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Learning to do good

Following the end of Lenten Spiritual exercises with the Roman Curia in Ariccia, Pope Francis resumed his customary celebration of morning Mass at Santa Marta, on Tuesday, March 14. In his homily, the Pope focused on the conversion Christians are called to, especially during Lent. It is a demanding path, he stressed, but one with “simple rules” which one must embrace “not through words”, but concretely in life. And it is above all a journey in which no one is alone; all one has to do is allow “the father who loves us” to “take [us] by the hand”. The Holy Father’s meditation was prompted by the day’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah and his invitation to: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes’; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (I, 10:16-20).

Pope Francis singled out two expressions that “capture [the] attention” in this passage; “distance yourself from evil and learn to do good”. In fact, he continued, this is precisely what the “conversion journey [is]: it is simple”. These guidelines depend on what each person experiences personally. “Each of us does something bad every day: Scripture says that the righteous man sins seven times a day... (cf Proverbs 24:16) But the problem is to not become accustomed to living among the bad”, he explained. “If I do something bad, I notice it and I want to distance myself”, Pope Francis stressed. On this topic, he continued, Isaiah says that we should “remove ourselves from evil, that which poisons the soul, that which reduces the soul, that which makes you sick”. This, therefore, is the first step needed: to “remove the evil of your doing”.

But, Francis continued, this is not enough as the passage proceeds to say; “Learn to do good”. “It is not easy to do good: we have to learn how [to do this], always”, he added. Fortunately, there is the Lord who “teaches” us and therefore people must do as children do and “learn”. “In the journey of life, Christian life we learn every day. We must learn to do something each day, to be better than the day before”, Francis stressed. This then, is the “rule of conversion: to distance yourself from evil and to learn to do good.... Converting oneself is not like going to a fairy who converts us with her magic wand, no! It is a journey. It is a journey of distancing oneself and of learning”. It is a journey which requires “courage, to remove oneself” from evil and “humility to learn” to do good. And above all, it requires “concrete things”, he explained.

It is no coincidence, the Pope said, that the Lord mentions some concrete examples through the words of the Prophet: “seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow”; There could be an entire list of examples but what is important, Francis said, is understanding that “we learn to do good with concrete things, not with words”. And in fact as we read in the Gospel of the day (Mt 23:1-12), Jesus “scolds this ruling class of the people of Israel for they ‘preach but do not practice’; they do not know concreteness. And if there is no concreteness, there can be no conversion” he added.

After identifying ‘what’ to do on the path to conversion, the Pope moved on to reflect on ‘how’ to behave and again returned to the day’s reading from Isaiah; “Come, now let us reason together”. The Lord therefore, “first invites us and then he helps us”, he explained. He reflected on the language chosen by Jesus; ‘come now’, as we read in Isaiah and ‘arise’ as he says to the paralytic: “Rise, take up your pallet and walk”, (Mk 2:1-12) the same word used with Ja’irus’ daughter and the widow’s son at the doors of Na’in. God always invites us to arise but he always “lends his hand to go ‘up’” and he does this with his characteristic humility, Pope Francis said. In the passage from Isaiah he says, “come now and let us reason together”. Thus, “he lowers himself to our level, as one of us... Our God is humble”, he added. Here then is the logic which brings to conversion: “first the invitation, then the help, then walking together to help us, to explain things to us, to hold our hands and take us by the hand”. “The result of this is something marvelous: ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’”, he continued. The Lord is thus “able to perform this miracle.. of changing us. Not from one day to the next: no, no no! With the journey, on the path”.

This, the Pope suggested, is “the path of Lenten conversion. Simple. It is a father who speaks, a Father who loves us, really loves us. And he accompanies us”, he said. The only thing the Lord asks of us is to be humble, he added. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:1-12). Therefore Pope Francis concluded, “if you allow the Lord to take you by the hand and take you forward, come and arise and go with him, with this gesture of humility you will be exalted, you will be forgiven, you will be made ‘white’. “We will grow as good Christians” in this way.

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