Sunday, October 02, 2016

Pope in Azerbaijan: Service is a way of life

Service "recapitulates the entire Christian way of life: serving God in adoration and prayer; being open and available; loving our neighbour with practical deeds; passionately working for the common good". 

Pope Francis spoke of the Christian way of life at Mass celebrated this morning in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he arrived from Georgia at 9:30 am, local time.
 
Francis celebrated Mass in the Church of the Salesian Center. The building is very recent it  opened in 2007, after John Paul II’s visit to the nation, in May 2002. Then the mass was celebrated in the sports hall, because there were no Catholic churches - the only one had been destroyed in 1931 - for a community of a few hundred faithful, however persecuted at the time of the Soviet Union and even without priests, as the last he had been killed. And John Paul II had thanked the Orthodox for welcoming the persecuted Catholics who had remained until 1991 without a priest. 

Francis also spoke of this before the Angelus, he said: "Dear brothers and sisters, I have given thanks to God with you, and also for you:  here the faith, after the years of persecution, has accomplished wonders.  I wish to recall the many courageous Christians who trusted in the Lord and were faithful in the face of adversity.  As did Saint John Paul II, I offer you the words of the Apostle Peter: “Honour to you who believe '".

Today, the church and the square in front contained almost all of the Catholics of Azerbaijan, officially less than 500 and almost only foreigners. Francis spoke before the Marian prayer: "" Some may think that the Pope is wasting his time to travel so far: so many kilometers to visit a small community of 700 people, in a country of 2 million ... Yet an uneven communities, because among you, you speak Azeri,  Italian, English, Spanish, many languages ​​... It is a peripheral  community. But the Pope, in this, imitates the Holy Spirit: he also descended from heaven on a small peripheral community locked in the Upper Room. 

And that community, in fear, felt perhaps poor and persecuted, or left aside: He gave them the courage, the strength, the parrhesia to go ahead and proclaim the name of Jesus. And the gates of that community of Jerusalem, which were closed out of fear or shame, opened wide and out poured the strength of the Spirit. The Pope 'wasted time' as the Holy Spirit did at that time. Only two things are needed: in that community there was the Mother. Do not forget our Mother! In that community there was charity, fraternal love that the Holy Spirit poured into them. Courage! Go ahead! Fearless, forward! ".

Earlier, during the Mass, the homily focused on the style of life and faith. God, he said, “does not indulge our desire to immediately and repeatedly change the world and other people.  Instead, he intends primarily to heal the heart, my heart, your heart, and the heart of each person; God changes the world by transforming our hearts, and this he cannot do without us.  The Lord wants us to open the door of our hearts, in order to enter into our lives.  This act of opening to him, this trust in him is precisely “the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).  For when God finds an open and trusting heart, then he can work wonders there. But to have faith, a lively faith, is not easy; and so we pass to the second request, which the Apostles bring to the Lord in the Gospel: “Increase our faith!” (Lk 17:6).  It is a good question, a prayer which we too can direct to the Lord each day.  But the divine response is surprising and here too turns the question around: “If you had faith…”.  

It is the Lord who asks us to have faith.  Because faith, which is always God’s gift and always to be asked for, must be nurtured by us.  It is no magic power which comes down from heaven, it is not a “talent” which is given once and for all, not a special force for solving life’s problems.  A faith useful for satisfying our needs would be a selfish one, centred entirely on ourselves.  Faith must not be confused with well-being or feeling well, with having consolation in our heart that gives us inner peace.  Faith is the golden thread which binds us to the Lord, the pure joy of being with him, united to him; it is a gift that lasts our whole life, but bears fruit only if we play our part. And what is our part?  Jesus helps us understand that it consists of service. In the Gospel, immediately following his words on the power of faith, Jesus speaks of service.  Faith and service cannot be separated; on the contrary, they are intimately linked, interwoven with each other.   In order to explain this, I would like to take an image very familiar to you, that of a beautiful carpet.  Your carpets are true works of art and have an ancient heritage.  The Christian life that each of you has, also comes from afar.  It is a gift we received in the Church which comes from the heart of God our Father, who wishes to make each of us a masterpiece of creation and of history.  Every carpet, and you know this well, must be made according to a weft and a warp; only with this form can the carpet be harmoniously woven.  So too in the Christian life: every day it must be woven patiently, intertwining a precise weft and warp: the weft of faith and the warp of service.  

When faith is interwoven with service, the heart remains open and youthful, and it expands in the process of doing good.  Thus faith, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, becomes powerful and accomplishes marvellous deeds. If faith follows this path, it matures and grows in strength, but only when it is joined to service. But what is service?  We might think that it consists only in being faithful to our duties or carrying out some good action.  For Jesus it is much more.  In today’s Gospel, and in very firm and radical terms, he asks us for complete availability, a life offered in complete openness, free of calculation and gain.  Why is he so exacting?  Because he loved us in this way, making himself our servant “to the end” (Jn 13:1), coming “to serve, and to give his life” (Mk10:45).  And this takes place again every time we celebrate the Eucharist: the Lord comes among us, and as much as we intend to serve him and love him, it is always he who precedes us, serving us and loving us more than we can imagine or deserve.  He gives us his very own life.  He invites us to imitate him, saying: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me” (Jn 12:26)”.

“And so, we are not called to serve merely in order to receive a reward, but rather to imitate God, who made himself a servant for our love.  Nor are we called to serve only now and again, but to live in serving.  Service is thus a way of life; indeed it recapitulates the entire Christian way of life: serving God in adoration and prayer; being open and available; loving our neighbour with practical deeds; passionately working for the common good.

For Christians too, there are temptations which lead us away from the path of service and end up by rendering life pointless.  Here too we can identify two forms.  One is that of allowing our hearts to grow lukewarm.  A lukewarm heart becomes self-absorbed in lazy living and it stifles the fire of love.  The lukewarm person lives to satisfy his or her own convenience, which is never enough, and in that way is never satisfied; gradually such a Christian ends up being content with a mediocre life.  The lukewarm person allocates to God and others a “percentage” of their time and their own heart, never spending too much, but rather always trying to economize.  And so, he or she can lose the zest for life: rather like a cup of truly fine tea, which is unbearable to taste when it gets cold.  I am sure, however, that when you look to the example of those who have gone before you in faith, you will not let your hearts become lukewarm.  

The whole Church, in showing you special affection, looks to you and offers you encouragement: you are a little flock that is so precious in God’s eyes.There is a second temptation, which we can fall into not so much because we are passive, but because we are “overactive”: the one of thinking like masters, of giving oneself only in order to gain something or become someone.  In such cases service becomes a means and not an end, because the end has become prestige; and then comes power, the desire to be great. 

“It shall not be so among you”, Jesus reminds all of us, “but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26).  This is the way the Church grows and is adorned.  Returning to our image of the carpet, and applying it to your fine community: each of you is like a magnificent silk thread.  Only if you are woven together, however, will the different threads form a beautiful composition; on their own, they are of no use.  Stay united always, living humbly in charity and joy; the Lord, who creates harmony from differences, will protect you.  May we be aided by the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary and by the saints, especially Saint Teresa of Calcutta, the fruits of whose faith and service are in your midst.  Let us recall some of her noble words to summarize today’s message: “The fruit of faith is love.  The fruit of love is service.  The fruit of service is peace” (A Simple Path, Introduction)".

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