the Law

Pope Francis          

12.06.13   Holy Mass  Santa Marta    

Mathew 5: 17-19,        2 Corinthians  3: 4-11 

Jesus explained to those who accused him of wishing to change the Mosaic Laws. He reassured them, saying “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil”. For the law, “is a fruit of the Covenant. It is impossible to understand the law without the Covenant. The law is more or less the way to enter the Covenant”, which began with a promise on that afternoon in the earthly paradise, then continued with Noah’s Ark, with Moses in the desert and then continued as the law of Israel in order to do God’s will”.

This law “is sacred”, because it brought the people to God. Therefore “it cannot be touched”. Some said that Jesus “was changing this law”. Instead he was seeking to explain clearly that there was a path that would lead “to the growth”, to “the full maturity of the law”.

The law that sets us free is the law of the Spirit.

However, it is a freedom which in a certain sense is frightening. Because, it can be confused with some other forms of human freedom. Then “the law of the Spirit leads us to the road of continuous discernment in order to do God’s will”. This too is somewhat frightening to us”. However, when we are assailed by this fear we risk of succumbing to two temptations. The first is “to turn back because we are uncertain. But this interrupts the journey”. It is “the temptation of the fear of freedom, of fear of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit frightens us”.

In the1930s a diligent superior of a religious congregation was spending many years collecting all the rules of his congregation: what the religious were permitted to do and what they were not permitted to do. Then, once he had finished his task, he went to an important Benedictine Abbot who was in Rome, to show him his work. The Abbot looked at it and said: Father, with this you have killed the charism of your congregation! He had killed freedom. For the charism gives fruits of freedom and he had blocked the charism. This is not life. That congregation was unable to go on living. What happened? Twenty-five years after that masterpiece, no one looked at it and it ended on a library shelf.

The second temptation is “adolescent progressivism”. But it is not real progress: it is a culture that moves ahead from which we are unable to detach ourselves and from which we take the laws and values we like best, just as teenagers do. In the end we run the risk of slipping, “just as a car skids on an icy road and ends up in the ditch”.

For the Church in our day this is a recurrent temptation. We cannot turn back, and skid off the road. The road on which to continue is this: “The law is full, always in continuity, without being cut: just as the seed culminates in the flower, in the fruit. The road is that of freedom in the Holy Spirit who sets us free in a continuous discernment of God’s will, to make progress on this road without turning back”, and without skidding.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us life, to lead us onwards, to bring the law to full maturity, that law which sets us free. 


Pope Francis          

30.08.15 Angelus, St Peter's Square    

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 

Mark 7: 1-8,14-15,21-23

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

The Gospel for this Sunday concerns a dispute between Jesus and several Pharisees and scribes. The discussion is about the value of the “tradition of the elders” (Mk 7:3) which Jesus, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, defines as the “precepts of men” (v. 7) which must never take precedence over the “commandment of God” (v. 8). The ancient rules in question consisted not only in the precepts God revealed to Moses, but in a series of norms that the Mosaic Law indicated. The interlocutors observed these norms in an extremely scrupulous manner and presented them as the expression of authentic religiosity. Therefore, they rebuked Jesus and his disciples for transgressing them, specifically the norms regarding the external purification of the body (cf. v. 5). Jesus’ response has the force of a prophetic pronouncement: “You leave the commandment of God”, he says, “and hold fast the tradition of men” (v. 8). These are words which fill us with admiration for our Teacher: we sense that in him there is truth and that his wisdom frees us from prejudice.

Pay heed! With these words, Jesus wants to caution us too, today, against the belief that outward observance of the law is enough to make us good Christians. Dangerous as it was then for the Pharisees, so too is it for us to consider ourselves acceptable or, even worse, better than others simply for observing the rules, customs, even though we do not love our neighbour, we are hard of heart, we are arrogant and proud. Literal observance of the precepts is a fruitless exercise which does not change the heart and turn into practical behaviour: opening oneself to meet God and his Word in prayer, seeking justice and peace, taking care of the poor, the weak, the downtrodden. We all know, in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighbourhoods, how much harm and scandal is done to the Church by those people who say they are deeply Catholic and often go to Church, but who then neglect their family in daily life, speak badly of others and so on. This is what Jesus condemns because this is a counter-witness to Christianity.

After his exhortation, Jesus focuses attention on a deeper aspect and states: “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him” (v. 15). In this way he emphasizes the primacy of interiority, that is, the primacy of the “heart”: it is not the external things that make us holy or unholy, but the heart which expresses our intentions, our choices and the will to do all for the love of God. External behaviour is the result of what we decide in the heart, and not the contrary: with a change in external behaviour, but not a change of heart, we are not true Christians. The boundary between good and evil does not pass outside of us, but rather within us. We could ask ourselves: where is my heart? Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. What is my treasure? Is it Jesus, is it his teaching? If so, then the heart is good. Or is my treasure something else? Thus it is a heart which needs purification and conversion. Without a purified heart, one cannot have truly clean hands and lips which speak sincere words of love — it is all duplicitous, a double life — lips which speak words of mercy, of forgiveness: only a sincere and purified heart can do this

Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to give us a pure heart, free of all hypocrisy. This is the word that Jesus uses for the Pharisees: “hypocrites”, because they say one thing and do another. A heart free from all hypocrisy, thus we will be able to live according to the spirit of the law and accomplish its aim, which is love.


Pope Francis       

16.02.20  Angelus St Peter's Square

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A  

Matthew 5: 17-37

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today’s Gospel reading (cf. Mt 5: 17-37) is from the “Sermon on the Mount” and deals with the subject of the fulfilment of the Law: how I must fulfil the Law, how it is to be done. Jesus wants to help His listeners take the right approach to the prescriptions of the Commandments given to Moses, urging them to be open to God Who educates us to true freedom and responsibility through the Law. It is a matter of living it as an instrument of freedom. Let us not forget this: to live the Law as an instrument of freedom, which helps me to be freer, which helps me not to be a slave to passions and sin. Let us think about wars, let us think about the consequences of wars, let us think of that little girl who died of the cold in Syria the day before yesterday. So many calamities, so many. This is the result of passions, and people who wage war do not know how to master their passions. They do not comply with the law. When you give in to temptations and passions, you are not lords and agents of your own life, but you become incapable of managing it with will and responsibility.

Jesus’ discourse is divided into four antitheses, each one expressed with the formula “You have heard that it was said... I say to you”. These antitheses refer to as many situations in daily life: murder, adultery, divorce and oaths. Jesus does not abolish the prescriptions concerning these issues, but He explains their full meaning and indicates the spirit in which they must be observed. He encourages us to move from formal observance of the Law to substantive observance, accepting the Law in our hearts, which is the centre of the intentions, decisions, words and gestures of each one of us. From the heart come good and bad deeds.

By accepting the Law of God in the heart one understands that, when one does not love one's neighbour, to some extent one kills oneself and others, because hatred, rivalry and division kill the fraternal charity that is the basis of interpersonal relationships. And this applies to what I have said about wars and also to gossip, because language kills. By accepting the Law of God in your heart you understand that desires must be guided, because not everything you desire can be had, and it is not good to give in to selfish and possessive feelings. When one accepts the Law of God in one’s heart, one understands that one must abandon a lifestyle of broken promises, as well as move from the prohibition of perjury to the decision not to swear at all, assuming the attitude of full sincerity with everyone.

And Jesus is aware that it is not easy to live the Commandments in such an all-encompassing way. That is why He offers us the help of His love: He came into the world not only to fulfil the Law, but also to give us His Grace, so that we can do God’s will, loving Him and our brothers. We can do everything, everything, with the Grace of God! On the contrary, holiness is none other than guarding this gratuitousness that God has given us, this Grace. It is a matter of trusting and entrusting ourselves to Him, to His Grace, to that gratuitousness that He has given us, and welcoming the hand He constantly extends to us, so that our efforts and our necessary commitment can be sustained by His help, filled with goodness and mercy.

Today Jesus asks us to continue on the path of love that He has indicated to us and which begins from the heart. This is the way to live as Christians. May the Virgin Mary help us to follow the path traced out by her Son, to reach true joy and to spread justice and peace everywhere.


Pope Francis 

18.03.20  Holy Mass Casa Santa Marta (Domus Sanctae Marthae)        

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent - Lectionary Cycle II 

Deuteronomy 4: 1,5-9      

Matthew 5: 17-19 

The theme of both readings today is the Law (cf. Dt 4.1.5-9; Mt 5.17-19). The Law that God gives to His people. The Law that the Lord wanted to give to us and that Jesus wanted to bring to the ultimate perfection. But there is one thing that attracts attention: the way God gives the Law. Moses says: "Indeed, what great nation is there that has gods so close to it, as the Lord, our God, is close to us whenever we call to him?" (Dt 4:7). The Lord gives the Law to his people with an attitude of closeness. They are not the prescriptions of a ruler, who may be far away, or a It's the nearness. And we know through revelation that it is a father's closeness, as a father, who accompanies His people by giving them the gift of the Law. The God who is near. "Indeed, what great nation has gods so close to it, as the Lord, our God, is close to us whenever we call Him?"

Our God is the God of nearness, a God who is near, who walks with his people. That image in the desert, in Exodus: the cloud and the pillar of fire to protect the people: He walks with his people. He is not a God who leaves the written prescriptions and says, "Go ahead." He makes the prescriptions, writes them with his own hands on the stone, gives them to Moses, hands them to Moses, but does not leave the prescriptions and leaves: He walks, He is close. "Which nation has such a close God?" It's the nearness. Ours is a God of nearness.

And man's first response, in the first pages of the Bible, is that of not drawing near. Our response is always to distance ourselves, we distance ourselves from God. He gets close and we walk away. Those two first pages. Adam's first attitude with his wife is to hide: they hide from God's nearness, they were ashamed, because they had sinned, and sin leads us to hide, to not want closeness (cf. Gen 3:8-10). And so often, we adopt a theology thinking that He's a judge; and that's why I'm hiding, I'm afraid. The second human way of behaving, to the proposal of this closeness of God is to kill. Killing his brother. "I am not my brother's keeper" (cf. Gen 4:9).

Two attitudes that inhibit any closeness. Man rejects God's closeness, he wants to be in control of relationships, and closeness always brings with it some type of vulnerability. God drawing near makes Himself vulnerable, and the closer He comes, the more vulnerable He seems. When He comes among us, to live with us, He makes himself a man, one of us: he makes himself weak and bears that weakness to the point of death and the most cruel death, the death at the hands of assassins, the death of the greatest sinners. Drawing near humiliates God. He humiliates Himself to be with us, to walk with us, to help us.

The "God who draws near" speaks to us of humility. He's not a "great God," up there. No. He is very near. He's in the house. And we see this in Jesus, God made man, near even to death. With His disciples: He accompanies them, teaches them, corrects them with love... Let us think, for example, of Jesus' closeness to the anguished disciples of Emmaus: they were distressed, they were defeated, and He slowly approaches, to make them understand the message of life, of resurrection (cf. Luke 24,13-32).

Our God is near and asks us to be near to each other, not to distance ourselves from each other. And in this moment of crisis because of the pandemic that we are experiencing, this nearness asks us to manifest it more, to make it more visible. We cannot, perhaps, draw near physically for fear of contagion, but we can reawaken in ourselves an attitude of closeness between us: with prayer, with help, so many ways of drawing near. And why do we have to be near to each other? Because our God is near, He wanted to accompany us in life. He is the God of proximity. For this reason, we are not isolated people: we are neighbours, because this is our inheritance that we have received from the Lord, proximity, that is, the reaction of drawing near.

Let us ask the Lord for the grace to be near to each other; don't hide from each other; don't wash your hands, as Cain did, of the problem of others, no. Nearness. Proximity. Proximity. "Indeed, what great nation has gods so near to it, as the Lord, our God, is near to us every time we call Him?"


Pope Francis          

11.08.21 General Audience Paul VI Audience Hall 

Catechesis on the Letter to the Galatians: 4. The Mosaic Law 

Galatians 3: 19,21-22

Brothers and sisters, good morning!

“Why the law?” (Gal 3:19). This is the question that we want to deepen today, continuing with Saint Paul, to recognize the newness of the Christian life enlivened by the Holy Spirit. But if the Holy Spirit exists, if Jesus exists who redeemed us, why the law? And this is what we must reflect on today. The Apostle writes: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:18). Instead, Paul’s detractors sustained that the Galatians had to follow the Law to be saved. They were going backward. They were nostalgic for times gone by, of the times before Jesus Christ. The Apostle is not at all in agreement. These were not the terms he had agreed on with the other Apostles in Jerusalem. He remembers very well Peter’s words when he said: “Why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). The dispositions that had emerged in that ‘first council’ – the first ecumenical council was the one that took place in Jerusalem – and the dispositions that emerged were very clear. They said: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us [the apostles] to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols [that is, idolatry] and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity” (Acts 15:28-29). Some of the things touched on worshiping God, and idolatry, and some things regarding the way of understanding life at that time.

When Paul speaks about the Law, he is normally referring to the Mosaic Law, the law given by Moses, the Ten Commandments. It was in relationship to, it was on the way, it was a preparation, it was related with the Covenant that God had established with his people. According to various Old Testament texts, the Torah – that is, the Hebrew term used to indicate the Law – is the collection of all those prescriptions and norms the Israelites had to observe by virtue of the Covenant with God. An effective synthesis of what the Torah is can be found in this text of Deuteronomy, that says this: “The Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (30:9-10). So, the observance of the Law guaranteed to the people the benefits of the Covenant and guaranteed a particular bond with God. This people, this population, this person, they are connected with God and they make it seen, this union with God, in the fulfillment, in the observance of the Law. In making the Covenant with Israel, God offered them the Torah, the Law, so they could understand his will and live in justice. We have to think that at that time, a Law like this was necessary, it was a tremendous gift that God gave his people. Why? Because at that time paganism was everywhere, idolatry was everywhere and human behaviour was a result of idolatry. Because of this, the great gift God gave his people is the law, so they could persevere. Several times, especially in the prophetic books, it is noted that not observing the precepts of the Law constituted a real betrayal of the Covenant, provoking God’s wrath as a consequence. The connection between the Covenant and the Law was so close that the two realities were inseparable. The Law is the way a person, a people express that they are in covenant with God.

So, in light of all this, it is easy to understand how well those missionaries who had infiltrated the Galatians found such fair game by sustaining that adhering to the Covenant also included observing the Mosaic Law as it was done at that time. Nevertheless, precisely regarding this point, we can discover Saint Paul’s spiritual intelligence and the great insights he expressed, sustained by the grace he received for his evangelizing mission.

The Apostle explains to the Galatians that, in reality, the Covenant and the Law are not linked indissolubly – the Covenant with God and the Mosaic Law. The first element he relies on is that the Covenant established by God with Abraham was based on faith in the fulfilment of the promise and not on the observance of the Law that did not yet exist. Abraham began his journey centuries before the Law. The Apostle writes: “This is what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward [with Moses], does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God [with Abraham when he called him], so as to make the promise void”. This word is very important. The people of God, we Christians, we journey through life looking toward a promise, the promise is what attracts us, it attracts us to move forward toward the encounter with the Lord. “For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise [that came before the Law, the promise to Abraham]; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Gal 3:17-18), then the Law came four hundred and thirty years after. With this reasoning, Paul reached his first objective: the Law is not the basis of the Covenant because it came later, it was necessary and just, but prior to that there was the promise, the Covenant.

Such an argument disqualifies all those who sustain that the Mosaic Law was a constitutive part of the Covenant. No, the Covenant comes first, and the call came to Abraham. The Torah, the Law, in fact, was not included in the promise made to Abraham. Having said this, one should not think, however, that Saint Paul was opposed to the Mosaic Law. No, he observed it. Several times in his Letters, he defends its divine origin and says that it possesses a well-defined role in the history of salvation. The Law, however, does not give life, it does not offer the fulfilment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfil it. The Law is a journey, a journey that leads toward an encounter. Paul uses a word, I do not know if it is in the text, a very important word: the law is the “pedagogue” toward Christ, the pedagogue toward faith in Christ, that is, the teacher that leads you by the hand toward the encounter (cf. Gal 3:24). Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfilment in Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, this first exposition of the Apostle to the Galatians presents the radical newness of the Christian life: all those who have faith in Jesus Christ are called to live in the Holy Spirit, who liberates from the Law and, at the same time, brings it to fulfilment according to the commandment of love. This is very important. The Law leads us to Jesus. But one of you might say to me: “But, Father, just one thing: does this mean that if I pray the Creed, I do not need to observe the commandments?” No, the commandments are valid in the sense that they are “pedagogues” [teachers] that lead you toward the encounter with Christ. But if you set aside the encounter with Jesus and want to go back to giving greater importance to the commandments, this was the problem of these fundamentalist missionaries who had infiltrated the Galatians to confuse them.

May the Lord help us to journey along the path of the commandments but looking toward the love of Christ, with the encounter with Christ, knowing that the encounter with Jesus is more important than all of the commandments.


Pope Francis          

18.08.21 General Audience Paul VI Audience Hall 

Catechesis on the Letter to the Galatians: 5. The preparatory value of the Law 

Galatians 3: 19,21-22

Brothers and sisters, good morning!

Saint Paul, who loved Jesus and had clearly understood what salvation was, has taught us that the “children of the promise” (Gal 4: 28) – that is all of us, justified by Jesus Christ - are no longer bound by the Law, but are called to the demanding life-style of the freedom of the Gospel. The Law however exists. But there exists another way: the same Law, the Ten Commandments, but with another way, because it could no longer be justified by itself once the Lord had come. And therefore, in today’s catechesis I would like to explain this. And we ask: what, according to the Letter to the Galatians, is the role of the Law? In the passage we have heard, Paul says that the Law was like a pedagogue. It is a beautiful image, that of the pedagogue we spoke about during the last audience, an image that deserves to be understood in its correct meaning.

The Apostle seems to suggest that Christians divide the history of salvation in two parts, and also his personal story, There are two periods: before becoming believers in Christ Jesus and after receiving the faith. At the centre is the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus, which Paul preached in order to inspire faith in the Son of God, the source of salvation, and in Christ Jesus we are justified. Therefore, starting from faith in Christ there is a “before” and an “after” with regard to the Law itself, because the Law exists, the Commandments exist, but there is one attitude before the coming of Jesus, and another one afterwards. The previous history is determined by being “under the Law”. And one who followed the path of the Law was saved, justified; the subsequent history, after the coming of Jesus, was to be lived by following the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25). This is the first time that Paul uses this expression: to be “under the Law”. The underlying meaning implies the idea of a negative servitude, typical of slaves: to be “under”. The Apostle makes it explicit by saying that when one is “under the Law” it is as if one is “watched” and “locked up”, a kind of preventive custody. This period, says Saint Paul, has lasted a long time – from Moses, to the coming of Jesus - and is perpetuated as long as one lives in sin.

The relationship between the Law and sin will be explained in a more systematic way by the Apostle in his Letter to the Romans, written a few years after the one to the Galatians. In summary, the Law leads to the definition of the transgression and to making people aware of their own sin: “You have done this, and so the Law – the Ten Commandments – say thus: you are in sin”. Or rather, as common experience teaches, the precept ends up stimulating the transgression. In the Letter to the Romans he writes: “When we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the Law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive” (Rom, 7:5-6). Why? Because the justification of Jesus Christ has come. Paul succinctly expresses his vision of the Law: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor 15:56). A dialogue: you are under the law, and you are there with the door open to sin.

In this context, the reference to the pedagogical role played by the law makes full sense. But the Law is the pedagogue that leads you where? To Jesus. In the scholastic system of antiquity, the pedagogue did not have the function we attribute to him today, namely that of supporting the education of a boy or a girl. At the time he was instead a slave whose task was to accompany the master’s son to the teacher and then bring him home again. In this way he was to protect his ward from danger and watch over him to ensure he did not behave badly. His function was rather disciplinary. When the boy became an adult, the pedagogue ceased his duties. The pedagogue to whom Paul refers was not the teacher, but the one who accompanied his ward to school, who watched over the boy and brought him back home.

Referring to the Law in these terms enables Saint Paul to clarify the role it played in the history of Israel. The Torah, that is, the Law, was an act of magnanimity by God towards His people. After the election of Abraham, the other great act was the Law: laying down the path to follow. It certainly had restrictive functions, but at the same time it had protected the people, it had educated them, disciplined them and supported them in their weakness, especially by protecting them from paganism; there were many pagan attitudes in those times. The Torah says: “There is only one God and He has set us on our way”. An act of goodness by the Lord. And certainly, as I said, it had restrictive functions, but at the same time it protected the people, it had educated them, it had disciplined them and it supported them in their weakness. And this is why the Apostle goes on to describe the phase of minor age. And he says: “Heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world” (Gal 4: 1-3). In summary, the Apostle’s conviction is that the Law certainly possesses a positive function – like the pedagogue in accompanying his ward - but it is a function that is limited in time. It cannot extend its duration too far, because it is linked to the maturation of individuals and their choice of freedom. Once one has come to faith, the Law exhausts its preparatory value and must give way to another authority. What does this mean? That after the Law we can say, “We believe in Jesus Christ and do what we want?” No! The Commandments exist, but they do not justify us. What makes us just is Jesus Christ. The Commandments must be observed, but they do not give us justice; there is the gratuitousness of Jesus Christ, the encounter with Jesus Christ that freely justifies us. The merit of faith is receiving Jesus. The only merit: opening the heart. And what do we do with the Commandments? We must observe them, but as an aid to the encounter with Jesus Christ.

This teaching on the value of the law is very important, and deserves to be considered carefully so we do not give way to misunderstandings and take false steps. It is good for us to ask ourselves if we still live in the period in which we need the Law, or if instead we are fully aware of having received the grace of becoming children of God so as to live in love. How do I live? In the fear that if I do not do this, I will go to hell? Or do I live with that hope too, with that joy of the gratuitousness of salvation in Jesus Christ? It is a good question. And also the second: do I disregard the Commandments? No. I observe them, but not as absolutes, because I know that it is Jesus Christ who justifies me.     


Pope Francis          

25.08.21 General Audience Paul VI Audience Hall  

Catechesis on the Letter to the Galatians: 6. The dangers of the Law  

Galatians 2: 11-14

Brothers and sisters, good morning!

The Letter to the Galatians reports a rather surprising fact. As we have heard, Paul says that he reproached Cephas, or Peter, in front of the community at Antioch, since his behaviour was not that good. What had happened that was so serious that Paul felt obliged to address Peter in such harsh terms? Perhaps Paul was exaggerating, allowing his character to get in the way without knowing how to control himself? We will see that this is not the case, but that, yet again, what was at stake was the relationship between the Law and freedom. And we must return to this often.

Writing to the Galatians, Paul deliberately mentions this episode that had taken place the year before in Antioch. He wanted to remind the Christians of that community that they were absolutely not to listen to those who were preaching that it was necessary to be circumcised, and therefore be “under the Law” with all of its prescriptions. We recall that these fundamentalistic preachers had gone there and were creating confusion, and had even robbed that community of their peace. The object of criticism regarding Peter was his behaviour when sitting down to table. For a Jew, the Law prohibited eating with non-Jews. But Peter himself, in another circumstance, had gone to the house of Cornelius the centurion in Caesarea, knowing that he was transgressing the Law. He thus affirmed: “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Once he returned to Jerusalem, the circumcised Christians, who were faithful to the Mosaic Law, reproached Peter for his behaviour. He, however, justified himself saying: “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:16-17). We remember that the Holy Spirit had come at that time into Cornelius’ house when Peter went there.

Something similar had also taken place in Antioch in Paul’s presence. First, Peter had been eating with the Christians of pagan origin without any difficulty; however, when some circumcised Christians from Jerusalem arrived in the city – those who were originally Jews – he then no longer did so, because he did not want to incur their criticism. And this – be careful – his error was that of paying more attention to criticism, of making a good impression. This was serious in Paul’s eyes, because other disciples imitated Peter, especially Barnabas, who had even evangelised the Galatians (cf. Gal 2:13). In so doing, without wanting to, Peter, who was a bit here and a bit there, not clear, not transparent, was, in fact, creating an unjust division within the community: “I am pure…I am following this line…I have to do this…this cannot be done…”

In his reproach – and this is the heart of the problem – Paul uses a term that allows us to enter into the merit of his reaction: hypocrisy (cf. Gal 2:13). This is a word that is repeated a few times: hypocrisy. I think we all understand what it means…. The observance of the Law on the part of Christians led to this hypocritical behaviour that the apostle wanted to counter forcefully and convincingly. Paul was upright, he had his defects – many of them…his character was terrible – but he was upright. What is hypocrisy? When we say, “Be careful, that person is a hypocrite”, what are we trying to say? What is hypocrisy? It can be called the fear of the truth. A hypocrite is afraid of the truth. It is better to pretend rather than be yourself. It is like putting makeup on the soul, like putting makeup on your behaviour, putting makeup on how to proceed: this is not the truth. “No, I am afraid of proceeding like I am…”, I will make myself look good through this behaviour. To pretend suffocates the courage to openly say what is true; and thus, the obligation to say the truth at all times, everywhere and in spite of anything can easily be escaped. Pretending leads to this: to half-truths. And half-truths are a sham because the truth is the truth or it is not the truth. Half-truths are a way of acting that is not true. We prefer, as I said, to pretend rather than to be ourselves, and this pretence suffocates the courage to openly say the truth. And thus, we escape the duty – that this is a commandment: to always speak the truth; to be truthful: to speak the truth everywhere and in spite of anything. And in an environment where interpersonal relations are lived under the banner of formalism, the virus of hypocrisy easily spreads. That smile that looks like this, that does not come from the heart. To seem to be on good terms with everyone, but with no one.

In the Bible, there are several examples where hypocrisy is contested. A beautiful testimony to counter hypocrisy is that of the elderly Eleazar who was asked to pretend to eat meat sacrificed to the pagan deities in order to save his own life: to pretend that he was eating it when he was not eating it. Or to pretend he was eating pork but his friends would have prepared something else. But that God-fearing man – who was not a twenty-year-old – replied: “Such pretence is not worthy of our time of life, lest many of the young should suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year has gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretence [because of my hypocrisy], for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they should be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age” (2 Mac 6:24-25). An honest man: he did not choose the path of hypocrisy! What a beautiful episode to reflect on to distance ourselves from hypocrisy! The Gospels, too, report several situations in which Jesus strongly reproaches those who appear just externally, but who internally are filled with falsity and iniquity (cf. Mt 23:13-29). If you have some time today, pick up the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and see how many times Jesus says: “hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites”, this is how hypocrisy manifests itself.

Hypocrites are people who pretend, flatter and deceive because they live with a mask over their faces and do not have the courage to face the truth. For this reason, they are not capable of truly loving: a hypocrite does not know how to love. They limit themselves to living out of egoism and do not have the strength to show their hearts transparently. There are many situations in which hypocrisy is at work. It is often hidden in the work place where someone appears to be friends with their colleagues while, at the same time, stabbing them in the back due to competition. In politics, it is not unusual to find hypocrites who live one way in public and another way in private. Hypocrisy in the Church is particularly detestable; and unfortunately, hypocrisy exists in the Church and there are many hypocritical Christians and ministers. We should never forget the Lord’s words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Mt 5:37). Brothers and sisters, today, let us think about the hypocrisy that Paul condemns, and that Jesus condemns: hypocrisy. And let us not be afraid to be truthful, to speak the truth, to hear the truth, to conform ourselves to the truth, so we can love. A hypocrite does not know how to love. To act other than truthfully means jeopardising the unity of the Church, that unity for which the Lord Himself prayed. Thank you.


Pope Francis       

12.02.23 Angelus, Saint Peter's Square  

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A  

Matthew 5: 17-37

Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!

In the Gospel of today’s liturgy, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (Mt 5:17). To fulfil: this is a key word to understand Jesus and his message. But what does this fulfilment mean? To explain, the Lord begins by saying what is not fulfilment. The Scripture says “Do not kill”, but for Jesus this is not enough if brothers are then hurt by words; the Scripture says “Do not commit adultery”, but this is not enough if one then lives a love tainted by duplicity and falsehood; the Scripture says “Do not bear false witness”, but it is not enough to take a solemn oath if one then acts with hypocrisy (cf. Mt 5:21-37). This is not fulfilment.

To give a concrete example, Jesus concentrates on the “rite of the offertory”. Making an offering to God reciprocates the gratuity of his gifts. It was a very important rite – making an offering to reciprocate symbolically, let’s say, the gratuitousness of his gifts – so important that to interrupt it was forbidden other than for serious reasons. But Jesus states that it must be interrupted if a brother has something against us, in order to go and be reconciled with him first (cf. vv.23-24): only in this way is the rite fulfilled. The message is clear: God loves us first, freely, taking the first step towards us, without us deserving it; and so we cannot celebrate his love without in our turn taking the first step towards reconciliation with those who have hurt us. In this way there is fulfilment in God’s eyes, otherwise external, purely ritualistic observance is pointless, it becomes a pretence. In other words, Jesus makes us understand that religious rules are necessary, they are good, but they are only the beginning: to fulfil them, it is necessary to go beyond the letter and live their meaning. The commandments that God has given us must not be locked up in the airless vaults of formal observance; otherwise, we are limited to an exterior, detached religiosity, servants of “God the Master” rather than children of “God the Father”. Jesus wants this: not to have the idea of serving a God the Master, but the Father; and this is why it is necessary to go beyond the letter.

Brothers and sisters, this problem was present not only in Jesus’ time; it is there today too. At times, for example, we hear it said, “Father, I have not killed, I have not stolen, I have not harmed anyone…”, as if to say, “I am fine”. This is formal observance, which is satisfied with the bare minimum, whereas Jesus invites us to aspire to the maximum possible. That is: God does not reason with calculations and tables; he loves us as one who is enamoured: not to the minimum, but to the maximum! He does not say, “I love you up to a certain point”. No, true love is never up to a certain point, and is never satisfied; love always goes beyond, one cannot do without. The Lord showed us this by giving his life on the cross and forgiving his murderers (cf. Lk 23:34). And he entrusted to us the commandment most dear to him: that we love each other like he loved us (cf. Jn 15:12). This is the love that gives fulfilment to the Law, to faith, to true life!

So, brothers and sisters, we might ask ourselves: how do I live faith? Is it a matter of calculations, formalism, or a love story with God? Am I content merely with not doing harm, of keeping the “façade” in good order, or do I try to grow in love for God and others? And every now and then, do I check myself on Jesus’ great commandment, do I ask myself if I love my neighbour as He loves me? Because perhaps we are inflexible in judging others and forget to be merciful, as God is with us.

May Mary, who observed the Word of God perfectly, help us to give fulfilment to our faith and our charity.