The Church should be on its feet and on the journey, listening to the restlessness of the people, and always with joy.
That was the message of Pope Francis this morning in the homily for the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.
In the first eight chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, the Pope said, “there is a summary of the whole history of the Church”: preaching, baptism, conversion, miracles, persecution, joy, but also the ugly sin of those who join themselves to the Church for their own ends, “those benefactors of the Church who in the end cheat the Church,” like Ananias and Sapphira. The Holy Father began his homily with this reflection, then moved on to a consideration of the day’s readings. He first emphasized that the Lord from the beginning accompanied His disciples, confirming the Word with miraculous signs. He never left them alone, not even in the worst moments.
Pope Francis then focused on three “words” taken from the day’s first Reading, inviting those present to re-read the passage at home. The first saying was the words of an angel to Philip: “Get up and go.” “This,” the Pope said, “is a sign of evangelization”: the vocation, and the great consolation of the Church, is to evangelize.
“But in order to evangelize: ‘Get up and go!’ One doesn’t say: ‘Stay seated, calm, in your house’: No! In order to be faithful to the Lord, the Church should always be on its feet and on the journey: ‘Get up and go.’ A Church that does not rise up, that is not on the journey, is sick.”
And, the Pope continued, this can cause the Church to be closed in on itself, with many psychological and spiritual traumas – “closed into a little world of gossiping, of things… closed, without horizons.” And so, he said, the Church must “get up and go,” it must be “on its feet and on the journey.” This is how the Church must go about evangelizing.
“Go up and join with that chariot” – the second message Philip received from the Spirit – was the next expression Pope Francis emphasized. In the chariot was an Ethiopian, a proselyte of the Jewish religion, a eunuch who had come to Jerusalem to worship God. As he traveled, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The passage concerns the conversion of a “finance minister,” which, the Pope said, means it was a “great miracle.” The Spirit called Philip to join himself to that man, Pope Francis continued, emphasizing how important it was for the Church to know she must listen to the restlessness in the heart of every man:
“All men, all women have a restlessness in their hearts – [they may be] good or bad, but there is a restlessness. Listen to that restlessness. It’s not saying: ‘Go out and proselytise.’ No, no! ‘Go and listen.’ Listening is the second step. The first: ‘Get up and go’; the second: ‘Listen.’ That ability to listen: What do people feel? What does the heart of the people feel? What does it think? But do they think mistaken things? But I want to hear these mistaken things, in order to understand where the restlessness is. We all have this restlessness within. The second step for the Church is to find the restlessness of the people.”
It is, then, the Ethiopian himself who, seeing Philip approach, asks who the prophet is speaking about, and asks him to join him in the chariot. And so, the Pope said, Philip began to preach “with meekness.” The restlessness in the heart of that man found an explanation that responded to the hope in his heart. This was possible, Pope Francis continued, “because Philip joined him and listened to him.”
While the Ethiopian listened, the Lord was working within him. In this way, the man understood that the Prophet Isaiah was speaking of Jesus. His faith in Jesus then grew to such a point that when they arrived at a place where there was water, he asked to be baptized. “He asked for Baptism because the Lord had worked in his heart,” the Pope said. Then, after he had been baptized, when the Spirit took Philip and bore him away, the eunuch continued on his way, filled with joy. This “joy of the Christian,” Pope Francis said, is the third “word” from the Reading.
Pope Francis concluded his homily with the hope that the Church would be “on its feet,” “a mother who listens,” and “with the grace of the Holy Spirit … finds the Word to say”:
“Mother Church, which gives so many children to the light with this method, we would say – let us use the word – this method which is not proselytistic: it is the method of the witness to obedience. The Church, which tells us today: ‘Rejoice.’ To rejoice; joy. The joy of being Christian, even in ugly moments. Because after the stoning of Stephen a great persecution arose, and the Christians scattered everywhere, like seed carried on the wind. And it fell to them to preach the Word of Jesus. May the Lord give to all of us the grace to live the Church in this way: on our feet and going out, listening to the restlessness of the people, and always in joy.”