Pope Francis’ first sermon

Very simple, very biblical, spoken standing at the lectern, without any written notes, but with some energy and joy. Using simple example. No impressive theological quotes, references to magisterial texts, or other smoke-signals of high office.
Of course I now feel I have a stake in this pope, having obediently blessed him when he so asked on the balcony of St. Peter’s yesterday.


[Note: The full text of Pope Francis’ homily is available here.  -Editor]


  1. So you have a stake in the pope and are obedient when you like what he’s doing…what happens when this isn’t the case?

  2. Not to nit-pick or start a flame war, but I have been puzzled by how some places (not a majority, from what I’ve seen) interpreted Pope Francis’ request from the loggia to mean that everyone present should personally bless him, when in fact I believe he asked that the people pray to God that He bless the Pope.

    Again, simply an observation. But the distinction, although in one sense minor, is also significant.

    1. @Brian MacMichael – comment #2:

      When the pope (or any bishop, priest, or deacon) blesses anyone, he is asking God to bless that person (“May the blessing of almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain with you forever”).

      Surely humble layfolk can also (if not formally and liturgically) ask such a blessing? It would seem that Pope Francis thinks so.

      1. @George Hayhoe – comment #5:

        Fair enough, and I do not dispute that we share a common priesthood and that laity have a certain capacity to ask God’s blessing. But that capacity differs from that of clerics, and I suppose my concern is more with the need to distinguish between the gestures/languages/capacity for clerical blessings (which also sees official distinctions between what bishops, priests, and deacons may do), versus what the laity may properly do. This is a legitimate matter of nuance, which I doubt will be settled in a blog combox.

      2. @Brian MacMichael – comment #6:
        That the ordained and laity have a certain common capacity to ask God’s blessing is one thing, but what was striking to many about Francis was that he explicitly asked the laity to exercise that capacity on his behalf.

        It struck me as a gesture that emphasizes the mutuality of ministry, and the shared membership in the one body of Christ. By his actions and not merely his words, Francis was saying to the crowd (and the world) “we are in this together.”

        The reaction of many (some with delight, others not so much) indicates to me how rare gestures like this have been.

      3. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #12:

        Certainly, his humble request for all the people to pray over him should be the focal point, and I take no issue with that.

  3. When a priest or bishop blesses us, it means he asks God to bless us. Thus the words “May almighty God bless you…” The new pope asked for the people’s blessing prayer, just as they might ask for his.

    1. @Jan Laron – comment #4:
      The Catholic Church has a sophisticated and highly developed theology of blessing and part of that theology is that there is a distinction between a blessing offered by the ordained clergy and the private prayer that God will bless someone (which can also in a sense be called a blessing).

  4. Lol,
    Some of these guys don’t get it.
    They talk about rules and regulations, splitting fine lines.
    But the era of B16 nit picking is over.
    We have a new pope who isn’t afraid to call those who place the law above the faithful “pharisees” as he did when nit picking priests didn’t baptize children of single moms.
    What a breath of fresh air.

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #10:

      Pardon me. But comparing this conversation — which I prefaced and ended by saying I had no desire to pursue some sort of politicized argument — to the unconscionable refusal to baptize infants born out of wedlock (which in the case referenced was apparently more a cultural than theological deficiency) is frankly quite insulting.

  5. Re the sermon . . .

    Note, please, that Francis was addressing first and foremost the princes of the church, dressed in their long golden robes as he was wearing his own finery, and he included himself — the heir to Peter — in his critique and warning about worldliness.

    The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

    I wonder how this homily went over with the curial cardinals who have been accused of playing games of power?

    I wonder how this homily went over with the cardinals who are facing problems for their efforts to sweep allegations of child sexual abuse under the rug (Mahony of LA, Rigali of Philly, Brady of Ireland, among others)?

    I wonder how this homily is going over with bishops who are reading it online?

    Said Francis: “There are movements that pull us back. . .”

    The sermon raises the powerful question “what does it mean for a bishop to profess Christ?” and this is not a question to be answered in a few moments or a few words.

    And note, finally, the title most to be cherished: Disciple — one who follows. And that is a title to which all the baptized are called.

  6. Per Vatican Insider/La Stampa, “In his homily [Pope Francis] scrapped the Latin text and spoke off-the-cuff in Italian.”

    It’s not clear whether this means he scrapped something that someone else wrote for him and went with his own, or scrapped his own Latin text and went with Italian instead.

    Re-reading Teresa’s description above of the sermon, it made me think of my own preaching in a language that was not my first: simple language, simple examples, and no extended quotations.

    I grew up with English, but learned German as a second language. I’ve preached in German on occasion, including at a Lutheran congregation in San Francisco with one service in English and another in German each Sunday. As a preacher, I generally preach without notes, which led a parishioner to ask “Do you preach the same sermon (more or less) at both services?” When I said yes, she continued: “How do you write your sermon? Do you write it in English and translate it into German, or go the other way around?” I had to stop and think about it for a moment, and I realized that I had been composing in German under the reasonable assumption that if I could say what I wanted in my second language, saying it in my first would be easy, but not vice versa. The woman laughed, and said “Better that you say it with joy with your eyes before us (i.e., not reading a manuscript) than you labor through it grammatically perfect with eyes glued to your papers.”

    I don’t know anything about Pope Francis’ facility in his various languages, but I would hazard a guess that his Italian is more functional than his Latin.

    I wonder, too, whether his choice of language says something about his sense of the linguistic skills of his colleagues. Over the last two weeks, in the pre-conclave discussions and inside the conclave, I’d be curious to know more about what language(s) were used with whom. His choice here could also be related to expecting that most cardinals were more fluent in Italian than they were in Latin for everyday conversation.

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #15:
      Peter – good point….John Francis Robert reminds us that the usual language among the curia and dicasteries is Italian – would guess that this was the most spoken language among the electors in conversation in pairs or small groups.
      Would suggest that Francis understood this and thus spoke in Italian – a pastoral step (it may be his homily that someone put into latin and he changed the approach at the moment). Suggests that he understands liturgy as full & active participation; rather than just complying with some type of historicism or form e.g. not unlike the point that Patriach Maximos made during the Vatican II sessions. He deliberately did not speak in latin.

      For some of us, this liturgical approach is what SC’s principles laid out – difference between ars celebrandi and Read the Black, Do the Red.

      A couple of other significant signs:

      – After his election in the Sistine Chapel, the new pope chose not to sit on the papal throne when he received the oath of obedience and homage from the cardinals. Instead, he stood and received the cardinals one by one – reported by F. Lombardi

      – Exiting the St. Mary Major basilica, he spent some time visiting with children in a nearby schoolyard. He traveled to the basilica in a common Vatican service car, declining again to use the papal limousine. No police and only a small security group – reported by Dennis Coday of NCR.

      – he meets with the delegates of the Eastern Rite churches Wednesday

  7. I believe Pope Francis will have much to show us regarding distinctions between the ordained and non-ordained. There is not a shred of evidence that the teachings of Jesus Christ justify the clericalism which has marred the life of the church for so long. Not all are pastors and not all are evangelists……but the spirit provides gifts to each and every member of the body for the building up of the church. Just as priests say, “May almighty God bless you” over the people, so may the baptized say, “May Almighty God bless you” over Pope Francis at his request. Where did we ever get the idea that God has assigned the task of blessing exclusively to the clergy? Come to think of it, has anyone else thought it just a tad odd that immediately after the faithful have been nourished by the body and blood of Christ that they should need the blessing of the priest on top of that?

  8. Who should give the blessing? the priest? the saint?

    Holy Mother Mary of Egypt, a former prostitute who spent her life in the desert, is the liturgical icon of repentance during Lent for the Byzantine Tradition. Her life is read as part of the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete.

    It is one of great pieces of desert spirituality literature. Father Zosimas, a great priest, monk, and spiritual guide is tempted by the thought that he excels all others in the spiritual life and knows that this cannot be true. An angel guides him to a Palestinian monastery, and the observance of their custom of going out alone in the desert during Lent in imitation of Christ.

    He goes seeking this greater spiritual guide and meets the naked former prostitute. It is masterpiece of gradual spiritual discernment from his first glimpse of this apparition to his final recognition of her as the living icon of Christ when she walks on the waters of the Jordan.

    In the beginning after clothing her nakedness with his mantle (a deeply symbolic act in the desert tradition) they both kneel before each other, each asking the other to give the blessing (another desert tradition). Mary protests that he as priest should give the blessing. But Zosimas understands that only divine grace could have given her the knowledge that he was a priest, and therefore he commands her to give the blessing since she may be the greater guide that he is seeking

    Mary obeys him and as their conversation proceeds, Zosimas recognizes by her questions and concern for the church, that she has spent her whole life in prayer for the church. So when conversation turns to prayer (as it always does in the desert tradition) he asks her to lead the prayer. Again she declines and again he commands.

    So when Pope Francis asks us to give the blessing, we should not spend a lot of time debating the idea. He clearly asked us to pray silently for him just as he asked us to pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary and the Glory Be for Benedict. His focus was on prayer, and love of one another.

  9. One thing that struck me about the mass was the new pope’s comment that “he who does not pray to the Lord, prays to the devil.” It goes so far as to show how much difference charisma makes, if Benedict made such a statement, i can’t imagine the reaction…

    1. @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #21:

      I think the context matters more than charisma. Francis was saying this to the powerful in the church, not to the “separated brethren” or to the Jewish community or to the Islamic community or to atheists. He was telling them that though they hold an office in the Christian church, that means nothing if they are not fulfilling that office as disciples.

      Just as Jesus said to some of his detractors who placed their trust in being children of Abraham that had never been in slavery to anyone that God could raise up children of Abraham from the stones in the road, so Francis was calling out those who place their trust in the title priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal or pope. Those titles mean nothing if they forget their calling as disciples.

      The sentences before and after what you quoted are critical, and the “we” is the pope and the college of Cardinals:

      Third, professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ – I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – . . .

      . . . When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

      If *we* do not . . . the pronoun “we” is the key to this paragraph.

      1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #22:
        Oh I agree with you, I don’t think that Pope Francis said anything bad. My point is that Benedict’s regensburg address and lifting of the excommunication off of williamson, when placed in context were not as offensive as when taken out of context.

  10. Be wary of translations!
    The Vatican News Service (http://www.news.va/it/news/messa-celebrata-da-papa-francesco-nella-cappella-s) reports in print in Italian that Pope Francis said “ma se non confessiamo a Gesù Cristo, la cosa non va. Diventeremo una ong filantropica” – “if we do not confess Jesus Christ, the thing does not work. We will become a philanthropic NGO.”
    The English language report of the homily on the same website translates it “a pitiful NGO”, which in English can sound very demeaning of an NGO.
    But the mp3 of the homily on the same website has Pope Francis saying “una ong pietosa”, which can mean “pitiful” in the sense of “compassionate” – full of pity, in a positive rather than negative sense. “Pietosa” must have been translated as “pitiful” by Vox Clara.
    A pithy Italian saying warns: “traduttore, traditore”: “a translator (can be) a betrayer”.

    1. @Pádraig McCarthy – comment #25:
      “Be wary of translations”?

      You mean it’s not just Anthony and those pesky American liturgists who have their words mangled by poor translators across the ocean?


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