Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of March 11, 2007
The readings we have chosen today are so rich and full of reflections that choosing one rather than another means almost depriving us of something beautiful and great. We have not forgotten the recipients of Paul's two Letters, or rather the passages from his Letters, but we turned to Paul because what he wrote allows us to make the identikit of the priest and so the faithful may find in the priest the model for their spiritual life. In fact, in the first passage from the letters it is written exactly that, and this already makes you understand that there is more than one Letter; the first group includes the two Letters to Timothy while the second group sees the Letter to the Philippians, the Letter to the Colossians and the First to the Thessalonians. You should already know these passages, either because they have already been read in previous anniversaries celebrations, or because we have examined them and in-depth reflections have arisen from them. No one, better than Paul, the brave and fearless man who did not stop even when facing persecution, slander, incarceration, trials and shipwrecks, can say: "God has given us not a Spirit of shyness" because what the apostle writes to others he experienced it, by far and large, on himself and had the audacity to face religious authorities, both Jewish and Christian. Paul had the courage, it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, to face, to resist openly, even to Peter, when he contradicted on the question of food that concerned the pagans, behaving first in one way and then in another. When a priest expresses in his priestly testimony such confidence and lack of fear, it means that he is a true apostle and disciple of Christ. Strong is the priest and in fact most of the evils present in the Church today could cease if priests had the courage to proclaim and defend the truth; those who maintain that the truth is only on the side of superiors are wrong, for our Lord has taught that fraternal correction must be exercised in every direction and with every person. This is important and must be put into practice and the strong one, with the strength coming from God, is equally a person full of love. The reproach in itself has no value or meaning unless it is accompanied by love; love must support everything, it must feed everything. Christ has taught and practiced love, God by definition is love, the priest, and consequently also the faithful, must know how to love. Those who preserve in their hearts feelings of aversion, reprisal and revenge are not true Disciples of Christ; to love, and we have experienced it, is much more difficult than to hate. To hate means to make room and give a possibility to our low instincts and feelings. To love, on the other hand, is an effort that must be made to lift us up so high, so to say, to touch God's mantle with our fingers. Those who love are prudent, Jesus himself asks us to be prudent, astute, as snakes are, not to deceive others, but not to be deceived. The true priest is not naive, he is not a naive or gullible person, he is someone who knows where the truth is, knows how to defend it and knows how to give it to his faithful because whoever lives in truth wants others to be equally free and enjoy the same freedom and feeling. Do not be ashamed: many times we have been ashamed, on some occasions, when faced with situations in which we had to intervene but we did not do it or in front of people who could intimidate us by the importance of the office they held and we chose to keep quiet. Remember, my dear, silence for a quiet living just leads to confusion, misunderstanding and does not solve anything. Do not be silent in your families if something is wrong, but speak, because you can help change the one who shows his weakness and acts badly, thus preventing him from making mistakes. We are never ashamed to give our full adherence to Christ. In today's world, where there is contrast between Christ's teachings and social life, political life and even daily life, the true believer who follows Christ's teachings finds himself in an awkward situation because it is much easier to follow the world than Christ, it is much easier to do what the world says than to do what Christ taught. There are still other considerations but I leave them to you.
We come to the second reading taken from different passages of Paul's Letters. The first verse can make us blush: I believe that no priest, nor bishop, nor Pope has the simplicity of Paul in saying: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ". If I dared to say this and if priests and bishops would do the same together with me, we would be stoned immediately, everyone would say: "He is full of pride, haughty, he is self-conceited"; I wander why Paul affirmed it without blushing and with no feeling of being disturbed or ashamed. Paul could see far and reasoned that if priests are authentic Disciples of Christ, then they are image of Him and the faithful can, by the example of their priests, draw strength in order to change. I do not have Paul's courage, so I simply tell you to follow his example so that you can follow Christ's example. "Be imitators", there is a masterpiece before you, there is the possibility to resemble God's masterpiece, He has made many masterpieces. For a masterpiece to be recognized as such, it takes an expert who can say whether the canons of beauty and aesthetics are respected, there is an inner world showing itself and, consequently, it is a masterpiece. Sometimes we are unable to understand if we are facing a work of art because we are not supported and sustained by adequate knowledge; then we are forced to rely on the advice of an art critic, but in the spiritual life everyone can understand when he comes across a masterpiece of God. Whether it is a man, a woman, a child, a young person, an adult, an old man, in short, any human being full of the love of God is a true masterpiece that must be for us a drive to imitate him. This is why Paul's insistence: "therefore be imitators of God", words that I would like to enter into your heart. All communities, including this one, must behave and be like those sheep that Jesus talks about in the Gospel passage. I have already mentioned several times the wonderful reality of the flock guarded, raised and defended by Jesus the good shepherd who says: "I know my sheep and my sheep know Me". This is not a visual knowledge, it is not a knowledge that is experienced in an occasional meeting, but the knowledge Christ is talking about starts from His heart and reaches the heart of men and when this heart is warmed up by the love of Christ, it goes back to Christ and spreads to his brothers. When sheep are calm, they are happy, they are fed and full up, they are at peace with each other; then they do not fight for a tuft of grass that can be sought after and then stolen from the others, everything is shared, joy, suffering and prayer are shared. The talk on the flock is a talk that must give serenity and tranquility, it does not imply the marginalization of what comes from the outside, but represents the possibility of being defended by what is negative and bad happening outside. Yet, do notice the look of the Christ who looks far and is sad, because He would like to bring other sheep there, because He knows that if they live outside the fold they become easy prey of ferocious wolves tearing and killing them. Christ is able to love us to the point of taking us on His shoulders and there is room for everyone on the shoulders of our Lord, let us be caught by His love. Today I would like to ask you to pray in a special way for my priesthood that continues in its path towards increasingly difficult situations, but I would also like, as I asked yesterday, to pray for all the priests who were ordained with me, so they can be truly imitators of Christ and be serene and authentic shepherds. May the Mother of the Eucharist spread her mantle on each of us, may she come to all of you, to this community that I know how sensitive is to the problems of the Church and of priests. Continue ceaselessly to pray, offer your prayers, your fasting, your little sacrifices so we can soon see a Church renewed by love and with the love of God. Praised Jesus Christ.