Pope: worldly Christians can’t have both heaven and earth
(Vatican Radio) It’s sad to see a Christian who wants to “follow Jesus and the things of this world.” That’s what Pope Francis said at Tuesday morning’s Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, stressing that a Christian is called to make a radical choice in life: you can’t be “half” Christian or have both “heaven and earth.”
In his homily Pope Francis reflects on Peter’s query to Jesus: what would he and the disciples get in return for following Him? Peter asks the question after the Lord told the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give everything to the poor.
A Christian cannot have heaven and earth; do not be attached to things
The Pope notes that Jesus responds in an unexpected way: He does not speak of riches to his disciples, but promises instead the Kingdom of Heaven “but with persecution, with the cross:”
“So when a Christian is attached to [worldly] things, he gives the bad impression of a Christian who wants to have two things: [both] heaven and earth. And the touchstone of comparison precisely, is what Jesus says: the cross, the persecutions. This is to deny oneself, to suffer the cross every day… The disciples had this temptation, to follow Jesus but then: how will this bargain end up?”
The Pope then refers to the reading from Mathew where James and John’s mother asks Jesus to secure a place at His side for her children:
“’Ah, make this one prime minister for me – this one, the minister of the economy …’, and she took the worldly interest in following Jesus,” the Pope says with irony.
But , Francis notes, “the heart of these disciples was cleansed,” through to Pentecost, when “they understood everything.” “The gratuitousness of following Jesus,” the Pope says, is the answer to the gratuitousness of love and salvation that Jesus gives us.” And when “one wants to go and be with both Jesus and with the world, with both poverty and with riches,” he warns, “this is half-way Christianity that desires material gain. It is the spirit of worldliness.”
Riches, vanity and pride take us away from Jesus
Echoing the words of the prophet Elijah, Pope Francis alludes to this kind of Christian as one “limping on two legs” because he “does not know what he wants.” So, the Pope affirms, in order to understand this, we must remember that Jesus says “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” meaning “the one who believes or who is the greatest” must be “the servant, the smallest one “:
“Following Jesus from the human point of view is not a good deal: it’s serving. He did so, and if the Lord gives you the opportunity to be the first, you have to act like the last one, that is, in service. And if the Lord gives you the ability to have possessions, you have to act in service, that is, to others. There are three things, three steps that take us away from Jesus: wealth, vanity and pride. This is why they are so dangerous, the riches, because they immediately make you vain and you think you are important. And when you think you are important, you lose your head and you lose yourself.”
A worldly Christian is a counter-witness
What the Lord wants from us is to “strip” ourselves of worldy things the Pope stresses. And it took Jesus a long time to get this message across to His disciples “because they did not understand well.” We too must ask Him to teach us “this science of service” the Pope says, “this science of humility, this science of being the last to serve our brothers and sisters in the Church.”
“It’s sad to see a Christian, whether it’s a lay person, consecrated priest, bishop – it’s sad when you see he wants two things: to follow Jesus and worldly things, to follow Jesus and worldliness. And this is a counter-witness and furthers people from Jesus. We continue now the celebration of the Eucharist, thinking of Peter’s question. ‘We left everything: what will you give us in return?’ And thinking about Jesus’ response. The recompense that He will give us is resemblance to Him. This will be our ‘recompense’. Big ‘recompense’, to be like Jesus!”