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Pope says without closeness and compassion, excellent preaching is useless

Pope Francis

Close to the people: Pope Francis greets a child as he arrives to lead his general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on September 10.
Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

BEAUTIFUL homilies are useless and mere vanity if you are not close to the people, if you do not suffer with the people and do not give hope.

This was Pope Francis’ reflection on September 16 during morning Mass in Santa Marta, the day on which the Church remembers the Sts Cornelius and Cyprian, who were martyrs.

The Gospel of the day speaks of Jesus approaching a funeral procession: a widow of Nain lost her only son. The Pope said that not only does the Lord perform the miracle of bringing her son back to life, he does something more: he is close to her.

“God – the people say – visited his people,” the Pope said. When God visited “there is something more, there is something new”, “it means that His presence is especially there”. Jesus is close.

“He was close to the people – a close God who is able to understand the hearts of the people, the heart of His people. Then he sees that procession, and the Lord drew near. God visits His people in the midst of his people, and draws near to them. Proximity. This is how God works,” the Pope said.

“Then there is an expression that is often repeated in the Bible: ‘The Lord was moved with great compassion’. The same compassion which, the Gospel says, moved Him when he saw so many people like sheep without a shepherd. When God visits His people, He is close to them, He draws near to them and is moved by compassion: He is filled with compassion.”

“The Lord,” Pope Francis continued, “is deeply moved, just as He was before the tomb of Lazarus.” Just like the father who was moved “when he saw his prodigal son come home”.

“Closeness and compassion: this is how the Lord visits His people. And when we want to proclaim the Gospel, to bring forth the word of Jesus, this is the path,” the Pope said.

“The other path is that of the teachers, the preachers of the time: the doctors of the law, the scribes, the Pharisees [who] distanced themselves from the people, with their words … well: they spoke well. They taught the law, well. But they were distant. And this was not a visit of the Lord: It was something else.

“The people did not feel this to be a grace, because it lacked that closeness, it lacked compassion, it lacked that essence of suffering with the people.”

Pope Francis continued: “And there’s another word which is proper to when the Lord visits His people: ‘The dead man sat up and began to speak, and He – Jesus – restored him to his mother’

“When God visits His people he restores hope to them – always. You can preach the Word of God brilliantly. There have been many excellent preachers throughout history. But if these preachers have failed to sow hope, that sermon is useless. It is mere vanity.”

Looking at Jesus, who restored a living son to this mother, the Pope said, “we can understand what God visiting His people means”.

“And so we ask for the grace that our Christian witness be a witness that brings the closeness of God to His people, that closeness that sows hope,” he said.


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