Articles of the Month
Give joy to the people
To “obey, and give joy to the people” is an essential part of “Christian mission”, which Pope Francis focused on during Mass at Santa Marta on Thursday morning, 18 May.
During his homily, the Pope recounted the story of a priest who, when he was appointed bishop, “went to his elderly father to give him the news”. The father, a “humble man”, who had “worked his whole life” and was now retired, did not have a university education but the “wisdom of life”, and gave his son this advice: “obey, and give joy to the people”. Pope Francis noted that “this man had understood” the teaching of the day’s liturgy: “be obedient to the Father’s love, not to other loves; be obedient to this gift and then give joy to the people”. Thus, the Pontiff explained, we too, “Christians, lay people, priests, consecrated religious, bishops, must give joy to the people”.
Francis began the day’s reflection, with a particular passage from the Gospel of John (15:9-11). Describing the scene, he noted that “Jesus returns to reflect once again on the commandment of love”, and “says something very powerful: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’”. Hence “the love with which Jesus loves us is the same as that with which the Father loved him: the same. We are loved with this great love. It is a great gift of love!”. For this very reason, Francis continued, Jesus “admonishes us: ‘Please, abide in my love because it is the love of the Father’. It is a great love”. Recognizing the likely objection: “But, Lord, how can we abide in your love?”, the Lord himself offers a concrete response: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love”. In substance, the Pope clarified, “Jesus abides in the Father’s love and asks us to abide in the love he has for us”.
But “how does one abide” in this love? The response is: “observe the commandments” — those 10 rules which form “the base”, which are “the foundation”. These are the precepts, Jesus clarifies, “that I have taught you”, that is, the “commandments of daily life, the little commandments” which, “more than commandments, are a Christian way of life”. The Pope thus advised that we abide “in this way of living the Christian life”. How do we do so? Examples can be found “in the works of mercy or in the Beatitudes”. In fact, the Pontiff observed, “although the list of Jesus’ commandments may be very, very, very long”, in reality, there is one core: “the Father’s love for him and his love for us”.
For this reason, the Lord “asks us to abide in his love”, and also, Francis warned, because in life “there are other loves. The world too proposes other loves to us: love of money, for example, love of vanity, of showing off; love of pride; love of power, and of doing many unjust things in order to have even more power”. However, such cases “are other loves”; they “are not of Jesus and are not of the Father. Christ asks us to abide in his love, which is the Father’s love”.
The Holy Father thus invited his listeners to think about “those other loves which distance us from Jesus’ love”, and also to reflect upon the existence of “other measures of loving”: such as “half-hearted loving”, which, however, “is not loving. It is one thing to wish someone well, and another thing entirely to love someone. Loving is more than wishing someone well”. At this point we must ask ourselves what the measure of love is. Paradoxically, the response is that “the measure of love is to love without measure”. Only thus, suggested the Pope, with “these commandments that Jesus has given us, will we abide in Jesus’ love, which is the Father’s love. Without measure”.
Thus, this love of Christ is not like every other type of love, which can often be “lukewarm or self-absorbed”.
Continuing with the Gospel passage, Francis then asked why the Lord feels the need to remind us of these things. The response is found in the text: “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”. In fact, “if the Father’s love comes from Jesus, Jesus teaches us the way of love: an open heart, to love without measure, to love by leaving aside all other types of love. The great love for him is to abide in this love, and there one finds joy, great joy, which is a gift”. Indeed, both “love and joy are a gift”.
A reference to this sense can also be found “in the opening prayer of the Mass”, the Pope reminded us, when “we asked: ‘Lord, take care of this gift which you have given us’, the gift of love, the gift of joy”. It was in this regard that the Pope shared the advice of the father of the newly appointed bishop: “give joy to the people”. Francis urged all Christians to do so “by way of love, without ulterior motives, only by way of love. Our Christian mission is to give joy to the people”. Thus, the Pope concluded his homily with a prayer that “the Lord protect this gift”, that we may “abide in Jesus’ love so as to give joy to the people”.
The hypocrite is always a flatterer
“A true Christian cannot be a hypocrite, and a hypocrite is not a true Christian”: Pope Francis spoke unequivocally against the temptation to be “two-faced”. This was his focus during Mass at Santa Marta on Tuesday, 6 June, as he reflected on the day’s passage from the Gospel of Mark (12:13-17) in which “some Pharisees and Herodians” were seeking to entrap Jesus.
“In the Gospel passage”, the Pope noted, “there is a word which Jesus uses a lot to characterize the doctors of the law”, because he recognized their hypocrisy.
Thus, “‘hypocrite’ is the word he uses often to characterize them”. Pope Francis explained that they are “hypocrites because they show one thing while they are thinking of something else”. Actually, the Pope added, alluding to the Greek etymology of the word, “they speak, they judge, but underneath there is something else”. Nothing could be more different from Jesus’ way: hypocrisy, in fact “is not the language of Jesus. Hypocrisy is not the language of Christians”. This fact is absolutely “clear”.
However, as Jesus takes care to highlight this characteristic, Francis observed, it is important that we fully understand it and recognize “how they act”, how hypocrites behave.
Above all, the Pope said, “the hypocrite is always a flatterer”, whether to a greater or lesser degree, “but he is a flatterer”. Thus, for example, they say to Jesus: “Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God”. In other words, they use “that flattery which softens the heart” and weakens resistance in life.
Therefore “hypocrites always begin with flattery. And then they ask a question”. Part of flattery is to “not speak the truth”, to “exaggerate”, to “boost vanity”. In this regard, the Holy Father recalled a priest whom he “knew a long time ago, not here” — who, “poor man, drank up all the flattery that others gave him; it was his weakness. And his friends said that he had learnt the liturgy poorly” since he had not understood the true meaning of “incensing”.
So, the Pope continued, “flattery always begins like this, but with an evil intention”. This can be clearly seen in the Gospel passage: in order to put Jesus to the test, the Pharisees “fawned over him, so that he might believe them and slip up”. This is the hypocrite’s technique: “he shows you that he likes you; he always puffs you up, in order to achieve his aim”.
The Pope then underscored “a second aspect” found in “what Jesus does” when confronted with this “two-faced” ploy of the hypocrites, who ask a fair question but “with an unjust intention”. They ask him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, is it just?” — Jesus, “knowing their hypocrisy, states clearly: ‘Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it’”. Observe Jesus’ technique: “to hypocrites and ideologues”, Pope Francis said, Jesus always “responds with reality. The reality is so, everything else is either hypocrisy or ideology”.
This is why Jesus says: “bring me a coin”. He actually wants to show “reality”. He responds “with wisdom” when he says: “‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ — the reality was that the coin bore the image of Caesar — ‘and to God the things that are God’s’”.
Lastly, the Holy Father said, it is important to note a “third aspect” relative to the “language of hypocrisy”: that it is “a language of deceit, and is the same language as the serpent’s with Eve; it is the same. It begins with flattery: ‘No … if you eat of this you will be great, you will know all...’, in order to destroy her”.
Hypocrisy, in fact, “destroys; hypocrisy kills; it kills people, even so far as to strip away a person’s character and soul. It kills communities” the Pope explained. And, he added, “when there are hypocrites in a community there is a great danger there; there is a very horrible danger”. For this reason, “the Lord Jesus said to us: ‘Let your speech be: yes, yes, no, no. Anything more comes from the evil one’. He was very clear”. In this regard, Pope Francis recalled, “James, in his Letter, was even stronger: ‘Let your yes be yes and your no be no’”.
These clear words help us understand today just “how much evil” hypocrisy does to the Church. How much evil is achieved by “those Christians who fall into this sinful practice which kills”. This is because, the Holy Father emphasized, “the hypocrite is capable of killing a community. He speaks sweetly, while judging a person harshly. The hypocrite is a killer”. In conclusion, the Pope summarized his reflection by recalling that hypocrisy “begins with flattery”, to which one must respond only “with reality”; and that hypocrisy uses “the same language as the devil who sows that duplicitous language in communities in order to destroy them”. Therefore, the Pope said, “let us ask the Lord to protect us from falling into this vice of hypocrisy”, from “masking our attitude, but with evil intentions. That the Lord might give us this grace: ‘Lord, that I might never be a hypocrite, that I might know how to speak the truth and if I cannot say it, to stay silent, but never hypocrisy ...’”.
© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana. These articles are from Pope Francis' Meditations.--May/June 2017