In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples two questions. The first one is: “According to people, who is the Son of Man?” (Matthew 16:13). It is a question which shows how much the heart and the eyes of Jesus are open to everyone. Jesus cares about what people think not to please them, but to be able to communicate with them. Without knowing what people think, the disciple gets isolated and begins to judge people according to their own thoughts and beliefs. To keep a healthy contact with reality, with what people live, with their tears and joys, this is the only way to be able to help, educate and communicate. Touching their daily experience is the only way to speak to the hearts of people: work, family, health problems, traffic, schools, health services … And the only way to open their hearts and listen to God. In fact, God wanted to incarnate so as to speak to us. Jesus’ disciples must never forget where they were chosen from, that is, among people, and they should never be tempted to adopt a detached attitude, as if what people think and live did not concern them and was not important to them.
This is true also for us. And the fact that today we have gather to celebrate Mass in a sports stadium reminds us about it. The Church, like Jesus, lives among people and for people. Therefore, the Church, throughout its history, has always carried within itself the same question: Who is Jesus for men and women of our time? Also the holy Pope Leone Magno, a native of Tuscany, whose memory we celebrate today, was carrying this question in his heart, this apostolic anxiety for everyone to be able to learn about Jesus, and know Him for what he really is, not his image distorted over time by philosophies and ideologies.
This is why we need to develop a personal faith in Him. And here comes the second question Jesus asked his disciples: “What about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15). A question that still resonates today to our consciences because we are his disciples, and is crucial to our identity and our mission. Only if we recognize Jesus in His truth, we will be able to look at the truth of our human condition, and will be able to contribute to the full humanization of society.
To preserve and proclaim true faith in Jesus Christ is the heart of our Christian identity, because if we recognize the mystery of the Son of God made Man, we will enter God’s mystery and the mystery of man.
Simon answers Jesus’ question: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). This response contains Peter’s entire mission and summarizes what will become the Petrine ministry for the Church, that is, to preserve and proclaim the truth of faith; defend and promote communion among all Churches; maintain the discipline of the Church. Pope Leo was and remains, in this mission, an example to follow, both in his luminous teachings, both in his gestures full of God’s gentleness, compassion and strength.
Today as well, dear brothers and sisters, our joy is to share this faith and to respond together to our Lord Jesus: “You are Christ for us, the Son of the living God.” Our joy is also to go against and overcome the current opinion, which, then as now, cannot see as anything more than a prophet or a teacher. Our joy is to recognize in Him the presence of God, sent by the Father, the Son who has come to become the tool of salvation for the humanity. This profession of faith proclaimed by Simon Peter remains also for us. It is not only the foundation of our salvation, but also the way to accomplish it and the goal it aims at.
At the root of the mystery of salvation is the will of a merciful God, who does not want to give up in front of man’s misunderstanding, guilt and misery, but gives itself to him to the point of becoming a man Himself so as to meet each person in his/her specific condition. This merciful love of God is what Simon Peter recognizes on Jesus’ the face. The same face we are called to recognize in the forms the Lord has chosen to ensure His presence among us: in his Word, that illuminates the darkness of our minds and our hearts; in the Sacraments which regenerate a new life from all our death; in the fraternal communion the Holy Spirit creates among his disciples; in love without borders which transforms into generous and considerate service for everyone; in the poor, who reminds us how Jesus wanted his supreme self-revelation and the revelation of his Father had the image of the humiliated crucified.
This truth of faith is a shocking truth, because it asks to believe in Jesus, who, although being God, has been emptied, has assumed the humble condition of a slave, up to his death on the cross, and this is why God has made Him the Lord of ‘universe (cf. Phil 2,6-11). It is truth that is still shocking for those who cannot bear the mystery of God imprinted on the face of Christ. It is the truth we cannot touch and embrace without, as St. Paul says, entering into the mystery of Jesus Christ, and without making His feelings our own (cf. Phil 2,5). Only if we start from Christ’s Heart, we can understand, profess and experience His truth.
In truth, the communion between the divine and the human, completely realized in Jesus, is our goal, the culmination of human history according to the plan of the Father. It is the bliss of the meeting between our weakness and His greatness, between our smallness and His mercy which will fill all our limits. But this goal is not only the horizon that illumines our way, but is also what attracts us with its gentle strength; it is what you begin to experience here and to build day after day with all the good deeds we sow around us. These are the seeds which help to create a new, renewed humanity where no one is discarded; where those who serve are the most powerful; where the little and the poor ones are welcomed and helped.
God and man are the two extremes of an opposition: they have always sought each other, because God recognizes in man His own image and man recognizes himself if he looks at God. This is true wisdom, that the Book of Sirach signals as characteristic of those who adhere to Christ’s followers. It is the wisdom of St. Leo the Great, the result of the convergence of various elements: word, intelligence, prayer, teaching, and memory. But St. Leo reminds us also that there can be no true wisdom but in adherence to Christ and in service to the Church. This is the path where we meet humanity and we can meet with the spirit of the Good Samaritan. It is not a chance that humanism, witness by Florence during its most creative moment, has always had the face of charity. Hopefully this heritage is going to be fruitful for a new humanism for this city and for Italy as a whole.