Msgr Charles Scicluna’s meditation in Saint Peter’s Basilica, in the context of a morning of Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests, will be of interest to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests and to other readers of Vultus Christi.
[Gospel texts: Mark 9:33-37, 41-50; 10:13-16] The Gospel text gives us a brief description of the beautiful but sweet and tender rapport Jesus had with children. This scene, indeed central and emblematic for those called to be disciples of Christ, marks verses 36-37 of Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mark and is repeated in Chapter 10 in verses 13-16: “He took a child, and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms” (Mark 9:36).
“People were bringing children to him that he might touch them and he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them” (Mark 10:13,16).
Our presence here today, your presence at the Altar of the Chair, in the presence of the Eucharistic Jesus, echoes the love, care and concern that the Church, the Bride of Jesus, has always had for children and those who are weak.
Let us place ourselves in the school of the Fathers of the Church, building on the work of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Golden Chain [a compilation of commentaries on the Gospels by the early Church Fathers], we note that for Theophylactus the child is the eloquent image of innocence. John Chrysostom says that the Lord appreciated a child’s humility and simplicity “Since both from envy the little child is pure, and from vainglory, and from longing for the first place” (Homily on Matthew, 58). Bede emphasizes the absence of malice, simplicity without arrogance, charity without envy, dedication without rancor (Commentary in Mark 3:39).
The child becomes the model for the disciple who wants to be “great” in the kingdom of heaven. The Lord Jesus rebukes [the disciples] again, for having just made them aware for second time of the need of the cross (Mark 9:30-32), they were lost along the way in discussions among themselves about who was the greatest. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.” How many are the sins in the Church for arrogance, for insatiable ambition, the tyranny and injustice of those who take advantage of the ministry to build their career, to show off, for reasons of futile and miserable reasons of vanity!
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name receives me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37). To welcome the child, to open your heart to the humility of a child, to receive him in the name of Jesus, the eyes of the Master, implies openness to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Theophylactus exclaims: “See how great is the humility! It earns the abode of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
“Truly I tell you who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). Accepting the kingdom of God like a child is to accept with a pure heart, with docility, abandonment, confidence, enthusiasm, and hope. All this reminds us of the child. All this makes the child precious in God’s eyes, and in the eyes of a true disciple of Jesus.
Instead, how barren and sad the world becomes when this beautiful image, when this holy icon is crushed, broken, muddied, abused and destroyed. The deep cry that comes from the heart of Jesus echoes: “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14). Do not be an obstacle in their way toward me, do not hinder their spiritual progress, do not let them be seduced by evil, do not make children the subject of your impure greed.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). Gregory the Great says this about those severe words of Jesus: “Mystically expressed in the millstone is the hard and tedious rhythm of secular life, while the deep sea signifies the most terrible curse. Thus, After having taken a profession of holiness, anyone who destroys others through words or deed would have been better off if their misdeeds had caused them to die in secular dress, rather than, through their holy office, being imposed as an example for others in their sins. Without a doubt, if they had fallen all by themselves, their suffering in Hell would be easier to bear.”
But the Lord, who does not enjoy the loss of his servants and does not want eternal death for his creatures, immediately adds a remedy for condemnation, a drug for the disease, relief from the danger of eternal damnation. His are the strong words of the Divine surgeon that cuts to heal, amputates to cure, prunes so the vine bears much fruit:
“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43).
“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:45).
“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” (Mark 9:47).
Several Holy Fathers interpret “the hand,” “the foot,” and “the eye” as a friend dear to our heart with which we share our life, to whom we are bound by ties of affection, harmony and solidarity. There is a limit to this relationship. Christian friendship submits to the law of God. If my friend, my companion, a person dear to me is for me an occasion of sin, a stumbling block for me in journey, I have no other choice. According to the criterion of the Lord, this relationship must be cut. Who would deny the agony of such a choice? Is this a cruel amputation? Yet the Lord is clear: It is better for me to go alone in the Kingdom (without a hand, without a foot, without an eye), than to go with my friend “into hell, into unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43; cf. Mark 9: 45,47).
Thus this strong image of the limbs of the body places us without much confusion in front of the mirrors of our consciences. The reference to the hand, the foot, and the eye recalls the words of the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25).
The Apostle of the Gentiles, who became a witness to the Gospel of grace (Romans 1:16a), does not surrender to our propensity to sin. He exhorts the Romans with fiery words that invite them to conversion and fidelity: “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification” (Romans 6:19).
The Lord teaches us another sublime requirement of discipleship, a preventive medicine that Jesus in the Eucharist, Fire of Love, today proposes to you young people engaged in training for sacred ministry and the Church: “Each one will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). The fire burns, blazes, purifies. It is an eloquent sign of the Holy Spirit. In the beautiful words of the Holy Father spoken in this St. Peter’s Basilica last Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost: “The fire of God, the fire of the Holy Spirit, is that of the bush that burned without being consumed (cf. Exodus 3:2). It is a flame that burns but does not destroy, that, in burning, brings forth the better and truer part of man, as in a fusion it makes his interior form emerge, his vocation to truth and to love.
“A Father of the Church, Origen, in one of his homilies on Jeremiah, reports a saying attributed to Jesus, not contained in the sacred Scriptures but perhaps authentic, which he puts thus: ‘Whoever is near me, is near the fire’ (Homilies on Jeremiah, L. I [III]). In Christ, in fact, there is the fullness of God, who in the Bible is compared to fire. We just observed that the flame of the Holy Spirit burns but does not destroy. And nevertheless it causes a transformation, and it must for this reason consume something in man, the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbor.
“This effect of the divine fire, however, frightens us, we are afraid of being ‘burned,’ we prefer to stay just as we are. This is because our life is often formed according to the logic of having, of possessing and not the logic of self-giving. Many people believe in God and admire the person of Jesus Christ, but when they are asked to lose something of themselves, then they retreat, they are afraid of the demands of faith. There is the fear of giving up something nice to which we are attached; the fear that following Christ deprives us of freedom, of certain experiences, of a part of ourselves. On one hand, we want to be with Jesus, follow him closely, and, on the other hand, we are afraid of the consequences that this brings with it.
“Dear brothers and sisters, we always need to hear the Lord Jesus tell us what he often repeated to his friends: ‘Be not afraid.’ Like Simon Peter and the others we must allow his presence and his grace to transform our heart, which is always subject to human weakness. We must know how to recognize that losing something, indeed, losing ourselves for the true God, the God of love and of life, is in reality gaining ourselves, finding ourselves more fully. Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus already experiences in this life peace and joy of heart, which the world cannot give, and it cannot even take it away once God has given it to us.
“So it is worthwhile to let ourselves be touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit! The suffering that it causes us is necessary for our transformation. It is the reality of the cross: It is not for nothing that in the language of Jesus ‘fire’ is above all a representation of the cross, without which Christianity does not exist.
“Thus enlightened and comforted by these words of life, let us lift up our invocation: Come, Holy Spirit! Enkindle in us the fire of your love! We know that this is a bold prayer, with which we ask to be touched by the flame of God; but we know above all that this flame — and only it — has the power to save us. We do not want, in defending our life, to lose the eternal life that God wants to give us. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit, because only Love redeems. Amen.”
“Everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). Salt preserves from corruption and gives flavor. The Fathers see here an image of continence and wisdom. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Colossians (Colossians 4:6): “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” The salt then is the Lord Jesus Christ that has kept the world from corruption and has granted us his grace, so we can be the salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13).
“Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). And, this is invitation that the Master Jesus addresses to all of us today at this solemn adoration of reparation and of intercessory prayer in harmony with the Holy Father Benedict XVI. We feel the Lord’s call. We do not want to dispel the enthusiasm of our response. We do not want our salt to lose its flavor.
At the foot of the Eucharist we make our own the prayer that the Church addresses to Jesus present on this altar during the Mass: “Lord Jesus, you said to your apostles: ‘Peace I leave, my peace I give you,’ do not to look at our sins, but on the faith of your Church and grant us peace and unity according to Thy will. You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen” (Roman Missal). [Zenit translation by Irene Lagan]