ROME — Pope Francis returned to one of his favorite topics this week, preaching against Christians who are “rigid” and resistant to change.
In his homily at morning Mass at his Santa Marta residence in the Vatican on Tuesday, the pope compared modern Christians hung up on doctrine, morals, or the liturgy with the “hypocritical” Pharisees and doctors of the law of Jesus’ time
People followed Jesus because he was “attractive, touched hearts, made himself loved,” Francis said, unlike the Pharisees who scrutinized everything “under a magnifying glass.”
While “the people loved Jesus,” the pope said, the Pharisees and Sadducees “did not love Jesus; on the contrary, they hated Jesus.”
And yet “these were the ‘pure’ ones, to the point that they kept all the formalities: the formalities of the law, of religion, of the liturgy,” he said, and were considered “a model of formality.”
These doctors of the law “lacked life,” he said. “They were starched, they were rigid but Jesus knew their soul.”
The Pharisees “were scandalized by the things Jesus did when he forgave sins, when he healed the Sabbath. They rent their garments,” Francis said, and they did this because “they did not care about the people, but only cared about the law, the prescriptions, the rubrics.”
Jesus called such people “whitewashed tombs,” he said, because they are “beautiful from the outside, so perfect, so perfect, but inside are full of rottenness, greed, and wickedness.”
Jesus, who knew perfectly well how to distinguish “appearances from the internal reality,” unmasked “these gentlemen” who “are the doctors of appearances,” he said.
Even today, “it is done this way: people are paid to give bad news, news that smears others,” he said, but Jesus’ admonition to look at what is inside is still valid “for the Christians of our time.”
The pope, in fact, gave a series of homilies sharply criticizing those who “accuse” others, particularly bishops, of wrongdoing, comparing them to Satan and his tactics.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio who released a bombshell report in late August accusing high-ranking prelates, including the pope, of mishandling the sex abuse crisis, took the pope’s words as aimed at himself.
Pope Francis “has compared his silence to that of Jesus in Nazareth and before Pilate, and compared me to the great accuser, Satan, who sows scandal and division in the Church — though without ever uttering my name,” the archbishop wrote in a recent 4-page statement.
“If he had said: ‘Viganò lied,’ he would have challenged my credibility while trying to affirm his own,” he continued. “Instead, he put in place a subtle slander against me — slander being an offense he has often compared to the gravity of murder. Indeed, he did it repeatedly, in the context of the celebration of the most Holy Sacrament, the Eucharist, where he runs no risk of being challenged by journalists.”
In his homily Tuesday, the pope summed up his criticisms in the adjective “rigid.”
“A rigid thing does not change, it does not open,” he said. “This is rigid, and it does not change, that’s how it is.”
“But there are always problems, underneath or inside such rigidness. Serious problems,” Francis warned. “Always behind the fake appearances of perfection, of good people, there are problems.”
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