In his daily homily Pope Francis cautioned against those who appear to be holy but are in fact self-absorbed, explaining that Lent is a time a time of purification which allows us to grow closer to the Lord.
“The sign that we are far from the Lord is hypocrisy. The hypocrite does not need the Lord, he is saved by himself – so he thinks – and he disguises himself as a saint,” the Pope observed in his March 18 daily Mass.
Speaking to those present in the chapel of the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, the pontiff began his homily by reflecting on the day’s First Reading, taken from the book of Isaiah, in which the prophet pleas for Sodom and Gomorrah to convert, and warning that they will be “consumed” if they resist.
Highlighting “conversion” as a key word for Lent, the Pope explained that Isaiah’s prophesy to these “sinful cities” shows us that all “need to make a change of life” and take a “good look into our soul.”
Explaining how God is always “waiting for us in order to forgive us,” the pontiff cautioned that our approach must be “sincere,” and warned against the danger of being hypocrites, like the Pharisees in the Gospel.
“What makes people hypocrites?” he asked, observing that “they disguise themselves, they disguise themselves as good people: they make themselves up like little holy cards, looking up at heaven as they pray, making sure they are seen – they believe they are more righteous than others,” but really “they despise others.”
“‘Mah,’ they say, ‘I’m very Catholic, because my uncle was a great benefactor, my family is this, I’m that…I’ve learned...I know this bishop, this cardinal, this priest...I am this or that...’ They think they are better than others,” the Pope continued, emphasizing that “this is hypocrisy.”
The Lord, he noted, tells us something different, saying “‘No, not that.’ No one is justified by himself. We all need to be justified. And the only one who justifies us is Jesus Christ.”
For this reason it is essential that we go to the Lord, he observed, so that we do not become “Christians in disguise,” and that “when the appearance passes, one can see the reality” that we “are not Christians.”
Asking those in attendance what is “the yardstick” used to ensure that we draw close to God, he echoed the words of Isaiah, stating “Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good.”
One sign which helps us to know whether or not we are going along the “good path” the Pope noted, is to “Redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow,” which are instructions Isaiah also gave to Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Take care of the neighbor: the sick, the poor, the needy, the ignorant,” the pontiff continued, emphasizing that “This is the yardstick,” and that “the hypocrites do not know how to do this, they can’t, because they are so full of themselves that they are blind on account of watching others.”
“When one walks a little bit and comes closer to the Lord, the light of the Lord makes him see these things and he goes to help the brothers,” the Pope explained, adding that “this is the sign, this is the sign of conversion.”
Pope Francis also observed that “this is not the whole of conversion,” but that one must also have an “encounter with Jesus Christ,” and highlighted that we know we are close to Jesus when we care for the poor and the sick, as he teaches us.
Concluding his reflections, the pontiff stated that Lent is a time “to adjust life, to fix life, to change life, to draw closer to the Lord.”
“The sign that we are far from the Lord is hypocrisy,” he noted, repeating that “the sign that we are drawing closer to the Lord with repentance, asking for forgiveness, is that we care for the needy brethren.”
“May the Lord give us all light and courage: light to know what’s happening within us, and courage to convert, to draw closer to the Lord. It is beautiful to be close to the Lord.”