Pope Francis can’t be beat! Recently, he traveled to Krakow, Poland, to participate in the World Youth Gathering, with upwards of 1 million people. It was a Sunday when he addressed the gathering and the Gospel was that of Zaccheus (Lk 19: 1-10). We remember, of course, this Roman tax collector of ill repute who exploited the people; he is a persona non grata in our minds. He was short of stature, full of unprofessed shame and yet he wanted to see Jesus and so climbed a tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. But to his utter amazement, Jesus saw Zaccheus, called him down from his lofty heights and asked if he could come to his home.
That can happen to you, too, Pope Francis said to the youth. It can happen all of a sudden, in a moment, or gradually, when two hearts somehow meet one another. But Zaccheus had to overcome some obstacles in meeting Jesus, just as any of us—young or older—need to assess and overcome our own personal obstacles. There are three such obstacles which Pope Francis addressed with reference to Zaccheus and to most of us.
First, smallness of stature. How many of us don’t feel worthy to approach Jesus or do not realize how much Jesus loves and counts on us for who we are: precious and beloved children of God. That is our real stature. He waits for us to come to Him as we are!
The second obstacle to overcome in our meeting Jesus is the paralysis of shame. Zaccheus was a public figure, a man of power. He knew that in climbing a tree, he’d become the laughingstock to all. Yet as Pope Francis said, “Zaccheus mastered his shame because the attraction of Jesus was more powerful.” The Holy Father’s advice to the youth was: “Don’t be afraid to say YES to Jesus with all your hearts…and say a firm NO to the narcotic of success at any cost and to the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort.”
The third obstacle that Zaccheus had to overcome in his coming to Jesus was the grumbling of the crowd, the criticism and judgment of the crowd wondering why Jesus wanted to dine in Zaccheus’ house. To the youth, Pope Francis said “People may judge you to be a dreamer because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between people, one that refuses to see borders as barriers. Don’t be discouraged. With a smile and open arms, proclaim hope, be a blessing for our one human family which here you represent so beautifully!”
Jesus wants to stay at our homes, too, dwell in our daily lives of studies, friendships, hopes and dreams. “Take all of these to Him in prayer. Don’t forget the encounter you have had with God here these days. He wanted you to be here and has come to meet you. Now walk with Him, talk with Him.” And Jesus would surely say: “Be My beloved son and daughter—whether young or older, rich or poor, popular or living in the shadows, Catholic or of another religion. I am calling YOU. We can be great friends and do great things together!”
Thank you, our dearly beloved Pope Francis! You can’t be beat!
Renée Domeier, OSB