How to listen to God’s word according to Pope Francis

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Pope Francis gives his homily during Mass for Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Jan. 21, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — God’s word cuts through the sea of chatter spoken aloud and uttered online to touch the hearts of Christians and inspire them to share the Gospel, Pope Francis said.

“While society and social media reflect the violence of words, let us draw closer to and cultivate the quiet word that brings salvation, that is meek, that doesn’t make noise, that enters into the heart,” the pope said during his homily at Mass for the church’s celebration of Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 21.

Although Christians today are “barraged by words about the church,” he encouraged them to “rediscover the word of life that resounds in the church.”

“If not, we end up talking more about ourselves” than about Jesus, “and concentrate on our own thoughts and problems rather than on Christ and his word,” the pope told the approximately 5,000 people gathered for Mass in the basilica.

The Sunday of the Word of God

In 2019, the pope decreed that the third Sunday of Ordinary Time be devoted to the “celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God,” and celebrated Mass to mark the first Sunday of the Word of God in January 2020.

During Mass for the fifth annual celebration of the day, Pope Francis installed two women to the ministry of lector, a ministry he formally opened to women in 2021, and nine men and women to the ministry of catechist.

“All the baptized, insofar as they participate in the mission of the Christ (as) priest, prophet and king, have an active part in the life and action of the church,” he told the catechists during their rite of installment — which he established in 2021 — adding that catechists are called to “live more intensely the apostolic spirit, in the example of those men and women who helped Paul and the other apostles in spreading the Gospel.”

The pope gave a Bible to each of the lectors and a silver crucifix to each of the catechists.

‘We need to stop being deaf to God’s word’

In his homily, the pope recalled the many saints who were deeply touched by the word of God — St. Anthony, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi — and who were moved to lead lives of holiness.

“Their lives were changed by the word of life, but I ask, how is it that for many of us the same thing does not happen?” Pope Francis asked. “So often we listen to God’s word (and) it goes in one ear and out the other.”

“We need to stop being ‘deaf’ to God’s word,” he said. “This is a risk for all of us: overwhelmed by a barrage of words, we let the word of God glide by us. We hear it, yet we fail to listen to it; we listen to it, yet we don’t keep it; we keep it, yet we don’t let it provoke us to change.”

After the Gospel reading, the Book of the Gospels was placed in front of the basilica’s main altar and remained opened during the Eucharistic liturgy. While Pope Francis presided over the Mass, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization’s section for new evangelization, was the main celebrant at the altar.

Leaving behind our routine to proclaim the Word

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Mark in which Jesus calls out to Simon and Andrew who were fishing and immediately “left their nets and followed him.” Copies of St. Mark’s Gospel in Italian were placed on seats throughout the basilica for Mass participants to take with them.

Like the apostles, Christians today also are called to become “God’s messengers and witnesses to a world drowning in words, yet thirsting for the very word it so often ignores.”

“How often we struggle to leave behind our security, our routine, because these entangle us like fish in a net,” the pope said. “Yet those who respond to the word experience healing from the snares of the past, because the living word gives new meaning to their lives.”

After Mass, Pope Francis appeared at the window of his study overlooking St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with visitors and told them that to proclaim the Gospel “is not wasted time.”

“Brothers, sisters, every one of us has received the call to evangelize, and to do so in the state of life in which we find ourselves, with the abilities, friends, work, age and neighborhood we have,” he said.

Justin McLellan

Justin McLellan is a journalist based in Rome with Catholic News Service. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology from the University of Notre Dame.