VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis warned government officials against abandoning the path of God’s love and liberating salvation for the dead-end road of self-righteous corruption.
Do not follow the path promoted by “these ‘pundits of duty’ who have lost the faith and hold the people together with this theology of obligation,” where rules and duties crowd out the will of God, he told Italian and European government officials.
“Let us pray that the Lord gives us the grace to always take the road of salvation, to open ourselves to the salvation that only comes from God and from the faith,” the pope said.
The pope’s remarks came during an early morning Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica March 27, several hours before the pope met U.S. President Barack Obama at the Vatican. Almost 500 Italian parliamentarians, government ministers, officials and former members of parliament attended the morning Mass.
The pope’s homily focused on the day’s Scripture readings, beginning with the Book of Jeremiah (7:23-28) in which God laments his people’s long history of turning their backs on him and not obeying or listening to him. In the Gospel reading (Lk 11:14-23), Jesus warns people who accused him of having the power of Satan that “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
The pope used the readings to underline the problems posed not just by the people of God, but by groups of powerful people: “The ruling class — the doctors of the law, the Sadducees, the Pharisees” — who “were closed up in their ideas, in their ministry, in their ideology.”
The leaders didn’t listen to the Word of God and they sought to justify their rejection of him by claiming Jesus was “a prince of demons,” the pope said.
But not only had the leaders shut themselves off from God, they had distanced themselves from the people they were meant to lead and care for, the pope said.
“Jesus looks on the people and is moved because he sees them ‘like sheep without a shepherd.'” So Jesus goes to those who have been abandoned: the sick, the poor, widows, lepers and others, the pope said, and speaks to them in a way that earns their admiration.
“He speaks differently from the ruling class, who has distanced itself from the people and was only interested in their own things: their group, their party, their own infighting.”
While everyone is a sinner, the pope said, the corrupt leaders “were more than sinners,” because instead of recognizing their sins and seeking forgiveness, they were so self-centered “that it was impossible to hear the Lord’s voice.”
“It’s very difficult for someone corrupt to be able to turn himself around. The sinner can because the Lord is merciful and he waits for everyone. But the corrupt are focused on their own things” and can see and hear nothing else, he said, and that’s why they’re always trying to justify themselves.
The corrupt are focused on going through the motions, Pope Francis said; they are “men of good manners but bad habits. Jesus called them ‘whitewashed tombs'” that “appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.”
Jesus called them hypocrites, because they turned away from “the salvation of the Lord’s love” and a theology built on faith in God for “a theology of obligation,” of minute laws and “must-dos.”
By refusing God’s love, they refused “the freedom the Lord offers,” and instead followed “the logic of necessity where there is no room for the Lord” and where “they don’t understand mercy or pity.”
That’s why the people loved Jesus so much, the pope said, because “they needed mercy and compassion and they went to ask for it from the Lord.”
The pope asked the government leaders to take the time during Lent to ask themselves what path they were following in life: the path of God’s love and freedom or the dead-end road of the short-term.
The pope asked them to pray for “the grace to open myself” to his salvation.
God loves everyone, he said. “Make the effort to open up; this is the only thing he asks: ‘Open the door for me. I will do the rest.'”