Under the beating sun, World Youth Day pilgrims listened to Pope Francis’s words of encouragement during the World Youth Day concluding Mass held at Campus Misericordiae. His homily focused on the Gospel recounting the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus. Pope Francis outlined three modern challenges of faith that Zacchaeus also encountered: self-doubt, shame, and public opposition. He countered each challenge with these realities of Catholicism:
We are worthy of God’s love despite our sins
Zacchaeus didn’t believe he was worthy of receiving God’s mercy and love. This self-doubt prevented him from realizing his “deepest identity” as a child of God. Pope Francis explained that failure to recognize our worth “is like walking away when God wants to look at me, trying to spoil his dream for me. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind.” He asserted that every person is special and important to God; he sees beyond our exterior appearance and material possessions to our hearts. “God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess.”
Dwelling on our sins and troubles “is a kind of virus infecting and blocking everything; it closes doors and prevents us from getting up and starting over.” In contrast, God has unfailing hope in our potential and is always “cheering us on.” Pope Francis advised that we begin each day with the prayer, “Lord, I thank you for loving me; help me to be in love with my own life!”
We must sacrifice and take risks to follow Christ
Zacchaeus ignored his pride and risked his reputation as a public figure by climbing a tree to encounter Jesus. Although aware of the risk and humiliation, “he mastered his shame, because the attraction of Jesus was more powerful.” We must do the same, whatever this risk means in the context of our lives. “When it comes to Jesus, we cannot sit around waiting with arms folded; he offers us life. We can’t respond by thinking about it or ‘texting’ a few words.”
Pope Francis urged Catholic youth to partake in confession to place all weaknesses, struggles, and sins in God’s hands. “He will surprise you with his forgiveness and his peace.” Faith demands worldly sacrifice and “a firm ‘no’ to the narcotic of success at any cost and the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort.”
We need courage to overcome worldly opposition
Lastly, Pope Francis advocated for courage when faced with the world’s criticism and doubt. “People will try to block you, to make you think that God is distant, rigid and insensitive.” We must maintain our hope and show love to all—even our enemies. The crowd surrounding Zacchaeus held him back from encountering Jesus and then criticized him as a sinner unworthy of Jesus’s attention and love. “People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded.”
When faced with opposition, we must not become discouraged. Instead, we should be a constant witness of faith and hope to. Look beyond the surface and any faults to the humanity of every person you encounter. “Don’t stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, cosmetic attempts to improve our looks. Instead, ‘download’ the best ‘link’ of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary.”
Pope Francis concluded by recounting Jesus’s call to Zacchaeus, “Come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Applying this invitation to World Youth Day attendees, he shared, “We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on.” He wants to enter every aspect of our lives from our work to our relationships.
God’s memory is everlasting and we are precious to him always. Pope Francis stressed the importance of emulating God’s memory, “May we too now try to imitate the faithful memory of God and treasure the good things we have received in these days.” Jesus also calls us by name like he called Zacchaeus down from the tree so He can enter and fulfill our lives with His mercy.
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