The Important Work of Serving the Gospel of Jesus

Pope Francis has called for a Church that “commits to reaching out to lift our brothers and sisters from all that oppresses them, to untie the knots of fear, to free the most vulnerable from the prisons of poverty,” in his homily for Holy Mass on the occasion of the third Sunday of the Word of God, January 23. During the celebration, which used for the first time a new rite prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Holy Father conferred the ministries of lectors and catechists on lay men and women , from various countries. The following is the English text of the Holy Father’s words.

In the first reading and in the Gospel we find two parallel acts. Esdras the priest lifts the book of the law of God, opens it and reads it aloud in front of the people. Jesus, in the synagogue of Nazareth, opens the scroll of Holy Scripture and reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah in the presence of all. Both scenes speak to us of a fundamental reality: at the heart of the life of God’s holy people and our journey of faith, there is not ourselves or our own words. At the heart is God and his word.

It all started with the word that God spoke to us. In Christ, his eternal Word, the Father “chosen us before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). By this Word, he created the universe: “he spoke, and it happened” (PS 33:9). He has always spoken to us through the prophets (cf. heb 1:1), and finally, in the fulness of times (cf. Girl 4:4), he sent us this same Word, his only begotten Son. This is why, in the Gospel, after reading Isaiah, Jesus says something quite unexpected: “Today this writing has been fulfilled” (lc 4:21). Fulfilled: the word of God is no longer a promise, but is now fulfilled. In Jesus, he took on flesh. By the power of the Holy Spirit, she came to live among us and she wishes to continue to live among us, in order to fulfill our expectations and heal our wounds.

Sisters and brothers, let us keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, like those of the synagogue of Nazareth (cf. v. 20). They kept looking at him, for he was one of them, and asking, “What is this novelty? What will he do, the one everyone is talking about? And embrace his word. Let’s think today about two interrelated aspects: the word reveals God and the word leads us to man. The word is central: it reveals God and leads us to man.

First of all, the word reveals God. Jesus, at the beginning of his mission, commenting on the words of the prophet Isaiah, announces a clear decision: he has come to free the poor and the oppressed (cf. v. 18). Thus, precisely through the Scriptures, he reveals the face of God as the one who takes care of our poverty and takes our destiny to heart. God is not a lord (padrone), distant and elevated — an ugly but false image of God — but a Father (Dad) that follows our every step. He is not a cold, detached and impassive spectator, a “God of mathematics”. He is God with us, passionately concerned with and engaged in our lives, even sharing our tears. He is not a neutral and indifferent god, but the Spirit, the lover of men, who defends us, advises us, supports us and shares our pain. He is always present. This is the “good news” (v. 18) that Jesus proclaims to everyone’s amazement: God is near, and he wants to take care of me and of you, of everyone. This is how God is: near. He even defines himself as close. In Deuteronomy he says to the people, “What other people have gods so close to them as I am to you?” (cf. Deut 4:7). A God of closeness, of compassionate and tender closeness. He wants to ease the burdens that weigh you down, warm your winter coldness, brighten your daily gloom, and support your faltering steps. This is what he does by his word, by the word he speaks to rekindle hope in the midst of the ashes of your fears, to help you find joy in the labyrinths of your sorrows, to fill hope your feelings of loneliness. It takes you forward, not through a maze, but on a daily journey to find it.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: do we carry in our hearts this liberating image of God, the God of closeness, compassion and tenderness, or do we see him as a ruthless judge, an accountant who records every moment of our lives ? Is ours a faith that generates hope and joy, or, among us, a faith still weighed down by fear, a fearful faith? What is the face of God that we proclaim in the Church? The Savior who liberates and heals, or the terrifying God who overwhelms us with feelings of guilt? To convert us to the true God, Jesus shows us where to start: from his word. This word, by telling us the story of God’s love for us, frees us from fears and prejudices about him that stifle the joy of faith. This word overthrows false idols, unmasks our projections, destroys our too human images of God and brings us back to seeing his true face, his mercy. The word of God nourishes and renews faith: let us put it back at the center of our prayer and our spiritual life! Let’s center the word that reveals to us what God is like. The word that brings us closer to God.

Now the second aspect: the word leads us to the man. To God and to man. It is precisely when we discover that God is compassionate love that we overcome the temptation to lock ourselves in a religiosity reduced to external worship, which fails to touch and transform our lives. It is hidden and refined idolatry, but idolatry all the same. The word of God urges us to come out of ourselves and meet our brothers and sisters only with the quiet power of God’s liberating love. This is exactly what Jesus shows us in the synagogue of Nazareth: he was sent to the poor — all of us — to set them free. He did not come to give a rule or officiate at some religious ceremony; rather, he took to the streets of our world to meet our wounded humanity, to caress the faces furrowed with pain, to mend the broken hearts and to free us from the chains that imprison the soul. In this way, he shows us the worship most pleasing to God: caring for our neighbour. We have to come back to that. Every time in the Church there are temptations of rigidity, which is a perversion, every time we think that finding God means becoming more rigid, with more rules, more just things, more clear things… it is not not the way. When we see proposals for rigidity, immediately think: it is an idol, it is not God. Our God is not like that.

Sisters and brothers, the word of God changes us. Rigidity does not change us, it hides us; the word of God changes us. It penetrates our soul like a sword (cf. heb 4:12). If on the one hand he consoles us by showing us the face of God, on the other hand he challenges us and disturbs us by reminding us of our inconsistencies. It shakes us. It does not bring us peace at the price of accepting a world torn apart by injustice and hunger, the price of which is always paid by the weakest. They always end up paying. The word of God challenges the self-justification that makes us blame everything that goes wrong on other people and situations. What pain do we feel when we see our brothers and sisters die at sea because no one will let them disembark! And some people do it in the name of God. The word of God invites us to come out into the open, not to hide behind the complexity of the problems, behind the excuse that “nothing can do it” or “it’s someone else’s problem” , or “what can I do?” , “leave them there”. The word of God urges us to act, to combine adoration of God and concern for man. Because sacred Scripture was not given to us to distract us, to pamper us with an angelic spirituality, but to make us go out to meet others, bringing us closer to their wounds. I spoke of rigidity, this modern Pelagianism which is one of the temptations of the Church. And this other temptation, that of seeking an angelic spirituality, is in a way the other temptation today: the Gnostic movements, a Gnosticism, which proposes a word of God which puts you “in orbit” and does not make you touch to reality. The Word who became flesh (cf. jn 1:14) wishes to become flesh in us. His word does not distance us from life, but immerses us in life, in daily life, in listening to the sufferings of others and the cry of the poor, in the violence and injustice that hurt society and our world. It challenges us as Christians not to be indifferent, but active and creative Christians, prophetic Christians.

Today– says Jesus – “this writing has been fulfilled” (lc 4:21). The Word wants to be incarnated today, in the time in which we live, and not in an ideal future. A French mystic of the last century, who chose to live the Gospel in the peripheries, wrote that the word of God is not “a ‘dead letter’; it is spirit and life… The listening that the word of the Lord asks of us is our “today”: the circumstances of our daily life and the needs of our neighbour” (Madeleine Delbrêl, The joy of believing, Paris, 1968). Let us therefore ask ourselves: do we want to imitate Jesus, to become ministers of liberation and consolation for others, putting the word into action? Are we a Church docile to the word? A Church inclined to listen to others, committed to reaching out to lift our brothers and sisters from all that oppresses them, to untie the knots of fear, to free the most vulnerable from the prisons of poverty, of inner boredom and of the sadness that suffocates life? Isn’t that what we want?

In this celebration, some of our brothers and sisters will be instituted readers and catechists. They are called to the important work of serving the Gospel of Jesus, of announcing it, so that its consolation, its joy and its liberation reach all. This is also the mission of each of us: to be credible messengers, prophets of the word of God in the world. Therefore, let us be passionate about sacred Scripture, let us be willing to dig deep into the word that reveals the newness of God and leads us tirelessly to love others. Let us put the word of God at the center of the life and pastoral activity of the Church! Thus, we will be free from all rigid Pelagianism, all rigidity, free from the illusion of a spirituality that puts you “in orbit”, careless of caring for our brothers and sisters. Let us put the Word of God at the center of the life and pastoral activity of the Church. Let us listen to this word, pray with it and put it into practice.

Maria D. Ervin