Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ address at this morning’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square:
THE HOLY FATHER’S CATECHESIS:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In speaking of divine mercy, we have often evoked the figure of the father of a family, who loves his children, who helps them, who takes care of them, who forgives them. And, as father, he educates them and corrects them when they are mistaken, fostering their growth in goodness.
God is presented thus in the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah, in which the Lord, as an affectionate but also attentive and severe Father, addresses Israel, accusing it of infidelity and corruption, to bring it back to the way of justice. Our text begins thus:
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
‘Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth,
for the LORD speaks:
Sons have I raised and reared,
but they have rebelled against me!
An ox knows its owner,
and an ass,* its master’s manger;
But Israel does not know,
my people has not understood” (1:2-3).
Through the prophet, God speaks to the people with the bitterness of a disappointed father: He has made his children grow, and now they have rebelled against Him. Even the animals are faithful to their masters and recognize the hand that feeds them; the people, instead, no longer recognize God, they refuse to understand. Although wounded, God lets love speak, and He appeals to the conscience of these degenerate children so that they will repent and allow themselves to be loved again. This is what God does! He comes to us so that we will let ourselves be loved by Him, by our God.
The father-son relation, which the prophets often make reference to when speaking of the covenant relation between God and His people, has been perverted. The educational mission of parents is geared to making them grow in freedom, to make them responsible, capable of doing good works for themselves and for others. Instead, because of sin, freedom becomes a pretension of autonomy and pride leads to opposition and to the illusion of self-sufficiency.
See, then, how God calls back His people: “You have mistaken the way. “Affectionately and bitterly He says “my” people, — God never disowns us, we are His people, the most evil of men, the most evil of women, the most evil of peoples are His children. And God is like this: He never, never, disowns us! He always says: “Son, come.” And this is our Father’s love; this is God’s mercy. It gives us hope to have such a Father; it gives us trust. This belonging should be lived in trust and in obedience, with the awareness that everything is a gift, and that it comes from the Father’s love. And, instead, behold the vanity, the foolishness, and the idolatry.
So the prophet now turns to this people directly with severe words, to help them understand the gravity of their fault:
“Ah! Sinful nation, people laden with wickedness,
evil offspring, corrupt children!
They have forsaken the LORD,
spurned the Holy One of Israel,
The consequence of sin is a state of suffering, consequences that the country also suffers, devastated and rendered like a desert, to the point that Sion – namely Jerusalem –, becomes uninhabitable. Where there is rejection of God, of His paternity, life is no longer possible, existence loses its roots, everything seems perverted and annihilated. However, this painful moment is also in view of salvation. The trial is given so that the people can experience the bitterness of one who abandons God, and, therefore, are confronted with the desolating emptiness of a choice of death. Suffering, the inevitable consequence of a self-destructive decision must make the sinner reflect, to open him to conversion and forgiveness.
And this is the way of divine mercy: God does not treat us according to our faults (Cf. Psalm 103:10). Punishment becomes the instrument to incite to reflection. Thus one understands that God forgives His people, gives grace and does not destroy everything, but always leaves the door open to hope. Salvation implies the decision to listen and to let oneself be converted, but it is always a free gift. Therefore, in His mercy, the Lord indicates a way that is not that of ritual sacrifices, but rather of justice. The worship is criticized not because it is useless in itself, but because, instead of expressing conversion, it pretends to substitute it, and so becomes the search for one’s own justice, creating the deceitful conviction that it is the sacrifices that save, not divine mercy that forgives sin. To understand this well: when one is sick one goes to the doctor; when one feels himself a sinner one goes to the Lord. However, if instead of going to the doctor, one goes to a magician, one is not healed. So many times we do not go to the Lord, but prefer to go on mistaken paths, seeking outside of Him justification, justice and peace. God, says the prophet Isaiah, is not pleased with the blood of bulls and lambs (v. 11), especially if the offering is made with hands soiled with the blood of brothers (v. 15). However, I think of some benefactors of the Church who come with an offering – “Take this offering for the Church” – which is the fruit of so many exploited, mistreated, enslaved people with badly paid work! I would say to these people: “Please, take back your check, burn it.” The people of God, namely the Church, does not need dirty money; she needs hearts open to God’s mercy. It is necessary to approach God with purified hands, avoiding evil and doing good and justice. How beautiful is the way the prophet ends:
“Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil;
learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (vv. 16-17).
Think of the many refugees that disembark in Europe and do not know where to go. Then the Lord says even if your sins are red like crimson, they shall be as white as snow, and pure as wool, and the people will be able to eat the good of the land and live in peace (v. 19).
This is the miracle of the forgiveness that God, as Father, wants to give His people. God’s mercy is offered to all, and these words of the prophet are also valid for us all today, called to live as children of God. Thank you.