ROME — Women fill the role of passing on the “gift of faith” to subsequent generations, Pope Francis said, referring not just to mother and grandmothers, but also “it could even be a housekeeper, it could be an aunt.”

Reflecting on the Letter of St. Paul to Timothy in the New Testament, the pope emphasized that the apostle reminded the disciple that his “sincere faith” comes from the Holy Spirit, “through his mother and grandmother.”

Francis then said that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is impossible to study.

“We study the things of faith, yes, to understand it better, but with study [alone] one never comes to faith,” he said.

Moreover, said Francis, faith is a gift that passes from generation to generation through the “beautiful work of mothers and grandmothers, the fine work of the women who play those roles.”

Pope Francis’ comments came Monday during his daily Mass at Santa Marta, the residence inside Vatican grounds where he has lived since the beginning of his pontificate.

“Why is it that women are often the ones to pass on the faith?” Francis asked. “Simply because the one that brought us Jesus is a woman. He wanted to have a mother: the gift of faith comes through women, as Jesus comes through Mary.”

But, said the pope, “We need in our own day to consider whether women really are aware of the duty they have to transmit the faith.”

The pope also warned against those who allow their faith to be diluted by not “cherishing and nurturing it every day.” To them, Francis said, faith ends up being a culture or a gnosis.

But, the pope questioned, “how do you live your faith?” According to Francis, it shouldn’t be something negotiable, reshaped depending on the situation, nor something to be lived timidly or with shame.

According to Francis, “ ‘[Some say] yes, I have faith, but I cover it up, so that it’s not seen too much’. It’s a little bit here, a little bit there — it is, as our forebears called it, a “rosewater” faith — because I am ashamed to live it powerfully.”

Pope Francis has spoken often about his desire to see greater roles for women, both in society and in the Church.

During his Jan. 12-19 trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, for instance, the pontiff demanded greater attention to women’s voices, saying “sometimes we’re too chauvinistic” and “we don’t allow room for women.”