“Those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life”, Pope Francis warned today at Mass for the World Day of the Poor, as he lamented, too, “How many people spend their lives simply accumulating possessions, concerned only about the good life and not the good they can do. Yet how empty is a life centred on our needs and blind to the needs of others!”
– Homily at Mass: “It is sad when Christians play a defensive game, content only to observe rules and obey commandments”
Full text of the Pope’s homily at Mass for the World Day of the Poor
The parable we have just listened to has a beginning, a middle and an end, which shed light on the beginning, the middle and the end of our lives.
The beginning. Everything begins with a great good. The master does not keep his wealth to himself, but gives it to his servants; five talents to one, two to another, one to a third, “to each according to his ability” (Mt 25:15). It has been calculated that a single talent was equivalent to the income of some twenty years’ work: it was of enormous value, and would be sufficient for a lifetime. This is the beginning.
For us too, everything began with the grace of God – everything always begins with grace, not with our own efforts – with the grace of God, who is a Father and has given us so many good things, entrusting different talents to each of us.
We possess a great wealth that depends not on what we possess but on what we are: the life we have received, the good within us, the indelible beauty God has given us by making us in his image…
All these things make each of us precious in his eyes, each one of us is priceless and unique in history! This is how God looks at us, how God feels towards us.
We need to remember this. All too often, when we look at our lives, we see only the things we lack, and we complain about what we lack. We then yield to the temptation to say: “If only…!” If only I had that job, if only I had that home, if only I had money and success, if only I didn’t have this or that problem, if only I had better people around me…! But those illusory words – if only! – prevent us from seeing the good all around us. They make us forget the talents we possess.
You may not have that, but you do have this, and the “if only” makes us forget this. Yet God gave those talents to us because he knows each of us and he knows our abilities. He trusts us, despite our weaknesses. God even trusts the servant who will hide his talent, hoping that despite his fears, he too will put to good use what he received.
In a word, the Lord asks us to make the most of the present moment, not yearning for the past, but waiting industriously for his return.
How ugly is that nostalgia, which is like a black mood poisoning our soul and making us always look backwards, always at others, but never at our own hands or at the opportunities for work that the Lord has given us, never at our own situation… not even at our own poverty.
This brings us to the centre of the parable: the work of the servants, which is service. Service is our work too; it makes our talents bear fruit and it gives meaning to our lives.
Those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. We must repeat this, and repeat it often: those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. We should reflect on this: those who do not live to serve, serve for little in this life. But what kind of service are we speaking of?
In the Gospel, good servants are those who take risks. They are not fearful and overcautious, they do not cling to what they possess, but put it to good use. For if goodness is not invested, it is lost, and the grandeur of our lives is not measured by how much we save but by the fruit we bear.
How many people spend their lives simply accumulating possessions, concerned only about the good life and not the good they can do. Yet how empty is a life centred on our needs and blind to the needs of others!
The reason we have gifts is so that we can be gifts for others. And here, brothers and sisters, we should ask ourselves the question: do I only follow my own needs, or am I able to look to the needs of others, to whoever is in need? Are my hands open, or are they closed?
It is significant that fully four times those servants who invested their talents, who took a risk, are called “faithful” (vv. 21, 23). For the Gospel, faithfulness is never risk-free. “But, Father, does being a Christian mean taking risks?” – “Yes, dearly beloved, take a risk. If you do not take risks, you will end up like the third [servant]: burying your abilities, your spiritual and material riches, everything”.
Taking risks: there is no faithfulness without risk. Fidelity to God means handing over our life, letting our carefully laid plans be disrupted by our need to serve. “But I have my plans, and if I have to serve…”. Let your plans be upset, go and serve.
It is sad when Christians play a defensive game, content only to observe rules and obey commandments. Those “moderate” Christians who never go beyond boundaries, never, because they are afraid of risk.
And those, allow me this image, those who take care of themselves to avoid risk begin in their lives a process of mummification of their souls, and they end up as mummies.
Following rules is not enough; fidelity to Jesus is not just about not making mistakes, this is quite wrong. That is what the lazy servant in the parable thought: for lack of initiative and creativity, he yielded to needless fear and buried the talent he had received. The master actually calls him “wicked” (v. 26). And yet he did nothing wrong! But he did nothing good either. He preferred to sin by omission rather than to risk making a mistake.
He was not faithful to God, who spends freely, and he made his offence even worse by returning the gift he had received. “You gave me this, and I give it to you”, nothing more.
The Lord, for his part, asks us to be generous, to conquer fear with the courage of love, to overcome the passivity that becomes complicity.
Today, in these times of uncertainty, in these times of instability, let us not waste our lives thinking only of ourselves, indifferent to others, or deluding ourselves into thinking: “peace and security!” (1 Thess 5:3). Saint Paul invites us to look reality in the face and to avoid the infection of indifference.
How then do we serve, as God would have us serve? The master tells the faithless servant: “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” (v. 27). Who are the “bankers” who can provide us with long-term interest? They are the poor.
Do not forget: the poor are at the heart of the Gospel; we cannot understand the Gospel without the poor. The poor are like Jesus himself, who, though rich, emptied himself, made himself poor, even taking sin upon himself: the worst kind of poverty.
The poor guarantee us an eternal income. Even now they help us become rich in love. For the worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love. The worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love.
The Book of Proverbs praises the woman who is rich in love, whose value is greater than that of pearls. We are told to imitate that woman who “opens her hand to the poor” (Prov 31:20): that is the great richness of this woman. Hold out your hand to the poor, instead of demanding what you lack. In this way, you will multiply the talents you have received.
The season of Christmas is approaching, the holiday season. How often do we hear people ask: “What can I buy? What more can I have? I must go shopping”. Let us use different words: “What can I give to others?”, in order to be like Jesus, who gave of himself and was born in the manger.
We now come to the end of the parable. Some will be wealthy, while others, who had plenty and wasted their lives, will be poor (cf. v. 29). At the end of our lives, then, the truth will be revealed. The pretence of this world will fade, with its notion that success, power and money give life meaning, whereas love – the love we have given – will be revealed as true riches.
Those things will fall, yet love will emerge. A great Father of the Church wrote: “As for this life, when death comes and the theatre is deserted, when all remove their masks of wealth or of poverty and depart hence, judged only by their works, they will be seen for what they are: some truly rich, others poor” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Poor Man Lazarus, II, 3). If we do not want to live life poorly, let us ask for the grace to see Jesus in the poor, to serve Jesus in the poor.
I would like to thank all those faithful servants of God who quietly live in this way, serving others. I think, for example, of Father Roberto Malgesini. This priest was not interested in theories; he simply saw Jesus in the poor and found meaning in life in serving them. He dried their tears with his gentleness, in the name of God who consoles.
The beginning of his day was prayer, to receive God’s gifts; the centre of his day was charity, to make the love he had received bear fruit; the end was his clear witness to the Gospel. This man realized that he had to stretch out his hand to all those poor people he met daily, for he saw Jesus in each of them.
Brothers and sisters, let us ask for the grace to be Christians not in word, but in deed. To bear fruit, as Jesus desires. May this truly be so.
– At the Angelus: “Today the Church tells you, she tells us: ‘Use what God has given you and look at the poor'”
Full text of the Pope’s catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good afternoon!
On this next to the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Gospel presents us the well-known Parable of the Talents (cf. Mt 25:14-30). It is part of Jesus’ discourse on the end times, which immediately precedes His passion, death and resurrection.
The parable describes a rich gentleman who has to go away and, foreseeing a long absence, entrusts his property to three of his servants: to the first he entrusts five talents; to the second, two; to the third, one. Jesus specifies that the distribution is made “each according to his ability” (v. 15).
The Lord does so with all of us: He knows us well; He knows we are not all equal and does not wish to favour anyone to the detriment of the others, but entrusts an amount to each one according to his or her abilities.
During the master’s absence, the first two servants are very busy, to the point of doubling the amount entrusted to them. It is not so with the third servant, who hides the talent in a hole: to avoid risks, he leaves it there, safe from thieves, but without making it bear fruit.
The moment comes for the master’s return, who calls the servants to settle accounts. The first two present the good fruit of their efforts; they have worked and the master praises them, compensates them and invites them to partake in his feast, in his joy.
The third, however, realizing he is at fault, immediately begins to justify himself, saying: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (vv. 24-25). He defends his laziness by accusing his master of being “hard”.
This is an attitude that we have too: we defend ourselves, many times, by accusing others. But they are not at fault: the fault is ours; the flaw is ours.
And this servant accuses others, he accuses the master in order to justify himself. We too, many times, do the same. So the master rebukes him: he calls the servant “wicked and slothful” (v. 26); he has the talent taken from him and has him cast out of his house.
This parable applies to everyone but, as always, to Christians in particular. Today too, it is very topical: today is the Day of the Poor, where the Church tells us Christians: “Extend a hand to the poor. Reach out a hand to the poor. You are not alone in life: there are people who need you. Do not be selfish; reach out a hand to the poor”.
We have all received from God a “patrimony” as human beings, a human richness, whatever it may be. And as disciples of Christ we have also received the faith, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments, and so many other things. These gifts need to be used to do good, to do good in this life, in service to God and to our brothers and sisters.
And today the Church tells you, she tells us: “Use what God has given you and look at the poor. Look: there are so many of them; even in our cities, in the centre of our city, there are many. Do good!”
At times, we think that to be Christian means not to do harm. And not doing harm is good. But not doing good is not good. We must do good, to come out of ourselves and look, look at those who have more need.
There is so much hunger, even in the heart of our cities; and many times we enter into that logic of indifference: the poor person is there, and we look the other way.
Reach out your hand to the poor person: it is Christ. Some say: “But these priests, these bishops who talk about the poor, the poor… We want them to talk to us about eternal life!”.
Look, brother and sister, the poor are at the centre of the Gospel; it is Jesus who taught us to speak to the poor; it is Jesus who came for the poor. Reach out your hand to the poor. You have received many things, and you let your brother, your sister die of hunger?
Dear brothers and sisters, may each one say in his or her heart what Jesus tells us today; repeat in your heart: “Reach out your hand to the poor”. And Jesus tells us something else: “You know, I am the poor person. I am the poor”.
The Virgin Mary received a great gift: Jesus Himself, but she did not keep Him to herself; she gave Him to the world, to His people. Let us learn from her to reach out a hand to the poor.
Prayers for the Philippines, Ivory Coast and Romania
Full text of the Pope’s greeting
Dear brothers and sisters! I am close in prayer to the population of the Philippines, who are suffering because of the destruction and above all the flooding caused by a strong typhoon. I express my solidarity to the poorest families who have been subjected to these calamities, and my support to those who are trying to aid them.
My thought also goes to the Ivory Coast, which is celebrating today the national Day of Peace, in a context of social and political tensions which, unfortunately have caused many victims.
I join in prayer to obtain the gift of national harmony from the Lord, and I exhort all sons and daughters of that dear country to cooperate responsibly for reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. I encourage in particular the different political actors to re-establish a climate of mutual trust and dialogue, in the quest for just solutions that protect and promote the common good.
Yesterday, in a hospital facility in Romania, where various patients stricken with the coronavirus were admitted, a fire broke out which claimed several victims. I express my closeness and pray for them. Let us pray for them.
I greet all of you, faithful of Rome and pilgrims from various countries. Do not forget, today, that that voice of the Church rings in our heart: “Reach out your hand to the poor. Because, you know, the poor person is Christ”. I am delighted, in particular, for the presence of the Hösel children’s choir (Germany). Thank you for your songs!
I wish everyone a happy Sunday. Please, do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch! Arrivederci!