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The ghost of hypocrisy

· Mass at the Santa Marta ·

With the “ghost of hypocrisy” we forget how to take care of a patient, a child or an elderly person. And it doesn't allow us to look into the eyes of the person at whom we are quickly throwing change, pulling our hand away immediately so as to keep clean. At morning mass on Friday, 7 March, in the Santa Marta, Pope Francis warned those present “never to be ashamed” of “their brother's flesh”.

On the Friday following Ash Wednesday the Church, explained the Pontiff, meditates on the true meaning of fasting. And she does this with two incisive readings taken from the Prophet Isaiah (58:1-9a) and from Gospel of Matthew (9:14-15). “Behind the readings today,” he stated, “there is the ghost of hypocrisy, of formality in fulfilling the commandments, in this case, of fasting”. Therefore, “Jesus frequently returns to the subject of hypocrisy when he see the doctors of the law think they are perfect: they fulfil everything written in the commandments as if it were a formality”.

And here, the Pope warned, they have a “problem with their memory”, “a double face going down the road of life”. The hypocrites “forgot that they were chosen by God as a people, and not by themselves. They forgot the history of their people, the history of salvation, of being chosen, of covenant, of promise” which comes directly from the Lord.

And in so doing, he continued, “they reduced their history to a life ethic. Religious life for them is a matter of ethics”. This “explains why at the time of Jesus, theologians say, there were three hundred commandments more or less” to observe. Yet, “ to receive from the Lord the love of a father, to receive from the Lord the identity of a people and then transform it into an ethic” means “to reject that gift of love”. Moreover, he pointed out, hypocrites “are good people, they do everything they should do, they seem good”. But “they are ethicists, ethicists without goodness, because they have lost their sense of belonging to a people”.

“Salvation,” the Pontiff explained, “is given by the Lord within a people, in belonging to a people”. And “thus one understands how the Prophet Isaiah speaks to us today about fasting, about penance: what kind of fasting does the Lord want? The fasting that is related to a people, the people to which we belong: our own people, to whom we are called and where we have been inserted”.

Pope Francis reread this part of the passage from the Book of Isaiah “ Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”.

Here lies, therefore, the meaning of true “fasting,” the Bishop of Rome repeated, “to care about the life of your brother, not to be ashamed of the flesh of your brother, as Isaiah says”. In deed, “our perfection, our sanctity grows with our people, the people with whom we were chosen and included”. And “our greatest act of holiness is precisely for the flesh of our brother and the flesh of Jesus Christ”.

In this way, he underlined, so too “the act of holiness today – we here at the altar – is not hypocritical fasting. It is not being ashamed of the flesh of Christ who comes here today: it is the mystery of the body and the blood of Christ. It is going out to break bread with the hungry, to care for the sick, the elderly, those who can give us nothing in return: this is not being ashamed of the flesh”.

“The salvation of God”, the Pontiff repeated, “is in a people, a people who progresses, a people of brothers and sisters who are not ashamed of one another”. This kind exactly, he warned, “is the most difficult fast: the fast of goodness. Goodness leads us to this”. And “perhaps”, he explained citing the Gospel, “the priest who passed close to that wounded man thought” obeying the commandments of the time: “if I touch that blood, the wounded flesh, I will be impure and I can't celebrate the Sabbath! And he was ashamed of the flesh of that man. This is hypocrisy!”. Instead, the Holy Father noted, “the sinner that passed and saw him: he saw the flesh of his brother, the flesh of a man of his people, a son of God like himself. And he was not ashamed”.

“The Church's proposal today” points therefore to a true and proper examination of conscience through a series of questions that the Pope posed to those present: “Am I embarrassed by the flesh of my brother or sister? When I give alms, do I let the coins fall without touching his hand? And if by chance I touch him, do I do this?” he asked mimicking a gesture of repulsion with his hand. And again: “when I give alms, do I look at my brother or sister in the eyes? When I know a person is sick do I visit him or her?” Do I greet them with tenderness?”

Finishing the examination of conscience, the Pope pointed out, “there is a sign that might help us”. It is “a question: do I know how to cherish the sick, the elderly, children? Or have I lost the meaning of to cherish?” Hypocrites, he proceeded, do not know how to cherish, they have forgotten how it is done. This then is his recommendation “do not be ashamed of the flesh of our brothers: it is our flesh”. And “we shall be judged”, closed the Pope, on our conduct towards “these brothers and sisters” and certainly not “on a hypocrite's fast”.

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