|Dear brother Bishops,
Priests, deacons, men and women religious, brothers and sisters,
I share the joy of our being together and celebrating this Eucharist. I would like, before all else, to convey the greeting and blessing of our Holy Father Pope Francis, who greatly desired to be here today on an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace and reconciliation in this young country, so full of opportunity and so grievously afflicted. I thank my brother Bishops for their warm welcome and with great affection I greet all of you, especially those who have come from afar, but with joyful hearts, in order to be here in the Lord’s presence with your brothers and sisters.
As we listened to the words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, all of us were touched, because here, today, we can recognize ourselves in that people who walk in darkness and seek to be clothed in light. Yes, dear brothers and sisters, you are that people, dwelling in a land rich in resources and possibilities but at the same time covered in darkness and overshadowed by violence. You are that people burdened by the yoke of oppression, poverty and work, who desire to rejoice in freedom (cf. Is 9:1-3).
It is upon you that the Lord – as he told us through the prophet – wants to make his light shine. He wants to multiply your joy and to increase your gladness (cf. vv. 1-2). To experience this liberation, however, we are called to cooperate with God’s saving plan. The prophet tells us this in rousing words, calling upon us to burn the bloodstained cloaks, to break the yoke of oppression and, above all, to receive into our hearts the Prince of Peace (vv. 4-5). Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Together with him, we can build a reconciled and renewed fraternity.
So let us listen to Jesus, who in today’s Gospel shows us the way. It is a way that can surprise us. Jesus has no use for half-measures; he does not mince his words. He tells us not to think like everyone else, and not to be content with our usual and even traditional way of doing things, but instead to embrace the newness that he brings. He says: “You have heard that it was said…” (Mt 5:8), and then immediately adds: “But I say to you…” (v. 39). In this radical and sudden change of perspective, we see the revolution of the kingdom of God, which transcends human traditions and brings them to fulfilment. And what does the Lord ask of us? Not to regulate our relationships, on the basis of habit and received traditions, but to open ourselves to a new standard, that of his boundless love.
With respect to our familiar traditions, usages and customs, and in particular our usual ways of acting and reacting in the face of evil, Jesus calls us to take a step forward, to embrace the startling newness of the Gospel message. To love not only those who love us, to break out of our own small group, to refuse to repay evil with evil. To renounce revenge, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies. To love and forgive always (vv. 38-48). Jesus says to us: you have to learn to think and act in a certain way, because the world has its own criteria, and the flesh drives you to respond to evil in certain ways. But I say to you: be different, take one more step, open yourself to the courage of love.
This, in a word, is the Christian difference. It is the courage of a love that is not imprisoned in the mentality of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth” (v. 38): It does not respond to evil with vengeance; it does not settle conflicts with violence; it does not love only its own, while standing aloof from others. Jesus asks us to be different: to be signs that run counter to the ways of a world torn by hatred and by violence. To love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (cf. v. 44).
At the same time, dear friends, this does not mean becoming passive victims, or being weak, docile and resigned in the face of violence. On the contrary, it means disarming evil, defusing violence and resisting oppression. How many times do we instinctively think that, to protect our rights, to defend our interests and the group to which we belong and to obtain justice after being attacked, we have to strike back at those who injured us. Yet the true power that triumphs over evil is not like that; it is different. It is the power of meekness and pardon. It is the strength that comes from knowing how to start over, refusing to respond to evil with evil and thus multiplying its effects. It is the power and strength that, even amid a history of violence and bloodshed, makes us say, as Christians: “I am not that way. I belong to Jesus and I have to be different.”
From the words of Jesus, then, we can draw an important lesson: the evil of the world cannot be vanquished with the weapons of the world. If you want peace, you cannot obtain it with war. If you want justice, you cannot achieve it by unjust and corrupt methods. If you want reconciliation, you cannot harbour revenge. If you want to serve your brothers and sisters, you cannot treat them as slaves. If we want to build a future of peace, then, there is only one road to take: to love one another and to live as brothers and sisters.
Brothers and sisters, when we leave too much room for resentment and bitterness of heart, when we poison our memories with hatred, when we cultivate anger and intolerance, we destroy ourselves. We continue to be, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, a people that walks in darkness. Instead, we are called to inaugurate a new history of justice and peace, in which we can take one another by the hand as members of one family, supporting one another, building a common future on the basis of dialogue and with the strength of meekness. That is what the Lord tells us to do: beginning with ourselves, with the courage of reconciliation and of fraternal love.
Allow me a small but practical bit of spiritual advice. To help us accept and embody the Christian difference which I mentioned above, I would suggest that each of you to take to heart the challenging Gospel that we have meditated on today. Let us allow the words of Jesus to enter our hearts, drop by drop, like rain falling on a parched land. To do so, we can, for example, keep open this page of the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew in the Gospel Books of our churches and enthrone it in our homes. Let us disseminate it in our communities, read it in our families, learn it by heart, fix it in our minds, embrace it with our hearts, and put it into practice in our lives. Day by day, it can mark the beginning of a different future.
The time has come for the prophecy of Isaiah to be fulfilled in this country. Now is the time to struggle against the shadows of evil and to journey towards the light. Now is the time when God, who always hears the cry of his oppressed people, asks us to be artisans of a new future. Now is the time of responsibility and of concrete actions, the time to tear down the walls of hatred, to break the yoke of every injustice, to wash in pardon and reconciliation garments soaked in blood and violence. Now is the time to lift our gaze once more to heaven, to God the Father of mercy, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5:46), to repent of our hardness of heart and to implore the gift of reconciliation. Now is the time to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity and peace. For to embody the Christian difference is not only a decision that we make; first and foremost, it is a grace, a gift of God to be sought insistently. Only if we are embraced by his love can we embrace one another and make rise up from the earth the new cry: no more violence, never again fratricidal conflicts, never again war!
May this be the time, dear brothers and sisters, for turning a page. That is what the Holy Father encouraged you to do in his message a few days ago. He told you that “you have a great mission, all of you, beginning with your political leaders: it is that of turning a page in order to blaze new trails, new paths of reconciliation and forgiveness, of serene coexistence and of development. A mission that entails looking together to the future, to the many young people in your lands, so rich in promise and yet so troubled, in order to offer them a brighter future (Video Message to the Peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, 2 July 2022).
Dear friends, this is the path that we are called to pursue: the love that reconciles us and makes us all brothers and sisters. We know that, on our own, it is not easy to set out on this road. For this reason, in spiritual union with Pope Francis, let us pray in this Holy Mass, which we rightly celebrate for peace and justice, that God may grant us the gifts of reconciliation and concord. May the Lord touch the hearts of all, and in particular those who hold positions of authority and great responsibility, so that there will be an end to the suffering caused by violence and instability, and that the process of peace and reconciliation may move rapidly forward with concrete and effective actions. Amen.
Photo Credits to: VATICAN NEWS
07 July 2022
Claudia, Office Manager
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