By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis on Sunday joined the Church in the Philippines in commemorating 500 years of Christianity in the Southeast Asian nation.
He celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with several representatives of the Filipino Church, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, formerly the Archbishop of Manila.
In his homily, the Pope said Filipinos received the joy of the Gospel half a millennia ago, “and this joy is evident in your people.”
“We see it in your eyes, on your faces, in your songs and in your prayers,” he said. “I want to thank you for the joy you bring to the whole world and to our Christian communities.”
Recognizing the witness of faith Filipinos offer through their “discreet and hardworking presence”, Pope Francis also urged them to “persevere in the work of evangelization.”
He said the Gospel message of God’s closeness must be constantly proclaimed to others, so that none might perish.
As the Church in the Philippines celebrates the quincentenary of her birth, the Pope urged Filipino Catholics to walk courageously along the path of missionary discipleship.
“Never be afraid to proclaim the Gospel, to serve and to love,” he said. “With your joy, you will help people to say of the Church too: ‘she so loved the world!’”
Jesus is source of our joy
Turning his reflections to the Sunday Gospel, Pope Francis pointed out that it contains the heart of the Gospel message. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16).
He added that the Gospel message is not an idea or doctrine, but Jesus Himself.
“The source of our joy is not an elegant theory about how to find happiness, but the actual experience of being accompanied and loved throughout the journey of life.”
The Holy Father then spoke about two aspects of the day’s Gospel passage: “God so loved” and “God gave.”
‘God so loved’
Pope Francis said that “God so loved” that He came to seek us out when we were lost and raise us up.
“He has always looked at us with love, and for the sake of love, He came among us in the flesh of his Son,” said the Pope. “In Jesus, God spoke the definitive word about our life: you are not lost, you are loved. Loved forever.”
He added that sometimes we prefer a “glum, sorrowful, and self-absorbed religiosity”, even though the Gospel should “enlarge our hearts and make us grasp the immensity of God’s love.”
Pope Francis then reflected on the action of God’s love: “God gave his Son” for our salvation.
Love, noted the Pope, takes us out of ourselves, and always seeks to give itself fully.
“That is the power of love,” he said, “it shatters the shell of our selfishness, breaks out of our carefully constructed security zones, tears down walls and overcomes fears, so as to give freely of itself.”
God’s love in Jesus, said Pope Francis, is so great that “He cannot fail to give Himself to us.”
Joy in self-giving
As we see in people who love one another and share their lives in love, he said, “the more we love, the more we become capable of giving.”
The Pope said that sometimes we seek joy in dreams of glory or in the false security of material possessions.
Yet, true joy can only be found in complete self-giving, as God shows in giving His Son.
“Life teaches us that true joy comes from realizing that we are loved gratuitously,” concluded Pope Francis, “knowing that we are not alone, having someone who shares our dreams and who, when we experience shipwreck, is there to help us and lead us to a safe harbor.”