By Debora Donnini
We need to recognize that we are sinners: without learning to accuse ourselves, we cannot walk in the Christian life. That was the heart of Pope Francis’ message in the homily for the daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. The morning Eucharistic celebrations in the chapel at the papal residence recommenced Monday following the summer break.
The reflection of Pope Francis on Thursday took its point of departure from the day’s Gospel reading, from St Luke (Lk 5:1-11), in which Jesus preaches from the boat of Peter, and then invites Peter to cast his nets into the deep waters. When they had done this, the Gospel says, “they caught a great number of fish.”
It is an episode that reminds us of the other miraculous catch of fish, which took place after the Resurrection, when Jesus asked His disciples if they had anything to eat. In both cases, the Pope said, “there is an anointing of Peter”: first as a fisher of men, then as a pastor. Jesus then changes his name from Simon to Peter; and, as a “good Israelite,” Peter knows that a change of name signifies a change of mission.” Peter “felt proud because he truly loved Jesus,” and this miraculous catch represents a step forward in his life.
The first step: recognising oneself as a sinner
After seeing that the nets were at the point of breaking on account of the great number of fish, Peter throws himself at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
“This is the first decisive step of Peter along the path of discipleship, of the disciple of Jesus, accusing himself: ‘I am a sinner.’ This is Peter’s first step; and also the first step for each one of us, if you want to go forward in the spiritual life, in the life of Jesus, serving Jesus, following Jesus, must be this, accusing oneself: without accusing oneself you cannot walk in the Christian life.”
The salvation of Jesus is not cosmetic, but transformative
There is a risk, however. We all “know that we are sinners” in a general way, but “it is not easy” to accuse ourselves of being sinners concretely. “We are so used to saying, ‘I am a sinner,’” the Pope said, but in the same way that we say, “I am human,” or “I am an Italian citizen.” But to truly accuse ourselves, on the other hand, means really feeling our own misery: “to feel miserable,” misery, before the Lord. It’s related to feeling shame. And this is something that does not come from words, but from the heart. That is, there is a concrete experience, like that of Peter when he said to Jesus, “Depart from me, a sinner.” “He really felt himself to be a sinner”; and then he felt himself to be saved.
The salvation that “Jesus brings us” requires this sincere confession precisely because it “it is not a cosmetic thing,” that changes your looks with “two brushstrokes.” Rather, it transforms – but because you enter into it, you have to make room for it with a sincere confession of your own sins; and so one experiences the wonder that Peter felt.
Not speaking about others
The first step of conversion, then, is to accuse oneself with shame, and to try to experience the wonder of feeling that you are saved. “We have to be converted,” “we must do penance,” Pope Francis said, inviting the congregation to reflect on the temptation to accuse others:
“There are people who go through life talking about others, accusing others and never thinking of their own sins. And when I go to make my confession, how do I confess? Like a parrot? ‘Bla, bla, bla… I did this, this…’ But are you touched at heart by what you have done? Many times, no. You go there to put on make-up, to make-yourself up a little bit in order to look beautiful. But it hasn’t entered completely into your heart, because you haven’t left room, because you are not capable of accusing yourself.”
The grace of knowing concretely that you are a sinner
And so that first step is also a grace: the grace of learning to accuse oneself, and not others:
“A sign that a person does not know, that a Christian does not know how to accuse himself is when he is accustomed to accusing others, to talking about others, to being nosy about the lives of others. And that is an ugly sign. Do I do this? It’s a good question to get to the heart [of things]. Today let us ask the Lord for the grace, the grace to find ourselves face to face with Him with this wonder that His presence gives; and the grace to feel that we are sinners, but concretely, and to say with Peter: 'Depart from me, for I am a sinner'.”