At 12:00 noon today, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Holy Father Francis looked out of the study window of the Vatican Apostolic Palace to pray the Angelus with the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square for the customary Sunday appointment.
These were the Pope’s words as he introduced the Marian prayer:
Before the Angelus
Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno!
The Gospel from today’s liturgy (Mt 4:12-23) narrates the call of the first disciples who, along the lake of Galilee leave everything to follow Jesus. He had already met some of them, thanks to John the Baptist, and God had placed the seed of faith within them (cf. Jn 1:35-39). So now, Jesus goes back to look for them where they live and work. The Lord always looks for us. The Lord always draws near to us, always.This time, he extends a direct call to them: “Follow me!” (Mt 4:19). And “immediately they left their nets and followed him” (v. 20). Let’s take a moment to reflect on this scene. This is the moment of a decisive encounter with Jesus, one they would remember their entire lives and would be included in the Gospel. From then on, they follow Jesus. And in order to follow him, they leave.
To leave so as to follow. And it is always like this with Jesus. It can begin in some way with a sense of attraction, perhaps due to others. Then the awareness can become more personal and can kindle a light in the heart. It becomes something beautiful to share: “You know, that passage from the Gospel struck me…. That service opportunity I had struck me…” – something that touches your heart. This is what happened with the first disciples (cf. Jn 1:40-42). But sooner or later, the moment comes in which it is necessary to leave so as to follow (cf. Lk 11:27-28). That is when it is necessary to make a decision: Shall I leave behind some certainties and embark on a new adventure, or shall I remain like I am? This is a decisive moment for every Christian because the meaning of everything else is at stake here. If someone does not find the courage to set out on the journey, the risk is to remain a spectator of one’s own existence and to live the faith halfway.
To stay with Jesus, therefore, requires the courage to leave, to set out on the journey. What must we leave behind? Our vices and our sins, certainly, which are like anchors that hold us at bay and prevent us from setting sail. To begin to leave, it is only right that we begin by asking forgiveness – forgiveness for the things that are not beautiful. I leave these things behind to move forward. But it is also necessary to leave behind what holds us back from living fully, for example, fear, selfish calculations, the guarantees that come from staying safe, just getting by. It also means giving up the time wasted on so many useless things. How beautiful it would be to leave all this in order to experience, for example, the tiring but rewarding risk of service, or to dedicate time to prayer so as to grow in friendship with the Lord. I am also thinking of a young family who leaves behind a quiet life to open themselves up to the unpredictable and beautiful adventure of motherhood and fatherhood. It is a sacrifice, but all it takes is one look at a child to understand that it was the right choice to leave behind certain rhythms and comforts to have this joy. I am also thinking, of certain professionals, for example, doctors or healthcare workers, who give up a lot of free time to study and prepare themselves, and who do good, dedicating many hours day and night, and spend so much physical and mental energy for the sick. I think of workers who leave behind convenience, who let go of doing nothing so as to put food on the table. In short, to live life, we need to accept the challenge to leave. Today, Jesus extends this invitation to each of us.
So, I leave you with a question about this. First of all: Can I remember a “strong moment” in which I have already encountered Jesus? Each of us can recall our own story – in my life, has there been a significant moment when I encountered Jesus? And, is there something beautiful and significant that happened in my life because of which I left other less important things? And today, is there something Jesus asks me to give up? What are the material things, ways of thinking, attitudes I need to leave behind so as to truly say “yes”? May Mary help us to respond with a total “yes” to God, like she did, to know what to leave behind so as to follow him better. Do not be afraid to leave if it is to follow Jesus. We will always find that we are better.