During his Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis urged thousands of pilgrims to recognize that although everyone is a sinner, it is possible to be holy because of God's grace.
“Do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit,” he told those gathered in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 2.
He began his reflections by questioning that although in the Creed we profess that the Church is holy, “how can we say that the Church is holy when she is all too evidently made up of sinners? Sinful men, women, priests, nuns, Bishops, Cardinals, Popes? All of them. How can a church like this be holy?”
We can find an answer, he said, when we consider the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians when he says that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy.”
“The Church is holy because it proceeds from God who is holy,” urged the Pope, “It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his Love makes the Church holy.”
The Holy Father then stressed again that the Church is one composed of sinners, warning of the temptation which some believe that the Church is only for those who are “pure,” and that all others are to remain “removed,” outside of the Church.
“This is not true! This is heresy!”
“The Church, which is holy, does not reject sinners,” he urged, but rather “welcomes them” and “calls everyone to be wrapped by mercy, tenderness and the forgiveness of the Father, which gives everyone the chance to meet him, to walk towards holiness.”
He went on to explain that God wants us to approach him with our sinfulness, asking the crowds if anyone among them had come without sin.
“No, none of us. We all carry our sins with us,” he noted, reflecting how God wants to offer forgiveness and transform our hearts. The Pope then stressed that the God we find within the Church is not “a ruthless judge,” but one like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who is always waiting.
God, he said, wants us to be part of a Church “that knows how to open their arms to welcome everyone, which is the home not of a few, but the home of all, where everyone can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love,” including “the strongest and the weakest, the sinners, the indifferent, and those who feel discouraged and lost.”
“The Church offers to all the possibility to pursue the path of holiness, which is the way of the Christian,” said the Pope, went on to explain how one is able to encounter Jesus through the sacraments, most especially through the Eucharist and Confession.
The pontiff challenged those gathered to ask themselves, “Do we allow ourselves to be hallow? Are we a Church that calls and welcomes with open arms, who gives courage, hope? Or are we a church closed in on itself ?”
He concluded his reflections by encouraging the pilgrims not to be afraid to be holy or to have high aspirations when they feel weak, frail and sinful.
“Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things,” he said, but in leaving it to God, stressing that “the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, is to have confidence in his active service to others.”
Pope Francis finished by quoting 19th century French novelist and convert Leon Bloy in saying that “there is only one sadness in life; that of not being saints.”
“Do not lose hope in holiness. We travel all this way; Do we want to be holy? The Lord awaits us all with open arms to join in this path of holiness.”