Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass before one million people in the Diocesan Grounds of Soamandrakizay, in the capital of Antananarivo. In his homily, he focuses on the Gospel description of what Jesus’ asks of His disciples in order fulfill God’s plan.
Saint Luke’s Gospel this Sunday describes how “great multitudes accompanied Jesus”. As if to illustrate that Gospel, a great multitude of nearly one million people gathered in Antananarivo on Sunday morning to attend the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
Catholics make up 35% of Madagascar’s population of 26 million people.
Following Jesus is not easy
The Pope began his homily by acknowledging how “you too have come in great numbers to receive Jesus’ message and follow in His footsteps. But you also know that following Jesus is not easy”. Today’s Gospel, he added, “reminds us of how demanding that commitment can be”.
Jesus’ first demand
“Jesus’ first demand has to do with family relationships”, said the Pope. When “family” becomes the decisive criterion for what we consider right and good”, he continued, “we end up justifying and even ‘consecrating’ practices that lead to the culture of privilege and exclusion: favouritism, patronage and, as a consequence, corruption”.
Jesus says clearly that “anyone incapable of seeing others as brothers or sisters, of showing sensitivity to their lives and situations regardless of their family, cultural or social background ‘cannot be my disciple’”.
Jesus’ second demand
Pope Francis went on to explain Jesus’ second demand. He tells us not to identify the Kingdom of Heaven “with our personal agenda, or our attachment to an ideology that would abuse the name of God or of religion to justify acts of violence, segregation and even murder, exile, terrorism and marginalization”.
This demand encourages us “not to dilute and narrow the Gospel message, but instead to build history in fraternity and solidarity”, continued Pope Francis, “in complete respect for the earth and its gifts, as opposed to any form of exploitation”.
Jesus’ third demand
Jesus’ third demand, said the Pope, “is that we rediscover how to be grateful and to realize that, much more than a personal triumph, our life and our talents are the fruit of a gift. This gift is created by God through the silent interplay of so many people whose names we will only know in the Kingdom of Heaven”.
With these three demands, said Pope Francis, the Lord wants to free His disciples “from the grave obstacle that, in the end, is one of the worst forms of enslavement: living only for oneself”.
Making room for God
With these demands, continued the Pope, the Lord asks us “to adjust our priorities” and “to make room for God to be the centre and axis of our life”. It is not part of God’s plan for men and women, young people and children to suffer, he said. This is why Jesus urgently calls us “to die to our self-centredness, our individualism and our pride”.
“We Christians cannot stand with arms folded in indifference, or with arms outstretched in helplessness”, he added. “As believers, we must stretch out our hands, as Jesus does with us”.
Making God’s plans our own
“The demands that Jesus sets before us cease to be burdensome as soon as we begin to taste the joy of the new life that He Himself sets before us”, said the Pope, because “Jesus is the first to seek us at the crossroads, even when we are lost like the sheep or the prodigal son”.
Pope Francis concluded his homily at the Mass in Antananarivo with a prayer that “this humble realism may inspire us to take on great challenges and give you the desire to make your beautiful country a place where the Gospel becomes life. Let us commit ourselves”, he said, “and let us make the Lord’s plans our own”.