REFLECTION:Pope Francis shows us how to preach PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 13 February 2015 13:20



If there’s anything distinctive of Pope Francis that could explain, at least to some extent, his great power to attract people to him, I would say it is his way of preaching. Let’s remember that in his recent visit here in our country, thousands and even millions of people happily came to see and hear him in spite of the very bad weather and the many other inconveniences.

The secret, I think, lies in that the Pope somehow manages to present the over-all beauty of God’s word and the joy it produces, in spite of the unavoidable struggle and sacrifices that it also involves and, in fact, requires.

As he said in a Church document, the word of God is first of all a gift, before it is a demand. God gives himself to us before we, in reciprocation, would be able to give ourselves to him and to others.

This is a point worth meditating on thoroughly, because we often feel that loving God and others is mostly a function of our own human powers, forgetting that our capacity to love depends on the love that we receive first from God. We need to feel that love of God first before we can give it to others.

This principle is clearly lived in the way the Pope preaches. He makes his preaching the vehicle of God’s initiative to talk with man. He is attentive to both God and man. He understands his preaching as a kind of dialogue initiated by God but always attentive to the needs and circumstances of man.

His preaching, therefore, is a form of mediation. It tries to capture what God wants to tell the people in a given moment, and what the people need to hear from God. It tries to link God with man, and vice-versa, man with God.

That’s why his preaching is not done in a purely moralistic or doctrinal tone that tends to turn off people. It’s not pedantic nor merely theoretical. It’s not a lecture, much less a scolding that, sad to say, many people now claim is getting common in homilies. The Pope’s preaching is not a wet blanket, not a spoiler.

It is full of human warmth, affection and compassion, typical of God’s love for us. In spite of man’s sins and infidelities, God’s mercy and compassion dominates in his preaching.

That’s why in spite of the heavily spiritual, supernatural and mysterious messages that have to be conveyed, his preaching is always clothed with easily relatable concepts, images, examples and anecdotes that can only indicate the Pope has read quite well the hearts of the flock he is tending.

His style is simple, unpretentious, far away from the lightning-and-thunder type of speaking. He knows how to encourage and comfort troubled lives. He goes beyond the defects, mistakes and sins of men to offer healing and divine salvation. That’s why people like to listen to him, since he makes God feel like a good, approachable father.

But neither is his preaching just a matter of a feel-good affair, filled with gimmicks and theatrical antics. It was always sober but somehow light. He knows how to present the cross of Christ that inevitably demands sacrifice and suffering but at the same time saves. He does not water down the necessity of the cross in our life, but somehow shows this with a fatherly smile.

This can only indicate that the Pope is truly immersed in God as well as immersed in the lives of people. His life of prayer and reflection, of study, as well as his rich pastoral experience, all of course under the working of grace, must have given him that quality to being an effective vehicle of the continuing dialogue between God and man.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), issued in November 2013, he spells out the qualities and requirements of good and effective preaching. It might be good for priests especially to go through it again, and see how those incisive insights of the Pope about preaching can be followed.

Since the Church will always be involved in evangelization, and preaching is a major part of it, it would really be good is the art of preaching improves. At the moment, we can still see a lot of improvisations and pretensions, so obvious that we do not talk about it anymore.

The secret is making the effort to make ourselves, especially the priests, a true man of God as well as a man of the people, a man for others.