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Observance of the Law Is Not Enough to Make a Good Christian, Says Pope

In his Angelus address before several thousand people in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis warned that outward obedience to the law is insufficient if there is no change of heart and a real love for God and one’s neighbor.

The Pope commented on the Gospel of the day, which presents a dispute between Jesus and some Pharisees and scribes. The Pharisees rebuke Jesus for not following the “traditions of the elders”—the purification of one’s hands before eating and other such ritual norms.

Jesus, in turn, tells the Pharisees that they have elevated “the commandments of men” to take precedence over God’s commandments, such as love of God and neighbor.

Pope Francis said that we must apply these words to ourselves today, because we, too, run the risk of thinking that “outward observance of the law is sufficient to be good Christians.” Just like the Pharisees, Francis said, we may consider ourselves better than others simply because we observe rules and customs, “even if we do not love our neighbor, we are hard of heart, we are proud and arrogant.”

“The observance of the letter of the law is sterile,” the Pope said, “if it does not lead to a change of heart and does not translate into concrete attitudes: openness to an encounter with God and His Word in prayer, seeking justice and peace, and assisting the poor, the weak, and the oppressed.”

The Pope said that there are too many Christians who give scandal because they make a show of going to church, but “they neglect their families, speak ill of others, and so on.”

The Pope recalled Jesus’s words that nothing that comes from outside a person can defile him or make him impure. Rather, “it is the things that come out of a person that defile him.”

It is not “external things that make us saints or not saints, but it is the heart that expresses our intentions, our choices, and the desire to do all things for the love of God,” Francis said. “If the heart does not change, we are not true Christians. The line between good and evil passes not outside of us but within us.”

“Without a purified heart, you cannot have truly clean hands and lips that speak sincere words of love, because everything is double, a double life,” he said.

The Pope ended his address by asking God for the gift of “a clean heart, free from hypocrisy.”

“A heart free from all hypocrisy, so that we are able to live according to the spirit of the law and reach its goal, which is love,” he said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.

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