In his first Mass during apostolic trip to Cuba, Pope Francis centered his homily on the Christian call to service, which he said is never ideological, but involves putting our own interests aside for the sake of others.
“Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it,” the Pope said Sept. 20, addressing the tens of thousands of people gathered for Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución – or Revolution Square.
“That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.”
The pontiff warned against the temptation to serve only our own people, which is self-serving and gives rise to exclusion.
Instead, service involves putting others at the center, and a closeness with our brothers and sisters to the point of sometimes suffering in order to help them.
“Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people,” he said.
Sunday’s Mass in Havana, Cuba is the first major event of Pope Francis’ visit to the island nation, which runs from Sept. 19-22. He is the third Roman pontiff to visit the country, having been preceded by St. John Paul II in 1998 and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012.
The Pope’s homily was centered on the day’s Gospel reading in which the disciples are arguing about who was the greatest among them. According to Mark’s account of the scene, Jesus asks the disciples what they have been arguing about, and they remain silent.
“We too can be caught up in these same arguments,” the Pope said: “who is the most important?”
He explained that while Jesus does not force the disciples to reveal the nature of their discussion, “the question lingers, not only in the minds of the disciples, but also in their hearts.”
This question of who is most important is also on our hearts, and human history has been marked by our answer to it, he said.
However, Jesus, not afraid of our questions or our humanity, the Pope said, but “knows the ‘twists and turns’ of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, he is always ready to encourage and support us.”
Pope Francis observed that Jesus presents us with a “logic of love” which is meant for everyone, not just a privileged few.
“Far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points us is not for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality,” he said.
Rather it is “something which can season our daily lives with eternity.”
Jesus says that those who wish to be first must desire to serve, and not be served, the Pope observed.
He “upsets their ‘logic’, their mindset, simply by telling them that life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbor.”
Pope Francis said we must be attentive to this call to serve others in their vulnerability, be they in our families, society, or people.
“Theirs are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love,” he said.
“People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty: these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve.”
Pope Francis then addressed the Cuban people directly, noting their tendency toward festivities, friendship, and beautiful things.
“It is a people which marches with songs of praise,” he said. Although wounded like many others, the Cuban people know “how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur.”
“Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you.”
Pope Francis concluded: “Let us not forget the Good News we have heard today: the importance of a people, a nation, and the importance of individuals, which is always based on how they seek to serve their vulnerable brothers and sisters. Here we encounter one of the fruits of a true humanity.”
“Whoever does not live to serve, does not ‘serve’ to live.”
By Ann Schneible