IN THE empty St. Peter’s Square shortly after midnight yesterday, Pope Francis ambled to an austere altar for the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and gave his much-awaited Urbi et Orbi (to the City [of Rome] and to the World) address and blessing.
Those who joined the rites, even if remotely through electronic media, and fulfilled the requirements, earned plenary indulgence or the remission of the temporal punishment for their sins. For those who missed the solemn rites, we share below excerpts of the Holy Father’s message:
“When evening had come…” The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now, thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities. It has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void. We feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures. We find ourselves afraid and lost.
Like the disciples, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples who spoke anxiously “We are perishing,” so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father. This is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he reproached the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him, in fact, they called on him. But we see how they called on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”
They think that Jesus is not interested in them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves them from their discouragement.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.
The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourish our souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste.
We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart.”
In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one.” How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility.
How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.
Faith begins when we realize we need salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder. We need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.
Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.
We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed.