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Choosing the better part

· The Pope's Mass at Santa Marta ·

The following is a synthesis of the homily Pope Francis delivered this morning during the Holy Mass he celebrated at the Chapel of Santa Marta.

This morning Pope Francis drew upon the liturgical Readings of the day taken from the book of Jonah (3:1-10) and the Gospel of St Luke (10:38-42). He highlighted  the evangelist's account of  Jesus' visit to the home of Martha and Mary, and proposed Mary as a model for prayer.

“The word of the Lord is clear,” the Pope said. “Mary chose the better part: prayer and the contemplation of Jesus. Yet it seemed to her sister that she was wasting time,” since Mary placed herself at the Lord's feet and gazed upon him as a child caught up in wonder, “rather than working as she did”. And yet, as the Pontiff explained, Mary's attitude was the right one because she “listened to the Lord and prayed with her heart”. This, he said, is what the Lord wishes to tell us: “the first task in life is to pray, not to pray with many words … but to pray with the heart”. This, he said, is the kind of prayer that enables us “to gaze upon the Lord, to listen to the Lord, to petition the Lord – and we know that prayer can work miracles”.

This is also illustrated in the episode recounted from the book of Jonah, whom Francis called “stubborn” because “he did not want to do what the Lord asked of him”. The Pope pointed out that it was only after the Lord saved Jonah from the belly of a whale that he decided: “Lord, I will do whatever you say, and he went through the streets of Nineveh”announcing the message of the Lord, that the city would be destroyed by God unless its inhabitants repented and changed their lives for the better. Pope Francis continued: “Jonah was a 'professional' prophet and he said: 'yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown'. He said it in a serious manner and with strength. And the Ninevites were scared, and they began to pray with words, with their hearts, with their bodies. Prayer can work miracles”.

The Pope then explained that also in this account “we see what Jesus said to Martha: Mary has chosen the better part. Prayer works miracles when we are faced with problems”. However, there also those  Pope called “pessimists” who say “nothing can change, this is how life is” and he added, “it makes me think of a sad song from my homeland that goes: 'Let it be. Down in the oven we will all meet again'”.

Of course, he said, this is “quite a pessimistic” vision of life, that leads us to wonder: “Why pray? Let it be, that's just the way life is! Let's go forward. Let's do what we can”. This was Martha's attitude, the Pontiff said. “She did many things, but she didn't pray”. He continued: then there are those like the“hard-headed Jonah”. They are the “avengers”. Jonah “went about prophesying, but in his heart he said: if they deserve it, if they deserve it … he prophesied but he didn't pray, he didn't ask the Lord to forgive them, he only sought to cudgel them”. These people, the Holy Father emphasized, “believe that they are just”. But in the end they are only egoists. When God saved the people of Nineveh, Pope Francis explained, “Jonah was angry with the Lord, and said to him, 'You are always like this. You are always forgiving'”. Then he added, “and when we don't pray, we close the door to the Lord” so that “he can do nothing”. But “praying when we are faced with a problem, a difficult situation or a calamity is opening the to the Lord, so that he might enter”. And, the Pope  added,  he knows “how to put things back in order”.

Pope Francis concluded by exhorting us to think of Mary, the sister of Martha, who “chose the better part and shows us the way to open the door to the Lord”.

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