The Holy Father reflected on the first reading which recalls the conversion of St. Paul in Damascus. Despite persecuting Christians, Christ chooses Paul to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Despite his sins, the Pope said, St. Paul is called to proclaim the holiness of the Church.
“But how can it be holy if we are all in it?” the Pope asked. “We are all sinners, here. And the Church is holy! We are sinners, but She is holy. She is the Spouse of Jesus Christ and He loves Her, He sanctifies Her, He sanctifies her every day with His Eucharistic sacrifice, because He loves Her so much.”
“And we are sinners, but in a Holy Church. And we also sanctify ourselves with this belonging to the Church: we are children of the Church and the Mother Church sanctifies us, with its loves, with the Sacraments of her Spouse.”
The Holy Father explained that God chooses sinners to show that it is He who sanctifies. No one can sanctify themselves, nor is there a course or a requirement to live a life of extreme asceticism. Holiness,“ he said, “is a gift from Jesus to His Church and to show this He chooses people in which his work to sanctify is clearly seen.”
This is exemplified, he continued, in the Gospels where saints such as Matthew, who was considered “a traitor to his people”, Mary Magdalene, who Jesus freed from seven demons, and Zacchaeus, a corrupt tax collector. These and many others, the Pope said, followed the rule of sanctity: “our humiliation, so that the Lord may grow.”
This humiliation, he went on to say, changes St. Paul’s heart and he becomes like a child: “he obeys.” However, the Pope noted, St. Paul cannot be defined as a hero. St. Paul, who was known for preaching the Gospel, in the end is captured, imprisoned and beheaded. “The difference between heroes and saints is the witness, the imitation of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Many saints, especially the great saints, end their days humbly. The Pope recalled the final days of St. John Paul II, who was recently canonized.
“He could not speak, the great athlete of God, the great warrior of God ends this way: overcome by sickness, humbled like Jesus,” the Pope said. “This is the route of holiness of the greats. It is also the route of our sanctity. If we do not let our hearts be converted on this path of Jesus - to carry the cross every day, the ordinary cross, the simple cross - and let Jesus grow; if we do not go on this path, we will not be saints.”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis told the faithful that in giving witness to Christ, we also give witness to His love for us. Although we are sinners, he said, “the Church is holy. It is the Spouse of Jesus.”