Pope at Audience: Church called to seek out those who have gone astray

Pope Francis continues his cycle of catechesis on apostolic zeal, and invites everyone to imitate the Good Shepherd and see the lost member of the flock not as an enemy but as an opportunity to bear witness to the joy of the Lord.

By Francesca Merlo

In his continuing catecheses on apostolic zeal, Pope Francis asked those gathered in the Paul VI Hall for his weekly General Audience to “look at the unsurpassable model of evangelization: Jesus.”

Word of God

The Pope noted that the Christmas Gospel defines Jesus as the “Word of God”, and said this fact highlights an essential aspect of Jesus, namely, that He is always “outgoing”.

The Word exists to be communicated and transmitted, the Pope continued, and “Christ not only has words of life, but makes His life a Word.”

Pope Francis then noted that we see, through the Gospel, the intimacy that Jesus had with the Father, especially through His moments of prayer.

“He makes all of His decisions and important choices after having prayed. Through prayer, Jesus reveals His mission.”

His service is always directed toward other people. In fact, speaking about His mission, jesus says that He did not come “to be served, but to serve and give His own life.”

The Good Shepherd

Pope Francis then noted that Jesus is referred to as “the Good Shepherd”.

The Gospels also offer us a useful image to represent what this mission truly means.

“To be a shepherd,” the Pope noted, “was not just a job, but it required time and a lot of dedication. It was a true and proper way of life: twenty-four hours a day, living with the flock.”

Jesus gave His life for us and “by staying with Jesus, we discover that His pastoral heart always beats for the person who is confused, lost, far away.”

The Pope then stressed that “if we want to train our apostolic zeal, we must always think of the lost sheep."

In the passage that introduces the lost sheep, “we discover that God does not remain contemplating the sheep pen, nor does He threaten them so they won’t leave, but rather if one leaves and is lost, He does not abandon that sheep, but goes in search of it.”

“He leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are safe and ventures out for the lost one, thus doing something both risky and unreasonable, but consonant with His pastoral heart, which misses the one who left – not out of anger or resentment – but from pure longing for us. This is God’s zeal.”

An opportunity to bear witness 

Bringing his catechesis to an close, the Pope asked, “Do we feel similar emotions?” He noted that those who, in our lives, may have left the flock, might be seen as enemies.

The Pope invited us to view our enmity with others as an opportunity “to witness to them the joy of a Father who loves them and has never forgotten them."

“There is a good word for them and we have the honour and the burden of being the ones to bear it to them. Because the Word, Jesus, asks this of us,” stressed the Pope.

Finally, he asked that in prayer, “We ask the grace of a pastoral heart, because without this love that suffers and takes risks, we risk pasturing only ourselves.”

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18 January 2023, 09:30

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