Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
I am happy to begin my visit by sharing this moment of prayer with you. I thank Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline for his words of welcome and I greet HE Mgr Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the brother bishops, the Rector Fathers and all of you, priests, deacons and seminarians, consecrated persons, who work in this archdiocese with generosity and dedication to build a civilization of encounter with God and with neighbor. Thank you for your presence, for your service, and thank you for your prayers!
Arriving in Marseille, I joined forces with the greatest: Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Charles de Foucauld, John Paul II, and so many others who came here on pilgrimage to entrust themselves to Notre Dame de la Garde. We place under its mantle the fruits of the Mediterranean Meetings, with the expectations and hopes of your hearts.
In the biblical reading, the prophet Zephaniah exhorted us to joy and confidence, reminding us that the Lord our God is not far away, he is there, near us, to save us (cf. 3, 17) . It is a message that takes us back, in a certain way, to the history of this Basilica and what it represents. In fact, it was not founded in memory of a miracle or a particular apparition, but simply because, since the 13th century, the holy people of God have been seeking and finding here, on the hill of La Garde, the presence of the Lord in the gaze of his Blessed Mother. This is why, for centuries, the people of Marseillais – especially those who navigate the waves of the Mediterranean – have gone up there to pray. It is the holy, faithful people of God who – I use the word – “anointed” this sanctuary, this place of prayer. The holy people of God who, as the Council says, are infallible in credendo.
Even today, the Good Mother is for everyone the protagonist of a tender “crossing of eyes”: on the one hand that of Jesus whom she always points out to us, and whose love is reflected in her eyes – the gesture the most authentic of the Virgin is: “Do what he tells you”, pointing to Jesus – on the other hand that of many men and women of all ages and all conditions, whom she brings together and leads to God, as we reminded him at the beginning of this prayer by placing a lit candle at his feet. At this crossroads of peoples that is Marseille, I would like to reflect with you on this meeting of perspectives, because it seems to me that the Marian dimension of our ministry is perfectly expressed there. We too, priests, consecrated persons, deacons, are called to make people feel the gaze of Jesus and, at the same time, bring to Jesus the gaze of our brothers. An exchange of looks. In the first case, we are instruments of mercy, in the second, instruments of intercession.
First look: that of Jesus who caresses the man. It is a look that goes from top to bottom, not to judge but to lift up those who are down. It’s a look full of tenderness that shines through in Marie’s eyes. And we, called to transmit this look, are required to humble ourselves, to feel compassion – I emphasize this word: compassion. Let us not forget that God’s style is one of closeness, compassion and tenderness – of making our own “the patient and encouraging kindness of the Good Shepherd who does not remonstrate with the lost sheep, but burden on his shoulders and celebrates his return to the fold (cf. Lk 15, 4-7)” (Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the ministry and life of priests, n. 41). I like to think that the Lord does not know how to make the gesture of pointing his finger to judge, but that he knows how to make the gesture of stretching out his hand to lift things up.
Brothers, sisters, let us learn from this look, let us not let a day pass without remembering the moment when we ourselves received it, and let us make it our own, to be men and women of compassion. Closeness, compassion, tenderness. Let’s not forget it. To be compassionate means to be close and tender. Let us open the doors of churches and presbyteries, but especially those of the heart, to show through our gentleness, our kindness and our welcome the face of our Lord. May he who approaches you find neither distance nor judgment; that he finds the testimony of a humble joy, more fruitful than any displayed ability. May the wounded of life find a safe harbor, a welcome in your eyes, an encouragement in your embrace, a caress in your hands capable of wiping away tears. Even in the many occupations of each day, please do not let the warmth of God’s paternal and maternal gaze weaken. And to priests, please: in the sacrament of penance, always forgive! Be generous as God is generous with us. Forgive! And with God’s forgiveness, many paths open up in life. It is good to do this by generously dispensing forgiveness, always, always, in order to deliver, through grace, people from the chains of sin and free them from blockages, remorse, resentments and fears over which they cannot all triumph. alone. It is beautiful to rediscover with wonder, at any age, the joy of illuminating lives with the sacraments in happy and sad moments, and of transmitting, in the name of God, unexpected hopes: his closeness which consoles, his compassion which heals, his tenderness which moves. Closeness, compassion, tenderness. Be close to everyone, especially the most fragile and less fortunate, and never let those who suffer lack your attentive and discreet closeness. This is how the faith that animates the present, the hope that opens onto the future, and the charity that lasts forever will grow in them – but also in you. This is the first movement: bringing the gaze of Jesus to your brothers. There is only one situation in life when it is permissible to look at a person up and down: that is when we try to take his hand and lift him up. In other situations, it is a sin of pride. Look at the people who are below and who ask you – consciously or unconsciously – to lift them with your hand. Take them by the hand and lift them: it’s a very beautiful gesture, a gesture that cannot be done without tenderness.
And then there is the second look: that of men and women who turn to Jesus. Just as Mary at Cana collected and brought to the Lord the concerns of two newlyweds (cf. Jn 2:3), you too are called to be for others – men and women for others –, the voice that intercedes (cf. Rom 8:34). So, the recitation of the Breviary, the daily meditation on the Word, the Rosary and all other prayers, I especially recommend adoration. We have lost a little sense of worship, we must regain it, I recommend that to you. All these prayers will be full of the faces of those whom Providence places on your path. You will carry with you their looks, their voices, their questions, to the Eucharistic table, before the tabernacle or in the silence of your room, where the Father sees (cf. Mt 6:6). You will faithfully echo them, as intercessors, as “angels on earth”, messengers who carry everything “before the glory of God” (Tb 12:12).
And I would like to summarize this brief meditation by drawing your attention to three images of Mary which are venerated in this Basilica. The first is the large image which overlooks her and which represents her holding the blessing Child Jesus. There you have it: like Mary, we carry the blessing and peace of Jesus everywhere, in all families and in all hearts. Sow peace! It is the look of mercy. The second image is below us, in the crypt: it is the Virgin with the bouquet, the gift of a generous lay person. She also carries the Child Jesus on one arm and shows him to us, but in the other hand she holds, instead of a scepter, a bouquet of flowers. This makes us think of how Mary, model of the Church, in presenting her Son to us, also presents us to Him, like a bouquet of flowers in which each person is unique, beautiful and precious in the eyes of the Father. It is the look of intercession. This is very important: intercession. The first was the Virgin’s look of mercy, this one is the look of intercession. Finally, the third image is the one that we see here in the center, on the altar, which is striking for the splendor with which it radiates. We too, dear brothers and sisters, become a living Gospel to the extent that we give it, coming out of ourselves, reflecting its light and its beauty through a life that is humble, joyful and rich in apostolic zeal. May we be helped by the many missionaries who have left this high place to announce the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world.
Beloved, let us bring to our brothers the gaze of God, let us bring to God the thirst of our brothers, let us spread the joy of the Gospel. This is our life, and it is incredibly beautiful despite the difficulties and falls, and even our sins. Let us pray together to the Blessed Virgin, that she accompanies us, that she keeps us. And you, please pray for me.