Pope Francis I, General Audience 2023:
General Audience, 8 February 2023
Catechesis. The Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan
General Audience, 25 January 2023
Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 3. Jesus teacher of proclamation
General Audience, 18 January 2023
Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: The believer's apostolic zeal. . 2. Jesus, model of evangelization.
Today, let us look at the unsurpassable model of proclaiming: Jesus. The Christmas Day Gospel defined him as the “Word of God” (cf. John 1:1). The fact that he is the Logos, that is, the Word, highlights an essential aspect of Jesus: He is always in relation, outgoing, never isolated, always in relation, outgoing. The word, in fact, exists to be transmitted, communicated. So it is with Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father, reaching out to us, communicated to us. Christ not only has words of life, but makes his life a Word, a message: that is, he lives always turned toward the Father and toward us. Always looking at his Father who sent him and looking at us to whom he was sent.
Indeed, if we look at his days, described in the Gospels, we see that intimacy with the Father — prayer — occupies first place. This is why Jesus gets up early, when it is still dark, and goes into deserted areas to pray (cf. Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42), to speak with the Father. He makes all of his decisions and most important choices after having prayed (cf. Luke 6:12; 9:18). It is precisely within this relationship, in the prayer which connects him to the Father in the Spirit, that Jesus discovers the meaning of his being human, of his existence in the world, because he is on a mission for us, sent by the Father to us.
It is thus interesting to note the first public act that he accomplishes after the years of his hidden life in Nazareth. Jesus does not work a great wonder, he does not send an impactful message, but he mingles with the people who were going to be baptized by John. In this way, he offers us the key by which he acts in the world: spending himself for sinners, putting himself in solidarity with us without distance, in a total sharing of life. In fact, speaking about his mission, he will say that he did not come “to be served but to serve, and to give his life” (Mark 10:45). Every day after praying, Jesus dedicates his entire day to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and dedicates it to people, above all to the poorest and weakest, to sinners and to the sick (cf. Mark 1:32-39). That is, Jesus is in contact with the Father in prayer and then he is in contact with all the people through his mission, through catechesis, to teach the path of the Kingdom of God.
Now, should we want to represent his style of life with an image, it would not be difficult for us to find it: Jesus himself offers it to us. We have heard him, speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, the one who, he says, “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). This is Jesus. In reality, being a shepherd was not just a job that required time and a lot of dedication; it was a true and proper way of life: 24 hours a day, living with the flock, accompanying it to pasture, sleeping among the sheep, taking care of those who were weakest. In other words, Jesus does not do something for us, but he gives everything. He gives his life for us. He has a pastoral heart (cf. Ezekiel 34:15). He is a shepherd for all of us.
… Because the Word, Jesus, asks this of us: to always draw near to everyone, with an open heart, because he is like that. Perhaps we have been following and loving Jesus for some time and have never wondered if we share his feelings, if we suffer and we take risks in harmony with Jesus’s heart, with this pastoral heart, close to Jesus’s pastoral heart! This is not about proselytism, as I said, so that others become “one of us”. No, this is not Christian. It is about loving so that they might be happy children of God. In prayer, let us ask for the grace of a pastoral heart, an open heart that draws near to everyone, so as to bear the Lord’s message as well as to feel Christ’s longing for each of them. For without this love that suffers and takes risks, our life does not work. If we Christians do not have this love that suffers and takes risks, we risk pasturing only ourselves. Shepherds who are shepherds of themselves, instead of being shepherds of the flock, are people who comb “exquisite” sheep. We do not need to be shepherds of ourselves, but shepherds for everyone.
Pope Francis I (General Audience, 18 January 2023)
General Audience, 11 January 2023
Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: The believer's apostolic zeal. The call to the apostolate (Matthew 9:9-13)
It all begins with Jesus, who, the text says, “saw a man”. Few people saw Matthew as he was: they knew him as the one who was “sitting at the tax office” (v. 9). He was, in fact, a tax collector: that is, someone who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman empire that occupied Palestine. In other words, he was a collaborator, a traitor to the people. We can imagine the contempt the people felt for him: he was a “publican”, as they were called. But in the eyes of Jesus, Matthew is a man, with both his miseries and his greatness. Be aware of this: Jesus does not stop at the adjective — Jesus always seeks out the noun. “This person is a sinner, he’s that kind of person…” these are adjectives: Jesus goes to the person, to the heart, “This is a person, this is a man, this is a woman”. Jesus goes to the essence, the noun, never the adjective. He leaves aside the adjectives. And while there is distance between Matthew and his people — because they see the adjective, “publican” — Jesus draws near to him, because every man is loved by God. “Even this wretch”? Yes, even this wretch. Indeed, the Gospel says he came for this very wretch: “I have come for sinners, not for the righteous”. This gaze of Jesus that sees the other, whoever he may be as the recipient of love, is really beautiful and it is the beginning of evangelizing passion. Everything starts from this gaze, which we learn from Jesus.
We can ask ourselves: how do we look upon others? How often do we see their faults and not their needs; how often do we label people according to what they do or what they think! Even as Christians we say to ourselves: is he one of us or not? This is not the gaze of Jesus: He always looks at each person with mercy and indeed with predilection. And Christians are called to do as Christ did, looking, like him, especially at the so-called “distant ones”. Indeed, Matthew’s account of the call ends with Jesus saying, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). And if any one of us considers themselves righteous, Jesus is far away. He draws near to our limitations, to our miseries, in order to heal us.
… The first thing Jesus does is to detach Matthew from power: from sitting to receive others, He sets him in motion towards others, not receiving, no: he goes out to others. He makes him leave a position of supremacy in order to put him on an equal footing with his brothers and sisters, and open to him the horizons of service. This is what he does, and this is fundamental for Christians. Do we, disciples of Jesus, we, Church, sit around waiting for people to come, or do we know how to get up, to set out with others, to seek others? Saying, “But let them come to me, I am here, let them come”, is a non-Christian position. No, you go to seek them out, you take the first step.
… Our proclamation begins today, there where we live. And it does not begin by trying to convince others, not to convince: but by bearing witness every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up. And it is this beauty, communicating this beauty, that will convince people — not communicating ourselves but the Lord himself. We are the ones who proclaim the Lord. We do not proclaim ourselves, we do not proclaim a political party, an ideology. No: we proclaim Jesus. We need to put Jesus in contact with the people, without convincing them but allowing the Lord to do the convincing. For as Pope Benedict taught us, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’” (Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 13 May 2007). Do not forget this: when you see Christians proselytizing, making a list of people to come... these are not Christians; they are pagans disguised as Christians, but the heart is pagan. The Church grows not by proselytism, it grows by attraction.
… This attractive witness, this joyful witness is the goal to which Jesus leads us with his loving gaze and with the outgoing movement that his Spirit raises up in our hearts. And we can consider whether our gaze resembles that of Jesus, to attract the people, to bring them closer to the Church. Let us think about that.
Pope Francis I (General Audience, 11 January 2023)
General Audience, 4 January 2023
Catechesis on Discernment. 14. Spiritual Accompaniment
God’s grace in us always works on our nature. Thinking of a Gospel parable, we can always compare grace to the good seed and nature to the soil (cf. Mark 4:3-9). First of all, it is important to make ourselves known, without fear of sharing the most fragile aspects, where we find ourselves to be more sensitive, weak, or afraid of being judged. Making oneself known, manifesting oneself to a person who accompanies us on the journey of life. Not who decides for us, no: but who accompanies us. Because fragility is, in reality, our true richness: we are rich in fragility, all of us, the true richness which we must learn to respect and welcome, because when it is offered to God, it makes us capable of tenderness, mercy, and love. Woe to those people who do not feel fragile: they are harsh, dictatorial. Instead, people who humbly recognize their own frailties are more understanding with others. Fragility, I dare say, makes us human. Not by chance, the first of Jesus’ three temptations in the desert – the one linked to hunger – tries to rob us of fragility, presenting it as an evil to be rid of, an impediment to being like God. And yet it is our most valuable treasure: indeed God, to make us like him, wished to share our own fragility to the utmost. Look at the crucifix: God who descended into fragility. Look at the Nativity scene, where he arrives in great human fragility. He shared our fragility.
And spiritual accompaniment, if it is docile to the Holy Spirit, helps to unmask misunderstandings, even grave ones, in our consideration of ourselves and our relationship with the Lord. The Gospel presents various examples of clarifying and liberating conversations with Jesus. Think, for example, of those with the Samaritan woman, which we read and read, and there is always this wisdom and tenderness of Jesus; think of the one with Zacchaeus, think of the sinful woman, think of Nicodemus, and the disciples of Emmaus: the Lord’s way of approaching. The people who had a true encounter with Jesus were not afraid to open their hearts, to present their own vulnerability, their own inadequacy, their own fragility. In this way, their self-sharing becomes an experience of salvation, of forgiveness freely received.
Recounting what we have lived or are searching for, in front of another person, helps to bring clarity to ourselves, bringing to light the many thoughts that dwell within us, and which often unsettle us with their insistent refrains… False and poisonous thoughts, that the exchange with another helps to unmask, so we can feel we are loved and valued by the Lord for what we are, capable of doing good things for him. We discover with surprise different ways of seeing things, signs of goodness that have always been present in us. It is true, we can share our frailties with the other, with the one who accompanies us in life, in the spiritual life, the teacher of spiritual life…
This accompaniment can be fruitful if, on both sides, one has experienced filiality and spiritual kinship. We discover we are children of God at the moment that we discover we are brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. This is why it is essential to be part of a journeying community. We are not alone, we belong to a people, a nation, a city that is on the move, a Church, a parish, this group… a community on the move. One does not go by oneself to the Lord: this will not do. We must understand this clearly. As in the Gospel account of the paralytic, we are often sustained and healed by the faith of someone else (cf. Mark 2:1-5) who helps us go forward, because we all at times have inner paralyses and it takes someone who helps us to overcome that conflict, with help. One does not go to the Lord by oneself, let us remember this clearly; other times we are the ones who take on this commitment on behalf of another brother or sister, and we are accompaniers who help that other person. Without the experience of filiality and kinship, accompaniment can give rise to unrealistic expectations, misunderstandings, in the forms of dependence that leave the person in an infantile state. Accompaniment, but as children of God and brothers and sisters among ourselves.
The Virgin Mary is a great teacher of discernment: she speaks little, listens a lot, and cherishes in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19). The three attitudes of Our Lady: she speaks little, listens a lot, and cherishes in her heart. And the few times she speaks, she leaves a mark. For example, in the Gospel of John there is a very short phrase uttered by Mary which is a mandate for Christians of all times: “Do whatever he tells you” (cf. 2:5). It is curious: once I heard a very good, very pious elderly woman, who had not studied theology, she was very simple. And she said to me, “Do you know what Our Lady always does?” I don’t know, she embraces you, she calls you… “No, the gesture Our Lady does is this” [points with his finger]. I didn’t understand, and I asked, “What does it mean?”. And the old lady replied, “She always points to Jesus”. This is beautiful: Our Lady takes nothing for herself, she points to Jesus. Do whatever Jesus tells you: that is what Our Lady is like. Mary knows that the Lord speaks to the heart of each person, and asks for these words to be translated into actions and choices. She knew how to do this more than any other person, and indeed she is present in the fundamental moments of Jesus’ life, especially in the supreme moment of death on the Cross.
Pope Francis I (General Audience, 4 January 2023)
Pope Francis I, General Audience 2022:
General Audience, 28 December 2022
Catechesis. Christmas with St Francis de Sales
Scripture Reading: 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-17) See Luke Chapter 2.
The liturgical season invites us to pause and reflect on the mystery of Christmas. And since today – today – marks the fourth centenary of the death of St Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, we can take a cue from some of his thoughts. He wrote a great deal about Christmas. In this regard, today I am pleased to announce that the Apostolic Letter commemorating this anniversary is being published today. The title is Everything pertains to love, taking up a characteristic expression of the Saint Francis de Sales. In fact, this is what he wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God; he wrote: “In Holy Church, everything pertains to love, lives in love, is done for love and comes from love” (Italian original from: Ed. Paoline, Milan 1989, p. 80). And may we all go down this path of love, which is so beautiful.
Saint Francis de Sales, in one of his many letters addressed to Saint Jeanne Frances de Chantal, he writes as follows: “I imagine I see Solomon on his ivory throne, all beautifully gilded and carved, which, as the Scripture tells us, had no equal in all the kingdoms of the earth (1 Kings 10:18-20) neither was there any king that could be compared, for glory and magnificence, with the king that sat upon it (1 Kings 10:23). And yet, I would a hundred times rather see the dear Jesus in his Crib, than all the kings of the world on their thrones.” What he says is beautiful. Jesus, the King of the universe, never sat on a throne, never: He was born in a stable – we see it represented thus [indicating the manger scene in the Paul VI Hall] – wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; and finally He died on a cross and, wrapped in a sheet, was laid in the tomb. Indeed, the evangelist Luke, in recounting the birth of Jesus, insists a great deal on the detail of the manger. This means that it is very important not only as a logistical detail. But how to understand it as a symbolic element? In order to understand what kind of Messiah is He who was born in Bethlehem; what kind of King He is, Who Jesus is. Seeing the manger, gazing upon the cross, looking at His life, a life of simplicity, we can understand who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God Who saves us by becoming man, like us; stripping Himself of His glory and humbling Himself (cf. Philippians 2:7-8). We see this mystery concretely in the focal point of the crib, namely in the Child lying in a manger. This is “the sign” that God gives us at Christmas: it was at the time for the shepherds in Bethlehem (cf. Luke 2:12), it is today, and it will always be so. When the angels announce the birth of Jesus, [they say,] “Go and you will find Him”; and the sign is: You will find a child in a manger. That is the sign. The throne of Jesus is the manger or the street, during His life, preaching; or the Cross at the end of His life. This is the throne of our King.
This sign shows us the “style” of God. And what is the style of God? Don’t forget, never forget: the style of God is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. Our God is close, compassionate, and tender. This style of God is seen in Jesus. With this style of His, God draws us to Himself. He does not take us by force, He does not impose His truth and justice on us. He does not proselytize us, no! He wants to draw us with love, with tenderness, with compassion. In another letter, St Francis de Sales writes: “The magnet attracts iron, amber attracts straws. Whether, then, we are iron in our hardness, or straws in our lightness and worthlessness, we must unite ourselves to this little Infant.” Our strengths, our weaknesses, only resolve themselves before the crib, before Jesus, or before the Cross. Jesus stripped, Jesus poor; but always with His style of closeness, compassion, and tenderness. God has found the means to attract us however we are: with love. Not a possessive and selfish love, as unfortunately human love so often is. His love is pure gift, pure grace, it is all and only for us, for our good. And so He draws us in, with this unarmed and even disarming love. Because when we see this simplicity of Jesus, we too cast aside the weapons of pride and go, humbly, to ask for salvation, to ask for forgiveness, to ask for light for our lives, in order to be able to move forward. Do not forget the throne of Jesus. The manger and the Cross: this is the throne of Jesus.
Another aspect that stands out in the crib is poverty – truly, there is poverty there – understood as the renunciation of all worldly vanity. When we see the money that is spent on vanity… so much money [spent] on worldly vanity; so much effort, so much seeking after vanity; while Jesus makes us see with humility. St Francis de Sales writes: “My God! my daughter, how many holy affections does this birth make rise within our hearts, above all of the perfect renunciation of the goods, the pomps, … of this world. I do not know whether I find any mystery which so sweetly mingles tenderness with austereness, love with rigour, sweetness with severity.” We see all this in the Nativity scene. Yes, let us be careful not to slip into the worldly caricature of Christmas. And this is a problem, because this is Christmas. But today we see that, even if there is “another Christmas,” in quotation marks, it is the worldly caricature of Christmas, that reduces Christmas to a sappy, consumerist celebration. We want to celebrate, we want to, but this is not Christmas, Christmas is something else. God's love is not sugar sweet; Jesus’ manger shows us that. It is not a hypocritical goodness that hides the pursuit of pleasures and comforts. Our elders, who knew war and also hunger, knew this well: Christmas is joy and celebration, certainly, but in simplicity and austerity.
And let us conclude with a thought of St Francis de Sales that I have also taken up in the Apostolic Letter. He dictated it to the Visitandine Sisters - just think! - two days before his death. And he said: “Do you see the baby Jesus in the crib? He accepts all the discomforts of that season, the bitter cold and everything that the Father lets happen to him. He does not refuse the small consolations that his Mother gives him; we are not told that he ever reached out for his Mother’s breast, but left everything to her care and concern. So too, we ourselves should neither desire nor refuse anything, but accept all that God sends us, the bitter cold and the discomforts of the season,” everything. And here, dear brothers and sisters, is a great teaching, which comes to us from the Child Jesus through the wisdom of St Francis de Sales: to desire nothing and reject nothing, to accept everything that God sends us. But be careful! Always and only out of love, always and only out of love, because God loves us and only ever wants our good.
Pope Francis I (General Audience, 28 December 2022)
General Audience, 21 December 2022
Catechesis on Discernment.
Discernment, however, is not done alone…
One of the first indispensable aids is evaluating with the Word of God and the doctrine of the Church. They help us read what is stirring in our hearts, learning to recognize God’s voice and to distinguish it from other voices that seem to vie for our attention, but leave us confused in the end. The Bible warns us that God’s voice resounds in stillness, in attention, in silence. Let us recall the experience of the Prophet Elijah: the Lord does not speak to him in the wind that smashes the rocks, nor in the fire or the earthquake, but He speaks to him in a light breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-12). This is a very beautiful image that helps us understand how God speaks. God’s voice does not impose itself; God’s voice is discreet, respectful – allow me to say, God’s voice is humble – and, for that reason, produces peace. And it is only in peace that we can enter profoundly into ourselves and recognize the authentic desires the Lord has placed in our hearts. Many times it is not easy to enter into that peace of heart because we are so busy with this, that and the other, the entire day… But, please, calm yourself down a little bit, enter into yourself, within yourself. Stop for two minutes. Witness what your heart is feeling. Let’s do this, brothers and sisters, it will help us so much because at that moment of calm, the Lord’s voice immediately tells, “Well, look here, look at that, what you are doing is good…”. When we allow ourselves to be calm, God’s voice comes immediately. He is waiting for us to do this.
For the believer, the Word of God is not simply a text to read. The Word of God is a living presence, it is a work of the Holy Spirit that comforts, instructs, gives light, strength, refreshment, and a zest for life. To read the Bible, to read a piece, one or two passages of the Bible, is like a short telegram from God that immediately goes to the heart. The Word of God is a bit – and I am not exaggerating here – it is a little, real foretaste of heaven. A great saint and pastor, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, understood this well, when he wrote: “When I read Sacred Scripture, God returns and walks in the earthly paradise” (Letters, 49.3). With the Bible, we open the door to God who is taking a walk. Interesting.
This affective relationship with the Bible, with Scripture, with the Gospel, leads us to experience an affective relationship with the Lord Jesus. Let’s not be afraid of this! Heart speaks to heart. And this is another indispensable aid that is not to be taken for granted. We can often have a distorted idea about God, thinking of him as a sullen judge, a harsh judge, ready to catch us in the act. On the contrary, Jesus reveals a God who is full of compassion and tenderness for us, ready to sacrifice himself so he can come to us, just like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:11-32). One time, someone asked – I don’t know if it was a mother or a grandmother who told me this – “What do I need to do in this moment?” – “Well, listen to God, he will tell you what you should do. Open your heart to God”. This is good advice… The Word of God touches the heart and changes your life. And I have witnessed this many times. Because the Lord does not want to destroy us. God wants us to be stronger, better, every day.
Anyone who remains in front of the Crucifix senses newfound peace, learns not to be afraid of God because on the cross, Jesus does not frighten anyone. It is the image of complete weakness, and, at the same time, of total love, capable of facing any trial for us. The saints always gravitated toward Jesus Crucified. The account of Jesus’ Passion is the surest way to face evil without being overwhelmed by it. There is no judgement there, not even resignation, because it is shot through with the greatest light, the light of Easter, that allows us to see in those terrible deeds a greater plan that no impediment, obstacle or failure can thwart. The Word of God always makes us look at another side – that is, the cross is here, this is awful, but there is something else, hope, resurrection. The Word of God opens every door because He is the door, He is the Lord. Let us pick up the Gospel, take the Bible in our hands – 5 minutes a day, no more. Carry a pocket-size Gospel with you, in your purse, and when you are traveling, read it a bit. Read a small passage during the day. Allow the Word of God to draw near to your heart. Do this and you will see how your lives will change, with the proximity of the Word of God. “Yes, Father, but I am used to reading the lives of the saints”. This is good. But do not neglect the Word of God. Take the Gospel with you. One minute every day….
It is very beautiful to think of our life with the Lord as a relationship with a friend which grows day by day. Friendship with God. Have you ever thought about this? Yet, this is the way! Let’s think about God who gives us…doesn’t God gives us so much? God loves us, He wants us to be his friends. Friendship with God is able to change the heart. Piety is one of the great gifts of the Holy Spirit, which gives us the ability to recognize God’s fatherhood. We have a tender Father, an affectionate Father, a Father who loves us, who has always loved us. When we experience this, our hearts melt and doubts, fears, feelings of unworthiness are dissolved. Nothing can hinder this love that comes from being in contact with the Lord.
And this love reminds us of another great help, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is present in us and who instructs us, makes the Word of God that we read come alive, suggests new meanings, opens doors that seem closed, indicates paths in life where there seem to be only darkness and confusion… The Holy Spirit is the one who gives life to the soul! Let him enter. Speak with the Holy Spirit just like you speak with the Father, like you speak with the Son. Speak with the Holy Spirit – who is anything but paralyzed, right? He is the Church’s strength, he is the one who will lead you forward. The Holy Spirit is discernment in act, the presence of God in us. He is the gift, the greatest gift the Father assures to those who ask (cf. Luke 11:13). And what did Jesus call him? “The gift” – “Remain here in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of God”, which is the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to live our lives in friendship with the Holy Spirit. He changes you. He makes you grow.
The Liturgy of the Hours opens the main moments of daily prayer with this invocation: “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me”. “Lord, help me!” because by myself I cannot move ahead, I cannot love, I cannot live…. This invocation for salvation is the uncontainable request that flows from the depths of our being. The goal of discernment is to recognize the salvation God is working in my life. It reminds me that I am never alone and that, if I am struggling, it is because the stakes of the game are high. The Holy Spirit is always with us. “Oh, Father, I’ve done something really bad. I need to go to confession. I cannot do anything…”. Okay, you’ve done something awful? Talk to the Spirit who is with you and tell him, “Help me, I did this really awful thing…” Never abandon this dialogue with the Holy Spirit. “Father, I am in mortal sin” – that does not matter. Speak with Him so that he will help you and forgive you. Never abandon this dialogue with the Holy Spirit. And with these aids the Lord gives to us, there is no need to be afraid. Keep going forward, courageously and joyfully!
Pope Francis I (General Audience, 21 December 2022)