VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ daily morning Mass homilies in the Domus Sancthae Marthae residence where he is currently living have become increasingly popular, acclaimed for their wisdom, simplicity and forthrightness.
So notable have these short sermons become that the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has summarized almost all of them, and with increasing detail.
At each Mass, groups of Vatican staff, visiting bishops, priests and religious are invited. Afterwards, the Pope sits at the back of the chapel to pray with them. He then joins some of the congregation for breakfast in the residence refectory.
His teaching has been wide ranging, but with an emphasis on recurring themes of compassion, patience and mercy. On March 23, he unsurprisingly chose a topic close to his heart: concern for the poorest and weakest. He warned that having a heart of stone leads one to “pick up real stones and stone Jesus Christ in the person of our brothers and sisters, especially the weakest of them.”
On March 26, Pope Francis dwelled on the mildness and patience of Jesus, saying God’s patience is a “mystery” that can be seen in Jesus’ attitude to Judas. God is patient, he said, like the Prodigal Son’s father who waits every day for his son’s homecoming. Recognition of this patience, he added, leads to only one word leaving the heart: thanks.
‘Sweetness of Christ’s Forgiveness’
The following morning, on Spy Wednesday, the Holy Father reflected on Judas’ betrayal and Peter denying Christ three times. These happened at night, he noted, but added that everyone knows that beyond darkness lies hope. He underlined that in the night of the sinner, the “sweetness of Christ’s forgiveness” can be found by turning to him. But he stressed that hearts must be opened to taste that forgiveness.
In the early morning of Holy Thursday, Pope Francis said speaking poorly of someone else is equivalent to selling them “like a commodity,” not unlike Judas who sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
“There is some arcane pleasure in scandal mongering,” he said, adding that it is important to pray and ask for God’s grace “for the good of the other.” It’s important to realize, he said, that the person defamed is no different to Jesus, our friend, and that should lead to repentance and forgiveness.
Playing the Complain Game
On April 4th, the Holy Father warned that complaining about others and circumstances damages the heart and takes away hope. Never enter “into this game of living on complaints,” he said. Reflecting on the disciples on the road to Emmaus and their overwhelming dismay at the death of Jesus, he noted they didn’t stop complaining. He added their conversations made them withdraw into themselves and stew in their dismay. But at that very moment, the Pope said, the Lord is “close to us, but we do not recognize him.” Jesus was “patient with them,” he said, first listening, then explaining, and in the end letting them see him. Jesus, he added, “does this with us,” even in our darkest moments.
The following morning, the Pope stressed that peace cannot be bought or sold but is a gift from God — and we must beg him for it. It is like “the final step” of spiritual consolation, “which begins with a joyful wonder” in encountering Christ. But he warned not to “trick ourselves with our or others’ fantasies, which lead us to believe that these fantasies are reality.”
In truth, he said, it is more Christian “to believe that reality may not be so pretty”.
At Mass the next morning, April 5, the Pope warned against tarot readers and fortune tellers, stressing that salvation can only come through Jesus Christ. He recalled the story of a humble father of eight whom he knew in the curia of Buenos Aires. Before going out each morning, he would say “Jesus!” Pope Francis asked him why he did this. “‘When I say Jesus I feel strong, I feel I can work, and I know that he is with me, that he keeps me safe’,” the man replied.
The man never studied theology, the Pope noted: “he only has the grace of baptism and the power of the Spirit. And this testimony, did me a lot of good too, because it reminds us that in this world that offers us so many saviors, it is only the name of Jesus that saves.”
In his homily on the Feast of the Annunciation, the Pope underlined the importance humility. “Making progress,” he said, means “lowering oneself” on the road of humility in order allow God’s love to emerge and be clearly seen. The way of Christian humility rises up to God, as those who bear witness to it “stoop low” to make room for charity, he said, adding it was the road taken by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. This is the “golden rule” for Christians, he said, but it doesn’t mean travelling the road with “downcast eyes.” Humility, he said, is “the way by which charity surely passes,” for, “if there is no humility, love remains blocked, it cannot go [forward].”
The following morning, Pope Francis again warned about the temptation to gossip and speak ill of others. Complaining behind each other’s backs is a temptation that comes “from the evil one who does not want the spirit to dwell among us and give peace,” he said. He added that meekness is crucial to harmony, but it has been “a bit forgotten.”
Meekness, he said, has “many enemies” and the first is gossip. “When one prefers gossiping, gossiping about another, it’s like clobbering another. This is normal, it happens to everyone, including me — it is a temptation of the evil one. … If, with the grace of the spirit, we were able to stop gossiping, it would be a huge step forward,” Francis said, and “it would do everyone good.”
Later that week, Pope Francis preached that Christ through his resurrection restored man’s dignity that he had lost, and given him hope. “This is the road of salvation, and it is beautiful,” he said. “Only love makes it. We are of worth, we are men and women of hope.” He therefore warned against trying to save oneself, basing one’s dignity and hope on riches or vanity and pride, and called on those present to open their hearts so that God’s “love may enter, fill us and spur us to love others.”
The following morning, he stressed that God is non-negotiable and that the faith leaves no room for categories like “lukewarm” or “bad or good.” It does not seek a “double life” in order to negotiate a state of living with the world, he said. And he stressed that obedience to God isn’t a kind of slavery, but means having an open heart to listen to him and follow him, which sets one free.
He invited those present to ask for the grace of courage to follow Jesus’ path. “And when we do not,” he said, “let us ask for forgiveness: the Lord forgives us, because he is so good.”
It now appears the Holy Father will stay in the Vatican guest house for the foreseeable future and continue preaching morning homilies. He is reported to prefer the residence to the apostolic palace because he can be among the people and finds it “less isolating.”