Baghdad, Iraq, Mar 6, 2021 / 09:25 am
Here is the full prepared text of Pope Francis’ homily, delivered March 6, 2021, at a Mass in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad, Iraq.
Today the word of God speaks to us of wisdom, witness and promises.
Wisdom in these lands has been cultivated since ancient times. Indeed the search for wisdom has always attracted men and women. Often, however, those with more means can acquire more knowledge and have greater opportunities, while those who have less are sidelined. Such inequality -- which has increased in our time -- is unacceptable. The Book of Wisdom surprises us by reversing this perspective. It tells us that “the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested” (Wis 6:6). In the eyes of the world, those with less are discarded, while those with more are privileged. Not so for God: the more powerful are subjected to rigorous scrutiny, while the least are God’s privileged ones.
Jesus, who is Wisdom in person, completes this reversal in the Gospel, and he does so with his very first sermon, with the Beatitudes. The reversal is total: the poor, those who mourn, the persecuted are all called blessed. How is this possible? For the world, it is the rich, the powerful and the famous who are blessed! It is those with wealth and means who count! But not for God: It is no longer the rich that are great, but the poor in spirit; not those who can impose their will on others, but those who are gentle with all. Not those acclaimed by the crowds, but those who show mercy to their brother and sisters. At this point, we may wonder: if I live as Jesus asks, what do I gain? Don’t I risk letting others lord it over me? Is Jesus’ invitation worthwhile, or a lost cause? That invitation is not worthless, but wise.
Jesus’ invitation is wise because love, which is the heart of the Beatitudes, even if it seems weak in the world’s eyes, in fact always triumphs. On the cross, it proved stronger than sin, in the tomb, it vanquished death. That same love made the martyrs victorious in their trials – and how many martyrs have there been in the last century, more even than in the past! Love is our strength, the source of strength for those of our brothers and sisters who here too have suffered prejudice and indignities, mistreatment and persecutions for the name of Jesus. Yet while the power, the glory and the vanity of the world pass away, love remains. As the Apostle Paul told us: “Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8). To live a life shaped by the Beatitudes, then, is to make passing things eternal, to bring heaven to earth.
But how do we practice the Beatitudes? They do not ask us to do extraordinary things, feats beyond our abilities. They ask for daily witness. The blessed are those who live meekly, who show mercy wherever they happen to be, who are pure of heart wherever they live. To be blessed, we do not need to become occasional heroes, but to become witnesses day after day. Witness is the way to embody the wisdom of Jesus. That is how the world is changed: not by power and might, but by the Beatitudes. For that is what Jesus did: he lived to the end what he said from the beginning. Everything depends on bearing witness to the love of Jesus, that same charity which St. Paul magnificently describes in today’s second reading. Let us see how he presents it.
First, Paul says that “love is patient” (v. 4). We were not expecting this adjective. Love seems synonymous with goodness, generosity and good works, yet Paul says that charity is above all patient. The Bible speaks first and foremost of God’s patience. Throughout history, men and women proved constantly unfaithful to the covenant with God, falling into the same old sins. Yet instead of growing weary and walking away, the Lord always remained faithful, forgave and began anew. This patience to begin anew each time is the first quality of love, because love is not irritable, but always starts over again. Love does not grow weary and despondent, but always presses ahead. It does not get discouraged, but stays creative. Faced with evil, it does not give up or surrender. Those who love do not close in on themselves when things go wrong, but respond to evil with good, mindful of the triumphant wisdom of the cross. God’s witnesses are like that: not passive or fatalistic, at the mercy of happenings, feelings or immediate events. Instead, they are constantly hopeful, because grounded in the love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (v. 7).