HOLY CHRISM MASS
HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS

Vatican Basilica
Holy Thursday, 14 April 2022

(…)
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus” is a grace that we, as priests, need to cultivate. At the end of the day, we do well to gaze upon the Lord, and to let him gaze upon our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we have encountered. Not as an accounting of our sins, but as a loving act of contemplation, in which we review our day with the eyes of Jesus, seeing its graces and gifts, and giving thanks for all that he has done for us. But also to set before him our temptations, so as to acknowledge them and reject them. As we can see, this requires knowing what is pleasing to the Lord and what it is that he is asking of us here and now, at this point in our lives.

And perhaps, if we meet his gracious gaze, he will also help us to show him our idols. The idols that, like Rachel, we have hidden under the folds of our cloak (cf. Gen 31: 34-35). Allowing the Lord to see those hidden idols – we all have them; all of us! – and to strengthens us against them and takes away their power.

The Lord’s gaze makes us see that, through them we are really glorifying ourselves [2], for there, in those spaces we mark out as exclusively ours, the devil insinuates himself with his poison. He not only makes us self-complacent, giving free rein to one passion or nurturing another, but he also leads us to replace with those idols the presence of the divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit who dwell within us. This happens. Even though we might tell ourselves that we know perfectly well the difference between God and an idol, in practice we take space away from the Trinity in order to give it to the devil, in a kind of oblique worship. The worship of one who quietly yet constantly listens to his talk and consumes his products, so that in the end not even a little corner remains for God. He is like that, he works quietly and slowly. In another context I spoke about “educated” demons, those that Jesus said are worse than the one who was cast out. They are “polite”, they ring the bell, they enter and gradually take over the house. We must be careful, these are our idols.

There is something about idols that is personal. When we fail to unmask them, when we do not let Jesus show us that in them we are wrongly and unnecessarily seeking ourselves, we make room for the Evil One. We need to remember that the devil demands that we do his will and that we serve him, but he does not always ask us to serve him and worship him constantly; but beware, he is a great diplomat. Receiving our worship from time to time is enough for him to prove that he is our real master and that he can feel like a god in our life and in our heart.

Having said that, in this Chrism Mass, I want to share with you three spaces of hidden idolatry in which the Evil One uses our idols to weaken us in our vocation as shepherds and, little by little, separate us from the benevolent and loving presence of Jesus, the Spirit and the Father.

One space of hidden idolatry opens up wherever there is spiritual worldliness, which is “a proposal of life, a culture, a culture of the ephemeral, of appearances, of the cosmetic”. [3] Its criterion is triumphalism, a triumphalism without the cross. Jesus prayed that the Father would defend us against this culture of worldliness. This temptation of glory without the cross runs contrary to the very person of the Lord, it runs contrary to Jesus, who humbled himself in the incarnation and, as a sign of contradiction, is our sole remedy against every idol. Being poor with Christ who was poor and “chose to be poor”: this is the mindset of Love; nothing else. In today’s Gospel, we see how the Lord chose a simple synagogue in the small village where he spent most of his life, to proclaim the same message he will proclaim at the end of time, when he will come in his glory, surrounded by angels. Our eyes must be fixed on Christ, on the concrete reality of his history with me, now, even as they will be then. The worldly attitude of seeking our own glory robs us of the presence of Jesus, humble and humiliated, the Lord who draws near to everyone, the Christ who suffers with all who suffer, who is worshiped by our people, who know who his true friends are. A worldly priest is nothing more than a clericalized pagan.

A second space of hidden idolatry opens up with the kind of pragmatism where numbers become the most important thing. Those who cherish this hidden idol can be recognized by their love for statistics, numbers that can depersonalize every discussion and appeal to the majority as the definitive criterion for discernment; this is not good. This cannot be the sole method or criterion for the Church of Christ. Persons cannot be “numbered”, and God does not “measure out” his gift of the Spirit (cf. Jn 3:34). In this fascination with and love of numbers, we are really seeking ourselves, pleased with the control offered us by this way of thinking, unconcerned with individual faces and far from love. One feature of the great saints is that they know how to step back in order to leave room completely for God. This stepping back, this forgetting of ourselves and wanting to be forgotten by everyone else, is the mark of the Spirit, who is in some sense “faceless”, – the Spirit is “faceless” – simply because he is completely Love, illuminating the image of the Son and, in him, that of the Father. The idolatry of numbers tries to replace the person of the Holy Spirit, who loves to keep hidden – because he is “faceless” – it tries to make everything “apparent”, albeit in a way abstract and reduced to numbers, without a real incarnation.

A third space of hidden idolatry, related to the second, comes from functionalism. This can be alluring; many people “are more enthusiastic about the roadmap than about the road”. The functionalist mindset has short shrift for mystery; it aims at efficiency. Little by little, this idol replaces the Father’s presence within us. The first idol replaces the Son’s presence, the second one the Spirit’s, and the third one the Father’s. Our Father is the creator, but not simply a creator who makes things “function”. He “creates” us, as our Father, with tender love, caring for his creatures and working to make men and women ever more free. “Functionaries” take no delight in the graces that the Spirit pours out on his people, from which they too can “be nourished” like the worker who earns his wage. The priest with a functionalist mindset has his own nourishment, which is his ego. In functionalism, we set aside the worship of the Father in the small and great matters of our life and take pleasure in the efficiency of our own programmes. As David did when, tempted by Satan, he insisted on carrying out the census (cf. 1 Chron 21:1). These are the lovers of the route plan and the itinerary, and not of the journey itself.

In these last two spaces of hidden idolatry (the pragmatism of numbers and functionalism), we replace hope, which is the space of encounter with God, with empirical results. This shows an attitude of vainglory on the part of the shepherd, an attitude that weakens the union of his people with God and forges a new idol based on numbers and programmes: the idol of “my power, our power”, [4] our programmes, of our numbers and pastoral plans. Concealing these idols (as Rachel did), and not knowing how to unmask them in our daily lives, detracts from our fidelity to our priestly covenant and makes our personal relationship with the Lord become lukewarm. But what does this Bishop want? Instead of talking about Jesus he is talking about today’s idols. Someone can think like that…

Dear brothers, Jesus is the only “way” to avoid being mistaken in knowing what we feel and where our heart is leading us. He is the only way that leads to proper discernment, as we measure ourselves against him each day. It is as if, even now, he is seated in our parish church and tells us that today all we have heard is now fulfilled. Jesus Christ, as a sign of contradiction – which is not always something harsh and painful, for mercy and, even more, tender love, are themselves signs of contradiction – Jesus Christ, I repeat, forces these idols to show themselves, so that we can see their presence, their roots and the ways they operate, and allow the Lord to destroy them. This is the proposal: allow the Lord to destroy those hidden idols. We should keep these things in mind and be attentive, lest the weeds of these idols that we were able to hide in the folds of our hearts may spring up anew.

I want to end by asking Saint Joseph, as the chaste father, free of hidden idols, to liberate us from every form of possessiveness, for possessiveness is the fertile soil in which these idols grow. May he also obtain for us the grace to persevere in the arduous task of discerning those idols that we all too often conceal or that conceal themselves. Let us ask too, whenever we wonder if we might do things better, that he intercede for us, so that the Spirit may enlighten our judgement, even as he did when Joseph was tempted to set Mary aside “quietly” ( lathra). In this way, with nobility of heart, we may be able to subordinate to charity what we have learned by law. [5]