ROME – Pope Francis on Sunday celebrated a Mass dedicated to the Word of God, urging believers to go beyond the “barrage” of words in the social media era and to allow themselves to be transformed by God through scripture.
Notably, the pope installed 11 people in the ministries of either lector, meaning someone who reads the word of God, or catechist, meaning someone who teaches the faith, and of those 11, eight were women.
Speaking to attendees of his Jan. 21 Mass for the fifth edition of the Sunday of the Word of God in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis voiced hope that the occasion would allow believers “to return with joy to the sources of our faith, which is born of listening to Jesus, the living Word of God.”
“May it help us, barraged by words about the Church, to rediscover the word of life that resounds in the Church! If not, we end up talking more about ourselves than about him, and concentrate on our own thoughts and problems rather than on Christ and his word,” he said.
Francis urged faithful to return to the sources of the faith “in order to offer to the world the living water for which it yearns and does not find, and while society and social media reflect the violence of words, let us draw closer to, and cultivate, the quiet word that brings salvation.”
Pope Francis focused his homily for Sunday’s Mass on the day’s scripture readings, which recounted God’s calling of Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh as well as the Gospel passage from Mark in which Jesus calls brothers Simon and Andrew, who leave their fishing boats and nets behind to follow him.
These passages illustrate the fact that God’s word “makes us hear the call of Jesus. It calls us to set out with him for the sake of others,” the pope said, saying his word thus “makes us missionaries, God’s messengers and witnesses to a world drowning in words, yet thirsting for the very word it so often ignores.”
God’s word “unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit, a power that draws people to God,” just as it did for Simon and Andrew, and it also sends people out to convey God’s message, as it did for Jonah, he said.
“That is how it works. It does not leave us self-absorbed, but expands hearts, changes courses, overturns habits, opens up new scenarios and discloses unthought-of horizons,” he said, saying the Church itself “lives from this dynamic: called by Christ and drawn to him, she is sent into the world to bear witness to him.”
To this end, Francis pointed to various saints throughout Church history whose lives were transformed after being moved by a passage from scripture.
He recalled how the Church’s first monk, Saint Anthony, was struck by a Gospel passage during Mass and then left everything and dedicated his life God. Likewise, Saint Augustine’s life changed completely when he was touched by God’s word.
Saint Therese of Lisieux discovered her vocation reading the letters of Saint Paul, he said, and pointed to his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, who read the passage in the Gospel in which Jesus sent his disciples to preach and discovered that was what he wanted to spend his life doing.
“How is it that, for many of us, the same thing does not happen? Perhaps because, as those witnesses make clear, we need to stop being ‘deaf’ to God’s word,” the pope said, saying a risk all Christians face is being overwhelmed by “a barrage of words” and letting God’s word “glide by” unheeded.
Oftentimes with God’s word, “we hear it, yet we fail to listen to it; we listen to it, yet we don’t keep it; we keep it, yet we don’t let it provoke us to change,” he said.
Pope Francis insisted that believers must not only read scripture, but they must also pray with it in order to understand it and to be transformed by it.
He noted that the disciples in the day’s Gospel reading from Mark after hearing Jesus speak, left their boats and nets behind and followed him, meaning they chose to leave behind the lives they had been living up to that point.
“How often we struggle to leave behind our security, our routine, because these entangle us like fish in a net. Yet those who respond to the word experience healing from the snares of the past, because the living word gives new meaning to their lives and heals their wounded memory by grafting upon it the remembrance of God and his works for us,” he said.
God’s word, he said, reminds Christians of their identity as beloved children and it nourishes the soul, overcoming fear and overcome loneliness.
By recounting God’s words and deeds, scripture “releases a paralyzed faith and makes us savor anew the Christian life for what it truly is: a love story with the Lord,” he said.
In following Jesus, the disciples were able to move forward, the pope said, saying “Christ’s word not only liberates us from the burdens we bear, past and present; it also makes us mature in truth and in charity. It enlivens the heart, challenges it, purifies it from hypocrisy and fills it with hope.”
Francis challenged believers, asking them whether they make room for scripture in their lives and in their homes, asking, “Amid so many books, magazines, televisions and telephones, where is the Bible? In my room, do I have the Gospel within easy reach? Do I read it daily in order to be faithful to my path in life?”
Noting that he has often encouraged believers to carry the Gospel with them at all times, in their pockets, purses or even on their cellphones, he questioned how one can leave God and his word at home, if God is truly the most important thing in their lives.
“One last question: Have I read through at least one of the four Gospels? The Gospel is the book of life. It is simple and brief, yet many believers have never even read one of the Gospels from beginning to end,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his homily noting that scripture describes God as being the “author of beauty,” and urged faithful to allow themselves “to be conquered by the beauty that the word of God brings into our lives.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen