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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

General Audience on the saving power 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 his catechesis on mercy, adding his meditation on the theme: It is mercy that saves (cf Mt 11:2-6).

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed particular 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!

We have heard a passage from the gospel of Matthew (11:2-6).  The evangelist's intent is to help us enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus, in order to welcome his goodness and his mercy.  The episode is the following: John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus - John was in prison - in order to ask him a very clear question: Are you the one who is to come or should we wait for another? (Mt 11:3) This was truly a moment of darkness ... the Baptist was waiting anxiously for the Messiah and in his preaching; in his preaching, he had described him in descriptive terms, like a judge who finally would bring about the kingdom of God and purify his people, rewarding the good and punishing the bad.  He preached the following: Even now, the axe is laid to the root of the tree; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut and thrown into the fire (Mt 3:10).  Now that Jesus had begun is public mission with a different style, John was suffering because he was doubly blind: confined to the darkness of a prison cell and in the darkness of his heart.  He did not understand Jesus' style and wanted to know if he was really the Messiah, or whether he should wait for another person to appear.

Jesus' response seems at first sight not to correspond to the Baptist's request.  In fact, Jesus says: Go and tell John what you have heard and seen - the blind have their sight restored, the lame walk, lepers are purified, the deaf hear, the dead have risen and the poor have had the gospel proclaimed to them.  And blessed is he who finds in me no reason for scandal! (Mt 3:4-6).  Here, the Lord Jesus' intent is made clear: He replies that he himself is the concrete instrument of the Father's mercy that goes out to meet every person, bringing them both consolation and salvation, and therefore making God's justice present.  The blind, the lame, lepers, the deaf have their dignity restored and are no longer excluded from society because of their illness, the dead return to life, and good news is proclaimed to the poor ... and this becomes the description of Jesus' actions: in this way, he makes the action of God visible and tangible.

The message that the Church receives from this telling of Christ's life is very clear.  God did not send his Son into the world in order to punish sinners, nor to destroy the wicked.  Instead, they are offered an invitation to conversion so that, seeing the signs of divine goodness, they may rediscover the path that allows them to return home.  As the Psalmist says: Lord, if you should mark our guilt / Lord, who could survive? / But with you is found forgiveness / that we might serve you in reverence (Ps 130:3-4).

The justice that the Baptist offered at the centre of his preaching, is demonstrated in Jesus as mercy ... and the precursor's doubts anticipate the shock that Jesus would later encounter as a result of his actions and his words.  In this light, we can understand the conclusion of Jesus' response.  He says: Blessed is the one who finds in me no reason for scandal! (Mt 3:6).  Scandal means obstacle.  Jesus therefore warns about a particular danger: if his merciful actions should become obstacles to people believing, this would mean that his was a false image of the Messiah.  Blessed however are those who, having witnessed the acts and words of Jesus, give glory to the Father in heaven.

Jesus' admonition is still present today: even today, mankind builds images of God that prevent us from enjoying his real presence.  Some carve out a faith based on self images that reduce God to the limited spaces of their own desires and convictions.  But this faith does not reveal conversion to the Lord, in fact, it limits our lives and our consciousness.  Others reduce God to a false idol; using his holy name to justify their own interests or even to justify hatred and violence.  For others, God is only a psychological refuge where they can find reassurance in difficult moments: this is a faith that is turned in upon itself, impervious to the strength of the merciful love of Jesus that sends us out toward our brothers and sisters.  Still others consider Christ only as a good master of ethical teaching, one among the many in history.  Finally, there are those who stifle faith to a purely personal relationship with Jesus, denying his missionary thrust that is capable of transforming the world and all of history.  We Christians believe in the God of Jesus Christ, and our desire is to grow in the living experience of his mystery of love.

Let us therefore commit ourselves to not placing any obstacle in the way of the Father's merciful actions, but rather let us implore the gift of great faith so that we ourselves can become signs and instruments of mercy.

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages, and the Pope greeted each group that was in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Malta, Switzerland, Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Canada and the United States of America.  Entrusting you to the merciful love of God our Father, I pray that you may be filled with peace and joy, and become missionaries of God's mercy in all your homes and all your communities.  May God bless you all.
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