2013-10-19 L’Osservatore Romano
The following is a synthesis of the homily Pope Francis delivered on Friday morning, 18 October, during the Holy Mass he celebrated in the Chapel of Santa Marta.
Pope Francis commented on the liturgical readings of the day taken from St Paul's Second Letter to Timothy (4:10-17) and from the Gospel of St Luke (10:1-9). The Pope began by noting the contrast between the two passages: The Gospel speaks to us about the “beginning of the apostolic life” when the disciples were “young, strong and joyful”; whereas in Paul's letter to Timothy the Apostle, who has already reached “the evening of his life”, dwells on the end of apostolic life. This contrast, the Pontiff explained, helps us to understand that “every apostle has a joyful, enthusiastic beginning with God within; but this does not save him from decline”. And, he confided, “it does me great good to think about the decline of the apostle”.
Pope Francis then set forth three icons: of Moses, John the Baptist and Paul. Moses, he said, “was the courageous leader of God's people who struggled against their enemies and even against God to save them. He was strong, but in the end he found himself on Mount Nebo looking toward the promised land” he would never enter. Nor was John the Baptist “spared anguish and distress at the end of his life”. He questioned if he had made a mistake, if he had taken the wrong path, and he even asked his friends to go to Jesus to asked him “are you the one or must we wait for another?”. In the end, “the greatest man born of woman” - as Christ himself had called him – “was subject to the power of a weak, drunk and corrupt governor, an adulterous woman's envy and a dancer's whim”.
Lastly there is Paul, who confides his bitter disappointment to Timothy. “He was not in the seventh heaven,” Pope Francis said, citing the Apostle's own words to his spiritual son: “my son, Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me; Crescens has gone to Galatia; Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for his is very useful to me; bring the cloak that I left, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message”. He then cited Paul's account of his own trial. “At my first defence no one took my part; all deserted me. But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the Gospel fully”. The icon of Paul captures the eve of every apostle's life: “alone, abandoned, betrayed”; helped only by the Lord who “does not abandon, who does not betray”, since “he is faithful, and he cannot deny himself”.
The greatness of an apostle, he continued, consists in doing what John the Baptist said: “He must increase and I must decrease”. In fact, Pope Francis continued, the apostle is the one “who gives his life so that the Lord may increase, and in the evening of life he declines”. He noted that this is how it was for Peter also, to whom Jesus said, “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go”.
Reflecting on the final phases of the lives of these great figures led Pope Francis to recall the rest homes for priests and religious sisters, which he called “sanctuaries of apostolic life and holiness”. In these homes, he said, one will find “good elderly priests and sisters who live under the weight of solitude, and who wait for the Lord to come to knock at the door of their hearts”. Unfortunately, he said, we tend to forget about these sanctuaries: “they are not beautiful places, because there we see what awaits us”. However, he said, “if we look at them more deeply, they are beautiful” because they house a wealth of humanity. To visit them is to “make a true pilgrimage to a place of apostolic life and holiness”. “These sisters and priests wait for the Lord a little like St Paul did: they are a bit sad, it is true, but they also have a certain peace, their faces alive with joy”.
The Holy Father concluded by asking the Lord to watch over the priests and religious who have reached the evening of their lives so that they might say even once more to the Lord: “yes, Lord, I want to follow you”.