By Thaddeus Jones
Presiding at the Mass at the Cathedral of Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy, Pope Francis in his homily recalled how from this area his father left Italy and migrated to Argentina. Pope Francis arrived in Asti on Saturday morning for a private visit with his own family members who still live there, including two elderly cousins. He noted how this visit has offered him a time to "rediscover and savour my roots."
As he started his homily, the Pope noted that he had just instituted a seminarian as an acolyte as part of his journey to the priesthood. Looking at today’s Gospel on this Solemnity of Christ the King, the Pope said we also go back to the roots of our faith on this day, when we gaze upon Jesus, the Crucified One, who by His death, gave us eternal life. The sign above the cross, "This is the King of the Jews," turns the human idea of a king on its head, as we imagine the majesty and power that comes with kingship, whereas here we see the Lord who "appears as a slave executed by those in power."
“Appareled only with nails and thorns, stripped of everything yet rich in love, from His throne on the Cross He no longer teaches the crowds by His words; He no longer lifts His hands as a teacher. He does more: pointing a finger at no one, He opens his arms to all. That is how He shows himself to be our king: with open arms, a brasa aduerte.”
Yet "this is our king, the king of the universe, for He journeyed to the furthest confines of our human experience, entered into the black hole of hatred and abandonment, in order to bring light to every life and to embrace all reality," the Pope pointed out, adding that the Lord gave of Himself totally, offering His life in service, showing God’s loving closeness to each and every one of us. "This is the king whom we acclaim," he added, and it would be good if we asked ourselves if the Lord, king of the universe is also king of our own lives.
“Only by entering into His embrace do we understand: we come to realize that God went to this extreme, even to the paradox of the Cross, in order to embrace every one of us, no matter how far distant we may be from Him: He embraces our death, our pain, our poverty, our weakness.”
In gazing upon the crucified Jesus, we need to see that His open arms are His loving embrace for all of us, no matter what our status, history or failings, and the open invitation at all times for us to accept this love and have our lives transformed.
“He gives you a chance to reign in this life, if only you surrender to His meek love that proposes but does not impose, a love that always forgives you, that always sets you on your feet, that always restores your royal dignity.”
By accepting God’s love we can be freed of our slavery to selfishness, sin, and anxieties that engulf our lives, the Pope said, like the good thief executed next to the Lord who accepted His love, asking Him to be remembered and the Lord assuring him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” This is what the Lord also wishes for us, said the Pope, and doing so, "we realize that ours is not an ‘unknown God’, up in the heavens, powerful and distant, but rather a God who is close, tender and compassionate, whose open arms console and caress us. That is our king!"
The Pope said we are faced with two paths, one of being bystanders, onlookers like the many who witnessed Jesus on the Cross and just observed, some with grief, others judgmentally or with indifference, as we read in the Gospel with the varying reactions of the leaders of the people, the soldiers and one of the criminals crucified next to the Lord who mocked Him, saying "Save yourself!"
The other path, the Pope explained, calls us to not remain bystanders, but to get involved, to take the path of goodness. The Pope recalled how the good thief made that choice when he turned to the Lord and called Him by name, "Jesus, remember me."
“In this way, a criminal becomes the first saint: he draws near to Jesus for an instant and the Lord keeps him at His side forever. The Gospel speaks of the good thief for our benefit: to invite us to overcome evil by refusing to remain as onlookers.”
We can start simply by "calling upon God by name," the Pope said, just like the good thief, who admitted his faults and turned to the Lord in confidence and trust. "Do we have that same trust?" the Pope asked. Do we come to the Lord from the depths of our hearts with full honesty and transparency? By giving our openness and trust fully to the Lord, we are able to break out of ourselves and remember our brothers and sisters, to help them in being open to "the embrace of our king," as "we are not in this world just to save ourselves."
In conclusion, the Pope recalled how the Lord from the Cross gazes upon us with open arms, inviting us to welcome His boundless love, and in doing so, share it with others and not just remain bystanders in the face of those who suffer.
“Today, as Jesus, naked on the Cross, unveils God and destroys every false image of His kingship, let us look to Him and thus find the courage to look at ourselves, to follow the path of confident trust and intercession, and to make servants of ourselves, in order to reign with Him.”
The Pope’s Agenda