The smile of the soul – L’Osservatore Romano

“Let us pray to our father and brother” to “obtain for us ‘the smile of the soul,’ transparent, which does not deceive”, asking, “with his words, what he used to ask: ‘Lord, take me as I am, with my faults, with my shortcomings, but make me become as you wish me to be”. This is the exhortation with which Pope Francis concluded the homily at the Mass for the beatification of his predecessor John Paul I ercelebrated in St. Peter’s Square on the morning of Sunday 4 September.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and today’s Gospel says that “great crowds were traveling with him” (Lk 14:25). To journey with Him means to follow Him, that is, to become disciples. However, the Lord makes to these people an unattractive and very demanding speech: he who does not love him more than his loved ones, he who does not carry his cross, he who does not detach himself from earthly goods cannot be his disciple (cf. vv. 26-27.33). Why does Jesus address these words to the crowd? What is the meaning of his warnings? Let’s try to answer these questions.

First, we see a large crowd, many people following Jesus. We can imagine that many were fascinated by his words and amazed by the gestures he performed; and therefore, they will have seen in Him a hope for their future. What would any master of the time have done, or – one might ask – what would a leader cunning in seeing that his words and his charisma attract crowds and increase his popularity? It still happens today: especially in times of crisis, personal and social, when we are more prone to feelings of anger or fear of something that threatens our future, we become more vulnerable. And then, in the emotion of the moment, we trust those who know how to maneuver with dexterity and cunning, taking advantage of society’s fears and promising us to be our “savior” who will solve the problems, whereas in in reality, they want to increase their popularity and their power, their image, their ability to control things.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus does not do so. God’s style is different. It is important to understand God’s style, how God works. God acts with a style and God’s style is different from that of these people because He does not instrumentalize our needs, he never uses our weaknesses to grow. He does not want to deceive us or distribute cheap joys. He is not interested in the human tide. He doesn’t worship numbers, he doesn’t seek approval, he doesn’t idolize personal success. On the contrary, he seems to worry when people follow him with euphoria and get excited too easily. This is why, instead of allowing himself to be attracted by the charm of popularity — because popularity seduces — he asks everyone to carefully discern the motivations for which he follows him and the consequences that this entails. Indeed, many of this crowd may have been following Jesus because they hoped that he would be a leader who would deliver them from the enemies, someone who would take power and share it with them; or someone who, working miracles, would solve the problems of hunger and disease. One can follow the Lord, indeed, for various reasons and some, we must recognize, are worldly: behind an impeccable religious appearance can hide the simple satisfaction of one’s needs, the search for personal prestige, the desire to have a role, to control things, the desire to take the place and obtain privileges, the aspiration to receive recognition and so on. This happens today among Christians. But that’s not Jesus’ style. And that cannot be the style of the disciple nor of the Church. If someone follows Jesus with his personal interests, he is on the wrong track.

The Lord asks for another attitude. Following him does not mean entering a court or participating in a triumphal procession, or even receiving life insurance. On the contrary, it means “carrying the cross” (Lk 14:27): like him, to take on one’s burdens and the burdens of others, to make one’s life a gift, not a possession, to spend it imitating generous love and merciful He has for us. These are choices that involve the whole of existence; this is why Jesus desires that the disciple put nothing before this love, not even the dearest affections and the greatest possessions.

But to do that, we have to look at him more than ourselves, learn love, draw it from the Crucified. There, we see this love which gives itself until the end, without measure and without limits. The measure of love is to love without measure. We ourselves – says Pope Luciani – “we are the object of God’s love without decline” (Angelus, September 10, 1978). Without decline: it never slips away from our lives, it shines on us and lights up even the darkest nights. And so, looking at the Crucified, we are called to the height of this love: to purify ourselves of our distorted ideas about God and of our closures, to love Him and others, in the Church and in society, even those who don’t think like us, even the enemies.

To love: even if it costs the cross of sacrifice, of silence, of misunderstanding, of loneliness, of being hindered and persecuted. To love like this, including at this price, because – said Blessed John Paul I again – if you want to kiss Jesus crucified, “you can do no less than lean on the cross and let yourself be pricked by some thorn of the crown that is on the head of the Lord” (General audience, September 27, 1978). Love to the end, with all its thorns: not half-done things, arrangements or the quiet life. If we don’t aim high, if we don’t take risks, if we content ourselves with a watered-down faith, we are – says Jesus – like someone who wants to build a tower but does not calculate the means for it. TO DO; he “lays the foundation” and then “is not able to finish” (v. 29). If, for fear of losing ourselves, we give up giving ourselves, we leave things unfinished: relationships, work, responsibilities entrusted to us, dreams, and even faith. And so we end up living half – and how many people live half, we too often have the temptation to live half – without ever taking the decisive step, without taking off, without risking for the good, without really committing ourselves to others. Jesus asks us this: live the Gospel and you will live life, not halfway but to the full. Live the Gospel, live the life, without compromise.

Brothers, sisters, the new Blessed lived like this: in the joy of the Gospel, without compromise, loving until the end. He embodied the poverty of the disciple, who is not only to detach himself from material goods, but above all to overcome the temptation to put his self at the center and seek his glory. On the contrary, following the example of Jesus, he was a meek and humble pastor. He considered himself to be the dust on which God had deigned to write (cf. A. Luciani/John Paul ier, Opera omnia, Padova 1988, vol. ii, p. 11). This is why he said: “The Lord has recommended many things: be humble. Even if you have accomplished great things, say: we are useless servants” (General audienceSeptember 6, 1978).

With a smile, Pope Luciani succeeded in transmitting the goodness of the Lord. It is beautiful a Church with a joyful face, a serene and smiling face, a Church which never closes its doors, which does not harden hearts, which does not complain and which does not nourish resentment, which is not not angry or intolerant, who does not present himself in a surly manner, who does not suffer from nostalgia for the past. Let us pray to our father and brother, ask him to obtain for us “the smile of the soul”, transparent, which does not deceive, the smile of the soul. Let us ask, with his words, what he used to ask: “Lord, take me as I am, with my faults, with my shortcomings, but make me become as you desire me to be” (General audience, September 13, 1978). Amen.

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The smile of the soul – L’Osservatore Romano

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