Christ shows us the way
On the need to recognize what is wrong in our lives
Early on Thursday, 15 April , the Holy Father celebrated a Mass
with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in the Pauline
Chapel. The following is a translation of his Homily, which was given in
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I did not find the time to prepare a real Homily. I would just like
to invite each one to a personal meditation, proposing and emphasizing
certain passages of today's Liturgy, which lend themselves to the
prayerful dialogue among us and the Word of God. The word, the phrase
that I would like to propose for this communal meditation is this great
affirmation by St Peter: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
St Peter stands before the supreme religious institution, which one
should normally obey, but God is above this institution and God has
given him another "command": he must obey God. Obedience to God is
freedom; obedience to God gives him the liberty to oppose the
And here exegetes draw our attention to the fact that St Peter's
response to the Sanhedrim is almost word for word identical to Socrates'
response to the sentence at the tribunal in Athens. The tribunal offers
him freedom, liberation; on the condition, however, that he does not
continue to seek God. But for him searching for God, the quest for God,
is a superior mandate, which comes from God himself. And a freedom
bought at the price of renouncing the journey towards God would no
longer be freedom.
Therefore he must not obey these judges
he must not purchase his life at the cost of losing himself
but must obey God. Obedience to God has priority.
Here it is important to stress that it is a question of obedience and
that it is obedience itself that constitutes freedom. The modern age has
spoken of the liberation of man, of his full autonomy, hence also of the
liberation from obedience to God. Obedience must no longer exist, man is
free, he is autonomous: that is all. However, this autonomy is a lie: it
is an ontological falsehood because man does not exist on his own and
for himself, and it is also a political and practical falsehood because
collaboration, the sharing of freedom is necessary. And if God does not
exist, if God is not a reference accessible to man, the consensus of the
majority alone remains the supreme reference. Consequently, the
consensus of the majority becomes the last word which we must obey. And
this consensus we know it from the history of the past century
can also be a "consensus in evil".
Thus we see that the so-called autonomy does not truly set man free.
Obedience to God is a freedom because it is the truth, it is the
reference that comes before all the other human needs. In the history of
humanity these words of Peter and of Socrates are the true beacon of the
liberation of man, who can see God and, in God's name, can and must
obey, not so much human beings, but God, thus freeing himself from the
positivism of human obedience.
Dictatorships have always been against this obedience to God. The
Nazi, and likewise the Marxist dictatorship, could not accept a God who
is above ideological power. The freedom of the martyrs, who recognize
God precisely in obedience to divine power, is always the act of
liberation through which Christ's freedom reaches us.
Today, thanks be to God, we do not live
under dictatorships, yet subtle forms of dictatorship exist: a
conformism, which becomes obligatory, thinking as everyone thinks,
behaving as everyone behaves, and the subtle assaults on the Church
or even those that are less subtle
show that this conformism can really be a true dictatorship.
This is what applies to us: we must obey God rather than men. However
this implies that we truly know God and that we truly wish to obey him.
God is not a pretext for one's personal will, but is really the One who
calls and invites us, if necessary, even to martyrdom.
Therefore, in measuring up to this word that ushers in a new history
of freedom in the world, let us pray above all to know God, to know God
humbly and truly, and in knowing God, to learn true obedience which is
the root of human freedom.
Let us choose a second passage from the First Reading. St Paul says
that God exalted Jesus at his right hand as Leader and Saviour (cf. Acts
5:31). Leader is a translation of the Greek terms archegos,
which implies a far more dynamic vision: archegos is the one
who shows the way, who goes ahead, it is a movement, an upwards
God raised him at his right hand
therefore, speaking of Christ as archegos means that Christ walks
before us, he precedes us, he shows us the way. And being in communion
with Christ is being on the way, it is climbing with Christ, it is
following Christ, it is the ascent, it is following the archegos,
the One who has gone before, who precedes us and points out the way.
Here, evidently, it is important that we are told where Christ
arrives and where we too must arrive: hypsosen
on high —
ascending to the right hand of the Father. The "sequela" of Christ is
not only the imitation of his virtues, it is not only living in this
world, as far we are able, as Christ lived, in accordance with his
words, but it is a journey that has a destination. And the destination
is the right hand of the Father. There is this journey of Jesus, this
following of Jesus which ends at the right hand of the Father. The whole
of Jesus' journey, even reaching the right hand of the Father fits into
the horizon of this "sequela".
In this regard the destination of this
journey is eternal life at the right hand of the Father in communion
with Christ. Today all too often we are somewhat afraid of speaking
about eternal life. We talk of things that are useful for the world, we
show that Christianity also helps us to improve the world, but we do not
dare to say that its destination is eternal life and that from this
destination stem the criteria for life.
We must understand anew that
Christianity remains a "fragment" unless we think of this destination,
that we want to follow the archegos to God's height, to the glory
of the Son who makes us sons in the Son, and we must once again
recognize that only in the great perspective of eternal life does
Christianity reveal its full meaning. We must have the courage, the joy,
the great hope that eternal life exists, it is the true life and from
this true life comes the light that also illuminates this world.
One may even say
— leaving aside eternal
life, the Heaven promised
that it is better to live in accordance with
Christian criteria because living in accordance with truth and love,
even in the midst of so much persecution is in itself good and is better
than everything else. It is precisely this will to live in accordance
with truth and love that must also be open to the whole breadth of God's
plan with us, to the courage to jubilate already at the prospect of
eternal life, the ascent, following our archegos. And Soter
is the Saviour, who saves us from ignorance, in seeking the last
things. The Saviour saves us from solitude; he saves us from the
emptiness that pervades life without eternity; he saves us by giving us
love in its fullness. He is the guide. Christ, the archegos,
saves us by giving us the light, giving us the truth, giving us the love
Next let us reflect further on this
verse: Christ, the Saviour, gave to Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins
— in the Greek text the term is metanoia
— he gave
repentance and pardon for sins. This to me is a very important
observation: repentance is a grace. There is an exegetical trend that
states that in Galilee Jesus would have proclaimed a grace without
conditions, absolutely unconditional, therefore also without penitence,
grace as such, without human preconditions.
But this is a false interpretation of
grace. Repentance is grace; it is a grace that we recognize our sin; it
is a grace that we realize the need for renewal, for change, for the
transformation of our being. Repentance, the capacity to be penitent, is
a gift of grace.
And I must say that we Christians, even
in recent times, have often avoided the word penitence
— it seemed to us
too difficult. Now, under the attacks of the world that speak of our
sins, we see that the capacity to repent is a grace. And we see that it
is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our
lives, open ourselves to forgiveness, prepare ourselves for pardon by
allowing ourselves to be transformed.
The pain of repentance, of purification
and of transformation
— this pain is a grace, because it is renewal, it
is a work of divine mercy. And thus these two things of which St Peter
—repentance and forgiveness
— correspond to Jesus' initial
preaching: metanoeite, in other words, "repent" (cf. Mk 1:15).
Therefore this is the fundamental point: metanoia is not a
private affair, which appears to be substituted by grace, but rather
metanoia is the advent of grace that transforms us.
And in conclusion, one word of the
Gospel, in which we are told that whoever believes will have eternal
life (cf. Jn 3:36). In faith, in this "transformation" that repentance
brings, in this conversion, in this new way of living, we arrive at
life, at real life.
At this point two other texts come to
mind. In the "priestly prayer" the Lord says: this is life, knowing you
and your Anointed (cf. Jn 17:3). Understanding the essential, knowing
the decisive Person, knowing God and the One whom he has sent is life
life and understanding
— the understanding of the realities that
And the other text is the response of
the Lord to the Sadducees regarding the Resurrection, when, using the
Books of Moses, the Lord proves the Resurrection as a fact, by saying:
God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob (cf. Mt 22:31-32; Mk
12:26-27; Lk 20:37-38). God is not a God of the dead. If God is the God
of these, then they live. Whoever is inscribed in God's name
participates in God's life, and lives. Therefore to believe is to be
inscribed in the name of God. Thus we are alive. Whoever has a share in
God's name is not dead but rather belongs to the living God. In this
sense we should be able to understand the dynamism of faith, which
entails enrolling our names in the name of God and in this way entering
Let us pray the Lord that this may come
about and that today, with our own lives, we may truly come to know God,
so that our name enter into God's name and our existence become true
life: eternal life, love and truth.