Tenderness

In the Gospel we heard that "Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife" (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: "Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ's upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ's Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model" (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God's presence and receptive to God's plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a "protector" because he is able to hear God's voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God's call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

The vocation of being a "protector", however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God's gifts!

Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are "Herods" who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be "protectors" of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be "protectors", we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus' three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, "hoping against hope, believed"( Romans 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.

To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.

19.03.13


Pope Francis

15.02.15 Angelus, St Peter's Square

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

1 Corinthians 10: 31 to 11: 1, Mark 1: 40-45

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,

In these Sundays, Mark the Evangelist speaks to us about Jesus’ actions against every type of evil, for the benefit of those suffering in body and spirit: the possessed, the sick, sinners.... Jesus presents Himself as the One who fights and conquers evil wherever He encounters it. In today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 1:40-45) this struggle of His confronts an emblematic case, because the sick man is a leper. Leprosy is a contagious and pitiless disease, which disfigures the person, and it was a symbol of impurity: a leper had to stay outside of inhabited centres and make his presence known to passersby. He was marginalized by the civil and religious community. He was like a deadman walking.

The episode of the healing of the leper takes place in three brief phases: the sick man’s supplication, Jesus’ response, the result of the miraculous healing. The leper beseeches Jesus, “kneeling”, and says to Him: “If you will, you can make me clean” (v. 40). Jesus responds to this humble and trusting prayer because his soul is moved to deep pity: compassion. “Compassion” is a most profound word: compassion means “to suffer-with-another”. Jesus’ heart manifests God’s paternal compassion for that man, moving close to him and touching him. And this detail is very important. Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him.... And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (vv. 41-42). God’s mercy overcomes every barrier and Jesus’ hand touches the leper. He does not stand at a safe distance and does not act by delegating, but places Himself in direct contact with our contagion and in precisely this way our ills become the motive for contact: He, Jesus, takes from us our diseased humanity and we take from Him his sound and healing humanity. This happens each time we receive a Sacrament with faith: the Lord Jesus “touches” us and grants us his grace. In this case we think especially of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which heals us from the leprosy of sin.

Once again the Gospel shows us what God does in the face of our ills: God does not come to “give a lesson” on pain; neither does He come to eliminate suffering and death from the world; but rather, He comes to take upon Himself the burden of our human condition and carries it to the end, to free us in a radical and definitive way. This is how Christ fights the world’s maladies and suffering: by taking them upon Himself and conquering them with the power of God’s mercy.

The Gospel of the healing of the leper tells us today that, if we want to be true disciples of Jesus, we are called to become, united to Him, instruments of his merciful love, overcoming every kind of marginalization. In order to be “imitators of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 11:1) in the face of a poor or sick person, we must not be afraid to look him in the eye and to draw near with tenderness and compassion, and to touch him and embrace him. I have often asked this of people who help others, to do so looking them in the eye, not to be afraid to touch them; that this gesture of help may also be a gesture of communication: we too need to be welcomed by them. A gesture of tenderness, a gesture of compassion.... Let us ask you: when you help others, do you look them in the eye? Do you embrace them without being afraid to touch them? Do you embrace them with tenderness? Think about this: how do you help? From a distance or with tenderness, with closeness? If evil is contagious, so is goodness. Therefore, there needs to be ever more abundant goodness in us. Let us be infected by goodness and let us spread goodness!

15.02.15

Pope Francis

11.12.18 Holy Mass Santa Marta

Isaiah 40:1-11,

Matthew 18: 12-14


The first reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (40,1-11), is an invitation to consolation: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” because “her guilt is expiated.” This, refers to the “consolation of salvation,” to the good news that “we are saved.” The Risen Christ, in those forty days after His Resurrection, did just that with His disciples: He consoled them. But, we tend to resist consolation, as if we were safer in the turbulent waters of our problems. We bet on desolation, on problems, on defeat; the Lord works very hard to console us, but encounters resistance. This can be seen even with the disciples on the morning of Easter, who needed to be reassured, because they were afraid of another defeat.

We are attached to this spiritual pessimism. Children who approach me during my public audiences sometimes see me and scream, they begin to cry, because seeing someone in white, they think of the doctor and the nurse, who give them a shot for their vaccines; and [the children] think, ‘No, no, not another one!’ And we are a little like that, but the Lord says, “Comfort, comfort my people.”

And how does the Lord give comfort? With tenderness. It is a language that the prophets of doom do not recognise: tenderness. It is a word that is cancelled by all the vices that drive us away from the Lord: clerical vices, the vices of some Christians who don’t want to move, of the lukewarm… Tenderness scares them. “See, the Lord has His reward with Him, His recompense goes before Him” – this is how the passage from Isaiah concludes. “Like a shepherd He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” This is the way the Lord comforts: with tenderness. Tenderness consoles. When a child cries, a mom will caress them and calm them with tenderness: a word that the world today has practically removed from the dictionary.

The Lord invites us to allow ourselves to be consoled by Him; and this is also helpful in our preparation for Christmas. And today, in the opening prayer from the Mass, we asked for the grace of a sincere joyfulness, of this simple but sincere joy.

And indeed, I would say that the habitual state of the Christian should be consolation. Even in bad moments: The martyrs entered the Colosseum singing; [and] the martyrs of today – I think of the good Coptic workers on the beach in Libya, whose throats were cut – died saying “Jesus, Jesus!” There is a consolation within: a joy even in the moment of martyrdom. The habitual state of the Christian should be consolation, which is not the same as optimism, no. Optimism is something else. But consolation, that positive base… We’re talking about radiant, positive people: the positivity, the radiance of the Christian is the consolation.

When we suffer, we might not feel that consolation; but a Christian will not lose interior peace because it is a gift from the Lord, who offers it to all, even in the darkest moments. And so, in these weeks leading up to Christmas, we should ask the Lord for the grace to not be afraid to allow ourselves to be consoled by Him. Referring back to the Gospel of the day (Mt 18,12-14), he said we should pray:

“That I too might prepare myself for Christmas at least with peace: peace of heart, the peace of Your presence, the peace given by Your caresses.” But [you might say] “I am a great sinner.” – Ok, but what does today’s Gospel tell us? That the Lord consoles like the shepherd who, if he loses one of his sheep, goes in search of it; like that man who has a hundred sheep, and one of them is lost: he goes in search of it. The Lord does just that with each one of us. [But] I don’t want peace, I resist peace, I resist consolation… But He is at the door. He knocks so that we might open our heart in order to allow ourselves to be consoled, and to allow ourselves to be set at peace. And He does it with gentleness. He knocks with caresses.

11.12.18

Pope Francis

10.12.19 Holy Mass Santa Marta (Domus Sanctae Marthae)

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent Year A

Isaiah 40:1-11, Matthew 18: 12-14

The Lord guides His people, comforts them but also corrects them and punishes them with the tenderness of a father, a shepherd who carries the lambs in His bosom and leads the ewes with care.

The first reading from the Book of Isaiah speaks about God’s consolation for His people Israel as a proclamation of hope. "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated."

The Lord always consoles us as long as we allow ourselves to be consoled. And God corrects with consolation, but how? "Like a shepherd He feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care." "In His bosom". But this is an expression of tenderness! How does the Lord console? With tenderness. How does the Lord correct? With tenderness. Can you imagine, being in the bosom of the Lord, after having sinned?

The Lord leads, the Lord leads His people, the Lord corrects; I would also say: the Lord punishes with tenderness. The tenderness of God, the caresses of God. It is not a didactic nor diplomatic attitude of God; it comes from within, it is the joy that He has when a sinner approaches. And joy makes Him tender.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father saw his son from afar: because he was waiting for him, he went up on the terrace to see if his son returns. The heart of the father. And when he arrives and begins that speech of repentance he cuts his son's speech off short and starts celebrating. The Lord's tenderness.

In the Gospel, the shepherd returns, the one who has a hundred sheep and one that is lost. "Will he not leave the 99 in the hills and go in search for the one that's lost?" And if he can find her he will rejoice over it more than the 99 that were not lost. This is the joy of the Lord before the sinner, before us when we allow ourselves to be forgiven, we approach Him to forgive us. A joy that makes tenderness and that tenderness comforts us.

Many times, we complain about the difficulties we have: the devil wants us to fall into the spirit of sadness, embittered by life or our sins. I met a person who was consecrated to God who they called "Complaint", because he couldn't do anything other than complain, it was the Nobel Prize for complaints.

But how often do we complain, we complain, and we often think that our sins, our limitations cannot be forgiven. And it is then that the voice of the Lord comes and says, "I comfort you, I am near you", and He holds us tenderly. The powerful God who created the heavens and earth, the God-hero to put it this way, our brother, who allowed Himself to be brought to the cross to die for us, is able to caress us and say, "Do not cry".

With what tenderness, the Lord would have caressed the widow of Nain when he told her "Don't cry". Maybe, in front of her son’s coffin, He caressed her before He said, "Don't cry". Because there was a disaster there. We must believe this consolation of the Lord, because afterwards there is the grace of forgiveness.

"Father, I have so any sins, I have made so many mistakes in my life" - But let yourself be consoled - by the Lord - Ask for forgiveness: go, go! Be brave. Open the door. And He will caress you. He will approach with the tenderness of a father, a brother: "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care", so the Lord comforts us.

10.12.19


Pope Francis

07.02.21 Angelus, St Peter's Square

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Job 7: 1-4, 6-7

Mark 1: 29-39


Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning

Once again in the Square! Today’s Gospel passage (cf. Mk 1:29-39) presents the healing, by Jesus, of Peter’s mother-in-law and then of many other sick and suffering people who gather round him. The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is the first physical healing recounted by Mark: the woman is in bed with a fever; Jesus’ attitude and gesture toward her are emblematic: “he came and took her by the hand” (v. 31), the Evangelist notes. There is so much tenderness in this simple act, which seems almost natural: “the fever left her; and she served them” (ibid.). Jesus’ healing power meets no resistance; and the person healed resumes her normal life, immediately thinking of others and not of herself – and this is significant; it is the sign of true “health”!

That day was a sabbath day. The people of the village wait for sundown and then, the obligation of rest having ended, they go out and bring to Jesus all those who are sick and possessed by demons. And he heals them, but forbids the demons to reveal that he is the Christ (cf. vv. 32-34). Thus, from the very beginning, Jesus shows his predilection for people suffering in body and in spirit: it is a predilection of Jesus to draw near to people who suffer both in body and in spirit. It is the Father’s predilection, which he incarnates and manifests with deeds and words. His disciples were eyewitnesses to this; they saw this and then witnessed to it. But Jesus did not want just spectators of his mission: he involved them; he sent them; he also gave them the power to heal the sick and cast out demons (cf. Mt 10:1; Mk 6:7). And this has continued without interruption in the life of the Church, up to today. And this is important. Taking care of the sick of every kind is not an “optional activity” for the Church, no! It is not something extra, no. Taking care of the sick of every kind is an integral part of the Church’s mission, as it was for Jesus’. And this mission is to bring God’s tenderness to a suffering humanity. We will be reminded of this in a few days, on 11 February, with the World Day of the Sick.

The reality that we are experiencing throughout the world due to the pandemic makes this message, this essential mission of the Church, particularly relevant. The voice of Job, which echoes in today’s liturgy, is once again the interpreter our human condition, so lofty in dignity – our human condition, the loftiest in dignity - and at the same time so fragile. In the face of this reality, the question “why?” always arises in the heart.

And to this question Jesus, the Word Incarnate, responds not with an explanation – to this because we are so lofty in dignity and so fragile in condition, Jesus does not respond to this ‘why’ with an explanation –, but with a loving presence that bends down, that takes by the hand and lifts up, as he did with Peter’s mother-in-law (cf. Mk 1:31). Bending down to lift up the other. Let us not forget that the only legitimate way to look at a person from top down is when you stretch out a hand to help them get up. The only one. And this is the mission that Jesus entrusted to the Church. The Son of God manifests his Lordship not “from top down”, not from a distance, but in bending down, stretching out his hand; he manifests his Lordship in closeness, in tenderness, in compassion. Closeness, tenderness, compassion are the style of God. God draws near, and he draws near with tenderness and compassion. How many times in the Gospel do we read, before a health problem or any problem: “he had compassion”. Jesus’ compassion, God’s closeness in Jesus is the style of God. Today’s Gospel passage also reminds us that this compassion is deeply rooted in the intimate relationship with the Father. Why? Before daybreak and after sundown, Jesus withdrew and remained alone to pray (v. 35). From there he drew the strength to fulfil his mission, preaching and healing.

May the Holy Virgin help us to allow Jesus to heal us – we always need this, everyone – so that we might in our turn be witnesses to God’s healing tenderness.

07.02.21


Pope Francis

14.02.21 Angelus, St Peter's Square

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Mark 1: 40-45

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

The Square is beautiful with the sun! It’s beautiful!

Today’s Gospel (cf Mk 1:40-45) presents us with the encounter between Jesus and a man who was sick with leprosy. Lepers were considered impure and, according to the prescriptions of the Law, they had to remain outside of inhabited centres. They were excluded from every human, social and religious relationship: for example, they could not enter a synagogue, they could not go into the temple, these were religious restrictions. Jesus, instead, allows this man to draw near him, he is moved even to the point of extending his hand and touching him. This was unthinkable at that time. This is how he fulfils the Good News he proclaims: God draws near to our lives, he is moved to compassion because of the fate of wounded humanity and comes to break down every barrier that prevents us from being in relationship with him, with others and with ourselves. He drew nearNearness. Compassion. The Gospel says that Jesus, seeing the leper, was moved with compassion, tenderness. Three words that indicate God’s style: nearness, compassion, tenderness. In this episode, we can see two “transgressions” that intersect: the transgression of the leper who draws near to Jesus, and should not have done so; and Jesus who, moved with compassion, touches him compassionately to heal him. He should not have done that. Both of them are transgressors. There are two transgressions.

The first transgression is that of the leper: despite the prescriptions of the Law, he comes out of his isolation and goes to Jesus. His illness was considered a divine punishment, but, in Jesus, he is able to see another aspect of God: not the God who punishes, but the Father of compassion and love who frees us from sin and never excludes us from his mercy. Thus, that man can emerge from his isolation because in Jesus he finds God who shares his pain. Jesus’s behaviour attracts him, pushes him to go out of himself and entrust Him with his painful story. And allow me a thought here for the many good priest confessors who have this behaviour of attracting people, and many people who feel that they are nothing, who feel they are flat on the ground because of their sins, who with tenderness, with compassion… Good confessors who do not have a whip in their hands, but just welcome, listen and say that God is good and that God always forgives, that God does not get tired of forgiving. I ask all of you here today in the Square, to give a round of applause for these merciful confessors.

The second transgression is that of Jesus: even though the Law prohibited touching lepers, he is moved, extends his hand and touches him to cure him. Someone would have said: He sinned. He did something the law prohibits. He is a transgressor. It is true: He is a transgressor. He does not limit himself to words, but touches him. To touch with love means to establish a relationship, to enter into communion, to become involved in the life of another person even to the point of sharing their wounds. With that gesture, Jesus reveals that God, who is not indifferent, does not keep himself at a “safe distance”. Rather, he draws near out of compassion and touches our life to heal it with tenderness. It is God’s style: nearness, compassion and tenderness. God’s transgression. He is a great transgressor in this sense.

Brothers and sisters, even in today’s world, many of our brothers and sisters still suffer from this illness, from Hansen’s disease, or from other illnesses and conditions that carry social stigmas with them. “This person is a sinner”. Think a moment about when that woman entered the banquet and poured out that perfume on Jesus’s feet… The others were saying: “But if he were a prophet he would know who this woman is: a sinner”. Disdain. Instead, Jesus welcomes, rather, thanks her: “Your sins are forgiven”. Jesus’s tenderness. Social prejudices distance these people through words: “This person is impure, that person is a sinner, this person is a crook, that person…” Yes, at times it is true. But not to judge through prejudice. Each one of us might experience wounds, failure, suffering, selfishness that make us close ourselves off from God and others because sin closes us in on ourselves because of shame, because of humiliation, but God wants to open our heart. In the face of all this, Jesus announces to us that God is not an idea or an abstract doctrine but God is the One who “contaminates” himself with our human woundedness and is not afraid to come into contact with our wounds. “But, Father, what are you saying? What God contaminates himself?” I am not saying this, St Paul said it: he made himself to be sin. He who was not a sinner, who could not sin, made himself to be sin. Look at how God contaminated himself to draw near to us, to have compassion and to make us understand his tenderness. Closeness, compassion, and tenderness.

To respect the rules regarding good reputation and social customs, we often silence pain or we wear masks that camouflage it. To balance the calculations of our selfishness and the interior laws of our fears we do not get that involved with the sufferings of others. Instead, let us ask the Lord for the grace to live these two “transgressions”, these two “transgressions” from today’s Gospel: that of the leper, so that we might have the courage to emerge from our isolation and, instead of staying put and feeling sorry for ourselves or crying over our failings, complaining, and instead of this, let us go to Jesus just as we are; “Jesus I am like this”. We will feel that embrace, that embrace of Jesus that is so beautiful. And then Jesus’s transgression, a love that goes beyond conventions, that overcomes prejudices and the fear of getting involved with the lives of others. Let us learn to be transgressors like these two: like the leper and like Jesus.

May the Virgin Mary accompany us on this journey.

14.02.21