POPE’S MESSAGE | Readings at Mass offer God’s ‘real-time’ help

Remo Casilli | Reuters
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VATICAN CITY — Listening to the Scripture readings at Mass is hearing God speak directly to His people, offering spiritual sustenance and needed guidance for life's difficult journey, Pope Francis said.

For that reason, the prescribed texts should never be skipped or substituted at Mass, lectors should read clearly and people should always listen with an open heart so that the words may eventually bear fruit in good deeds, the pope said at his weekly general audience Jan. 31.

Continuing his series of audience talks on the Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the Liturgy of the Word and the importance of listening to the Bible readings at Mass.

"In the Liturgy of the Word, in fact, the pages of the Bible stop being something written and become the living word, delivered by God Himself," the pope said.

As the readings are proclaimed, people in the pews should be silent and receptive, opening their hearts and minds to what is being said, not looking around or making small talk and criticizing what other people are wearing, he said.

"We have to listen, open our hearts, because it is God Himself who is speaking to us. So don't think about other things or talk about something else. Understood?" he asked the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"We need to listen! It is a question of life," he said, because as Jesus told the devil in the desert, "one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."

People receive spiritual nourishment from the "table" of God's word, which is abundant and "rich" in so many biblical offerings, he said.

It is obvious then why "some subjective choices" are forbidden — such as omitting the prescribed readings or substituting them with nonbiblical texts, for example, such as the newspaper for bringing up a current event, he said.

"No. The word of God is the word of God. You can read the newspaper later. However, right there, the word of God gets read," he said.

Substituting God's word with something else "impoverishes and compromises the dialogue between God and His people in prayer," the pope said, while sticking with the prescribed readings expresses and fosters ecclesial communion, helping everyone on their journey together.

Also, he said, listening to God's word requires much more than one's ears. It must go from the ears, to the heart and then to the hands, resulting in good works in the world, he said.

"It's necessary to have an open heart to receive the word," Pope Francis said. "God speaks and we turn to Him to listen so as to then put into practice what we have heard." 

Pope: Jesus was always available to those in need

VATICAN CITY — Priests and bishops need to model themselves after Jesus, who never posted inconvenient office hours or shied away from people and their problems, Pope Francis said in a morning homily.

"Jesus throws Himself into the midst of the people," showing them tenderness, closeness and offering immediate healing — the very same things a minister of the Church should be doing, the pope said in his homily Jan. 30 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Reflecting on the day's Gospel reading from St. Mark (5:21-43), Pope Francis looked at how Jesus interacted with the large crowds that gathered around Him and with the people who reached out to Him for help.

"Jesus doesn't open an office for spiritual guidance with a sign: 'The prophet receives (the public) Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Admission costs this much or if you like, you can make a donation.' No. Jesus doesn't do this," he said.

Jesus didn't operate like a doctor's office either, telling people to come a particular day to be healed, he added.

Jesus goes to the people and dives in, bolstered by a deep desire to be close and tender, he said.

"A pastor who doesn't get close (to people) is missing something. Maybe he is a leader in his field, but he is not a pastor," the pope said. "A pastor who is missing tenderness will be rigid, hitting his sheep."

Pope Francis asked people to pray for the Church's priests "so that the Lord may give them this grace of walking with the people, being available to the people with lots of tenderness, with so much closeness."

"And when people find their shepherd," he said, "they will feel that special thing that you only feel in God's presence" — the awe and astonishment of "feeling the closeness and tenderness of God in the pastor."

— Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service 

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