Pope Francis warned against the hypocrisy of thinking one is saved by pious works during his homily at morning Mass today at Casa Santa Marta. This attitude of “perfect piety” risks for one to look for their own salvation but not for the care of the poor. The Holy Father referred to this hypocrisy as the “Jonah syndrome”, referring to the sign of Jonah that Christ speaks of in today’s Gospel.
The Gospel of Luke, which recounted Christ’s warning to the “wicked generation”, a term he said that is very strong. “This, however, does not refer to the people who followed Him with so much love,” the Pope explained, “but to the doctors of the law who tried to test Him and make Him fall in their trap.”
Saying that while Christ says that the only sign that will be given to them will be the sign of Jonah, Pope Francis said that there also exists the “Jonah syndrome”, meaning, the tendency to justify oneself with doctrine while sinners fend for themselves. The Holy Father referenced Jonah’s initial reaction to preaching in Nineveh, which was to flee.
“The ‘Jonah syndrome’ does not have the zeal for the conversion of people, it is in search of a sanctity – if you permit me to say – a ‘dyed’ sanctity, all beautiful, all well made, but lacking that zeal to go and preach the Lord,” the Holy Father said.
“However in front of this generation that is sick from the “Jonah syndrome”, the Lord promises the sign of Jonah. The other version, that of Matthew, says: Jonah was inside the whale for three nights and three days, referring to Jesus in the tomb – his death and Resurrection – and that is the sign that Jesus promises, against hypocrisy, against this attitude of perfect religiosity, against this attitude of a group of Pharisees.”
The Holy Father noted another Gospel as an example of these two attitudes which is found in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The story, which speaks of a Pharisee who praises God for not being like the publican (tax collector) who instead prays for God’s mercy.
“This is the sign that Jesus promises for his forgiveness through his death and Resurrection: it his mercy, ‘It is mercy that I want and not sacrifice’,” the Pope said. This true ‘sign of Jonah’, he went on to say, is the complete trust in one’s salvation through the blood of Christ. While there are many Christians believe they are saved only through their works, it is not what brings salvation. Good works, he said, “are a consequence, a response to that merciful love that saves us.”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis told the faithful present that the sign of Jonah is a calling for all Christians to follow the Lord with humility and meekness despite our sins. “It is a calling, as well as a choice,” he said.