In his homily on Friday morning, Pope Francis reminded the congregation of the holiness of the Church that at the same time contains sinful members.
“We are sinners, everyone, here. And the Church is holy! We are sinners, but she is holy,” he emphasized to the congregation at the daily Mass on May 9 in the Santa Marta guesthouse chapel.
The Pope stressed the living reality of the Church that is both heavenly but also present on earth, saying the Church “is the spouse of Jesus Christ and he loves her, he sanctifies her, he sanctifies her every day with his Eucharistic sacrifice, because he loves her so much.”
He went on to acknowledge that it can be difficult to understand the nature of the Church’s holiness: “But how can it be holy if all of us are in it?”
“We are sinners, but in a holy Church,” he explained, noting that because Christ makes the Church holy, all members of the Church are called to participate in the process of being made holy.
“And even we are sanctified with this membership in the Church: we are sons of the Church and mother Church sanctifies us, with her love, with the sacraments of her spouse.”
Moreover, he noted, “holiness is a gift from Jesus to his Church.” Christians can actively accept this gift, but “no one sanctifies himself.”
Rather, Christ “chooses persons in which one sees clearly his work of sanctification.”
Pope Francis noted that there are many persons in scripture who display sanctity, showing that “there is not one path for becoming holy.”
Many of the people Jesus calls to follow him, like Matthew and Zacchaeus who were tax collectors, display “the first rule of sanctity: it is necessary that Christ grows and we become less.” Humility is the “rule of sanctity,” he stressed.
In Friday’s scripture reading, the story of St. Paul shows this kind of process of sanctification through humility.
St. Paul, known first as Saul, persecuted the first Christians, “but the Lord awaits him. He waits for him and makes known (to him) his power. (Saul) becomes blind and obedient,” recounted Pope Francis.
After his conversion, Paul becomes a great preacher of the Christian faith, traveling throughout the nations to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Yet he ends “his life with a small group of friends, here in Rome.”
“They carry him away...cut off his head. Simply. The great man, that one who went out into the world, ends (life) like this,” reflected the pontiff.
“The difference between heroes and saints is witness, the imitation of Jesus Christ,” he explained. Saints embrace the way of the cross: many “finish so humbly.”
“I think of the last days of St. John Paul II - everyone saw it,” remarked the Pope, recalling how frail his deceased predecessor was. The recently canonized late pontiff was unable to walk or speak in the days preceding his death.