In Azerbaijan, Pope says faith, service weave Christian life together
Catholic News Agency Oct. 3, 2016
Vatican City, Oct 2, 2016 / 01:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated Mass immediately after landing in Azerbaijan Sunday, telling faithful gathered in the small church that faith and service are the heart of Christian life, and are woven together like the different threads of a carpet.
“Faith and service cannot be separated; on the contrary, they are intimately linked, interwoven with each other,” the Pope said Oct. 2. To help make the concept more concrete, Pope Francis used the image of carpet weaving, which is an ancient tradition in Azerbaijan. Traditionally handmade in different sizes and with a dense texture, the Azerbaijani rug since ancient times has been used to cover to floors or decorate walls, sofas, beds, chairs and tables. Carpet making is typically a family tradition passed down orally and through practice, mostly through women.
In his homily, Pope Francis pointed to the two processes of “wefting” and “warping.” In their technical definition, the terms refer to two types of thread used to weave the finished textile product. The warp is the tightly stretched threads that run lengthwise and form the core of the fabric, whereas the weft is the thread woven between the warp to create the different patterns.
“Your carpets are true works of art,” the Pope said, explaining that each one must be “harmoniously woven” with the warp and the weft. The same goes for the Christian life: “every day it must be woven patiently, intertwining a precise weft and warp: the weft of faith and the warp of service.” “When faith is interwoven with service, the heart remains open and youthful, and it expands in the process of doing good,” he said, adding that if faith follows this path, “it matures and grows in strength, but only when it is joined to service.”
Pope Francis traveled to Azerbaijan on the last of this three-day trip to there and Georgia, both of which have a small minority Catholic presence. Azerbaijan marks the first time the Pope has traveled to a majority Shi’ite nation. Georgia was a majority Georgian Orthodox. After landing at the Heydar Aliyev airport of Baku earlier this morning, Francis celebrated Mass at the Church of the Immaculate in the Salesian Center of Baku, the only Catholic church in Azerbaijan. Originally built in 1915, the church was destroyed by the communist regime in 1931, and the pastor sent to a forced labor camp, where he later died.
After the end of Soviet rule in the country, the Catholics in the country began to regroup. It was after St. John Paul II’s visit in 2002 that the Catholic community was finally able to purchase the land to rebuild the church, which was completed in 2009. It is believed that Apostle Bartholomew was martyred in Azerbaijan, near Baku, in 71 AD.
In his reflections on faith, Francis pointed God’s response to the Habakkuk in the First Reading, in which the prophet asked God to step in and re-establish the justice and peace that had been shattered by violence and disagreements. Instead of jumping in, God “does not intervene directly,” and nor does not resolve the situation “in an abrupt way” or make himself present with force. Rather, “he invites patient waiting, without ever losing hope; above all, he emphasizes the importance of faith.”
God treats us in the same way, he said, explaining that he doesn’t “indulge our desire to immediately and repeatedly change the world and other people,” but rather seeks to heal the heart of the person. “God changes the world by transforming our hearts, and this he cannot do without us,” he said, adding that “when God finds an open and trusting heart, then he can work wonders there.”
Having faith isn’t always easy, he said, and pointed to the Apostles’ petition to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke to “increase our faith.” Jesus’ response “is surprising,” because he turns the question back on them and says “if you had faith…” In this answer, the Lord asks us to have faith, he said, adding that faith is as a gift from God that must always be asked for, faith has to be nurtured. “It is no magic power which comes down from heaven,” and nor is it “a special force for solving life’s problems.”
A faith that satisfies our needs “would be a selfish one, centered entirely on ourselves,” Francis said, adding that faith shouldn’t be confused with well-being or feeling good, nor with having a consolation in our heart that brings inner peace. “Faith is the golden thread which binds us to the Lord, the pure joy of being with him, united to him; it is a gift that lasts our whole life, but bears fruit only if we play our part.”
When it comes to service, this doesn’t mean just fulfilling our duties or doing some good act, but “is much more,” Francis said, noting how in the Gospel, Jesus asks “in very radical terms” for our complete availability, “a life offered in complete openness, free of calculation and gain.”
The Pope then cautioned against two temptations that Christians face which lead away from service and end up “rendering life pointless.” These temptations, he said, are allowing ourselves to grow lukewarm, and to think “like masters.”
“A lukewarm heart becomes self-absorbed in lazy living and it stifles the fire of love,” he said, explaining that a lukewarm person “lives to satisfy his or her own convenience, which is never enough, and in that way is never satisfied.” Gradually Christians like this end up being content with mediocrity, allocating to God and others only a percentage of their time, “never spending too much, but rather always trying to economize.”
Rather than being passive, the second temptation of “thinking like masters” centers on being too active, the Pope observed, explaining that a person like this only gives of themselves “only in order to gain something or become someone.” “In such cases service becomes a means and not an end, because the end has become prestige; and then comes power, the desire to be great,” he said, but cautioned that the Church “grows and is adorned” only through service.
Pope Francis concluded his homily by returning to the image of the carpet, telling the local community that “each of you is like a magnificent silk thread.” However, he stressed that only if you are woven together will the different threads form a beautiful composition; on their own, they are of no use,” and urged Azerbaijanis to always be united, humbly living in joy and charity.