In Santa Marta Mass, Pope warns against coronavirus leading to virtual, 'viral' faith

In Santa Marta Mass, Pope warns against coronavirus leading to virtual, “viral” faith – full text

At his morning Mass this Friday in the Octave of Easter in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis prayed for pregnant women:

“I would like us to pray today for women who are pregnant, pregnant women who will become mothers and who are restless, worried. One asks: ‘What world will my child live in?’ Let us pray for them, so that the Lord gives them the courage to move forward with these children with the confidence that it will certainly be a different world, but it will always be a world that the Lord will always love so much”.

In his homily, the Pope commented on today’s Gospel (Jn. 21 1-14), in which the risen Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore after they had been fishing unsuccessfully in the Sea of Tiberias.

Invited by the Lord to let down the nets again, they caught many fish.

It’s a scene – said Francis – that takes place naturally, because the disciples had become familiar with Jesus.

We Christians, he explained, must grow in this familiarity, which is personal but also communal.

A familiarity without community, without Church, without the sacraments, is dangerous; it can become a gnostic familiarity, separated from the people of God, said the Pope.

“In this pandemic”, Francis observed, “we’re communicating through the media, but we’re not together, as is the case with this Mass”.

The pontiff lamented that it’s a difficult situation in which the faithful can’t participate in the Church’s celebrations and can only make spiritual communion.

We have to get out of this tunnel to get back together because this isn’t the authentic Church, but a Church that runs the risk of being “viralised”, warned the Pope.

May the Lord, prayed Francis, teach us this concrete familiarity, this intimacy with Him, but in the Church, with the sacraments and with the holy faithful people of God.

Full text of the Pope’s homily

The disciples were fishermen: Jesus had called them precisely in their work. Andrew and Peter worked with nets. They left the nets and followed Jesus. John and James, the same: they left their father and the boys who worked with them and they followed Jesus.

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The call was at work, as fishermen. And this passage from today’s Gospel, this miracle, this miraculous catch, makes us think of another miraculous catch, the one that Luke recounts in chapter five: the same thing happened there too. They caught a good catch, when they thought they hadn’t any.

After the sermon, Jesus said: “Go out on the water – ‘But we worked all night and we caught nothing!’ – Go”.

Trusting your word, said Peter, I will cast the nets. There were so many fish – says the Gospel – that they were taken by amazement, by that miracle.

Today, in this other fishing episode, there is no talk of amazement. You can see a certain naturalness; you can see that there has been progress, [they have] grown on the path of the knowledge of the Lord, in intimacy with the Lord. I will say the correct word: in familiarity with the Lord.

When John saw this, he said to Peter: “But it is the Lord!” And Peter put on his robe; he threw himself into the water to go to the Lord.

The first time he knelt before him: “Get away from me, Lord, because I am a sinner”. This time he says nothing; it is more natural. No one asked: “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord, it was natural; the encounter with the Lord. The familiarity of the apostles with the Lord had grown.

We Christians, too, on our way of life are in this state of walking, of progressing in familiarity with the Lord. The Lord, I could say, is rather “close at hand”, but “close at hand” because he walks with us; we know that it is He.

Nobody asked him, here, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Daily familiarity with the Lord is that of the Christian. And, to be sure, they had breakfast together, with fish and bread; they certainly spoke of many things naturally.

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This familiarity with the Lord, of Christians, is always communal. Yes, it is intimate, it is personal, but in community.

A familiarity without community, a familiarity without bread, a familiarity without the Church, without the people, without the sacraments is dangerous.

It can become a let’s say gnostic familiarity: a familiarity only for me, separate from the people of God. The apostles’ familiarity with the Lord was always communal, always at the table, a sign of community. It was always with the Sacrament, with the bread.

I say this because someone made me reflect on the danger that this moment we are experiencing – this pandemic that has made us all communicate religion-wise through the media, even this Mass – we are all in communion, but not together, spiritually together.

People [here] are few. People are many: we are together, but not together. There is also the Sacrament: today you have it, the Eucharist, but the people who are watching us, only spiritual communion.

And this is not the Church: it is the Church in a difficult situation, which the Lord allows, but the ideal of the Church is to always be with the people and with the sacraments. Always.

Before Easter, when the news broke that I would celebrate Easter in an empty St. Peter’s [Basilica], a bishop wrote to me – a good bishop – and scolded me. “But since St. Peter’s is so big, why don’t you invite thirty or so people, so that they can be seen? There won’t be any danger…”

I thought, “But what’s he thinking, that he’s telling me this?” I didn’t get it, at the time. But since he is a good bishop, very close to the people, he would have been wanting to tell me something. When I work it out, I’ll ask him.

Then I understood. He told me: “Be careful not to viralise the Church, to viralise the Sacraments, to viralise the People of God”.

The Church, the sacraments, the People of God are concrete.

It’s true that at this moment we must become familiar with the Lord in this way, but so as to get out of the tunnel, not to stay there.

And this is the familiarity of the apostles: not gnostic, not viralised, not guarded selfishly for themselves, but a concrete familiarity, in the people.

Familiarity with the Lord in daily life, familiarity with the Lord in the sacraments, in the midst of the People of God.

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They forged a path of maturity in familiarity with the Lord: let’s learn to do that too.

From the first moment, they understood that this familiarity was different from what they imagined, and they came to this: they knew it was the Lord, they shared everything: the community, the sacraments, the Lord, peace, the feast.

May the Lord teach us this intimacy with Him, this familiarity with Him, but in the Church, with the Sacraments, with the faithful people of God.

(Source: Vatican News; translation: Novena)

More of the Pope’s Santa Marta homilies, on Novena:

16/4: “Joy” Church’s “great strength to transform”, Francis says in Santa Marta Mass

15/4: In Santa Marta Mass, Pope prays for elderly afraid of coronavirus: “They are our roots, our story, our history”

14/4: Santa Marta Mass: Francis hits out at Church “selfishness and self-assuredness” – full text

13/4: Santa Marta Mass: On coronavirus recovery, Pope urges politicians to choose “resurrection of the people”, not “god of money” – full text

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.