Pope Francis on Sunday urged people to remember the closeness, compassion, and tenderness of God.
Speaking before the midday Angelus on Feb. 14, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45), in which Jesus heals a man with leprosy.
Noting that Christ broke a taboo by reaching out and touching the man, he said: “He drew near… Nearness. Compassion. The Gospel says that Jesus, seeing the leper, was moved with compassion, tenderness. Three words that indicate God’s style: nearness, compassion, tenderness.”
The pope said that by healing the man who was considered “unclean,” Jesus fulfilled the Good News that He announced.
“God draws near to our lives, he is moved to compassion because of the fate of wounded humanity and comes to break down every barrier that prevents us from being in relationship with him, with others, and with ourselves,” he said.
The pope suggested that the leper’s encounter with Jesus contained two “transgressions”: the man’s decision to approach Jesus and Christ’s reaching out to him.
“His illness was considered a divine punishment, but, in Jesus, he is able to see another aspect of God: not the God who punishes, but the Father of compassion and love who frees us from sin and never excludes us from his mercy,” he said.
The pope praised “good confessors who do not have a whip in their hands, but just welcome, listen and say that God is good and that God always forgives, that God does not get tired of forgiving.”
He then asked pilgrims gathered below his window in St. Peter’s Square to offer a round of applause for merciful confessors.
He continued to reflect on what he called Jesus’ “transgression” in healing the sick man.
“Someone would have said: He sinned. He did something the law prohibits. He is a transgressor. It is true: He is a transgressor. He does not limit himself to words but touches him. To touch with love means to establish a relationship, to enter into communion, to become involved in the life of another person even to the point of sharing their wounds,” he said.
“With that gesture, Jesus reveals that God, who is not indifferent, does not keep himself at a ‘safe distance.’ Rather, he draws near out of compassion and touches our life to heal it with tenderness. It is God’s style: nearness, compassion, and tenderness. God’s transgression. He is a great transgressor in this sense.”
He recalled that also today people are shunned because they suffer from Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, as well as other conditions.
He then referred to the sinful woman who was criticized for pouring a jar of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). He warned Catholics against pre-judging those deemed sinners.
He said: “Each one of us might experience wounds, failure, suffering, selfishness that make us close ourselves off from God and others because sin closes us in on ourselves because of shame, because of humiliation, but God wants to open our heart.”
“In the face of all this, Jesus announces to us that God is not an idea or an abstract doctrine, but God is the One who ‘contaminates’ himself with our human woundedness and is not afraid to come into contact with our wounds.”
He continued: “‘But, Father, what are you saying? That God contaminates himself?’ I am not saying this, St. Paul said it: he made himself to be sin. He who was not a sinner, who could not sin, made himself to be sin. Look at how God contaminated himself to draw near to us, to have compassion and to make us understand his tenderness. Closeness, compassion, and tenderness.”
He suggested that we can overcome our temptation to avoid others’ suffering by asking God for the grace to live out the two “transgressions” described in the day’s Gospel reading.
“That of the leper, so that we might have the courage to emerge from our isolation and, instead of staying put and feeling sorry for ourselves or crying over our failings, complaining, and instead of this, let us go to Jesus just as we are; ‘Jesus, I am like this.’ We will feel that embrace, that embrace of Jesus that is so beautiful,” he said.
“And then Jesus’s transgression, a love that goes beyond conventions, that overcomes prejudices and the fear of getting involved with the lives of others. Let us learn to be transgressors like these two: like the leper and like Jesus.”
Speaking after the Angelus, Pope Francis thanked those who care for migrants. He said that he joined the bishops of Colombia in thanking the government for giving protected status — via a Temporary Protection Statute — to almost a million people who have fled neighboring Venezuela.
He said: “It is not a super-wealthy, developed country that is doing this… No: this is being done by a country that has many problems of development, of poverty and of peace… Almost 70 years of guerrilla war. But with this problem, they have had the courage to look at those migrants and to create this statute. Thank you to Columbia.”
The pope noted that Feb. 14 is the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the co-patrons of Europe who evangelized the Slavs in the ninth century.
“May their intercession help us find new ways to communicate the Gospel. These two were not afraid of finding new ways to communicate the Gospel. And through their intercession, may the Christian churches grow in their desire to walk toward full unity while respecting differences,” he said.
Pope Francis also observed that Feb. 14 is Valentine’s Day.
“And I cannot fail today, St. Valentine’s Day, to extend a thought and greeting to engaged couples, to those who are in love. I accompany you with my prayer and I bless you all,” he said.
He then thanked pilgrims for coming to St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus, pointing out groups from France, Mexico, Spain, and Poland.
“We begin Lent this coming Wednesday. It will be a favorable time of giving a meaning of faith and hope to the crisis that we are living,” he said.
“And before, I do not want to forget: the three words that help us understand God’s style. Do not forget: nearness, compassion, tenderness.”