This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 in Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
In his address in Italian, the Pope reflected on the theme: “Divine Forgiveness: Engine of Hope” — “Who Is This, Who Even Forgives Sins?” After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
We heard the reaction of Simon the Pharisee’s guests: “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49). Jesus had just carried out a scandalous gesture. A woman of the city, known by all as a sinner, entered Simon’s house, knelt down at Jesus’ feet and poured perfumed oil on His feet. All those that were there at the table murmured: if Jesus is a prophet, He shouldn’t accept gestures of this sort of such a woman. Those women, poor things, were only useful to be encountered in a hidden way, also by Heads, or to be stoned. According to the mentality of the time, the separation between the saint and the sinner, between the pure and impure, should be clear
However, Jesus’ attitude was different. From the beginning of His ministry in Galilee, He approached lepers, demoniacs, all the sick and marginalized. Such behavior was in no way usual. So true is this that Jesus’ liking for the excluded, the “untouchables,” was one of the things that most disconcerted His contemporaries. Wherever there was a person suffering, Jesus took charge of him, and that suffering became His own. Jesus did not preach that the condition of pain should be endured with heroism, in the manner of the Stoic philosophers. Jesus shared human pain and when He came across it there burst in His innermost being that attitude that characterizes Christianity: mercy. In face of human pain Jesus feels mercy; Jesus’ heart is merciful. Jesus feels compassion, literally; He feels His innermost being quiver. How many times in the Gospels we encounter reactions of this sort. The heart of Christ incarnates and reveals the heart of God, that, wherever there is a man or woman suffering, He wills their cure, their liberation, their full life.
It is because of this that Jesus opens wide His arms to sinners. How many people continue, also today, in a wrong life because they don’t find anyone willing to look at them in a different way, with the eyes, better yet, with the heart of God, namely, to look at them with hope. Jesus, instead, sees a possibility of resurrection also in one who has accumulated many wrong choices. Jesus is always there, with an open heart; that mercy issues, which He has in His heart; He forgives, embraces, understands, comes close: Jesus is thus!
Sometimes we forget that for Jesus it wasn’t about an easy love, of small price. The Gospels record the first negative reactions in Jesus’ dealings in fact when He forgave a man’s sins (Cf. Mark 2:1-12). He was a man who suffered doubly, because he couldn’t walk and because he felt he was “wrong.” And Jesus understood that the latter pain was greater than the former, so much so that He received him immediately with the proclamation of his liberation: “Son, your sins are forgiven!” (v. 5). He frees him from that sense of oppression of feeling wrong. It was then that some scribes – those who believed themselves perfect: I think of many Catholics that believe themselves perfect and scorn others . . . this is sad . . . – some scribes who were present there were scandalized by those words of Jesus, which sounded like blasphemy, because only God can forgive sins.
We, who are used to experiencing the forgiveness of sins, perhaps too “cheaply,” should at times remind ourselves how much we cost God’s love. Each one of us cost a lot: Jesus’ life! He would have given it also for just one of us. Jesus didn’t go to the cross because He cured the sick, because He preached charity, because He proclaimed the Beatitudes. The Son of God went to the cross above all because He forgave sins, because He willed the total, definitive liberation of the human heart. Because He does not want the human being to be consumed his whole life with this ineffaceable “tattoo,” with the thought of not being able to be received by the merciful heart of God. And with these sentiments Jesus goes to encounter sinners, which we all are.
Thus sinners are forgiven. Not only are they soothed at the psychological level, because they are freed from the sense of guilt, Jesus does much more: He offers people that have erred the hope of a new life. “But, Lord, I am a wretch.” “Look ahead and I’ll make you a new heart.” This is the hope that Jesus gives us. A life marked by love. Matthew, the publican, became an Apostle of Christ: Matthew, who was a traitor of the homeland, an exploiter of people. Zaccheus, corrupt rich man — who certainly had a degree in bribes — of Jericho, was transformed into a benefactor of the poor. The woman of Samaria, who had had five husbands and now lived with another, heard the promise of a “living water,” which would always gush within her (Cf. John 4:14). Thus Jesus changes the heart; He does so with all of us.
It does us good to think that God didn’t choose as first dough to form His Church people that never erred. The Church is a people of sinners, who experience the mercy and forgiveness of God. Peter understood more the truth about himself when the cock crowed, rather than from his outbursts of generosity, which swelled his chest, making him feel superior to others.
Brothers and sisters, we are all poor sinners, in need of God’s mercy, which has the strength to transform us and give us renew our hope. And He does so! And to people that have understood this fundamental truth, God gives the most beautiful mission in the world, namely, love for brothers and sisters and the proclamation of a mercy that He doesn’t deny to anyone. And this is our hope. We go on with this trust in forgiveness, in the merciful love of Jesus.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
I greet the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I wish to address a word of welcome to the Religious Sisters of Mary Immaculate-Claretian Missionaries, gathered in their General Chapter, as well as the Sisters of Charity of Saint Giovanna Antida, who are preparing to celebrate their perpetual vows. Dear Sisters, be joyful always, even noisy, and witness everywhere the beauty of your consecration to God and to the Gospel. I greet the faithful of the parish of Saint Mary of Carmel in Sant’Elia Fiumerapido, entrusting them to the Holy Virgin so that she renders each one’s existence rich in fruits of goodness.
Finally, my cordial thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds, who have come to Rome at this time. Dear young people, I hope that the encounter with so many places charged with culture, art and faith, is a propitious occasion to know and imitate the example left to us by so many witnesses of the Gospel who lived here, such as Saint Lawrence, whose feast is tomorrow. I encourage you, dear sick, to unite yourselves constantly to the suffering Jesus, to bear the cross with faith for the redemption of the world. I hope that you, dear newlyweds, will build your new family on the solid foundation of fidelity to the Gospel of Love.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
The Holy Father’s Appeal
I have remained profoundly grief-stricken by the massacre that occurred last Sunday in Nigeria, inside a church, where innocent people were killed. And, unfortunately, news arrived this morning of homicidal violence, in the Central African Republic, against Christian communities. I hope that every form of hatred and violence ceases, and that shameful crimes of this sort, perpetrated in places of worship where the faithful gather to pray, are never repeated. Let us think of our brothers and sisters of Nigeria and of the Central African Republic. Let us pray, all together, for them” Hail Mary . . .[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]