VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Jesus says to have no fear of ridicule, persecution or criticism for being faithful to the Gospel, but to be afraid of wasting one’s life chasing after trivial things, Pope Francis said.

“There is a cost to remaining faithful to what counts. The cost is going against the tide, the cost is freeing oneself from being conditioned by popular opinion, the cost is being separated from those who ‘follow the current,'” he said.

“What matters is not to throw away the greatest good: life. This is the only thing that should frighten us,” the pope said before praying the Angelus with some 20,000 visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square June 25.

Pope Francis greets visitors in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican to pray the Angelus June 25, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

In his talk, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel reading (Mt 10:26-33) in which Jesus tells his disciples to “not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

The pope said the valley of Gehenna was used by the inhabitants of Jerusalem as a large garbage dump. Jesus used this image, the pope said, “in order to say that the true fear we should have is that of throwing away one’s own life.”

Jesus was telling the disciples that they do not need to be afraid of “suffering misunderstanding and criticism, of losing prestige and economic advantages to remain faithful to the Gospel, no, but of wasting your existence in the pursuit of trivial things that do not fill life with meaning,” the pope said.

Jesus had already spoken about the persecutions the disciples would undergo for being faithful to the Gospel, “a fact that is still a reality,” he said.

“It seems paradoxical: the proclamation of the kingdom of God is a message of peace and justice, founded on fraternal charity and on forgiveness, and yet it meets with opposition, violence, persecution,” he said.

“Jesus, however, says not to fear, not because everything will be alright in the world, no, but because we are precious to his Father and nothing that is good will be lost,” he said.

This requires renouncing “the idols of efficiency and consumerism,” he said, “so as not to get lost in things that end up getting thrown out, as they threw things out in Gehenna back then.”

It also means renouncing chasing after things and achievements instead of dedicating oneself to people and relationships, the pope said.

Some examples, he said, include: parents who know they “cannot live for work alone,” but also “need enough time to be with their children”; priests and religious who dedicate themselves to service without “forgetting to dedicate time to be with Jesus”; and young people who are busy with “school, sports, various interests, cell phones and social networks, but who need to meet people and achieve great dreams, without losing time on passing things that do not leave their mark.”

Pope Francis said the faithful should reflect on what they fear and consider the danger of “not pleasing the Lord and not putting his Gospel in first place” and pray to be “wise and courageous in the choices we make.”

After reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed for the families and victims of violence in a women’s penitentiary in Támara, Honduras.

Reports said gang violence in the prison left 46 women dead June 20. One group of female prisoners, armed with guns and machetes, gained access to the cell blocks of their rivals, news reports said.

Some of the women, who were locked in their cells, were burned to death and attacked with gunfire and the machetes, reports said.

The pope said he was “very saddened” by the “terrible violence between rival gangs,” which caused death and suffering.

“I pray for the deceased; I pray for their families. May the Virgin of Suyapa, mother of Honduras, help hearts to open to reconciliation and to creating space for fraternal co-existence, even within prisons.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The day after Christmas the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, which emphasizes how the story of Jesus’ birth is not a “fairy tale,” but a call to live as witnesses of the Gospel, Pope Francis said.

Marking the feast Dec. 26, a public holiday in Italy, Pope Francis led the recitation of the Angelus prayer at noon with thousands of visitors and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis waves to visitors and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for the recitation of the Angelus prayer Dec. 26, the feast of St. Stephen. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

By putting the martyrdom of St. Stephen on the calendar the day after Christmas, he said, “the liturgy really seems to want to steer us away from the world of lights, lunches and gifts in which we might indulge somewhat in these days.”

The point, he said, is that “Christmas is not the fairy tale of the birth of a king, but it is the coming of the Savior, who frees us from evil by taking upon himself our evil: selfishness, sin, death.”

The Bible says St. Stephen was a deacon, the pope said, which “means that his first witness was not given in words, but through the love with which he served those most in need.”

At the same time, the Acts of the Apostles describes how Stephen spoke of Jesus to those he met, sharing with them the faith.

“However, his greatest testimony is yet another: that he knew how to unite charity and proclamation,” the pope said, by “following the example of Jesus” and forgiving those who were about to kill him.

St. Stephen shows that “we can improve our witness through charity toward our brothers and sisters, faithfulness to God’s word and forgiveness,” the pope said. “It is forgiveness that tells whether we really practice charity toward others and live the word of Jesus.”

Over the holidays, when many people are spending time with family and friends, there may be “someone with whom we have not gotten along, who has hurt us, with whom we have never mended the relationship,” the pope said. “Let us ask the newborn Jesus for the newness of a heart that can forgive: We all need a forgiving heart!”

Pope Francis also used the occasion once again to wish people peace — “peace in families, peace in parishes and religious communities, peace in movements and associations, peace for those peoples tormented by war, peace for the dear and embattled Ukraine.”

Noting that many people in the crowd held Ukrainian flags, the pope again said, “Let us ask for peace for this suffering people!”