“God always shows himself in littleness,” Pope Francis told the more than 300,000 Poles in his homily at Mass at the famous shrine of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, which he called “the spiritual capital of the country.”
They gave him an enthusiastic welcome when arrived at this shrine at Jasna Gora (“the clear mountain”) after a 94-mile journey by car from Krakow on the morning of his second day in Poland, and drove among them in an open pope mobile—he refused the bulletproof protected one.
After that, he went into the monastery to pray before the ancient and revered icon of the Black Madonna, which a long tradition alleges to have been originally painted by St. Luke. This sacred image has been intimately connected with the history of this land for over 600 years.
The icon is normally covered by a silver curtain but today, in the presence of Francis, the trumpets sounded as the magnificent icon was slowly unveiled. He gazed at the image of the Black Madonna for some minutes, then bowed his head and prayed in silence. Afterwards, he placed a gold colored rose on the altar before the icon, and then led all present in the recital of the Ave Maria.
Soon after as he began the Mass and went to incense the sacred icon, everyone watched with great concern as Francis missed a step and fell to the ground. But he got to his feet almost immediately helped by his assistants, and continued as if nothing had happened. It is not the first time that he has tripped up like this, but each such an event provokes fear and worry.
After the Gospel, Francis delivered a simple but spiritually profound homily. Speaking in Italian, with simultaneous translation, Francis said that “a divine thread emerges, one that passes through human history and weaves the history of salvation.” God “entered the world in the simplest of ways, as a child from his mother” 2,000 years ago and, now as then, “He does not come in a way that attracts attention” (Lk 17:20), but rather in littleness, in humility.
Indeed, he said, “God always shows himself in littleness,” as he did with a simple miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee that shows that God “sits at table with us.” Indeed, he said, “the Lord does not keep his distance, but is near and real. He is in our midst and he takes care of us, without making decisions in our place and without troubling himself with issues of power.”
Francis told the attentive crowd gathered in front of the shrine, and the millions of Poles following on national television, that Jesus “prefers to let himself be contained in little things, unlike ourselves, who always want to possess something greater.”
Indeed, “to be attracted by power, by grandeur, by appearances, is tragically human,” he said; “it is a great temptation that tries to insinuate itself everywhere. But to give oneself to others, eliminating distances, dwelling in littleness and living the reality of one’s everyday life: this is exquisitely divine.”
Francis, who is much loved for his simple and humble ways, reminded the Poles that “God saves us, by making himself little, near and real. First God makes himself little” and he “especially loves the little ones, to whom the kingdom of God is revealed.” They “speak his own language, that of the humble love that brings freedom.”
He said God calls these little ones “to be his spokespersons” as he has done through the history of the Polish people, when he chose “ordinary yet remarkable people who bore witness to the Lord’s love amid great trials, and those meek and powerful heralds of mercy who were Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina.” And “through these ‘channels’ of his love, the Lord has granted priceless gifts to the whole church and to all mankind.”
Recalling that Polish church is celebrating the 1050th anniversary of the baptism of the people, Francis said it is significant that this celebration “exactly coincides with the Jubilee of Mercy.”
As they celebrate this millennium, he said, “we do well before all else to thank God for having walked with your people, having taken you by the hand and accompanied you in so many situations.”
Indeed, this is what “we in the church, are constantly called to do,” he said, “to listen, to get involved and be neighbors, sharing in people’s joys and struggles, so that the Gospel can spread every more consistently and fruitfully: radiating goodness through the transparency of our lives.”
In a much applauded homily, he reminded them that God “is real” as they can see from their own history that has been “shaped by the Gospel, the Cross and fidelity to the church” and in which the faith has been “passed down from family to family, from fathers to sons and above all from mothers and grandmothers, whom we need so much to thank.” And “throughout history” there is also a “Marian thread,” he said; “she is the stairway God took to descend and draw near to us” at Cana in Galilee as here in Jasna Góra. She “offers us her nearness and helps us to discover what we need to live life to the full” and “to build fellowship with all, without ever yielding to the temptation to withdraw or to domineer,” he said.
They had come from all over Poland to be with him for this celebration, just as they had come 25 years ago to be with Saint John Paul II in 1991 as he presided at World Youth Day here at Jasna Góra two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe.
Father Jerzy Garda, a priest from the diocese of Lublin who has worked for many years as a “fide donum” priest, told America that he was here in 1991 and “that was a wonderful experience in which many young people participated from the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Bulgaria and elsewhere too.”
He now works in South Africa and expressed his “great happiness” that Francis has come today to this national shrine “which is the heart of Poland, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, for all Poles.” The Argentinian pope is “different” from John Paul II, he said, “because he has not come from Europe and has not experienced communism,” but “he brings a different experience and shows his holiness in a different way,” and he is “very happy” at this.
That view was shared by a young Polish couple, Jurek and Beata Brozda, who had come a long distance to be here today. Beata described Francis as “very brave” and said she likes that “he’s a very normal man who speaks in a simple, not complicated way.” Jurek, who is in the real estate business, told America that he likes Francis “because he doesn’t like ‘the big’ things in life like so many of our leaders, he doesn’t like all the riches and drives in a small VW golf car during his visit here.” Indeed, “he is a very modern pope. He reaches out to people.”
They were among the vast crowd at this deeply moving, beautifully sung, colorful Mass, celebrated under a grey sky and a pleasant temperature. At this truly Polish celebration, Francis really reached the hearts of the Poles as was evident from the repeated applause during his homily and at the end of Mass.