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Pope Francis: A Christian Can’t Have Both Heaven and Earth

AFP/Alberto Pizzoli
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Daily homily from Casa Santa Marta

VATICAN CITY — “It’s sad to see a Christian following Jesus and worldliness,” Pope Francis said today in his homily during Holy Mass at the Chapel of Santa Marta. A Christian has to make a radical choice, he said, since there is no “Christianity half-way.” One cannot have both “heaven and earth.”

Pope Francis was commenting Tuesday on the day's Gospel from St. Mark (10:28-31), in which Peter asks Jesus what the disciples would receive in recompense for having left all things to follow him. Peter’s question comes after Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all of his belongings and give to the poor. 

A Christian cannot have both heaven and earth

Jesus responds to his disciples in an unexpected way, Pope Francis said. He doesn’t speak of riches, but rather promises the inheritance of the Kingdom of heaven, “but with persecution, with the cross.”

“Therefore, when a Christian is attached to worldly goods, he gives the bad impression of a Christian who wants to have two things: heaven the earth. And the very touchstone is precisely what Jesus points to: the cross and persecutions. This means denying oneself, taking up one’s cross each day … The disciples were tempted to follow Jesus but to ask what the end of this good deal would be?,” Pope Francis said.

He continued: “We think of the mother of James and John, when she asked Jesus for a special place for her sons: ‘Ah, make this one your Prime Minister, and this one the Minister of the Economy …', she had a worldly interest in following Jesus.” 

But then, the Pope added, “the heart of these disciples was purified,” through to Pentecost, when “they understood everything" Following Jesus freely, the Pope said, is the response to the free gift of love and salvation that Jesus gives us.” When “one wants be with both Jesus and the world, with both poverty and riches,” he warned, “this is a half-way Christianity that seeks material gain. It is the spirit of worldliness.”

Riches, vanity and pride take us away from Jesus

Echoing the words of the prophet Elijah, Pope Francis alludes to this kind of Christian as one “limping on two legs” because one “doesn’t know what he wants.” The Pope said that, in order to understand this, we must remember Jesus says "the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” meaning “the one who believes or who is the greatest” must be “the servant, the smallest one.”

"Following Jesus from the human point of view is not a good deal: it’s serving. He did so, and if the Lord gives you the opportunity of being the first, you have to act like the last one, that is, in service. And if the Lord gives you the ability to have possessions, you have to act in service, i.e., to others. There are three things, three steps that take us away from Jesus: riches, vanity and pride. That is why riches are so dangerous: because they immediately lead you to vanity and you think you are important. And when you think you are important, you lose your head and you lose yourself.”

A worldly Christian is a counter-witness

The path indicated by the Lord, Pope Francis said, is to “divest oneself” as he did: “Whoever is first among you must be the servant of all.” 

“This work” with the disciples “cost [Jesus] a great, great deal of time, because they did not understand well.” And so, he said, ”we must also ask [Jesus]: ‘Will you teach us this path, this science of service? This science of humility? This science of being the last to serve our brothers and sisters in the Church?”

“It's unpleasant to see a Christian — whether lay, consecrated, priest, or bishop — it’s sad when you see he wants two things: to follow Jesus and possessions, to follow Jesus and worldliness. And this is a counter-witness and leads people away from Jesus. We continue now with the celebration of the Eucharist, thinking of Peter's question. ‘We left everything: what will you give us in return?' And thinking about Jesus’ response. The recompense that He will give us is a resemblance to him. This will be our 'recompense'. What a great 'recompense', that we might be like Jesus!”