The efforts of Christians are aimed at opening the door of the heart to the Holy Spirit. That was the message of Pope Francis during morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta on Thursday. The pope emphasized that conversion, for the Christian, a daily task that leads us to the encounter with Jesus. As an example of this, Francis told the story of a mother suffering from cancer, who gives her all to overcome the illness.
For the Christian, “conversion is a duty” a job we must work at every day. Pope Francis commented on the reading from St. Paul to the Romans to emphasize that in order to pass from a life of iniquity to a life of sanctity, we must work at it every day.
Saint Paul, the pope said, uses the image of the athlete, the man who “trains in order to prepare himself for game, and makes a great effort.” This is what an athlete does to win a match; but what about us, who should be striving to win that great victory of Heaven? What should we do? St. Paul, the pope said, “exhorts us to go forward with this effort”:
“Ah, Father, are we able to think that sanctification comes through the effort I make, like the victory that comes to sportsmen comes through training? No. The efforts we make, this daily work of serving the Lord with our soul, with our heart, with our body, with our whole life only opens the door to the Holy Spirit. It is he who enters into us and saves us! He is the gift in Jesus Christ! Otherwise, we would make ourselves like fakirs: No, we are not fakirs. We, with our efforts, open the door.”
Pope Francis acknowledged that this is a difficult task, “because our weakness, original sin, the devil” are always trying to get us to turn back. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, he, “warns us against this temptation to turn back”; he warns us “not to go back, not to fall.” We need to continue to go forward,“a little bit each day,” even “when there is great difficulty”:
“A few months ago, I met a woman. Young, the mother of a family – a beautiful family – who had cancer. An ugly cancer. But she moved with happiness, she acted like she was healthy. And speaking about this attitude, she told me, 'Father, I would do anything to beat the cancer!' It’s that way with the Christian. We have received this gift in Jesus Christ and we have passed from sin, from the life of iniquity to the life of the gift in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit; we must do the same. Every day a step. Every day a step.”
Pope Francis pointed out some temptations – such as the “desire to gossip” about others. And in that case, he said, you need to make the effort to be silent. Otherwise, if we don’t work to overcome temptations, “there comes a little bit of slumber,” and we won’t have the “will to pray” - but then we try to pray a little bit anyway. These small efforts, the Pope said, “help us not to fall, not to go back, not to return to iniquity but to go forward toward this gift, this promise of Jesus Christ which is precisely the encounter with him. Let us ask this grace from the Lord: to be strong, to be strong in this training of life towards the encounter, that we might receive the gift of justification, the gift of grace, the gift of the Spirit in Christ Jesus.”