On Sunday, Pope Francis said that everyone – lay or religious – must put their relationship with Jesus above all else; and striving to do this, even imperfectly, will help them to be like Christ to the world.
“People need to perceive that for that disciple, Jesus is truly ‘Lord,’ he is truly the center of his life, the whole of his life. It does not matter if, like every human person, he has his limits and even his mistakes – provided he has the humility to recognize them,” the Pope said July 2.
“Any disciple, a layman, a laywoman, a priest, a bishop: a prioritized relationship. Perhaps the first question we need to ask a Christian is: ‘But do you meet with Jesus? Do you pray to Jesus?’ The relationship.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square about the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus in the life of a disciple. Before leading the Angelus, he reflected on the day’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus sends his disciples out to be missionaries for the first time.
“In this final part, Jesus emphasizes two essential aspects for the life of the missionary disciple,” Francis said, “the first, that his bond with Jesus is stronger than any other bond; the second, that the missionary does not carry himself alone, but Jesus, and through him the love of the heavenly Father.”
The Pope pointed out that these two aspects of discipleship are intricately linked, because the more a Christian puts Jesus at the center of his heart and his life, the more clearly he radiates the presence of Christ in the world.
In the Gospel, we hear Jesus say: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” This isn’t to say these relationships aren’t good, but “the affection of a father, the tenderness of a mother, the sweet friendship between brothers and sisters, all this…cannot be put before Christ,” he emphasized.
And this isn’t because God wants us to be deprived of love and gratitude for our families, he continued, but because the condition of a disciple requires prioritizing our relationship with Jesus above all else.
Doing this, we become Christ’s own representative on earth, his “ambassador,” the Pope said. “To the point that Jesus himself, sending the disciples on a mission, tells them: ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”
But living in the world, there’s a trap we can fall into, he warned, which is the temptation to be hypocrites, what he called having a “double heart.”
“I am a Christian, I am a disciple of Jesus, I am a priest, I am a bishop, but I have a double heart. No, this does not work,” he said. “He should not have a double heart, but a simple, united heart; that he does not hold his foot in two shoes, but is honest with himself and with others. Duplicity is not Christian.”
It is against this that Jesus prays for his disciples that they not fall into the “spirit of the world.”
“Either you are with Jesus, with the spirit of Jesus, or you are with the spirit of the world,” the Pope emphasized.
Speaking to priests, he said that there is something beautiful they are taught through the experience of their vocation, and that is that the more a priest is near to God’s people, the nearer he will feel to Jesus, and the more he is near to Jesus, the closer he will feel to the people of God.
This reciprocity can work for all, however. If you leave everything for Christ, people will recognize Christ in you, he said. And at the same time, this helps you to conform yourself more and more to him, helping you to “purge yourself from compromises and overcome temptations.”
Francis concluded his remarks by asking the Virgin Mary, who has firsthand experience of what it means to love Jesus above all else, to help give us “a new meaning to family ties, starting with faith in Him.”
“With her motherly intercession, she helps us to be free and happy missionaries of the Gospel.”
After leading the Angelus, the Pope pointed out that July 5 is Independence Day in Venezuela. He called for an end to violence and for a peaceful and democratic solution to the current crisis in the country, assuring his prayers for the nation and for those who have lost loved ones.
Asking the intercession of Our Lady of Coromoto, the patroness of Venezuela, he led those present in praying a ‘Hail Mary’ for the country.