At the heart of Pope Francis’ homily on Friday morning in the Casa Santa Marta was a reflection on how to transmit the faith.
Taking his cue from the liturgical reading of the day in which the apostle Paul addresses his disciple Timothy recalling his “sincere faith” that first lived in his grandmother and then in his mother, the Pope highlighted the words that indicate how faith is to be transmitted: “son”, as Paul calls Timothy, “mother,” “grandmother,” and finally “testimony”.
The ‘folly of preaching’ according to Paul
The Pope said that Paul generated Timothy with the “folly of preaching.” He said that in the reading a mention is also made of “tears” because, he explained, Paul does not sweeten his preaching with half-truths, he does so with courage because the announcement of the Gospel “cannot be lukewarm”.
“Preaching is – allow me the word – ‘a slap’. A slap that moves you and pushes you forward” he said.
Paul himself, Francis said, describes it as ‘the folly of preaching’: “it’s folly, because to say that God became man and then he was crucified and then he rose again …” There is always a pinch of folly in preaching which must not be tempted by mediocrity and half-truths.
The Word without testimony has no strength
The second word Pope Francis chose to highlight is testimony. Faith, he affirmed, is to be transmitted through witness which gives strength to the Word and he commented on how people used to say of the first disciples: “How they love each other.”
He noted that in some parishes today, many tongues can be heard wagging about this person or that… and instead of commenting on ‘how they love each other’ one could be enticed to comment on how people speak badly of each other, on “how they use their tongues like knives to ‘skin’ the other!”
“How can you transmit the faith in an atmosphere that is spoilt by gossip, by slander?” he said.
True testimony, the Pope explained means never speaking badly of the other, it means doing works of charity, visiting the sick, and it means asking oneself why others behave or live as they do.
Pope Francis also emphasized the fact that evil acts as “counter-testimony” or as bad testimony: it takes away faith and weakens people.
The Church gives life like a mother
The other word and concept picked out by Pope Francis is “mother” and “grandmother”. He explained that “faith is transmitted in a womb, the womb of the Church”.
He said that the “Church’s motherhood is prolonged in the maternity of the mother, the woman”.
He recalled a meeting he had with a nun while he was in Albania. She had been imprisoned during the dictatorship, but sometimes the guards would let her take a walk along the river thinking there could be no harm in that.
But the nun was clever, the Pope said, and the women of the nearby villages would bring their children to her when she went out and she would secretly baptize them in the river.
“I ask myself, he said, are mothers and grandmothers like the ones Paul speaks of?” Or do they trust in the fact that the children will learn when they go to catechism?
“It gives me sadness, Francis continued, when I see children who do not know how to make the sign of the Cross” because their mothers and grandmothers have not taught them.
Let us ask the Lord, he concluded, to teach us to be witnesses and preachers and to teach women who are mothers to transmit the faith.
By Linda Bordoni