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The right road

· Pope Francis celebrates Mass for a group of parliamentary officials of the Italian government ·

On Thursday morning, 27 March, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass for over 500 Italian parliamentary officials in the Vatican Basilica. Commenting on the day's Readings from the Old Testament and the Gospel, the Pope offered a reflection on a ruling class that had turned away from the people. The hearts of this ruling class, the Pope said, “of this small group, in time became so hardened that it was impossible to hear the voice of the Lord. And they slid from sinfulness into corruption”. These men “took the wrong path”. Yet, he added, one can avoid slipping from sin into corruption by “following the dialectic of freedom” where “there is room for the Good Lord who loves us, he loves us so much!” The Pope invited members of the Italian Parliament to welcome the Lenten season as a propitious occasion to embark on the road of God. The following is a translation of the Pope's homily, which was delivered in Italian.

We can describe the Readings which the Church offers us today as a dialogue between God’s lamentation and the justifications of men. The Lord God laments. He laments not being listened to over the course of history. It is always the same: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God ... and it will be well with you...”. “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward instead of forward” (Jer 7:23-24). It is the story of the infidelity of God’s people.

God’s lament arises from the fact that the Lord’s work to remove idolatry from the heart of his people and to make them docile to his word was very very hard. But they went along this road for some time, and then they turned back. And thus it went on for centuries and centuries, until the coming of Jesus.

And the same happened with the Lord, with Jesus. Some said: “He is the Son of God, he is a great Prophet!”; others, those of whom the Gospel speaks today, said: “No, he is a sorcerer who heals by the power of Satan”. The people of God were alone, and the ruling class — the teachers of the law, the Sadducees, the Pharisees — was locked in its ideas, in its pastoral approach, in its ideology. And this is the class that did not listen to the word of the Lord and attempted to justify themselves, by saying what we heard in the Gospel: “This man, Jesus, casts out demons by Beelzebul” (Lk 11:15). It is the same as saying: “He is a soldier of Beelzebul or of Satan or he belongs to Satan’s band”; it is the same. They justify themselves for not having listened to the Lord’s call. They could not hear it: they were so, so closed, so far from the people, and this is true. Jesus looks upon the people and is moved with compassion, for he sees them as “sheep without shepherds”, as the Gospel says, he goes out to the poor, to the sick, to everyone, to widows, to lepers to heal them. And he speaks a word to them that inspires admiration in the people: “But he speaks as one who has authority!”, he speaks differently from the ruling class, which had distanced itself from the people. And only out of interest in their own affairs: in their group, in the party, in their internal struggles. And the people, they left them there.... They had abandoned the flock. And were these people sinners? Yes. Yes, we are all sinners, all of us. All of us who are here are sinners. But they were more than sinners: the hearts of these people, of this small group, in time became so hardened that it was impossible to hear the voice of the Lord. And they slid from sinfulness into corruption. It is so very difficult for someone who is corrupt to turn back. The sinner, yes, since the Lord is merciful and waits for us all. But one who is corrupt is set in his ways, and these men were corrupt. That is why they justify themselves: because Jesus by his simplicity, by his divine power was an annoyance to them. Step by step, they convinced themselves that they must kill Jesus, and one of them said: “It is better that one man die for the people”.

These men took the wrong path. They resisted the Lord’s loving salvation and thus they slipped from faith, from a theology of faith into a theology of duty: “You have to do this, this and this...”. And Jesus attributed this epithet to them: “Hypocrites! You lay heavy burdens on the backs of the people. And you? You don’t lift a finger to help them! Hypocrites!”. They rejected the Lord’s love, and this refusal set them on a path out of line with the dialectic of freedom which the Lord offered, but with the logic of necessity where there is no room for the Lord. In the dialectic of freedom there is room for the Good Lord who loves us, he loves us so much! Instead, in the logic of necessity there is no room for God: one must do, one must do, one must.... They became conventional. Men of good manners, but of evil habits. Jesus calls them “whitewashed tombs”. This is the Lord’s sorrow, God’s sorrow, God’s lament.

“Come, let us adore the Lord for he loves us”. “Return to me with all your heart” — he says to us — “for I am merciful and compassionate”. Those who justify themselves understand neither his mercy nor his compassion; whereas the people who so loved Jesus needed mercy and compassion and went to ask it of the Lord.

Along this Lenten journey, it will benefit us all to think about the Lord’s invitation to love, and about this dialectic of freedom where there is love, and for all of us to ask ourselves: But, am I on this path? Or am I in danger of justifying myself and taking another road? A conjectural road, since it holds no promise. And let us beseech the Lord to grant us the grace to always take the road of salvation, to open ourselves to the salvation that comes only from God, from faith and not from what the “doctors of duty” suggest, who had lost their faith, and were ruling the people with this pastoral theology of duty. Let us ask this grace: Lord, grant me the grace to open myself to your salvation. This is the purpose of Lent. God loves us all: he loves us all! To make the effort to open ourselves: this is all he asks of us. “Open the door to me. I will do the rest”. Let us allow him to enter into us, to caress us and to grant us salvation. So be it.

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