Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 near… Nearness. 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.
The images that Jesus uses at the beginning of today’s Gospel leave us bewildered: the sun darkened, the moon no longer giving light, stars falling and the powers of heaven shaken (cf. Mk 13:24-25). Yet the Lord then invites us to hope, for precisely in that moment of utter darkness, the Son of Man will come (cf. v. 26). Even now, we can perceive the signs of his coming, just as the leaves that appear on the fig tree make us realize that summer is at hand (cf. v. 28).
This Gospel passage helps us to interpret history in two of its aspects: today’s pain and tomorrow’s hope. It evokes all those painful contradictions in which humanity in every age is immersed, and, at the same time, the future of salvation that awaits us: the encounter with the Lord who comes to set us free from all evil. Let us consider these two aspects through the eyes of Jesus.
First: today’s pain. We are part of a history marked by tribulation, violence, suffering and injustice, ever awaiting a liberation that never seems to arrive. Those who are most wounded, oppressed and even crushed, are the poor, the weakest links in the chain. The World Day of the Poor which we are celebrating asks us not to turn aside, not to be afraid to take a close look at the suffering of those most vulnerable. Today’s Gospel has much to say to them. The sun of their life is often darkened by loneliness, the moon of their expectations has waned and the stars of their dreams have fallen into gloom; their lives have been shaken. All because of the poverty into which they are often forced, victims of injustice and the inequality of a throwaway society that hurries past without seeing them and without scruple abandons them to their fate.
There is, however, another aspect: tomorrow’s hope. Jesus wants to open our hearts to hope, to remove our anxiety and fear before the pain of the world. And so, he tells us that even as the sun grows dark and everything around us seems to be falling, he himself is drawing near. Amid the groans of our painful history, a future of salvation is beginning to blossom. Tomorrow’s hope flowers amid today’s pain. Indeed, God’s salvation is not only a future promise, but is even now at work within our wounded history, spreading in the midst of the oppression and the injustice of our world. All of us have a wounded heart. Amid the tears of the poor, the kingdom of God is blossoming like the tender leaves of the tree and guiding history to its goal, to the final encounter with the Lord, the King of the universe who will definitively set us free.
At this point, let us ask: what is demanded of us as Christians in this situation? We are asked to nurture tomorrow’s hope by healing today’s pain. The two are linked: if you do not work to heal today’s pain, it will be hard to have hope for tomorrow. The hope born of the Gospel has nothing to do with a passive expectation that things may be better tomorrow, but with making God’s promise of salvation concrete today. Today and every day. Christian hope is not the naïve, even adolescent, optimism of those who hope that things may change – that won’t happen – but in the meantime go on with life; it has to do with building daily, by concrete gestures, the kingdom of love, justice, and fraternity that Jesus inaugurated. Christian hope, for example, was not sown by the Levite and the priest who walked by the man wounded by the thieves. It was sown by a stranger, a Samaritan who stopped and did that (cf. Lk 10:30-35). And today it is as if the Church is saying: “Stop and sow hope amid poverty. Draw near to the poor and sow hope”. Hope for that person, your hope and the hope of the Church. This is what is asked of us: to be, amid the ruins of the everyday world, tireless builders of hope; to be light as the sun grows dark, to be loving witnesses of compassion amid widespread disinterest; to be an attentive presence amid growing indifference. Witnesses of compassion. We will never be able to do good except by showing compassion. At most, we will do good things, but they do not touch the Christian way because they do not touch the heart. What touches the heart is compassion: we draw near, we feel compassion and we perform works of tender love. That is God’s way of doing things: closeness, compassion and tenderness. That is what is being asked of us today.
Recently I was thinking about what a bishop close to the poor, and himself poor in spirit, Don Tonino Bello, used to say: “We cannot be content to hope; we have to organize hope”. Unless our hope translates into decisions and concrete gestures of concern, justice, solidarity and care for our common home, the sufferings of the poor will not be relieved, the economy of waste that forces them to live on the margins will not be converted, their expectations will not blossom anew. We Christians, in particular, have to organize hope - this expression of Don Tonino Belli, to organize hope, is very fine – to make it concrete in our everyday lives, in our relationships, in our social and political commitments. I am reminded of the charitable works carried out by so many Christians, the work of the Office of the Papal Almoner… What are they doing there? They are organizing hope. Not giving a coin here and there, but organizing hope. This is what the Church is asking of us today.
Today Jesus offers us a simple yet eloquent image of hope. It is the image of the leaves of the fig tree, which quietly point to the approach of summer. Those leaves appear, Jesus says, when the branch becomes tender (cf. v. 28). Dear brothers and sisters, that is the word that makes hope blossom in the world and relieves the suffering of the poor: tenderness. Compassion that leads you to tenderness. We need to overcome our self-absorption, interior rigidity, which is the temptation nowadays, that of the “restorationists”, who want a Church completely orderly, completely rigid: this is not of the Holy Spirit. We have to overcome this, in order to make hope blossom amid this rigidity. It is up to us to overcome the temptation to be concerned only about our own problems; we need to grow tender before the tragedies of our world, to share its pain. Like the tender leaves of a tree, we are called to absorb the pollution all around us and turn it into goodness. It is useless to keep talking about problems, to argue and to be scandalized – all of us can do that. What we need to do is imitate the leaves that daily, imperceptibly, turn dirty air into clean air. Jesus wants us to be “converters” of goodness: people who breathe the same heavy air as everyone else, but respond to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21). People who act: by breaking bread with the hungry, working for justice, lifting up the poor and restoring their dignity. As the Samaritan did.
How lovely, evangelical and youthful is a Church ready to go out from herself and, like Jesus, proclaim good news to the poor (cf. Lk 4:18). Let me pause at that last adjective: young. A Church that sows hope is young. A prophetic Church that, by her presence, says to the broken-hearted and the outcast of the world, “Take heart, the Lord is near. For you too, summer is being born in the depths of winter. From your pain, hope can arise”. Brothers and sisters, let us bring this outlook of hope to our world. Let us bring it with tenderness to the poor, with closeness, with compassion, without judging them, for we will be judged. For there, with them, with the poor, is Jesus; because there, in them, is Jesus, who awaits us.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
In my Apostolic Letter Patris corde, (8 December 2020) I had the opportunity to reflect on this aspect of tenderness, an aspect of Saint Joseph's personality. In fact, although the Gospels do not give us any details about how he exercised his paternity, we can be sure that his being a "just" man also translated into the education he gave to Jesus. “Joseph saw Jesus grow day by day ‘in wisdom and age and favour before God and man’” (Lk 2:52): so the Gospel says. As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: “he taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him (cf. Hos 11:3-4).” (Patris corde, 2). It is beautiful, this definition in the Bible, that shows God’s relationship with the people of Israel. It is the same relationship, we think, that there was between Saint Joseph and Jesus.
The Gospels attest that Jesus always used the word "father" to speak of God and his love. Many parables have as their protagonist the figure of a father. One of the most famous is certainly that of the merciful Father, recounted by Luke the Evangelist (cf. Lk 15:11-32). This parable emphasizes not only the experience of sin and forgiveness, but also the way in which forgiveness reaches the person who has done wrong. The text says: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (v. 20). The son was expecting a punishment, a justice that at most could have given him the place of one of the servants, but he finds himself wrapped in his father's embrace. Tenderness is something greater than the logic of the world. It is an unexpected way of doing justice. That is why we must never forget that God is not frightened by our sins: let us fix this clearly in our minds. God is not frightened by our sins, he is greater than our sins: he is the father, he is love, he is tender. He is not frightened by our sins, our mistakes, our slip-ups, but he is frightened by the closure of our hearts – this, yes, this makes him suffer – he is frightened by our lack of faith in his love. There is great tenderness in the experience of God's love. And it is beautiful to think that the first person to transmit this reality to Jesus was Joseph himself. For the things of God always come to us through the mediation of human experiences. Long ago – I don’t know if I have already told this story – a group of young people who did theatrical drama, a pop theatre group, ahead of the curve, were struck by this parable of the merciful father and decided to create a pop theatre production on this matter, with this story. And they did it well. And the story is that, at the end, a friend listens to a son who is estranged from his father, who wanted to return home but was afraid that his father would kick him out and punish him. And the friend, said, “Send a messenger to say that you want to return home, and if your father will receive you, to put a handkerchief in the window, the one you can see as soon as you take the last part of the path home”. And this was done. And the work, with singing and dancing, continues until the moment that the son turns onto the last stretch of the road and sees the house. And when he looks up, he sees the house full of white handkerchiefs: full of them. Not one, but three or four in every window. This is God’s mercy. He is not deterred by our past, by the bad things we have done; settling the accounts with God is a beautiful thing, because we begin to talk, and he embraces us. Tenderness!
So, we can ask ourselves if we ourselves have experienced this tenderness, and if we in turn have become its witnesses. For tenderness is not primarily an emotional or sentimental matter: it is the experience of feeling loved and welcomed precisely in our poverty and misery, and thus transformed by God's love.
God does not rely only on our talents, but also on our redeemed weakness. This, for example, makes Saint Paul say that there is also a plan for one’s fragility. In fact, he wrote to the community of Corinth: “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me...Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Cor 12:7-9). The Lord does not take away all our weaknesses, but helps us to walk on with our weaknesses, taking us by the hand. He takes our weaknesses by the hand and places himself by our side. And this is tenderness.
The experience of tenderness consists in seeing God's power pass through precisely that which makes us most fragile; on condition, however, that we are converted from the gaze of the Evil One who “makes us see and condemn our frailty”, while the Holy Spirit "brings it to light with tender love." (Patris corde, 2). “Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us. [...] Look how nurses touch the wounds of the sick: with tenderness, so as not to hurt the further. And this is how the Lord touches our wounds, with the same tenderness. That is why it is so important to encounter God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in personal prayer with God, where we experience his truth and tenderness. Paradoxically, the evil one can also speak the truth to us: he is a liar, but he can arrange things so that he tells us the truth in order to tell us a lie, yet he does so only to condemn us. Instead, the Lord tells us the truth and reaches out his hand to save us. We know that God’s truth does not condemn, but instead welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives us.” (Patris corde, 2). God always forgives: keep this clearly in your head and your heart. God always forgives. We are the ones who tire of asking for forgiveness. But he always forgives, even the worst things.
It does us good, then, to mirror ourselves in Joseph's fatherhood, which is a mirror of God’s fatherhood, and to ask ourselves whether we allow the Lord to love us with his tenderness, transforming each one of us into men and women capable of loving in this way. Without this "revolution of tenderness" – there is a need for a revolution of tenderness! - we risk remaining imprisoned in a justice that does not allow us to rise easily and that confuses redemption with punishment. For this reason, today I want to remember in a special way our brothers and sisters who are in prison. It is right that those who have done wrong should pay for their mistake, but it is equally right that those who have done wrong should be able to redeem themselves from their mistake. They cannot be sentences without a window of hope. Any sentence must always have a window of hope. Let us think of our brothers and sisters in prison, and think of God’s tenderness for them, and let us pray for them, so they might find in that window of hope a way out towards a better life.
And we conclude with this prayer:
St Joseph, father in tenderness,
teach us to accept that we are loved precisely in that which is weakest in us.
Grant that we may place no obstacle
between our poverty and the greatness of God's love.
Stir in us the desire to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation,
that we may be forgiven and also made capable of loving tenderly
our brothers and sisters in their poverty.
Be close to those who have done wrong and are paying the price for it;
Help them to find not only justice but also tenderness so that they can start again.
And teach them that the first way to begin again
is to sincerely ask for forgiveness, to feel the Father’s caress.