Pope Francis said Tuesday that the Word of God isn’t something that can be explained to people as a mere recommendation, or merely a good idea, but that it requires courage, prayer and humility to preach with honesty – and this is the only way it will have an impact.
“The Word of God cannot be given as a proposal – ‘well, if you like it…’ – or like a good philosophical or moral idea – ‘well, you can live this way…’” Pope Francis said Feb. 14.
“No! It’s something else. It needs to be proposed with this frankness, with this force, so that the Word penetrates, as Paul says, ‘to the bone.’”
In his homily at Casa Santa Marta, the Pope took inspiration from the Feb. 14 Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two great European missionaries, also referencing Paul and Barnabas in the day’s first reading and the 72 disciples sent by the Lord in the Gospel of Luke.
Francis reflected on three traits which make for good and effective evangelization, without which, he said, we are “incapable…of forming the people of God.”
The first characteristic was that of the courage necessary to speak with “frankness.” First, we must be in love with Jesus, he said, and from this love we will gain the “spiritual courage, courage of heart” to speak God’s Word with honesty.
Without this courage, we may say “something interesting, something moral,” something that will do good, or “a good philanthropy,” he said. “But this is not the Word of God.”
“Only the Word of God proclaimed with this frankness, with this courage, is capable of forming the people of God.”
The second important quality is that evangelization is rooted in prayer “always,” Francis said. “Without prayer, you could have a good conference, good instruction: good, good! But it is not the Word of God. The Word of God can only come from a heart in prayer,” he warned.
Prayer is what helps the Gospel to take root and bear fruit in people’s hearts, the Pope explained.
If the Gospel is proclaimed with prayer, then the Lord will be in this “sowing of the Word, so that the Lord might water the seed so that the Word will sprout.”
And finally, Pope Francis warned against arrogance. “When the preacher believes he is too intelligent, or when the one who is responsible for carrying forward the Word of God tries to be clever – ‘Ah, I can get along with these people’ – just so, it will end badly,” he said.
Instead, we must go forward like a “lamb among wolves.” Referencing a homily written by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Pope said he offers a “very profound reflection.”
Summarizing St. John’s words, Francis said: “But if you do not go like sheep, but you go like a wolf among wolves, the Lord will not defend you: you’ll have to fend for yourself.”
If we aim to win an argument, instead of presenting God’s truth, we will “negotiate” the meaning of the Word of God with the “powerful” and the “proud.”
“The true preacher is the one who knows he is weak, who knows that he cannot defend himself,” the Pope emphasized.
This is the missionary character of the Church and of her great missionaries, those who “have planted and have helped the Church to grow in the world,” Francis concluded.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius “were courageous, men of prayer, and humble,” may they help to “proclaim the Word of God” with these traits, he said.