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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

General Audience on the forgiveness of sins

This morning's General Audience began at 9:30am in the Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from every corner of the world.

In his speech, the Pope focused on the theme: Divine Forgiveness: a motive for hope - Who is this man, who even forgives sins? (Lk 7:49).  After having summarized his catechesis in various languages - as is his custom - the Holy Father offered 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.

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

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We have heard the reaction of those who were dining with Simon the Pharisee: Who is this man who even forgives sins? (Lk 7:49).  Jesus has just performed a scandalous gesture.  A woman of the city, known by everyone as a sinner, has entered the house of Simon, bowed down at the feet of Jesus and poured perfumed oil over his feet.  All those who were there at the table were murmuring: if Jesus is a prophet, he should not accept such a gesture from a woman such as she.  Such women, poor them, who served only to be hidden, even by their leaders, or to be rewarded with lashes.  According to the thinking of the time, among the saints and sinners, among the pure and the impure, the lines of separation were to be clearly defined.

But Jesus' thinking is different.  From the very beginning of his ministry in Galilee, He always drew close to lepers, to those who were possessed by demons, to all those who were sick or marginalized.  Such behaviour was by no means normal, so it was normal that Jesus' sympathy for those who were excluded, the untouchables, should be one of the things that would most disturb those who knew him.  Wherever there was a suffering person, Jesus would care for that person, and that person's suffering became his own.  Jesus never said that a condition of punishment should be endured with heroism, such as was the belief promoted by the philosophers of the time.  Jesus shares in human suffering, and when he encounters it, he breaks through the attitude of the time with his own closeness to present the Christian approach to suffering: which is mercy.  Faced with human suffering, Jesus is merciful; Jesus' heart is merciful.  Jesus shows compassion.  Literally: Jesus feels compassion in the pit of his stomach.  How many times throughout the gospels do we see such reactions.  The heart of Christ embodies and reveals the heart of God: wherever the heart of a man or a woman is suffering, Jesus wants to heal, to free to restore the fullness of life.

This is the reason why Jesus opens his arms wide to sinners.  Many people continue even today to live lives that are marked by mistakes because they cannot find anyone who will look at them in a different way, with the eyes, or better yet, with the heart of God, which is to look at them with hope.  Instead, Jesus sees with the possibility for resurrection, even in the case of those who have made many bad choices.  Jesus is always there, with his heart open; wide open to the mercy that is found in his heart; he forgives, he embraces, he understands, he comes close: this is how Jesus is!

We sometimes forget that for Jesus, it was not a matter of cheap or easy love.  The gospels record the first negative reactions to Jesus precisely when he forgives a man of his sins (cf Mk 2:1-12).  He was a man who was suffering doubly: because he could not walk and because he knew that he had messed up.  Jesus understands that the second suffering is greater than the first, so much so that he immediately welcomes him with a proclamation of liberation: Son, your sins are forgiven (Mk 2:5).  Freed from the oppressive feeling of being wrong.  It is at that moment that some of the scribes - the ones who believed themselves to be perfect: I can think of many Catholics who think that they are perfect and who despise other people ... this is very sad ... - some of the scribes who were present were scandalized by the words Jesus spoke, words that sounded like blasphemy, because only God can forgive sins.

We who are accustomed to experiencing forgiveness for our sins, perhaps too easily, should sometimes remind ourselves how much we are loved by God.  Every one of us has cost a dear price: the life of Jesus!  He would have given his life even for only one of us.  Jesus did not go to the cross in order to heal the sick, he preaches charity, he proclaims the beatitudes.  The Son of God goes to the cross above all in order to forgive our sins, because he wanted to gain the prize of the totally and entirely freely given heart of mankind.  He would not accept that any human being should consume his or her existence with this incurable tattoo, with the thought that he or she could not be welcomed into the merciful heart of God.  With such sentiments, Jesus went out to meet sinners, and we are all sinners.

In this way, sinners are forgiven.  Not only are they relieved at the psychological level, for they are freed from their sense of guilt.  Jesus does much more: he offers people who have made mistakes the hope of a new life.  But, Lord, I am a mere rag - Look ahead and I will make your heart new.  This is the hope that Jesus gives us.  A life that is marked by love.  Matthew the tax collector became one of Christ's apostles: Matthew, who betrayed his own homeland, who exploited his own people.  Zaccheus, a rich but a corrupt man - most certainly he was an educated man - from Jericho, transformed his life and became a benefactor of the poor.  The Samaritan woman, who had had five husbands and who was living with yet another, was promised living water that would well up within her (cf Jn 4:14).  In this way, Jesus changes the heart; he does the same thing with every one of us.

It would be good for us to think about the fact that God did not choose the people who always thought of themselves as perfect as the first people with whom to form his Church.  The Church is made up of a people who are sinners, who have experienced the mercy and forgiveness of God.  Peter understood himself more truthfully at the moment when the cock crowed rather than through any of his acts of generosity which would have swelled his chest and made him feel superior to all the others.

Brothers and sisters, we are all poor sinners, in need of God's mercy which has the strength to transform us and to give us hope, and this is true every day.  And this is what he does!  To all those who have understood this basic truth, God gives the most beautiful mission in the world, namely love for our brothers and sisters, and the proclamation of mercy which He will never refuse to share.  This is our hope.  We go forward with full trust in his forgiveness, in the merciful love of Jesus.

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

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Malta, Nigeria, Guam, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I invoke the grace of the Lord Jesus, that you may be a sign of mercy and Christian hope in your homes and communities. May God bless you!

At the conclusion of the General Audience, the Holy Father issued the following call for prayers:

I am profoundly saddened by the drama that unfolded this past Sunday in Nigeria, within one of the churches, where innocent people were killed.  Unfortunately, this morning we received news of violence also in the Central African Republic against the Christian community.  My wish is that every form of hatred and violence will cease and that such terrible crimes will never again be repeated in places of worship where the faithful gather for prayer.  Let us remember our brothers and sisters in Nigeria and in the Central African Republic. Let us pray for them, all together: Hail Mary ...
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