Pope Francis wasted little time in capturing the public’s imagination. And every day there seemed to be something new: an act of humility, a clever expression, or a challenge for each of us who wishes to follow in the way of Christ. We knew Pope Francis was doing something special, but it still took many of us some time to realize how valuable it would be to closely track everything the Holy Father was saying, in particular in his daily homilies. Reading through Morning Homilies, a collection of Pope Francis’ homilies from roughly his four first months as pope, therefore, not only reminded me of some of his most memorable phrases and key concepts, but exposed me to many more that I missed in those first months. It is an excellent collection, whether you have read these before, never read a single one of the pope’s homilies, or are somewhere in between.
Francis reminds us that we are sinners, cautions us against pride, and rails against gossip and slander. He calls for a Church that is free of ideology, saying that “when ideology enters the mind, nothing of the gospel is understood,” as the ideologists “falsify the gospel” and “end up becoming intellectuals without insight and moralists without kindness.” He tells us to embrace humility, kindness, service, and fraternal love. This, he says, is how the salvation of souls is achieved. We are called to do both great things and little things in our everyday lives.
Francis tells us to not be lukewarm Christians who follow “common sense” and embrace “worldly prudence.” This lukewarmness closes us in on ourselves. We are not to become “good-mannered armchair Christians.” We must not spend too much energy pursuing comfort, as “the comfort culture makes us not very brave, makes us lazy, also makes us selfish.” And we shouldn’t over-intellectualize our lives and the faith. Francis reminds us, “Jesus Christ’s salvation is real and actual. Jesus Christ didn’t save us by an idea, by an intellectual program. He saved us by his flesh, by his real flesh and blood.”
In these homilies, Pope Francis warns that the Church must not let bureaucracy dominate and become an NGO, divorced from its authentic mission. He cautions that when “the organization comes first, love collapses, and the poor church becomes an NGO.” Francis endorses Pope Benedict’s statement that the Church does not grow through proselytism. Instead, it grows “by attraction, by witness, by preaching.” He explains, “Christians who are afraid to make bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are unsure of their own faith, unsure of Jesus Christ.” This church loses the courage to go out to the edges. Pope Francis tells us that the Church should neither “go backward” nor embrace an “adolescent progressivism” that simply adopts the values of the dominant culture. We must reject being “slaves to superficiality” or “slaves to rigidity.”
Instead, we are called to trust in God, to embrace mercy, and to pursue the kingdom of God. And this can only be done personally—by each of us, flawed though we are, through our relationships with others. This is how we become “full-time Christians.” This is how we become “Christians in deed and in truth.”
These homilies helped to set the tone for Pope Francis’ papacy and offer us a look at his vision for the Church and for each of us. They are spoken with clarity and conviction. They are merciful but challenging. Francis reminds us that we are sinners, but also that we are called to greatness. Reading these homilies and thinking about how you might translate these lessons into your life might help you to take a step in that direction.