Homily of Most Reverend Father Ottaviano D’Egidio for the Closing of the 14th Passionist General Synod, Rome, 31 October 2010.
My dearest Brothers of the Congregation,
Let us thank God for these days that we have spent together. Let us do this with the Eucharist where Jesus himself becomes thanksgiving to the Father by his death that is renewed and offered in another “Last Supper” in the cenacle of this chapel where He again is priest and victim and where we, together with Him, form the mystical body which is the Church.
Solidarity has its maximum expression on the Cross where Jesus dies for us and in the Cenacle where He takes bread, which is His body, and breaks it and shares it among the disciples. He takes the cup, which is His blood, and he gives it to the disciples so that they may all drink from it. Breaking and sharing the same bread and drinking from the same cup are the “sign” of sharing and solidarity and doing this we “remember.” We do this in this Eucharistic sacrifice where: “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1Cor.10:17) Personal choices, choices as a Synod and as a Congregation cannot contradict what we are celebrating. It was sharing and breaking the bread that it could be distributed, that enabled the disciples of Emmaus to recognize Jesus.
However, the days of this Synod, two years after the Synod of Cuernavaca, were not easy. We experienced foggy days, feeling lost, feeling afraid and feeling tempted to a “reverse Exodus”—wanting to turn back, like Israel, to slave labor and the precarious life in Egypt. God had a plan for his people; it was not a plan to help the powerful, but to free the oppressed.
Moses himself had his doubts and he resisted the call of God who reassured him: “I will be with you.” (Ex.3:12) It is a small phrase, but it has a strong meaning: what does man have to fear if God is with him? Man can fulfill the mission that was entrusted to him because he will not be alone in fulfilling it – God will be with him.
The presence of God strengthens, encourages and transforms. This is what today’s gospel reminds us with the account of the meeting of Zacchaeus with Jesus in the biblical city of Jericho—a vast oasis rich in water, date palms and fruit trees, and there are also sycamore trees that appear in today’s gospel episode. Jesus is travelling toward Jerusalem (we, too, as a Congregation during this historic period of Restructuring are travelling toward Jerusalem). In the crowd that gathers around Jesus, there are two individuals who are on a similar faith journey: an anonymous blind man who cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Lk.18:38) He screams out, and he is annoying because in addition to yelling he is also begging; but Jesus, always accessible and welcoming, heals him: “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” (Lk.18:42) The other individual is Zacchaeus and both of them, the blind man and Zacchaeus, at the moment that Jesus is passing by, react, take the initiative, and finally are able to “see” Jesus and to find salvation in Him: salvation is offered to the poor man, but also to the rich and the sinner.
The biblical exegetes say that the episode of Zacchaeus is among the most meaningful in the gospel of Luke because it contains many of the elements that are cherished by the evangelist: the journey, wealth, the desire to see, the encounter, the contrasting of values, the immediacy of salvation, and the mission of Jesus who was sent to bring Good News to the poor.
They are many elements that describe Zacchaeus: he was rich, he was small in stature, he was a sinner – a Jewish man at the service of the Roman occupation troops- he extorted money from his fellow citizens; however, he wanted to “see” Jesus. The gospel says he “ran ahead” and he climbed a sycamore tree. And up there, he waits and he watches from a distance, not wanting to get too involved; but Jesus looks up and calls him by name: “”Zacchaeus, come down quickly..” and surprisingly Jesus invites himself to his home… “for today I must stay at your house.”
Salvation is offered today. We, too, are aware that it is often this “today” that is present in our search for answers for our mission and as yeast in today’s world. Using the current process of reviewing positions and the weaknesses and strengths of our communities, there is the common desire to discern appropriate responses to the “today” of God whose Reign is in our midst. “Today I must stay at your house”– Zacchaeus hurries down and welcomes Jesus with joy. If it is authentic, the meeting with Jesus accomplishes salvation: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
It is sharing; it is a change of view and relationship with others; it is the capacity to act with generosity. Jesus, observing the conversion that took place in Zacchaeus during the encounter (“Today I must stay at your house.”) says: “Today salvation has come to this house.” This “today” from the mouth of Jesus still resounds, confirming the divine intervention in that moment of grace and responsibility. It is a “today” that is always new, that becomes the future for the Church and for the Congregation and for our young and for us who are responsible to them for the task entrusted to us as elder brothers. This refers to the Restructuring and choices that we are making. However, faithfulness requires of us greater enthusiasm, courage and faith in God. Let us avoid impeding the future by each of us remaining ensconced in our houses and in our own situations: God has invited us to leave the encampment.
Zacchaeus does not make any other statements to Jesus: he is only happy to receive Him and he promises solidarity with the poor and the restitution of goods to those that he has defrauded, and Jesus says that salvation has entered that house. The same thing will happen in the first community of Jerusalem where powerful witness was given when the disciples placed their goods in common. (Acts 4:34 ff.) Similarly, Zacchaeus strove to share his wealth and to repay what he had unjustly extorted.
Justice that is restored reconstitutes him as a son of Abraham; solidarity affords him new membership among the people of Israel. Meeting with Jesus–Solidarity—Salvation: three words and three realities that are intimately connected in this episode. Each is a result of the others. They are also symbolic for us and for what we are trying to do as a Congregation during these years and during the days of this Synod: they should be directives and confirmations of what God wants from us “today”—a word that Jesus says repeatedly in this gospel.
And I am not surprised that this gospel is offered to us today for our study and reflection, as if God was closely following our journey. He knows our weakness and indecision; but he wants to affirm the plan He has for us in our spirit and in our heart. The gospel episode of Zacchaeus is his word for us as we close the Synod. It is his prophecy for us. He wants to tell us that meeting and living with Jesus (“I must stay at your house”) is fundamental and it is the premise for every act of salvation. It is an invitation to a profound spiritual life and intimacy in community with the Lord (“at your house”). We want to assert that an authentic encounter with Jesus converts and helps to restore justice and to recognize the rights of the poor.
It generates and strengthens the capacity to share goods and lives. And this initiates salvation; it is the Reign of God in us and in the Congregation. And the gospel, in its mystery, also reminds us about the mission that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” It summarizes the meaning of the entire mission of Jesus and our mission through the Passionist vocation that we received. In fact, He is the shepherd who came to search for the lost sheep and He did so by going to the houses of “sinners” and by allowing himself to be crucified among “thieves”.
In the reading from the Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul begins with a prayer in which he asks that the Lord “bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith” so that the Christians of Thessalonica could always be “worthy of his calling” and through them, “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified.” It is an invitation also to us to carry out the work that has been entrusted to us.
In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, it states that God loves everything that he created. Love has a determining role to play in creation- “you love all things that are” because his “imperishable spirit is in all things”—and this is especially true for human beings. God has compassion on everyone; little by little he corrects; he forgives our sins and he loves life. God wants to convince us of his love for us – an infinite love that we have come to know on the Cross where Jesus, out of compassion for us, went to take our place: the innocent One who became the guilty victim for all the sins of the world. And as a Congregation, and as the Passionist Family, through our vocation we are witnesses of this through the charism of St. Paul of the Cross and the mandate of the Church. I thank each and every one of you especially for your presence and your participation: we are a gift to each other. Let us entrust the work of this Synod and the next two years in preparation for the General Chapter to the protection of Mary, “Salus Populi Romani” (The Health of the Roman People).
May St. Paul of the Cross bless us and protect you as you travel home. Amen.