Lord, a people chosen in love and led forth by the hand” of God, as “a father leads his child”. They “forgot this love” and desired to become like the other peoples.
This desire, Pope Francis explained, “will return as a temptation in the history of the chosen people. We remember the time of Maccabees, when they negotiated their being a chosen people in order to be like the other nations. It is a true insurrection. The people rebel against the Lord”.
And this, he said, “is the door that opens into worldliness: to do as everyone does” and not “as you who have chosen me have told me to do”. The practical consequence is that “they reject the Lord of love, they reject their election, and they seek the path of worldliness”.
Of course, the Pope explained, “it is true that a Christian should be normal, as people are normal. The Letter to Diognetus stated this in the early days of the Church. However, there are values that a Christian cannot adopt for himself”. Instead, he “must keep before him the word of God which tells him: you are my son, you are chosen, I am with you, I walk with you”and “normalcy of life demands a Christian's faithfulness to his election”. His must never “sell it off to move towards a worldly uniformity: this was the people's temptation and it is also our own”.
Pope Francis warned those present against forgetting “the word of God, and what the Lord tells us” to chase after “the word that's in style”. He said: “The word of the soap operas is in style! Let's take it: it's more entertaining!”, adding: his attitude of “worldliness is more subtle and dangerous” than the sin of 'apostasy', i.e., “the sin of breaking with the Lord”, since we more readily see it for what it is.
The Pope also added that to say that “we will be like all the other nations” reveals the fact that they “felt a certain inferiority complex for not being a normal people”.
“Temptation hardens the heart. And when the heart is hardened, when the heart is not open, the word of God cannot enter”. Jesus' words to “to those at Emmaus: O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe; because their hearts were hardened, they could not hear the word of God”.
“Worldliness softens the heart” but it “harms” is, Pope Francis continued. “A soft heart is never good. What is good is a heart opened to the word of God, a heart that receives it. Like Our Lady who pondered all these things in her heart, the Gospel says”.
Pope Francis suggested to those present that we we ask the Lord for the grace “to overcome our egoism” and for the “grace of spiritual docility, i.e., to open one's heart to the word of God” in order “not to do as our brothers did who closed their hearts because they distanced themselves from God and for a long time had not listened to or understood God's word”.
Then he concluded, saying: “may the Lord give us the grace of a heart open to receive God's word”, in order to “meditate upon it always” and “to take the truth path”.