Pope Francis invited Christians on Wednesday to pray for the grace to have a “pastoral heart” like Jesus that “suffers and takes risks” out of love for others.
At his weekly public audience on Jan. 18, the pope said that Jesus provides “the unsurpassed model of evangelization.”
“Christ not only has the words of life, but he makes his life a Word, a message: that is, he lives always turned toward the Father and toward us,” Pope Francis said in Paul VI Hall.
“Indeed, if we look at his days as described in the Gospels, we see that intimacy with his Father – prayer – occupies the first place. … Specifically, within this relationship in prayer which connects him to the Father in the Spirit, Jesus discovers the meaning of his being human, of his existence in the world as a mission for us,” he said.
After praying each day, Jesus dedicated his time to proclaiming the Kingdom of God and serving people, especially the poorest, the most vulnerable, the sinners, and the sick, the pope added.
Pope Francis said that one of the best images to represent Jesus’ style of life is that of “the Good Shepherd” who “lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11).
“By being with Jesus, we discover that his pastoral heart always beats for the person who is confused, lost, far away,” he said.
In this, Jesus the Good Shepherd provides a model against which “to evaluate our pastoral care,” Pope Francis added.
The pope recommended rereading often chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, which contains the parable of the lost sheep, to come to truly understand apostolic zeal.
“There we discover that God does not contemplate the sheep pen, nor does he threaten them so they won’t leave. Rather, if one leaves and gets lost, he does not abandon that sheep but goes in search of it. He does not say, ‘You got up and left – it’s your fault – that’s your business!’ His pastoral heart reacts in another way: it suffers and takes risks,” Pope Francis said.
“Yes, God suffers for those who leave, and while he mourns over them, he loves even more. The Lord suffers when we distance ourselves from his heart. He suffers for all who do not know the beauty of his love and the warmth of his embrace. But, in response to this suffering, he does not withdraw, rather he risks. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are safe and ventures out for the lost one. … This is God’s zeal.”
The pope’s general audience message was the second in a new weekly series of catechesis, or teachings, on evangelization and apostolic zeal.
At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis asked for people to join him in praying for a Catholic priest who was killed in Nigeria and for persecuted Christians around the world.
“I ask all of you to join me in praying for Father Isaac Achi, of the Diocese of Minna in northern Nigeria, who was killed last Sunday in an attack on his rectory,” he said.
“So many Christians continue to be the target of violence: let us remember them in our prayers!”
Pope Francis also urged people to pray for peace in “martyred Ukraine,” where a Russian missile strike on an apartment building last Saturday killed 45 people, including six children.
“Last Saturday, a new missile attack claimed many civilian victims, including children. I make the heartbreaking grief of the family members my own,” the pope said.
“The images and testimonies of this tragic episode are a strong appeal to all consciences. One cannot remain indifferent!”