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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

General Audience on the dignity of mercy

This morning's General Audience began at 10:00am in Saint Peter's Square, where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from every corner of the world.

During his speech, the Pope continued the catechesis on mercy and added his meditation on Mercy offers dignity (cf Mt 9:20-22).

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

The gospel that we have heard presents a person who stands out for his faith and his courage.  This is a woman who Jesus has healed from her loss of blood (cf Mt 9:20-22).  Passing amidst the crowd, she came up behind Jesus in order to touch the hem of his garment.  In fact, she was saying to herself: If only I could touch his cloak, I will be saved (Mt 9:21).  What faith!  What faith this woman had!  This was her reasoning because she was motivated by such faith and hope that, merely with a touch, she believed that her heart's desires would come true.  The desire to be saved by Jesus was such that it caused her to go beyond the requirements laid out by the law of Moses.  For many years, this woman was not only sick but was considered impure because she suffered from haemorrhages (cf Lv 15:19-30).  She was therefore excluded from the liturgies, from communal life, from normal relationships with her neighbours.  The evangelist Mark adds the fact that she had consulted many doctors, giving everything she had in order to pay them and enduring painful treatments, but her situation had only gotten worse.  This was a woman who had been shunned by society.  It is important for us to consider her condition - of being shunned - in order to understand her state of mind: she felt that Jesus could free her from her illness and from the condition of marginalization and indignity in which she had lived for years.  With a word, she knows, she feels that Jesus can save her.

This encounter helps us to reflect on how women are often perceived and represented.  All of us are being put on guard, even Christian communities, by visions of femininity that have been affected by prejudice and suspicion that are injurious to the gift of inviolable dignity.  In this sense, the gospels can restore truth and lead us to a liberating point of view.  Jesus admired the faith of this woman that everyone else was avoiding and transformed her hope into salvation.  We do not know her name, but the few lines with which the gospel describes her encounter with Jesus describe a journey of faith that is capable of restoring the truth and greatness of the dignity of every person.  In the encounter with Christ, the path to liberation and salvation is opened for all people, men and women of every place and time.

Matthew's gospel says that when the woman touched Jesus' cloak, He looked at her and saw her (Mt 9:22), and then spoke to her.  As we have said, it was because of her state of exclusion that this woman had acted in secret, behind Jesus' back, she was a bit timid, in order not to be seen, because she had been shunned.  Instead, Jesus sees her and his gaze is not one of reproof, he does not say: Go way, you are an untouchable!, as if to say: You are a leper, go away!  No, he did not reprove her, but Jesus' gaze is one of mercy and tenderness.  He knows what has happened and he seeks out a personal encounter with her, which is ultimately what the woman wanted in the first place.  This means that Jesus not only welcomed her, but considered her worthy of this encounter to the point of giving her the gift of his word and his attention.

In the central part of the story, the word salvation is repeated three times.  If only I can touch his cloak, I will be saved.  Jesus turns to her, sees her and says: Take courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you!  And at that instant, the woman was saved (Mt 9:21-22).  This word: take courage my daughter, expresses all the mercy that God has for that person.  And for every person who has been cast aside.  How often do we feel interiorly cast aside because of our sins, we have committed so many of them, we have committed so many ... And the Lord says: Take courage!  Come!  To me, you have not been cast aside.  Take courage, my daughter.  You are a son, a daughter.  And this is the moment of grace, the moment of forgiveness, the moment of inclusion into the life of Jesus, into the life of the Church.  This is the moment of mercy.  Today, to every one of us, sinners, whether we are great sinners or little ones, we all are sinners, to every one of us, the Lord says: Take courage, come!  We are no longer discarded, you are no longer cast aside: I forgive you, I embrace you.  This is the mercy of God.  We must be courageous and go to Him, ask pardon for our sins and go on.  With courage, like the woman did.  Then, salvation takes on many different meanings: first, it returned the woman to health; then it freed her from social and religious discrimination; it also brought about the hope that she carried in her heart, cancelling her fears and her despair; finally, it restored her to the community, freeing her from the need to act in secret.  And this final thing is important: a person who has been shunned always acts in hidden and secret ways, sometimes or all through life.  Consider the lepers of that time, consider the homeless of our time ...; consider the sinner, we who are sinners: we always do things in secret, we feel the need to do things in secret, because we are ashamed of who we are ... And he frees us from all this, Jesus frees us and puts us back on our feet: Get up, come, walk!  Just as God created us: God created us to stand up, not to be humiliated.  To stand up.  What Jesus gives is total salvation, that reintegrates the life of that woman into the sphere of God's love and, at the same time, he re-establishes her in her full dignity.

To sum up, it is not the cloak that the woman touched that gave her salvation, but Jesus' word, received in faith, capable of comforting her, healing her and restoring her relationship with God and with his people.  Jesus is the only source of blessing from which salvation flows for all people, and faith is the fundamental disposition for acquiring it.  Jesus once again, with his merciful compassion, points out to the Church the path that we must follow in order to go out and to meet every person, for every one can be healed in body and in spirit and can rediscover the dignity of the children of God.  Thank you.

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages and he offered greetings to each group of pilgrims in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Ireland, Malta, the Philippines, Vietnam, the US Virgin Islands and the United States of America. May your stay in the Eternal City confirm you in love for our Lord, and may he make you his missionaries of mercy, especially for all those who feel distant from God. May God bless you all!
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