Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Stepping outside in search of the lost sheep," "stepping outside of oneself, a tired and routine way of living the faith ", "stepping outside to reach others, especially those who are distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, consolation, help", "stepping outside with love and tenderness of God " who "never waits", but "always makes the first move". Living Holy Week by "stepping outside" towards others was the topic to which Pope Francis dedicated his catechesis, partly improvised, for the first general audience of his pontificate, during which he again repeated his "deep gratitude and reverence," for the witness" he is taking up "from the hands of Pope Benedict XVI. "After Easter - he added - we will resume the catechesis of the Year of Faith."
The General audience in St Peter's Square on a sunny day. Again today, the Pope toured among the 20 thousand present in an open topped jeep. There were many flags from around the world. Francis speaks only in Italian: unlike in the past, the synthesis of catechesis and the same greeting to people of different languages are read and translated by the speakers. Also in Spanish, Francis' native language.
"With Palm Sunday - he said - we entered this week - the center of the whole liturgical year - in which we accompany Jesus in His Passion, Death and Resurrection. But what does it mean for us to live Holy Week? What does it means to follow Jesus on His way to the Cross on Calvary and the Resurrection? In His earthly mission, Jesus walked the streets of the Holy Land; He called twelve simple people to remain with Him, to share His journey and continue His mission; He chose them among the people full of faith in the promises of God. He spoke to everyone, without distinction, to the great and the lowly; to the rich young man and the poor widow, the powerful and the weak; He brought the mercy and forgiveness of God to all; He healed, comforted, understood, gave hope, He led all to the presence of God, who is interested in every man and woman, like a good father and a good mother is interested in each child. God did not wait for us to go to Him, but He moved towards us, without calculation, without measures. This is how God is: He is always the first, He moves towards us. Jesus lived the daily realities of most ordinary people: He was moved by the crowd that seemed like a flock without a shepherd, and He cried in front of the suffering of Martha and Mary on the death of their brother Lazarus; He called a tax collector to be His disciple and also suffered the betrayal of a friend. In Christ, God has given us the assurance that He is with us, in our midst. "Foxes", Jesus said, "have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head" (Mt 8:20). Jesus did not have a home because His house is the people -- that is, us; His mission is to open all God's doors, to be the loving presence of God".
In Holy Week "we live the highest point of this journey, this loving plan that runs throughout the entire history of the relationship between God and humanity. Jesus enters Jerusalem to take the final step, in which His whole live is summarized: He gives Himself totally, He keeps nothing for Himself, not even His life. At the Last Supper, with His friends, He shares the bread and distributes the chalice "for us." The Son of God is offered to us, He consigns His Body and his Blood into our hands to be with us always, to dwell among us. And on the Mount of Olives, as in the trial before Pilate, He puts up no resistance, He gifts Himself: He is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah, who stripped himself unto death".
" Jesus - he said- does not live this love that leads to sacrifice passively or as a fatal destiny; certainly He does not hide His deep human commotion in the face of a violent death, but He entrusts Himself with full confidence to the Father. Jesus voluntarily consigned Himself to death to respond to the love of God the Father, in perfect union with His will, to demonstrate His love for us. On the Cross, Jesus "loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Each of us can say, "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Everyone can say that "for me". What does this mean for us? It means that this is my, your, our path. Living Holy Week following Jesus not only with the emotions of the heart; living Holy Week following Jesus means learning how to come out of ourselves - as I said on Sunday - to reach out to others, to go to the outskirts of existence, to be the first to move towards our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, consolation and help. ".
"God - he added - stepped outside of Himself to come among us, He pitched His tent among us to bring the mercy of God that saves and gives hope. Even if we want to follow Him and stay with Him, we must not be content to remain in the enclosure of the ninety-nine sheep, we have to "step outside", to search for the lost sheep together with Him, the one furthest away". "Some might say to me, "But, Father, I have no time", "I have so many things to do", "it is difficult", "what can I do with my little strength?", with my sin, with so many things? Often we settle for a few prayers, a distracted and inconsistent presence at Sunday Mass, a random act of charity, but we lack this courage to "step outside" to bring Christ. ".
Even Peter " as soon as Jesus speaks of the Passion, Death and Resurrection, of self-giving, of love for all, the Apostle takes him aside and rebukes him. What Jesus says upsets his plans, seems unacceptable, undermines the sense of security that he had built up, his idea of the Messiah. And Jesus looks at the disciples and addresses Peter with perhaps one of the strongest words of the Gospel: "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do"(Mk 8:33). God always thinks with mercy: do not forget this. God always thinks with mercy: our merciful Father. God thinks like a father who awaits the return of his child and goes to meet him, sees him come when he is still far away ... What does this mean? That each and every day he went out to see if his son was coming home. This is our merciful Father. It is the sign that he was waiting for him from the terrace of his house; God thinks like the Samaritan that does not approach the victim to commiserate with him, or look the other way, but to rescue him without asking for anything in return, without asking if he was Jew, if he was pagan, a Samaritan, rich or poor: he does not ask anything. He does not ask these things, he asks for nothing. He goes to his aid: This is how God thinks. God thinks like the shepherd who gives his life to defend and save his sheep.".
"What a pity, so many parishes are closed!". "Our parishes, movements, associations, must "step outside" towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith". " Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God, with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions fruitful!".
The first audience also saw his first appeal dedicated to the Central African Republic, with the assurance of prayers for those suffering and requesting that "an immediate end to the violence and the looting be found as soon as possible and for a political solution to the crisis."