“Here in Iraq, how many of your brothers and sisters, friends and fellow citizens bear the wounds of war and violence, wounds both visible and invisible! The temptation is to react to these and other painful experiences with human power, human wisdom. Instead, Jesus shows us the way of God, the path that he took, the path on which he calls us to follow him.”
Pope Francis offered this reflection during Mass in Erbil, in northern Iraq, on the last day of his apostolic journey there. On Monday morning, the Holy Father returns to Rome.
Meditating on the day’s Gospel, which recounts Christ cleansing the temple, the pope spoke of how Christ cleanses our hearts. “He strengthens us to resist the temptation to seek revenge, which only plunges us into a spiral of endless retaliation,” he said.
The Lord promises us that, by the power of the resurrection, he can raise us, and our communities, from the ruins left by injustice, division and hatred. That is the promise we celebrate in this Eucharist. With the eyes of faith, we recognize the presence of the crucified and risen Lord in our midst. And we learn to embrace his liberating wisdom, to rest in his wounds, and to find healing and strength to serve the coming of his kingdom in our world. By his wounds, we have been healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). In those wounds, dear brothers and sisters, we find the balm of his merciful love. For he, like the Good Samaritan of humanity, wants to anoint every hurt, to heal every painful memory and to inspire a future of peace and fraternity in this land.
The homily was the pope’s last public address in Iraq, and at the close of the Mass, he promised he would always have Iraq in his heart. He said he sees “first hand that the Church in Iraq is alive, that Christ is alive and at work in this, his holy and faithful people.”
“Salam, salam salam,” he urged Iraqis, meaning peace in Arabic.
Sunday’s Mass in Erbil was the second liturgy he celebrated. The day before at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad, the pope spoke of how the ways of the world are reversed in God. “It is no longer the rich that are great, but the poor in spirit; not those who can impose their will on others, but those who are gentle with all.”
At this point, we may wonder: if I live as Jesus asks, what do I gain? Don’t I risk letting others lord it over me? Is Jesus’ invitation worthwhile, or a lost cause? That invitation is not worthless, but wise. Jesus’ invitation is wise because love, which is the heart of the Beatitudes, even if it seems weak in the world’s eyes, in fact always triumphs. On the cross, it proved stronger than sin, in the tomb, it vanquished death. That same love made the martyrs victorious in their trials – and how many martyrs have there been in the last century, more even than in the past! Love is our strength, the source of strength for those of our brothers and sisters who here too have suffered prejudice and indignities, mistreatment and persecutions for the name of Jesus.
The pope urged those who have suffered to take consolation in the Beatitudes.
God loves to [work wonders precisely through our weaknesses], and tonight, eight times, he has spoken to us the word ţūb’ā [blessed], in order to make us realize that, with him, we truly are “blessed.” Of course, we experience trials, and we frequently fall, but let us not forget that, with Jesus, we are blessed. Whatever the world takes from us is nothing compared to the tender and patient love with which the Lord fulfils his promises. Dear sister, dear brother, perhaps when you look at your hands they seem empty, perhaps you feel disheartened and unsatisfied by life. If so, do not be afraid: the Beatitudes are for you. For you who are afflicted, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are persecuted. The Lord promises you that your name is written on his heart, written in heaven!
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