In the Pauline Chapel in Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis offered Mass with some of the cardinals on the feast of Saint George, the name day of the Pope, Saint George. There are several stellar points made the Pope noted below with my emphasis. In these days when one’s identity as a Christian is questioned, or even rejected for superficial reasons, I think that if you consider what the Church teaches, especially through the eyes of Pope Benedict and now through Pope Francis, you will notice the truth, not ideology, joy, not grumpiness. The Pope uses another previous pope to help him and us to understand the work of the Church –her mission– under the power of the Holy Spirit.
The [first] reading today makes me think that the missionary expansion of the Church began precisely at a time of persecution, and these Christians went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, and proclaimed the Word. They had this apostolic fervor within them, and that is how the faith spread! Some, people of Cyprus and Cyrene – not these, but others who had become Christians – went to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too. It was a further step. And this is how the Church moved forward. Whose was this initiative to speak to the Greeks? This was not clear to anyone but the Jews. But … it was the Holy Spirit, the One who prompted them ever forward … But some in Jerusalem, when they heard this, became ‘nervous and sent Barnabas on an “apostolic visitation”: perhaps, with a little sense of humor we could say that this was the theological beginning of the Doctrine of the Faith: this apostolic visit by Barnabas. He saw, and he saw that things were going well.
And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: “Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.” And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.
And the third idea comes to my mind – the first was the explosion of missionary activity; the second, the Mother Church – and the third, that when Barnabas saw that crowd – the text says: ” And a large number of people was added to the Lord” – when he saw those crowds, he experienced joy. ” When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced “: his is the joy of the evangelizer. It was, as Paul VI said, “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.” And this joy begins with a persecution, with great sadness, and ends with joy. And so the Church goes forward, as one Saint says – I do not remember which one, here – “amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of the Lord.” And thus is the life of the Church. If we want to travel a little along the road of worldliness, negotiating with the world – as did the Maccabees, who were tempted, at that time – we will never have the consolation of the Lord. And if we seek only consolation, it will be a superficial consolation, not that of the Lord: a human consolation. The Church’s journey always takes place between the Cross and the Resurrection, amid the persecutions and the consolations of the Lord. And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken.
Let us think today about the missionary activity of the Church: these [people] came out of themselves to go forth. Even those who had the courage to proclaim Jesus to the Greeks, an almost scandalous thing at that time. Think of this Mother Church that grows, grows with new children to whom She gives the identity of the faith, because you cannot believe in Jesus without the Church. Jesus Himself says in the Gospel: ” But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.” If we are not “sheep of Jesus,” faith does not some to us. It is a rosewater faith, a faith without substance. And let us think of the consolation that Barnabas felt, which is “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.” And let us ask the Lord for this “parresia”, this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward! Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, “hierarchical and Catholic.” So be it.