Open to God and Men

We are here, consummati in unum! united in prayer and intention, and ready to begin this period of conversation with Our Lord, having renewed our desires to be effective instruments in his hands. Before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament — how I love to make an act of explicit faith in the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist! — use your prayer to stir up in your hearts the eagerness to spread the fervour of their resolute beating to every part of the earth, to the utmost corner of the planet where even one man may be found generously spending his life in the service of God and souls. Thanks to the ineffable reality of the Communion of Saints, we are indeed all joined together — 'fellow workers', St John says — in the task of spreading the truth and the peace of the Lord.

It is right that we should think about how we are imitating the Master. We should pause and reflect so that we can learn directly from Our Lord's life some of the virtues which ought to shine out in our lives, if we are really anxious to spread the Kingdom of Christ.

In the passage from St Matthew's Gospel which we read in today's Mass, it says: tunc abeuntes pharisaei, consilium inierunt ut caperent eum in sermone; the Pharisees went and took council that they might trap him in his talk. Don't forget that this hypocritical approach is a common tactic even in our own times. I suspect that the tares of the Pharisees will never be wiped out in this world; they have always managed to grow at such an amazing rate. Perhaps Our Lord tolerates this growth to make us, his sons, more prudent, for the virtue of prudence is essential for anyone whose job it is to judge, to strengthen, to correct, to fire with enthusiasm, or to encourage. And that is exactly what a Christian has to do, by taking advantage, as an apostle, of the situations of his ordinary work to help the people around him.

At this point, I raise my heart to God, and I ask him through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin — who is in the Church and yet above the Church, who is between Christ and the Church, protecting us and reigning over us, the Mother of all mankind, as she is of Our Lord — through her, I beg that he may grant the gift of prudence to everyone of us, and especially to those who, immersed in the bloodstream of society, wish to work for God; because it will stand us in very good stead to learn to be prudent.

The scene from the Gospel continues to unfold: the Pharisees 'sent their disciples with some of those who were of Herod's party, and said: Master…' Note how craftily they call him 'Master'. They pretend to be his admirers and friends, treating him as they would a person from whom they expect to receive instruction. Magister, scimus quia verax es, we know that you are truthful… What infamous guile! Have you ever come across such double-dealing! Take care then how you pass through this world. Don't be over-cautious or distrustful. But you should feel on your shoulders — remembering the image of the Good Shepherd depicted in the catacombs — the weight of the lost sheep, which represents not just a single soul, but the entire Church, the whole of humanity.

If you accept this responsibility with good grace and zest, you will become both daring and prudent in defending and proclaiming God's rights. And then, because of the integrity of your life style, many people will come to regard you as teachers and call you so, even though you have no such ambition, for we have no interest in earthly glory. But, at the same time, don't be surprised if, among the many who approach you, there are some who sidle up to you with no other purposes than to flatter you. I would like you to register deep in your souls those words that you have so often heard from me: we must never let anything, neither slander, nor backbiting, neither human respect, nor the fear of what others may say, and much less the praise of the hypocrites, stand in the way of the fulfilment of our duty.

You remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? A poor man lies by the roadside, covered with the injuries he has received from thieves who have robbed him of his last penny. A priest of the Old Law passes by, and a little later a Levite. They both continue on their way without bothering to help. 'But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed came upon him, and seeing him, was moved with compassion. And he went up to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. And setting him on his own beast, he brought him to an inn and took care of him.' Note that this is not an example provided by Our Lord for the benefit of just a few select people, since he immediately adds in answer to his questioner, that is to each one of us: 'Go and do the same yourself.'

Therefore, when in our own life or in that of others we notice something that isn't going well, something that requires the spiritual and human help which, as children of God, we can and ought to provide, then a clear sign of prudence is to apply the appropriate remedy by going to the root of the trouble, resolutely, lovingly and sincerely. There is no room here for inhibitions, for it is a great mistake to think that problems can be solved by omissions or procrastination.

Prudence demands that the right medicine be used whenever the situation calls for it. Once the wound has been laid bare, the cure should be applied in full and without palliatives. When you see the slightest symptom that something is wrong, be straightforward and truthful about it, irrespective of whether it involves helping someone else or whether it is your own problem. When such help is needed, we must allow the person who, in the name of God, has the qualifications to carry out the cure, to press in on the infected wound, first from a distance, and then closer and closer until all the pus is squeezed out and the infection eradicated at its source. We must apply these procedures first to ourselves, and then to those whom, for reasons of justice or charity, we are obliged to help: I pray specially that parents, and everyone whose job it is to train and educate, may do this well.

Don't let any hypocritical excuse hold you back: apply the dose in full. But go about it with a motherly hand, with the almost infinite tenderness shown by our own mothers, when they were treating the hurts and injuries, big or little, resulting from our childhood games and falls. When it is better to wait a few hours, by all means do so. But never wait longer than is strictly necessary. Any other approach would imply cowardice or a desire not to inconvenience ourselves, which is very different from prudence. Everyone, especially those of you who have the job of training others, must put aside the fear of getting at the wound to disinfect it.

It could happen that someone might whisper cunningly in the ears of those who have to heal, but are hesitant or unwilling to face up to their obligations: 'Master, we know that you are truthful…' Don't tolerate such ironical praise. Those who don't make the effort to carry out their task diligently are not masters, because they don't teach the true way. Nor are they truthful, since their false prudence leads them to despise or regard as exaggerated the clear guidelines which have been tested a thousand times over by upright conduct, by age, by the science of government, by the knowledge of human weakness, and by the love for each and every sheep of the flock. They are guidelines which impel one to speak up, to intervene, to show concern.

False teachers are afraid of getting to the bottom of things. They get uneasy at the very idea, never mind the obligation, of having to use a painful antidote when circumstances require it. You can be quite sure that in such an attitude there is no prudence: and no piety or good sense either. It reflects instead a timid disposition, a lack of responsibility, foolishness and stupidity. These are the people who will afterwards panic, at the sight of disaster, and try to stop the evil when it is already too late. They forget that the virtue of prudence demands that we find out and pass on in good time the calm advice that comes from maturity, long experience, unhindered vision and unhampered speech.

Let us continue with the same passage from St Matthew: 'we know that you are truthful, and that you teach the way of God in truth'. Such cynicism never ceases to surprise me. These people are motivated only by the intention of twisting Our Lord's words. They want to catch him out in some slip of the tongue and, instead of explaining in simple terms what they consider to be an insoluble problem, they try to confuse the Master with compliments that should only come from friendly lips and honest hearts. I have purposely paused to consider the methods of the Pharisees, not so that we will become suspicious, but so that we learn to be prudent; so that we aren't taken in by deceit even though it comes decked out in phrases or expressions which in themselves are true, as in the Gospel passage we have been just considering. You don't make distinctions, they say; you have come for all men; nothing stops you from proclaiming the truth and teaching goodness.

I will say it again: we have to be prudent, yes; but not suspicious. Give everyone the utmost credit for what he says. Be very noble. As far as I am concerned, the word of a Christian, of a loyal man — I trust every one of you entirely — is worth more than the official signatures of a hundred notaries who are in unanimous agreement, even though on some occasions I may have been deceived by following this rule. But I prefer to leave myself open to the unscrupulous abuse of this confidence, rather than deprive anyone of the credit he deserves as a person and as a son of God. I can assure you that I have never been disappointed by the consequences of this way of acting.

If the Gospel isn't helping us constantly to draw conclusions applicable to our everyday life, the reason is that we aren't meditating on it enough. Many of you are young; some of you have already reached maturity. You all want, all of us want — otherwise we wouldn't be here — to yield good fruit in our lives. We are trying to bring a spirit of sacrifice into our actions and to turn the talent that Our Lord has entrusted to us to good account, for we feel a divine zeal for souls. But, in spite of all these good intentions, it wouldn't be the first time that someone has fallen into the trap set by this alliance — ex pharisaeis et herodianis — made up perhaps of those who ought in some way or other to be defending God's rights because they are Christians, but who having instead become allied to and mixed in with the interests of evil forces, are treacherously laying snares to catch their brothers in the faith, who are servants with them of the same Redeemer.

Be prudent and always act with simplicity, which is a very appropriate virtue for a son of God. Behave naturally in the way you speak and in what you do. Get to the root of problems; don't stay on the surface. Remember that, if we really want to fulfil our obligations as Christians in a holy and manly way, we must anticipate unpleasant moments for others and for ourselves too.

I won't hide from you the fact that, when I have to correct someone or take a decision that will cause pain, I suffer before, during and after it; and I am not a sentimental person. It consoles me to think that it is only animals that don't cry. We men, children of God, do cry. As I see it, there will be times when you too will have to suffer if you are really serious about doing your duty faithfully. Don't forget that it is more comfortable (though it is a mistake) to avoid suffering at any cost, with the excuse of not wanting to hurt others. This inhibition often hides a shameful escape on our part from suffering, since it isn't usually pleasant to correct someone in a serious matter. My children, remember that hell is full of closed mouths.

A number of you here are doctors. Forgive my presumption in taking another example from medicine. What I say may not be very scientific, but the ascetical comparison will still be valid. To heal a wound, the first thing to do is to clean it well, including a wide area around it. The surgeon knows that the cleaning hurts, but he also knows that there will be worse pain later if it is not done. A disinfectant is also applied immediately. Naturally it stings (or, as they say where I come from, it prickles) and hurts the patient. But it's the only way if the wound is not to become infected.

If it is obvious that such measures must be taken to protect bodily health, although it may only be a relatively minor wound, then when the health of the soul is at stake — the very nerve centre of a man's life — how much more necessary it is to wash, to cut away, to scrape, to disinfect, to suffer! Prudence demands that we intervene in this way and that we don't flee from duty, because to side-step our obligations here would indicate a great lack of concern for and even a grave offence against the virtues of justice and fortitude.

You can be sure that a Christian who really wants to do everything honestly in the eyes of God and of his neighbour, needs to possess all the virtues, at least potentially. But Father, you will ask me, what about my weaknesses? And I will answer: can't a doctor who is sick cure others, even if his illness is chronic? Will his illness prevent him from prescribing proper treatment for other patients? Obviously not. In order to cure others, all he needs is to have the necessary knowledge and to apply it with the same concern as he would in his own case.

Each day, you will find, as I do, if you examine yourselves courageously in the presence of God, that you have many defects. If we struggle, with God's help, to get rid of them we needn't give them too much importance, and we will overcome them even though it may seem that we never manage to uproot them entirely. Furthermore, over and above those weaknesses, if you are really determined to correspond to God's grace, you will be helping to cure the big shortcomings of others. When you realise you are as weak as they are and capable of any sin, no matter how horrible, you will be more understanding and gentle with others, and at the same time more demanding, because you will want all men to make up their minds to love God with all their heart.

We Christians, children of God, must help others by honestly putting into practice what those hypocrites perversely muttered to the Master: 'You make no distinction between man and man.' That is to say, we must completely reject any kind of partiality (we are interested in the souls of all men!) although it is only natural that we turn first to the people whom for whatever reasons (even though at times they may appear to be only human reasons) God has placed at our side.

Et viam Dei in veritate doces. Teach others. Never stop teaching: that means showing the ways of God with utter truthfulness. You needn't worry about your defects being seen, yours and mine. I like making mine public, and telling of my personal struggle and my desire to correct this failing or that in my battle to be loyal to Our Lord. Our efforts to banish and overcome our defects will in themselves be a way of teaching God's ways: first, and in spite of our visible errors, he wants us to strive to give witness with our lives; then, with our teaching, just like Our Lord did when he coepit facere et docere. He began with works, then afterwards he devoted himself to preaching.

Having reminded you that this priest loves you very much and that your Father in Heaven loves you more because he is infinitely good, infinitely a Father; and having shown you that there is nothing I can reproach you with, I feel all the same that I must help you to love Jesus Christ and the Church, his flock, because in this I think you are not ahead of me; you emulate me, but you are not ahead of me. When, through my preaching or in my personal conversations with each one of you, I draw attention to some defect, it is not in order to make you suffer. My only motive is to help us love Our Lord more deeply. And when I impress upon you the need to practise the virtues, I never forget that I am under the same obligation myself.

I once heard someone say very rashly that the experience of one's lapses serves to make one fall a further hundred times into the same error. I tell you, instead, that a prudent person makes use of these setbacks to be more careful in the future, to learn to do good and to renew his decision to seek greater holiness. From your failures and successes in God's service, seek always to draw, together with an increase in love, a stronger determination to carry on fulfilling your rights and duties as Christian citizens, no matter what the cost. And do this manfully, without fleeing from honours or responsibilities, without being afraid of the reactions we produce in those around us, perhaps originating from false brethren, when we nobly and loyally try to seek God's glory and the good of our neighbour.

So, then, we have to be prudent. Why is this? In order to be just, in order to live charity, and to give good service to God and to all our fellow men. Not without good reason has prudence been called genitrix virtutum, the mother of virtues, and also auriga virtutum, the guide of every good habit.

Read the Gospel scene attentively, in order to take advantage of these wonderful lessons in the virtues which should throw light on the way we act. When they had finished their hypocritical and fawning preamble, the Pharisees and Herodians came to the point, 'Tell us therefore what you think: is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?' And St John Chrysostom writes: 'Take note of their astuteness, for they don't say, "Tell us what is right or suitable or permissible, but tell us what you think." They were obsessed with the idea of betraying him and of making him hateful to the authorities.' 'But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said, "Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin of the tribute." So they offered him a denarius. Then Jesus said to them, "Whose are this image and this inscription?" They said to him, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."'

As you can see the dilemma is as old as Our Lord's answer is unequivocal and clear. There is no clash, no opposition, between serving God and serving men; between the exercise of our civic rights and duties and our religious ones; between the commitment to build up and improve the earthly city, and the conviction that we are passing through this world on our way to our heavenly homeland.

Here too, as I never tire of repeating, we can see that unity of life which is an essential condition for those who are trying to sanctify themselves in the midst of the ordinary situations of their work and of their family and social relationships. Jesus does not allow any division here: 'No one can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or if he subjects himself to the first, he will despise the other.' The exclusive choice of God that a Christian makes when he responds fully to his call, impels him to refer everything to Our Lord and, at the same time, to give his neighbour everything that justice requires.

There is no excuse for protecting oneself with apparently pious reasons, in order to deprive others of their due. 'If anyone says, "Yes, I love God", while at the same time he hates his brother, he is a liar.' But they also lie who deny Our Lord the love and reverence — the adoration due to him as our Creator and Father; or who refuse to obey his commandments with the false excuse that such obedience is incompatible with serving men, since St John clearly states that 'in this we know that we love the sons of God, if we love God and keep his commandments. For loving God means keeping his commandments; and his commandments are not a burden to us.'

You may hear many people who, in the name of efficiency, and even of charity, make speeches and invent theories with the aim of curtailing the outward signs of respect and homage towards God. They seem to regard everything done to honour God as excessive. Take no notice of them. Keep on your way. Such speculations only lead to controversies that at best get nowhere, and quite often cause scandal among Christians and end up hindering the fulfilment of Our Lord's precept that we give everyone his due and practise the holy virtue of justice with gentle perfection.

First of all, we must be just towards God. Let this fact be firmly impressed in our hearts, so that it shows in our behaviour, for it is the touchstone of the true 'hunger and thirst for justice', which distinguishes this virtue from the shouting of the envious and resentful and from the outcries of the selfish and greedy… For the worst and most ungrateful injustice is to deny our Creator and Redeemer the recognition of the abundant and wonderful gifts he has given us. If you are really striving to be just, you will often reflect on your utter dependence upon God, and be filled with gratitude and the desire to repay the favours of a Father who loves us to the point of madness: 'For what have you got that you have not received?'

This way the good spirit of filial piety will come alive in our hearts and it will bring you to address God with a tender heart. Don't be taken in by the hypocrites around you when they sow doubts as to whether Our Lord has a right to ask so much of you. Instead, put yourselves obediently and unconditionally in the presence of God, like 'clay in the potter's hands', and humbly confess to him: Deus meus et omnia! You are my God and my all. And if you ever have to bear unexpected blows, or undeserved tribulations at the hands of your fellow men, you will know how to sing with a new joy: 'May the most just and most lovable will of God be done, be fulfilled, be praised and eternally exalted above all things. Amen. Amen.'

The circumstances of the servant in the parable who owed ten thousand talents, are a good summary of our situation before God. We too are unable to find the wherewithal to pay the enormous debt we have contracted for so much divine goodness, a debt which we have increased through our personal sins. Even though we fight resolutely, we can never properly repay the great debt that God has forgiven us. However, divine mercy fully makes up for the impotence of human justice. God can say he is satisfied and remit our debt, simply 'because he is good and his mercy infinite'.

The parable, as you will remember, ends with a second scene which is the counterpoint of the first. The servant, whose huge debt has just been cancelled, took no pity on a fellow servant who owed him only a hundred pence. And it is here that the meanness of his heart comes to light. Strictly speaking, no one will deny him the right to demand what is his. Nevertheless, there is something inside us that rebels and tells us that his intolerant attitude is very far from real justice. It is not right that a person who only a moment previously has been treated with mercy and understanding, should not then react with at least a little patience towards his own debtor. Remember that justice does not consist exclusively in an exact respect for rights and duties, as in the case of arithmetical problems that are solved simply by addition and subtraction.

The Christian virtue of justice is more ambitious. It enjoins us to prove ourselves thankful, friendly and generous. It encourages us to act as loyal and honourable friends, in hard times as well as in good ones; to obey the law and to respect legitimate authority; to amend gladly when we realise we have erred in tackling a problem. Above all, if we are just, we will fulfil our professional, family and social commitments without fuss or display, working hard and exercising our rights, which are also duties.

I don't believe in the justice of idle people, because, with their dolce far niente,* as they say in my beloved Italy, they fail, sometimes seriously, in that most fundamental principle of equity, which is work. We must not forget that God created man ut operaretur, that he might work, and others (our family and our country, the whole human race) also depend on the effectiveness of our work. My children, what a poor idea of justice those people have who would reduce it to the mere redistribution of material goods!

From early childhood (or, as Scripture says, as soon as I had ears to hear) I already began to hear people clamouring about the social question. There is nothing special about this, because it is such an old topic; it has always been around. It arose, most likely, when men first became organised in some way and began to perceive differences of age, intelligence, capacity for work, interests and personality.

I don't know whether or not we can avoid having social classes. In any case it is not my job to speak of such matters, much less here, in this oratory, where we have come together to talk about God (I would never want to talk about anything else), and to talk to God.

You may think what you will about anything that Providence has left to the free and legitimate discussion of men. But in my case, my being a priest of Christ tells me I must work at a higher level and remind you that, whatever the situation, we are never exempt from practising justice, heroically if necessary.

We have a duty to defend the personal freedom of everyone, in the knowledge that 'Jesus Christ is the one who obtained that freedom for us'. If we do not so behave, what right have we to claim our own freedom? We must also spread the truth, because veritas liberabit vos, the truth makes us free, while ignorance enslaves. We have to uphold the right of all men to live, to own what is necessary to lead a dignified existence, to work and to rest, to choose a particular state in life, to form a home, to bring children into the world within marriage and to be allowed to educate them, to pass peacefully through times of sickness and old age, to have access to culture, to join with other citizens to achieve legitimate ends, and, above all, the right to know and love God in perfect liberty, for conscience, true conscience, will discover the imprint of the Creator in all things.

For this reason, it is urgent to repeat (and here I am not speaking politics, I am simply pointing out the Church's teaching) that Marxism is incompatible with the Christian faith. Can there be anything more opposed to the faith than a system which is based on eliminating the loving presence of God from the soul? Shout it aloud, so that your voice is clearly heard, that in order to practise justice we have no need whatsoever of Marxism. On the contrary, because of its exclusively materialistic solutions, which know nothing of the God of peace, this most serious error raises all kinds of barriers to the achievement of happiness and understanding among men. It is within Christianity that we find the good light that will enable us to answer all problems: all you have to do is to strive sincerely to be Catholics, non verbo neque lingua, sed opere et veritate, not with words or with the tongue, but with works and in truth. Speak up fearlessly, whenever the occasion arises (and, if necessary, look for such opportunities), without being in any way shy.

Read Holy Scripture. Meditate one by one on the scenes depicting Our Lord's life and teachings. Consider especially the counsels and warnings with which he prepared the handful of men who were to become his Apostles, his messengers from one end of the earth to the other. What is the key to his teaching? Is it not the new commandment of charity? It was Love that enabled them to make their way through that corrupt pagan world.

Be convinced that justice alone is never enough to solve the great problems of mankind. When justice alone is done, don't be surprised if people are hurt. The dignity of man, who is a son of God, requires much more. Charity must penetrate and accompany justice because it sweetens and deifies everything: 'God is love.' Our motive in everything we do should be the Love of God, which makes it easier for us to love our neighbour and which purifies and raises all earthly loves on to a higher level.

There is a long road to travel from the demands of strict justice to the abundance of charity. And there are not many who persevere to the end. Some are content to go as far as the threshold: they leave aside justice and limit their actions to a bit of welfare work, which they define as charitable, without realising that they are doing only a small part of what in fact they have a strict duty to do. And they are as satisfied with themselves as the Pharisee who thought he had fulfilled the law perfectly because he fasted twice a week and gave tithes of all he possessed.

Charity, which is like a generous overflowing of justice, demands first of all the fulfilment of one's duty. The way to start is to be just; the next step is to do what is most equitable…; but in order to love, great refinement is required, and much thoughtfulness, and respect, and kindliness in rich measure. In other words, it involves following the Apostle's advice: 'carry one another's burdens, and thus you will fulfil the law of Christ'. Then indeed we shall be living charity fully and carrying out the commandment of Jesus.

For me there is no clearer example of this practical union of justice and charity than the behaviour of mothers. They love all their children with the same degree of affection, and it is precisely this same love that impels them to treat each one differently, with an unequal justice, since each child is different from the others. So, in the case of our fellow men, charity perfects and completes justice. It moves us to respond differently to different people, adapting ourselves to their specific circumstances so as to give joy to those who are sad, knowledge to those who lack it, affection to the lonely… Justice says that each person should receive his due, which does not mean giving the same to everyone. Utopian egalitarianism can give rise to the greatest injustice.

In order to act in this way always, the way good mothers do, we need to forget about ourselves and aspire to no other honour than that of serving others, in the same way as Jesus Christ, who preached that 'the Son of man has not come to be served but to serve'. This requires the integrity of being able to submit our own wills to that of our divine model, working for all men, and fighting for their eternal happiness and well-being. I know of no better way to be just than that of a life of self-surrender and service.

Perhaps someone will think I am naive. It doesn't worry me. Although I may be labelled as such, because I still believe in charity, I assure you I will believe in it, always! And, while God gives me life, I shall continue, as a priest of Jesus Christ, to work for unity and peace among those who are brothers by the very fact that they are children of the same Father, God. I shall continue to work with the aim of getting men to understand each other, and to share the same ideal, the ideal of the Faith!

Let us turn to Our Lady, the prudent and faithful Virgin, and to St Joseph, her husband, the perfect model of the just man. They, who lived the virtues we have just contemplated in the presence of Jesus, the Son of God, will obtain for us the grace we need to have the same virtues rooted in our souls, so that we may resolve always to behave as good disciples of the Master: prudent, just and full of charity.

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