Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation in Milan, telling mass-goers that even today God is still searching for hearts like Mary’s that are open to welcoming his invitation and providing hope, even when it’s hard.
As in the past, “God continues to look for allies, he continues to seek men and women capable of believing,” remembering and recognizing that they are part of his people and cooperating with the Holy Spirit, the Pope said March 25.
“God continues to walk our neighborhoods and our streets, he pushes in each place in search of hearts capable of listening to his invitation and making it become flesh here and now,” he said.
In the end, the Lord “continues to seek hearts like that of Mary, disposed to believe even in very extraordinary conditions.”
Pope Francis offered his reflection during Mass on the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated in Milan’s Manzo Park during his daytrip to the city, marking the first papal visit there since Benedict XVI’s trip in 2012.
He kicked off the visit by stopping by the “White Houses” high-rise complex in the eastern quarter of the city, marked by acute poverty, visiting two families in the complex before stepping out to greet families gathered outside, including immigrants and some Muslims.
After greeting families in the complex, Francis headed to the cathedral, where he delivered an off-the-cuff speech to priests and seminarians of the diocese, answering three of their questions.
He then prayed the Angelus with pilgrims before heading to the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison, which holds about 1,700 detainees, and greeted employees and police officers who work at the prison before greeting the inmates themselves. He ate lunch with 100 of them before heading to Mass at Monza Park.
In his homily, the Pope referred to the day’s Gospel reading from Luke recounting the Annunciation, saying he likes to read it alongside the “annunciation” to Zachariah of John the Baptist’s birth.
One annunciation happens to a priest in the Temple of God during a liturgy where everyone is waiting outside, while the other happens to a young woman named Mary in a small town that didn’t necessarily have a good reputation, he noted.
This contrast is “not insignificant,” he said, noting that it serves as a sign “that the new Temple of God, the new encounter of God with his people will take places in places which we normally don’t expect, on the margins, on the peripheries.”
“By now it will no longer be in a place reserved for the few while the majority wait outside. Nothing and no one will be indifferent, no situation will be deprived of his presence: the joy of salvation began in the daily life of the home of a youth in Nazareth.”
Just like he did with Mary, God also takes the initiative in our lives, inserting himself into our daily struggles, anxieties and desires, the Pope said, explaining that it’s precisely in the daily routine of our lives that we receive “the most beautiful announcement we can hear: ‘Rejoice, the Lord is with you!’”
However, despite the joy of hearing this annunciation, we can also be distracted by the “speculation” of our times, asking like Mary, “how will this be?” he said.
Nowadays “one speculates on the poor and migrants, one speculates on youth and their future,” he said. “Everything seems reduced to figures, leaving, on the other hand, that the daily lives of many families is tinged with uncertainty and insecurity.”
“While the pain is knocking on many doors, while in many youth dissatisfaction is growing due to the lack of real opportunities, speculation abounds everywhere,” Francis continued, noting that the “dizzying rhythm” we have become accustomed to at times seems to “rob us of hope and joy.”
In the midst of the speed and pressures of society, it’s easy to lose time for family, friends and community while rushing to build a better society, Pope Francis said.
In this context, the Pope said it would be good to stop and ask ourselves how we can live the joy of the Gospel in our cities, and whether or not it’s possible to have hope in the here and now of our concrete situations.
Francis said by looking to the Gospel passage of the Annunciation, we see that the Angel Gabriel gives us three keys to finding this hope and accepting the mission entrusted to us.
The first, the Pope observed, is the importance of “evoking memory.” Just as the angel reminded Mary of the history of salvation, which she is a part of, we are also invited to look to our own past “in order not to forget where we come from,” he said.
Referring to Milan, Francis noted that “this land and it’s people have known the pain of two world wars; and sometimes thy have seen their deserved reputation for industriousness and civilization polluted by unregulated ambitions.”
However, taking time to remember helps us “to not remain prisoners of speeches which sow fractures and divisions as the only way to resolve conflicts,” he said, adding that “to evoke memory is the best antidote to our disposition in front of the magic solutions of division and estrangement.”
A second key the angel gives us is a sense of belonging to the People of God, he said, explaining that a part of remembering salvation history is remembering that we, like Mary, are among God’s chosen people.
In this sense, he pointed to the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic background of Milan, saying that because of this, they specifically are called to welcome differences and “integrate them with respect and creativity and to celebrate the novelty that comes from others.”
Finally, Pope Francis noted that the third key we get from the angel is his assurance to Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.”
“When we believe that everything depends exclusively on us we remain prisoners of our abilities, of our strengths, of our horizons,” he said, noting that if we don’t allow ourselves to be helped, advised or open to grace, “it seems that the impossibility begins to become reality.”
However, pointing to the many missionaries who have come to the area, the Pope noted that in overcoming “the sterile and divisive pessimisms, they opened to God’s initiative and became a sign of how fertile a land can be that doesn’t allow itself to close in its own ideas, in its own limits and in its open capacity and opens to others.”
After Mass, Pope Francis will head to Milan’s Meazza-San Siro stadium to meet with youth before heading back to the Vatican.