The homily Pope Francis delivered to the 31 new Metropolitan Archbishops from around the world, including Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., attending Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica last weekend was challenging.
Each of the archbishops received the pallium, a small, woolen, white garment that was hung from their neck at the liturgy June 29, the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul.
“The pallium reminds the sheep that the shepherd is called to bear him on his shoulders,” the pope said. “It is a sign that the shepherds do not live for themselves but for the sheep. It is a sign that, in order to possess life, we have to lose it, give it away.”
Holding up the example of St. Peter and St. Paul, the saints who are the patrons of the Diocese of Rome, the pontiff called them “witnesses to life, witnesses to forgiveness and witnesses to Jesus.”
Even though both Peter and Paul had earlier made serious mistakes against Christ and the Church, “Jesus called them by name and changed their lives,” and placed His trust in them.
The change that life with Christ made in the two saints was easy to see in Scripture references quoted by the pope. They each came to Jesus as sinners, not possessed of certainty or answers. “In their failings, they encountered the powerful mercy of the Lord, who gave them rebirth,” Pope Francis explained. “In His forgiveness, they encountered irrepressible peace and joy.” That forgiveness propelled them to be vibrant witnesses to Jesus.
“For those who are His witnesses, Jesus is more than a historical personage; He is a living person: He is newness, not things we have already seen, the newness of the future and not a memory from the past.”
The pope’s homily was instructive for more than only the archbishops concelebrating with him. Later, he cautioned that Jesus was not looking for “religion editors, much less ‘front page’ or ‘statistical’ Christians.”
The admonition was well placed in Rome, and the cautionary tone resonated across the globe. The pope was speaking about chroniclers who talk about “holy things” at a distance, citing other topical stories and dry statistics, instead of clearly pointing the way to a living relationship with the Lord.
The prescription of Jesus is simple, Pope Francis said. “He is looking for witnesses who say to Him each day: ‘Lord, You are my life.’”
That description of a Christian holds whether you are a newly installed archbishop, a Catholic editor or a parishioner in New York or New Zealand.
We pray for the strength to live that mission as we promote the Living Word among us in each issue we deliver.
Pope Francis offered the changed lives of the Apostles as a ready guide for today, and we echo his assessment. “Having met Jesus and experienced His forgiveness, the Apostles bore witness to Him by living a new life: they no longer held back, but gave themselves over completely. They were no longer content with half-measures, but embraced the only measure possible for those who follow Jesus: that of boundless love.”