The Homily of Pope Francis at the inaugural Mass of Petrine Ministry

Dear

Brothers and Sisters, I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy
Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of
Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the
universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the
name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our
prayers, full of affection and gratitude.

I offer a warm
greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men
and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the
representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well
as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious
communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads
of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from
many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.

In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos,
the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this
protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II
pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly
dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over
and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin
Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).


How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and
silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when
he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary
until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of
Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse
of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to
Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she
gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the
frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the
day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught
his trade to Jesus.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to
be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly
attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to
God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of
David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house
built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God
himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his
Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice
and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more
sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at
things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make
truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to
God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the
Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our
lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something
involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is
simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the
beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as
Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s
creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means
protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person,
especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last
we think about. It means caring for one another in our families:
husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they
care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect
their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we
protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end,
everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are
responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever
human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to
care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened
to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of
history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the
countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all
those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and
social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors”
of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of
one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of
destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be
“protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not
forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors,
then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts,
because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that
build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even
tenderness!

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting,
demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels,
Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet
in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the
weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern,
for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not
be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

Today, together with the
feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry
of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a
certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but
what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love
are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us
never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too,
when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service
which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by
the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and,
like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and
embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the
poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in
the final judgement on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the
naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18).
Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see
the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To
protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon
them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to
let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the
warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like
Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God,
which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock
which is God.

To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole
of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect
ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry
out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope
will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given
us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph,
Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may
accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.

”The truth might be hard to say, painful to bear or even drastic for the truth sayer but still needed to be said”. ALISON.

Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

Writer & Blogger

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