General Audeince: 25 January
Pope Francis continued his series of catecheses on apostolic zeal at the General Audience on Wednesday morning, 25 January. Reflecting on a reading from the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Father highlighted that Jesus is the teacher of proclamation, the last word who is always waiting to lift us up again from sin. The following is a translation of the Pope’s catechesis, which he gave in the Paul vi Hall.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday we reflected on Jesus, model of proclamation, on his pastoral heart always reaching out to others. Today we look to him as a teacher of proclamation. Let us be guided by the episode in which he preaches in the synagogue of his village, Nazareth. Jesus reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah (cf. 61:1-2) and then surprises everyone with a very short “sermon” of just one sentence, just one sentence. And he speaks thus, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. (Lk 4:21). This was Jesus’ sermon: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. This means that for Jesus that prophetic passage contains the essence of what he wants to say about himself. So, whenever we talk about Jesus, we should go back to that first announcement of his. Let us see, then, what this first announcement consists of. Five essential elements can be identified.
The first element is joy. Jesus proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; [...] He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (v. 18), that is, a proclamation of gladness, of joy. Good news: one cannot speak of Jesus without joy, because faith is a wonderful love story to be shared. Bearing witness to Jesus, doing something for others in his name, is like saying, “between the lines” of life, that one has received so beautiful a gift that no words suffice to express it. Instead, when joy is lacking, the Gospel does not come through, because — as the word itself suggests — it is good news, and Gospel means good news, a proclamation of joy. A sad Christian can talk about beautiful things, but it is all in vain if the news he conveys is not joyful. A thinker once said, “A Christian who is sad is a sad Christian”. Don’t forget this.
We come to the second aspect: deliverance. Jesus says he was sent “to proclaim release to the captives” (ibid.). This means that one who proclaims God cannot proselytize, no, cannot pressure others, no, but relieve them: not impose burdens, but take them away; bearing peace, not bearing guilt. Of course, following Jesus involves asceticism, it involves sacrifices. After all, if every good thing requires these things, then how much more the decisive reality of life! However, those who witness to Christ show the beauty of the goal rather than the toil of the journey. We may have happened to tell someone about a beautiful trip we took: for example, we would have spoken about the beauty of the places, what we saw and experienced, not about the time to get there and the queues at the airport, no! So, any announcement worthy of the Redeemer must communicate liberation. Like that of Jesus. Today there is joy, because I have come to liberate.
The third aspect: light. Jesus says he came to bring “sight to the blind” (ibid.). It is striking that throughout the Bible, before Christ, the healing of a blind man never appears, never. It was indeed a promised sign that would come with the Messiah. But here it is not just about physical sight, but a light that makes one see life in a new way. There is a “coming into being”, a rebirth that happens only with Jesus. If we think about it, that is how Christian life began for us: with Baptism, which in ancient times was called precisely “enlightenment”. And what light does Jesus give us? He brings us the light of sonship: he is the beloved son of the Father, living forever; with him, we too are children of God loved forever, despite our mistakes and faults. So life is no longer a blind advance toward nothingness, no; it is not a matter of fate or luck, no. It is not something that depends on chance or the stars, no, or even on health or finances, no. Life depends on love, on the love of the Father, who cares for us, his beloved children. How wonderful to share this light with others! Has it occurred to you that the life of each of us — my life, your life, our life — is an act of love? And an invitation to love? This is wonderful! But so many times we forget this, in the face of difficulties, in the face of bad news, even in the face of — and this is bad — worldliness, the worldly way of life.
The fourth aspect of the proclamation: healing. Jesus says he came “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (ibid.). The oppressed are those who, in life, feel crushed by something that happens: sickness, labours, burdens on the heart, guilt, mistakes, vices, sins.... Oppressed by this. Let us think of the sense of guilt, for example. How many of us have suffered this? Let us think a little bit about the sense of guilt for this or that.... What is oppressing us above all is precisely that evil that no medicine or human remedy can heal: sin. And if someone has a sense of guilt over something they have done, and feels bad.... But the good news is that with Jesus, this ancient evil, sin, which seems invincible, no longer has the last word.
I can sin because I am weak. Each of us can do this, but that is not the last word. The last word is Jesus’ outstretched hand that lifts you up from sin. “And Father, when does he do this? Once”? No. “Twice”? No. “Three times”? No. Always. Whenever you are sick, the Lord always has his hand outstretched. One just has to hold on and let oneself be carried. The good news is that with Jesus this ancient evil no longer has the last word: the last word is Jesus’ outstretched hand that carries you forward. Jesus heals us from sin, always. And how much do I have to pay for this healing? Nothing. He heals us always and gratuitously. He invites those who “labour and are heavy laden” — He says it in the Gospel — he invites them to come to him (cf. Mt 11:28). And thus, to accompany someone to an encounter with Jesus is to bring them to the doctor of the heart, who revives life. That is to say, “Brother, sister, I don’t have answers to so many of your problems, but Jesus knows you, Jesus loves you and can heal and soothe your heart”.
Those who carry burdens need a caress for the past. We often hear, “But I would need to heal my past.... I need a caress for that past that weighs so heavily on me...”. They need forgiveness. And those who believe in Jesus have just that to give to others: the power of forgiveness, which frees the soul from all debt. Brothers, sisters, do not forget: God forgets everything. How so? Yes, he forgets all our sins. That he forgets. This is why he has no memory. God forgives everything because he forgets our sins. We only have to draw near to the Lord and he forgives us everything. Think of something from the Gospel, from the one who began to speak, “Lord I have sinned!” That son... And the father puts his hand over his mouth. “No, it’s okay, it’s nothing...” He does not let him finish... And that is beautiful. Jesus is waiting for us to forgive us, to restore us. And how often? Once? Twice? No. Always. “But Father, I do the same things, always...” And He too will always do His same thing: forgive you, embrace you. Please, let us not distrust this. This is the way to love the Lord. May those who carry burdens and need a caress for the past, need forgiveness, know that Jesus does that. And that is what Jesus gives: freeing the soul from all debt. In the Bible it talks about a year when one was freed from the burden of debt: the Jubilee, the year of grace. As if it were the ultimate point of the proclamation.
In fact, Jesus says he came “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19). It was not a scheduled jubilee, like the ones we have now, where everything is planned and you think about how to do it and how not to do it. No. But with Christ the grace that makes life new always arrives and amazes. Christ is the Jubilee of every day, every hour, drawing you near, to caress you, to forgive you. And the proclamation of Jesus must always bring the amazement of grace. This amazement… “No, I can’t believe it! I have been forgiven”. But this is how great our God is. Because it is not we who do great things, but rather the Lord’s grace which, even through us, accomplishes unexpected things. And these are God’s surprises. God is a master of surprises. He always surprises us, he always waits for us. We arrive, and he is waiting for us. Always. The Gospel comes with a sense of wonder and newness that has a name: Jesus.
May he help us to proclaim it as he desires, communicating joy, deliverance, light, healing, and wonder. This is how one communicates about Jesus.
The last thing: This good news, which the Gospel says is addressed “to the poor” (v. 18). We often forget about them, yet they are the recipients explicitly mentioned, because they are God’s beloved. Let us remember them, and let us remember that, in order to welcome the Lord, each of us must make him or herself “poor within”. It is not sufficient like this, no: [you have to be] “poor within”. With that poverty that makes you say … “Lord, I am in need, I am in need of forgiveness, I am in need of help, I am in need of strength”. This poverty that we all have: making oneself poor within. One has to overcome any pretence of self-sufficiency in order to understand that one is in need of grace. If someone tells me, “Father, what is the shortest way to encounter Jesus”? Make yourself needy. Make yourself needy for grace, needy for forgiveness, needy for joy. And he will draw near to you.
I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from Australia and the United States of America. In the context of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I offer a special greeting to the group from the Bossey Ecumenical Institute. Upon all of you, and upon your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
The day after tomorrow, 27 January, International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust will be observed, in remembrance of the extermination of millions of Jewish people and of people of other faiths that must neither be forgotten nor denied. There can be no sustained commitment to building fraternity together without first dispelling the roots of hatred and violence that fuelled the horror of the Holocaust.
Lastly, as usual, my thoughts turn to young people, to the sick, to the elderly and to newlyweds. Today concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I encourage you, each in your own state of life, to live the demands of Christian unity that come to us from baptism. Aware of the gift of this sacrament, let us work, pray, and offer our sacrifices daily for the unity of all believers in Christ.
May war-torn Ukraine, so much afflicted, never be absent from our thoughts and our prayers. This morning I had a meeting with the leaders of the different Confessions of faith that are in Ukraine — all united — and they told me about the pain of that people. Let us never forget, every day, to pray for definitive peace in Ukraine.
I offer my blessing to all of you.