PASTORAL VISITA OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCESCO TO ALBANO
Sunday, 21 September 2019
The episode we heard is in Jericho, the famous city destroyed in the time of Joshua that, according to the Bible, should not have been reconstructed anymore (see GS 6): it should have been "the forgotten city". But Jesus, the Gospel says, "enters and crosses" Jericho (see Lk 19: 1). And in this city, which is below sea level, he is not afraid of reaching the lowest level, represented by Zacchaeus. This was a publican, or rather the "chief of the publicans", that is, of those Jews hated by the people who collected taxes for the Roman Empire. He was "rich" (v. 2) and it is easy to guess how he had become: at the expense of his fellow citizens, exploiting his fellow citizens. In their eyes Zacchaeus was the worst, the unsavory. But not in the eyes of Jesus, who calls him by his own name, Zacchaeus, which means "God remembers". In the forgotten city, God remembers the greatest sinner.
The Lord first of all remembers us. He does not forget us, he does not lose sight of us despite the obstacles that can keep us away from him. Obstacles that were not lacking in the case of Zaccheus: his short stature, physical and moral, but also his shame, so he tried to see Jesus hidden in the branches of the tree, probably hoping not to be seen. And then the external criticisms: in the city, because of that meeting, "everyone murmured" (v. 7) - but I believe that in Albano it is the same: it is rumored ... Limits, sins, shame, chatter and prejudices: no obstacle makes us forget to Jesus the essential, the man to love and save.
What does this Gospel tell us about the anniversary of your Cathedral? That every church, that the Church with a capital letter exists to keep alive in the hearts of men the memory that God loves them. It exists to tell everyone, even to the farthest: "You are loved and you are called by Jesus by name; God does not forget you, you care about him ". Dear brothers and sisters, like Jesus do not be afraid to "cross" your city, to go to those who are more forgotten, to those who are hidden behind the branches of shame, fear, loneliness, to tell them: "God remembers you".
I would like to emphasize a second action of Jesus. In addition to remembering, recognizing Zacchaeus, He anticipates. We see it in the game of looks with Zacchaeus. He "sought to see who Jesus was" (v. 3). It is interesting that Zacchaeus not only sought to see Jesus, but to see who Jesus was: that is, to understand what kind of teacher he was, what his distinctive trait was. And he finds out not when he looks at Jesus, but when he is looked at by Jesus. Because while Zacchaeus tries to see him, Jesus sees him first; before Zacchaeus speaks, Jesus speaks to him; before inviting Jesus, Jesus comes to his home. Here is who Jesus is: he who sees us first, he who loves us first, he who first welcomes us. When we discover that his love anticipates us, that he reaches us first of all, life changes. Dear brother, dear sister, if as Zacchaeus you are looking for a meaning to life but, not finding it, you are throwing yourself away with "surrogates of love", such as riches, career, pleasure, some addiction, let yourself be looked at by Jesus. Only with Jesus will you discover that you have always been loved and will make the discovery of life. You will feel touched within by the invincible tenderness of God, which moves and moves the heart. So it was for Zaccheus and so it is for each of us, when we discover the "first" of Jesus: Jesus who anticipates us, who looks at us first, who speaks to us first, who is waiting for us first.
As a Church, let us ask ourselves if Jesus comes first to us: first he or our agenda, is he or our structures first? Every conversion is born of an anticipation of mercy, born of God's tenderness that steals the heart. If everything we do does not start from the merciful gaze of Jesus, we run the risk of mundanizing the faith, of complicating it, of filling it with so many contours: cultural topics, efficient visions, political options, party choices ... But we forget the essential, the simplicity of faith, that which comes first of all: the living encounter with the mercy of God. If this is not the center, if it is not at the beginning and at the end of all our activities, we risk holding God " outside the home ”, that is, in the church, which is his home, but not with us. Today's invitation is: "be merciful" from God. He comes with his mercy.
To guard the "first" of God, Zacchaeus is an example. Jesus sees it first because he had climbed onto a sycamore tree. It is a gesture that required courage, enthusiasm, and imagination: not many adults are seen climbing trees; this is what kids do, it's something you do as children, we all did it. Zacchaeus has overcome the shame and in a sense he is a child again. It is important for us to go back simple, open. To guard the "first" of God, that is his mercy, we must not be complicated Christians, who elaborate a thousand theories and disperse to look for answers in the net, but we must be like children. They need parents and friends: we also need God and others. We are not enough for ourselves, we need to unmask our self-sufficiency, to overcome our closures, to return small inside, simple and enthusiastic, full of enthusiasm towards God and love of neighbor.
I would like to highlight one last action of Jesus, which makes one feel at home. He says to Zacchaeus: "Today I must stay at your house" (v. 5). In your house. Zacchaeus, who felt himself a stranger in his city, returns to his home as a loved one. And, loved by Jesus, he rediscovers his neighboring people and says: "I give half of what I have to the poor and, if I stole from someone - and he had stolen so much, this man -, I give back four times as much" (see 8). The Law of Moses asked to return by adding a fifth (see Lv 5:24), Zacchaeus giving four times as much: it goes well beyond the Law because he has found love. Feeling at home, he opened the door to the next.
How wonderful it would be if our neighbors and acquaintances felt the Church as their home! Unfortunately, it happens that our communities become foreign to many and unattractive. Sometimes we also suffer the temptation to create closed circles, intimate places among the elect. We feel elected, we feel elite ... But there are so many brothers and sisters who are homesick, who don't have the courage to get close, maybe because they didn't feel welcomed; perhaps because they met a priest who treated them badly or chased them away, he wanted to make them pay the sacraments - a bad thing - and they left. The Lord wants his Church to be a house among the houses, a hospitable tent where every man, a traveler of existence, meets Him who has come to dwell among us (see Jn 1:14).
Brothers and sisters, let the Church be the place where others are never looked down on, but like Jesus with Zacchaeus, from the bottom up. Remember that the only time you can look at a person from the top down is to help her get up, otherwise it is not allowed. Only then: look at it like that, because it has fallen. We never look at people as judges, always as brothers. We are not inspectors of the lives of others, but promoters of the good of all. And to be promoters of the good of all, one thing that helps so much is to keep the language steady: not to talk about others. But sometimes, when I say these things, I hear people say: "Father, look, it's a bad thing, but it comes to me, because I see something and I want to criticize". I suggest a good medicine for this - apart from prayer -; effective medicine is: bite your tongue. It will swell in your mouth and you can't talk!
"The son of man - the Gospel concludes - came to seek and save what was lost" (Lk 19:10). If we avoid those who seem lost to us, we are not of Jesus. We ask for the grace to meet each one as a brother and not to see anyone as an enemy. And if we have been hurt, we return good. Jesus' disciples are not slaves of past evils but, forgiven by God, they do as Zacchaeus: they think only of the good they can do. We give freely, we love the poor and those who do not have to give us back: we will be rich in the eyes of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, I hope that your cathedral, like any church, will be the place where everyone feels remembered by the Lord, anticipated by his mercy and welcomed home. So that the most beautiful thing happens in the Church: rejoice because salvation has entered life (see v. 9). So be it.