First Mass for Card. Pierbattista Pizzaballa
at Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome
Sunday, October 1, 2023 - XXVI Sunday per Annum
Today’s Eucharistic Celebration has a special new "color" for all of us.
I am not referring only to the scarlet red color with which the Holy Father wished to honor me and the Church of Jerusalem; which I have the grace to preside over, and of whom some are present and gathered here today. Nor am I referring only to the fact that it is celebrated in this venerable Papal Basilica. I am referring above all to the "new" call that this red means for me and for those who in some way are united to me by human, Christian and ecclesial bonds.
In fact, this call is for all of us, for the Lord does not cease to repeat what we have just heard in today's Gospel: ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ (Mt 21:29). This is a continuous invitation that awaits a sincere and faithful response to Him who calls without wavering. And from which the answer of all depends the fulfillment of the Kingdom among us and for eternity.
So what does this appointment as Cardinal add? Why are we all happy about it? Is it just an ancient echo of a court that no longer exists? Is it only a venerable tradition, certainly, but by now a little folkloristic, incomprehensible to many? Is it just an honor, however legitimate, granted by the Pope to be proud of'? If it were only this, it would make no sense to 'celebrate' it in a liturgy, that is, to insert it into the mysterious but real web of the Lord's relationship with us and ours with Him, to live it as a deep rootedness in the Body of Christ that is the Church.
I am convinced, in fact, that every new ministry, every service, every 'title' that the Church calls one to hold is not so much a new step to climb higher, but an invitation to go deeper, indeed 'all the way' (usque ad effusionem sanguinis, says the ancient formula). And the cardinalate, for those who receive it and for those who are in various ways connected to it, is the measure in which it unites (incardinates) them more closely to the Church of Rome and to its Bishop. It invites all of us to make the Church's own gaze even more our own; To participate, each according to the gift received, in the 'episkopè', and in the 'gaze from on high' that the Bishop of Rome has on the Universal Church, which is 'the gaze of Peter'.
I would therefore like to reread with you what we experienced yesterday and the Word that we just heard with the gaze of Peter.
Peter’s gaze is above all an expert gaze of his own weakness and, therefore, of God’s mercy, of the divine ability, that is, to make His yes emerge within our no’s, as He waits patiently within our wavering in fidelity, to accompany us throughout our recurring comings and goings, in a faithful and accountable love. Peter's impetuous enthusiasm and his fears, his denial and his tears, his sincere but fearful love, tell of a gaze that was able to discover love within failure, victory within apparent defeat, trust within contradictions and denial. To be cardinal, then, I interpret as an invitation to put ourselves from this point of view, of one who knows how to look at the weakness of our brothers and sisters with intelligent and sincere love, of one who contemplates the complexity of history with trust and hope. We are all in a culture that exalts success and performance, that simplifies and trivializes everything by enclosing the human experience within easy slogans and improvised judgments. The buzzword is sought, and the search for truth often gives way to the opinion of the masses or those who matter most. The gaze of Peter, which the Pope continually actualizes among us, is a gaze that does not give up. Peter, we said, is the impetuous character who launches himself, who easily breaks in the scene: he is the one who confesses that Jesus is God's Messiah; but he is also the one who wants to stop His journey to Jerusalem; he is also the hesitant and fearful man, who does not have the courage to confess Him in the painful moment of the passion, hence, betraying Him. However, Peter, did not get frightened by his own failure, he did not allow his sin to close his heart and stop him from pursuing God, but he knew how to be in wonder, how to search, how to start again and to run, even at the incredible announcement of the empty tomb.
After all, as we all know well, for those who live in Jerusalem this is a daily experience. In that holy and tiring city, where Peter began his ministry as a spokesman for the faith, every day we are tempted to give in to weakness, to grow weary of the thousand hesitations of national and international politics, to leave the last word to denials and disappointments, to chase the easy solution or to pronounce hasty judgments; yet every day there are small signs of hope, new bets for dialogue and reconciliation that revive enthusiasm, encourage trust, renew hope and make us say with Peter: "we have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets. " (cf. Luke 5:5).
Peter's gaze, however, is capable of this because his gaze got educated by the gaze of Jesus. It always strikes me to read in the Gospels, " And Jesus looked at Peter" (Lk 22:61). I am certainly not a romantic - those who know me know this well! - but it is hard to escape the wish to imagine the beauty of Christ's gaze that so many fascinating stories of life and holiness have been initiated in the Church of yesterday and today. What did Peter see when his gaze crossed Jesus' gaze?
He would certainly have seen the gaze of a Master, of one who spoke with authority about God and men, about life and death. Looking at Christ or, rather, letting himself be looked at by Him, Peter gradually learned that the Son of God, who came in the flesh, travels the ways of self-giving all the way to the Cross. He would have understood that giving oneself to the point of losing oneself is the true meaning of love, indeed it is the very nature of God. He would have learned to be and to live as a disciple, who goes after Jesus to the point of developing the same feelings as him (cf., 2:5), to the point he does not feel scandalized by a God who knelt to wash his feet but instead allowing himself to be completely washed by him. And, washed by Christ as by the tears of repentance, witnessing the sufferings of Christ who died out of love, he became able to look upon the flock of God entrusted to him not as a possession over which to dominate "for shameful profit" but as brothers to be loved “eagerly” from the heart, according to God (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2). And so, the good Peter, together with Christ, also viewed his death, which he despised, as the last act of love for the brothers in which God is glorified
My dearest friends, every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are under Christ's gaze, and we behold it, to become our own. Celebrating Mass today as a Cardinal means I am agreeing to make disciples that view everything, like Peter, by first gazing on Christ. Together with Peter, we are called to look again and again to Christ, to have eyes for Him. Even within the inevitable difficulties that, today more than yesterday, characterize the Christian walk, we feel called to choose Christ and his Gospel as the Way, Truth and Life of our very own thinking and acting. In times of great disorientation and confusion, the Church is called to start anew through Christ, our Master and Lord. His Gospel is not simply a code of ethics or, worse, just a reservoir for religious and civil etiquette. The Gospel of Christ, the Gospel that is Christ, is the Word that promises life, but asks to be received by a faith that becomes a choice of conversion, as well as social change.
In a time where feelings seem to dictate our very being, where authenticity increasingly risks rhyming with subjectivity, and truth with what excites; Faith cannot be reduced to an intimate sensation but must return to being a compelling choice that aligns and changes one’s life and therefore also becomes convincing. With Peter, we are called to step out of the narrowness of our ego or common opinions and open ourselves to the You that is greater than ourselves, the You of Christ who opens us to the We of the Church. And only the utterance of that You, amid the We of the Church, will restore our true identity: “you are Peter!” (Mt 16:18). And it will not be a rigid, closed, exclusionary identity, that opposes the identities of others, but it will be an identity received as a gift, purified by love in the form of the Cross, and willing to be transformed into servants so that all may find themselves as brothers.
And even here - forgive me - I cannot help but think of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, of my diocese, to which at this moment I express my affection and thanks for the many testimonies of esteem and closeness received in the past few months. That land, splendid and dramatic, is a crossroads of cultures, sensitivities, religions, people, and in that context, we Christians are very few and, according to merely human calculations, irrelevant. The temptation to look at so much diversity with the gaze of Peter before he met Christ's gaze, that is, with a gaze that is fearful and perhaps, for that very reason, aggressive and violent, is strong. Political, cultural and social institutions, and sometimes even churches can choose the path of vindication, conflict, partisan interest, and even violence. Occupying spaces by taking them away from others, perceived as rivals and enemies, would seem to be the only way to survive.
But we Christians are different, we must be different, because we are called to choose every day to be disciples of Christ, and from today even more so, to the very end, usque ad sanguinis effusionem. We must walk behind the Master willing to go even where our sensibilities, sometimes rightly offended, and would not want to go. The Christian difference does not consist in our strength, our possessions, and our prestige. The Christian difference lies in our choices of reconciliation, of dialogue, of service, of closeness, of peace. For us the other is not a rival, he is a brother. For us, Christian identity is not a bulwark to be defended, but a hospitable home and an open door to the mystery of God and man where all are welcome. We, with Christ, are for all.
This, brothers and sisters, is how I would like to live and "do" as a Cardinal. This is how I would like the Latin Patriarchate, which has surprisingly become a cardinal's see, to live out its vocation and mission. This is how I would like all of you to choose every day to be Christians, disciples of Christ, sustained by my prayer just as I know I am sustained by yours.
May the Virgin Mary, whom in this Basilica we venerate as Mother of God, intercede for us, for the Church in Jerusalem and sustain us on this new journey of ours.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem