By Vatican News
In his homily at the daily Mass in Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis said the day’s liturgy “speaks about little things; we could say that today is the day of littleness”. The first Reading, taken from the book of the Prophet Isaiah begins with the announcement, “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…”
“The Word of God sings the praises of what is small”, the Pope said, “and makes a promise: the promise of a shoot that will sprout. And what is smaller than a sprout?” And yet “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him”. Pope Francis explained:
Redemption, revelation, the presence of God in the world begins like this, and is always like this. The revelation of God is made in smallness. Smallness, both humility and so many other things, but in smallness. The great seem powerful — let us think of Jesus in the desert, [and] how Satan appears powerful, the master of the whole world: “I will give you everything, if you…” The things of God, on the other hand, begin by sprouting, from a seed, little things. And Jesus speaks about this smallness in the Gospel.
Make yourself small so that the Kingdom of God might sprout
Jesus rejoices and thanks the Father because He has made known His revelation to the little ones, rather than to the mighty. Pope Francis noted that at Christmas, “We will all go to the Nativity scene, where the littleness of God” is present. And he said forcefully:
In a Christian community where the faithful, the priests, the bishops do not take this path of littleness, there is no future, it will collapse. We have seen it in the great projects of history: Christians who seek to impose themselves, with force, with greatness, the conquests… But the Kingdom of God sprouts in the small thing, always in what is small, the small seed, the seed of life. But the seed by itself can do [nothing]. And there is another reality that helps and that gives strength: “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.”
The Spirit cannot enter into a proud heart
“The Spirit chooses the small, always,” the Pope said, “because He cannot enter into the great, the proud, the self-sufficient”. The Lord reveals Himself to hearts that are small.
Pope Francis gave the example of those who study religion, saying that true theology does not mean simply knowing a lot of facts; people like that, he said, could be called “encyclopedists” of theology: “They know everything, but they are incapable of doing theology because theology is done ‘on one’s knees’, making ourselves small”.
Similarly, the Pope said that a pastor, “whether he be a priest, bishop, pope, cardinal, whoever he might be, if he does not make himself small, is not a [true] pastor”, but rather an office manager.
This is true of everyone, he said, “from those who have a function that seems more important within the Church, to the poor old lady who performs works of charity in secret”.
Christian smallness does not mean being fainthearted
Pope Francis then anticipates an objection that might be made: that “littleness” might lead to faintheartedness – that is, being closed in oneself – or to fear. On the contrary, he said, “littleness is great”, precisely because it is not afraid to take risks, since it “has nothing to lose”. He explained that “littleness” leads to magnanimity, because it allows us to go beyond ourselves, knowing that God is the reason for greatness.
The Pope then turned to St Thomas Aquinas, who, in the Summa, explains how Christians, though they recognize their own littleness, must behave in the face of the challenges of the world, so as not to live as cowards. He summarizes St Thomas as saying, “Don’t be afraid of great things” — and notes that the Saint of the Day, St Francis Xavier, shows us the same thing.
“Don’t be afraid, go forward; but at the same time, take into account the smallest things, this is divine”. A Christian always starts from smallness. If in my prayer I feel that I am small, with my limits, my sins, like that publican who prayed at the back of the Church, ashamed, [saying] “Have mercy on me, a sinner”, you will go forward. But if you believe that you are a good Christian, you will pray like that Pharisee who did not go forth justified: “I give you thanks, O God, because I am great”. No, we thank God because we are small.
The concreteness of children’s confessions
Pope Francis concluded his homily by saying how much he likes to hear the confessions, especially those of children. Their confessions, he said, are very beautiful, because they talk about concrete facts. So, for example, a child might confess, “I said this word” — and then repeat it for you. The Pope described this as “the concreteness of that which is small”. This can be an example of how we should approach God: “Lord I am a sinner because I have done this, this, this, this… This is my misery, my littleness. But send your Spirit so that I might not be afraid of great things, not be afraid of you doing great things in my life”.