“The Christian Life as Discipleship”
Medellín – John Paul II Airport
Saturday, 9 September 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
During the Mass on Thursday in Bogotá, we heard Jesus calling his first disciples; the part of Luke’s Gospel which opens with this passage, concludes with the call of the Twelve. What are the evangelists reminding us of between these two events? That this journey of following Jesus involved a great work of purification in his first followers. Some of the precepts, prohibitions and mandates made them feel secure; fulfilling certain practices and rites dispensed them from the uncomfortable question: “What would God like us to do?” The Lord Jesus tells them that their fulfilment involves following him, and that this journey will make them encounter lepers, paralytics and sinners. These realities demand much more than a formula, an established norm. The disciples learned that following Jesus presupposes other priorities, other considerations in order to serve God. For the Lord, as also for the first community, it is of the greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus. Jesus’ freedom contrasts with the lack of freedom seen in the doctors of the law of that time, who were paralyzed by a rigorous interpretation and practice of that law. Jesus does not live according to a superficially “correct” observance; he brings the law to its fullness. This is what he wants for us, to follow him in such a way as to go to what is essential, to be renewed, and to get involved. These are three attitudes that must form our lives as disciples.
Firstly, going to what is essential. This does not mean “breaking with everything” that does not suit us, because Jesus did not come “to abolish the law, but to fulfil it” (Mt 5:17); it means to go deep, to what matters and has value for life. Jesus teaches that being in relationship with God cannot be a cold attachment to norms and laws, nor the observance of some outward actions that do not lead to a real change of life. Neither can our discipleship simply be motivated by custom because we have a baptismal certificate. Discipleship must begin with a living experience of God and his love. It is not something static, but a continuous movement towards Christ; it is not simply the fidelity to making a doctrine explicit, but rather the experience of the Lord’s living, kindly and active presence, an ongoing formation by listening to his word. And this word, we have heard, makes itself known to us in the concrete needs of our brothers and sisters: the hunger of those nearest to us in the text just proclaimed, or illness as Luke narrates afterwards.
Secondly, being renewed. As Jesus “shook” the doctors of the law to break them free of their rigidity, now also the Church is “shaken” by the Spirit in order to lay aside comforts and attachments. We should not be afraid of renewal. The Church always needs renewal – Ecclesia semper reformanda. She does not renew herself on her own whim, but rather does so “firm in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Col1:23). Renewal entails sacrifice and courage, not so that we can consider ourselves superior or flawless, but rather to respond better to the Lord’s call. The Lord of the Sabbath, the reason for our commandments and prescriptions, invites us to reflect on regulations when our following him is at stake; when his open wounds and his cries of hunger and thirst for justice call out to us and demand new responses. In Colombia there are many situations where disciples must embrace Jesus’ way of life, particularly love transformed into acts of non-violence, reconciliation and peace.
Thirdly, getting involved. Even if it may seem that you are getting yourself dirty or stained, get involved. Like David and those with him who entered the Temple because they were hungry and the disciples of Jesus who ate ears of grain in the field, so also today we are called upon to be brave, to have that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived. As Christians, help them to be satiated by God; do not impede them or stop this encounter. We cannot be Christians who continually put up “do not enter” signs, nor can we consider that this space is mine or yours alone, or that we can claim ownership of something that is absolutely not ours. The Church is not ours, she is God’s; he is the owner of the temple and the field; everyone has a place, everyone is invited to find here, and among us, his or her nourishment. We are simple servants (cf. Col 1:23) and we cannot prevent this encounter. On the contrary, Jesus tells us, as he told his disciples: “You give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16); this is our service. Saint Peter Claver understood this well, he whom we celebrate today in the liturgy and whom I will venerate tomorrow in Cartagena. “Slave of the slaves forever” was the motto of his life, because he understood, as a disciple of Jesus, that he could not remain indifferent to the suffering of the most helpless and mistreated of his time, and that he had to do something to alleviate their suffering.
Brothers and sisters, the Church in Colombia is called to commit itself, with greater boldness, to forming missionary disciples, as the Bishops stated when they were gathered in Aparecida in 2007. Disciples who know how to see, judge and act, as stated in that Latin-American document born in this land (cf. Medellín, 1968). Missionary disciples that know how to see, without hereditary short-sightedness; looking at reality with the eyes and heart of Jesus, and only then judging. Disciples who risk, act, and commit themselves.
I have come here precisely to confirm you in the faith and hope of the Gospel. Remain steadfast and free in Christ, in such a way that you manifest him in everything you do; take up the path of Jesus with all your strength, know him, allow yourselves to be called and taught by him, and proclaim him with great joy.
Let us pray through the intercession of Our Mother, Our Lady of Candelaria, that she may accompany us on our path of discipleship, so that, giving our lives to Christ, we may simply be missionaries who bring the light and joy of the Gospel to all people.