Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of March 1, 2006
1st reading: Jl 2:12-18; Psalm 50; 2nd reading: 2 Cor 5:20, 6:2; Gospel: Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness before men to be admired by them, otherwise there is no reward for you with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give alms, do not blow the trumpet in front of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, to be praised by the people. Truly I tell you, they have already received their reward. On the other hand, while you are giving alms, let your left hand not know what your right is doing, so that your alms remain in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be similar to the hypocrites who, in the synagogues and in the corners of the squares, love to pray standing upright, to be seen by the people. Truly I tell you, they have already received their reward. Instead, when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. And when you fast, do not become melancholy like the hypocrites, who take on an air of defeat to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have already received their reward. On the other hand, when you fast, perfume your head and wash your face, so that people do not see that you are fasting, but only your Father, who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you." (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)
Would Jesus use the word "hypocrites" today? I am convinced he would, because even today there is a form of exhibitionism in the Church that leads to raising oneself, to look at others from above, to consider oneself almost as God before whom one must bow. Instead, the hearts of some are filled with filth and pride. That filth and pride that was clearly spoken of during the Via Crucis in which John Paul II participated for the last time. This is one of the days in which we must remember that in the Church there is filth and pride and unfortunately shepherds are involved. There are good and honest shepherds but at their side there are many mercenaries who push the situation of the Church towards the negative. Good priests are few and not yet established, I know they are preparing, I know that God has laid his eyes on some of them so that they will be elected to the episcopate tomorrow, but today how much misery and how much filth there is.
You have heard what is written in the passage of the prophet Joel and I take the liberty of adapting some of these words to today's situation and change them: "Between the vestibule and the altar the priests and ministers of the Lord weep and say forgive Lord your people and do not expose your inheritance to the reproach and derision of the people”. (Jl 2:17)
John Paul II, despite being criticized, showed courage in asking God for forgiveness for the sins committed by the Church and by the men of the Church. Perhaps because of his poor health and old age, he would have needed more courage and would have had to ask God for forgiveness for the sins committed by the clergy, in the upper and lower parts, not referring to past centuries but referring to the current time. What John Paul II did not complete must certainly be done by whoever the Lord will choose as his representative on the whole Earth.
One must not be attached to power, wealth, pleasures; we need to think about living in grace and giving grace to others by word and example. I abhor those shepherds who are not according to God's heart. God already promised in the Old Testament: "I will give you shepherds according to my heart". I beg God that these shepherds, according to his heart, will once again be a greater number than the others. Few pastors are enough to renew the face of a church, a community, a diocese but at least it is necessary to arrive at a number that can serve all the faithful, who, rightly so, ask to be able to use the sacraments. How many times do you ask in your parishes to be able to confess and they tell you to come back at a predetermined time, because at that moment they are busy or cannot come? These are not authentic shepherds, they are mercenaries; it is absurd that when a priest or a bishop is called to confess he is not available. Do bishops confess or not? I almost came to think that for them, the great sacrament of Confession is dishonorable. Have you ever seen cardinals or bishops confess in churches? In Rome we have scores of bishops and cardinals. It is not necessary to be in exceptional good health to do this, it is enough to have the strength to stay in the confessional. Why, then, don’t they go to confess? The one who does not immediately go to meet the brother who wishes to confess, to be freed from sin, who does not exercise this sacrament with joy, has no sense of sin and lives in sin. Apart from me, how many of you were confessed by bishops? This should be one of the first duties and the greatness of a bishop, or cardinal, can be seen from this.
John Paul II tried, through his example, to involve his fellow bishops. They accompanied him dressed in solemn robes, with purple and red skullcaps, with multicolored bands, but they remained outside the confessionals. Why didn't they enter the confessionals? Why don't bishops enter confessionals? The one who will compel them to go to the confessionals will have to come. Do they have something else to do? And what should they do? What is more important than celebrating a sacrament that brings the grace of the Lord? Christ, the Son of God, our Redeemer, washed feet in order to make it clear with what spirit of authentic service priests must live their ministry. If God does this, you must do it, all the more so. They participate in ceremonies, surrounded by musical chapels, by important characters, they walk solemnly in the churches, they kneel when liturgy requires it, but only to honor themselves. At that moment one does not feel the presence of the One who, as Saint Paul says, despite being righteous, made himself a sinner because he took sins upon himself. This is what Christ did: the righteous, son of God, took upon himself the sins of all men. I ask you: why we, who are the ones continuing his ministry, on the contrary, turn away from this example? Why when we stand before God, instead of feeling the weight of our sins and the weight of the sins of the people entrusted to us, try to evade these responsibilities by continually seeking applause, honors, rewards and celebrations?
Lent is a great moment of reflection and I pray to God that all priests, from the one who occupies the highest place to the one who occupies the lowest, have moments of reflection, moments of awareness. What happens instead? Tonight they will return to their homes happy and joyful if more people attended their services compared to last year or if they noticed more attendance than their predecessors. This is a source of pride for them. What kind of shepherds are these? God have mercy on them, may God be compassionate on them. Let me add: "God, free your Church from these shepherds!" You have never heard me talking like this, but if I talk like that there is a reason. We cannot continue to go on like this. The situation is sad and dramatic, but we mustn’t keep on blaming those who do not come to Church, who do not participate in the Holy Mass, who do not pray or the faithful themselves. Must the faithful always be blamed? Let's change the way of thinking! Churches are empty, young people follow fun and sex, couples do not marry in church but separate and live together, the elderly often no longer have religious interests, the sick think only of the health of the body and not of the soul. But whose fault is it? If a boy becomes a delinquent, if he takes drugs, steals or commits a crime, we say that he did not receive a good education, a good training. Why don't we shift this reasoning also to why there is no Christian life in the church, there is no knowledge of the word of God? Then I repeat: "God frees your Church from the mercenaries who are still too many in it!" This is what I ask you all to do, read the prayer I said last Friday and that will be distributed to you next Friday. It is time for good shepherds and souls who sacrifice themselves to begin to smile and suffer less because the time must soon arrive when suffering must give way to serenity and joy. It is not possible to continue to see people who sacrifice in silence, day and night, in an awful and continuous consumption. Lord, hasten your justice and send us good and holy shepherds.