Pope Francis, who has often said that doctrine is not everything, praised Saint Paul Thursday morning as a model of one who defended doctrine–the doctrine of the greatness of God’s love.
The apostle Paul, Francis said in his homily at Mass, “defended doctrine; he was the great defender of doctrine.”
The trouble was that other people did not tolerate doctrine, especially the doctrine of “the gratuitousness of salvation,” Francis said.
God saved us all freely, but we want to put limits on His love. We want to pretend that we earn His love by our good works, Francis said. According to this mentality, we think, “If I just do these things, God is obliged to save me. It’s what Paul calls ‘salvation by works,’” Francis added.
Francis said that one of the hardest things for Christians to understand is the gratuitousness of salvation in Christ because there are always some “doctors of the law,” who want to narrow the horizons of God’s love, when instead it is something “immense, limitless.”
The same thing happened to Saint Teresa of Avila, the saint whose feast is celebrated on October 15, the Pope said.
“She, too, was judged by the doctors of her day. She did not go to jail, but she barely escaped,” he said, adding that “this is a struggle that lasts through history.”
“We’re used to hearing that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to love, to save us and who died for us. But we have heard it so many times that we have gotten used to it,” he said.
If we really enter into this mystery of God’s limitless love, we remain “amazed,” Francis said.
In the Gospel reading of the day, Francis remarked, Jesus becomes annoyed with the doctors of the law because they “made God’s love small, small, small, small, to the measure of each of us,” instead of respecting its immensity.
This explains “the battle that both Jesus and Paul wage to defend doctrine,” he stated.
Yes, we must obey the commandments, Francis said. But we must remember that loving God and loving our neighbors are “a synthesis of all the commandments.”
“But the source is love, the horizon is love. If you have closed the door, and you have taken away the key of love, you may not be up to the gratuity of the salvation you have received,” he said.
“How many saints,” Francis said, “have been persecuted for defending love, the gratuitousness of salvation, this doctrine?”
“We will do well to ask ourselves today: Do I believe that the Lord saved me freely? Do I believe that I do not deserve salvation? And if I merit anything, it is through Jesus Christ and what he has done for me?” he said.
The only response to this gratuitous gift “is love,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.