Christians who harden their hearts and refuse to be drawn towards Christ are like orphans, without a father. That was Pope Francis message on Tuesday as he reflected on the daily readings during his homily at Mass in the Vatican’s Santa Marta chapel.
Pope Francis began his sermon by recalling the question that the skeptical Jews kept asking Jesus every time he performed a miracle, preached in the temple or pointed the way to the Father:
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
That question, which the Pope said the Scribes and Pharisees repeat in many different ways, springs from a heart that is closed and blind to the faith. As Jesus explains in today’s Gospel reading, “you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep”. Being part of God’s flock, he said, is a grace which requires an open heart.
“My sheep hear my voice”, Jesus says in that reading, “I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand”. Have these sheep studied how to follow Jesus and then believed, the Pope asked? No, he said, citing the words from St John’s Gospel, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all”. It is the Father who gives the sheep to the shepherd. It is the Father who draws our hearts to Jesus.
The hardness of the Scribes and Pharisees’ hearts, is a drama which continues all the way to Calvary, the Pope said. They see the works that Jesus performs but they refuse to believe he is the Messiah. Even after the Resurrection, the Pope recalled, this drama continues as the soldiers guarding the tomb are told to say they’d fallen asleep in order to give credit to the story that the disciples had stolen the body of Christ. Not even the witness of those who saw the Risen Christ was able to reach those who refused to believe. And this has its consequences, the Pope said, because they are orphans who have denied their Father.
These doctors of the law, he went on, had closed hearts, they thought they were their own masters but in fact they were orphans because they had no relationship with the Father. They talked about their fathers, Abraham and the patriarchs, but these were distant figures and in their hearts they were orphans because they would not let themselves be drawn to the Father.
On the contrary, the Pope said, reflecting on the first reading for the day, the news that reached Jerusalem of the many pagans who heard the disciples preaching in Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch and turned to the faith, shows what it means to have a heart open to God. Like Barnabas, he said, who is sent to Antioch to confirm these rumours and is not scandalized by the conversion of the pagans but accepts this novelty and lets himself be drawn by the Father to Jesus.
Pope Francis concluded by saying Jesus invites us to be his disciples but to be so, we must let ourselves be drawn by the Father towards Him. The humble prayer we can say is: ‘Father, lead me to Jesus, help me to know Jesus’ and the Father will send the Spirit to open our hearts and lead us to Him. A Christian who doesn’t allow himself to be led by the Father is an orphan, but we have a Father who can lead us to Jesus.
The royal road to peace is to see others not as enemies to be opposed but as brothers and sisters to be embraced.