Pope: It's not enough to follow the letter of the law with a closed heart

Pope: It's not enough to follow the letter of the law with a closed heart

Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square for the general audience, Dec. 9, 2015. Credit Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square for the general audience, Dec. 9, 2015. Credit Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

.- Speaking at morning Mass at the Santa Marta residence, Pope Francis decried those who close themselves to God's truth, and condemn repentant sinners and the innocent alike in the name of following the “letter of the law.”

“The heart is closed to God's Word, it is closed to truth, and it is closed to God’s messenger who brings the prophecy so that God’s people may go forward,” the Pope said in his April 11 homily, according to Vatican Radio's translation.

The Pope centered his reflection on the day's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the Sanhedrin arresting St. Stephen – who would later become the first martyr of the Church – for “blasphemous words against Moses and God.”

Because their hearts were hardened, they “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which (Stephen) spoke,” he said, adding they supported their claims with false witnesses.

“Their hearts, closed to God’s truth, clutch only at the truth of the Law, taking it by ‘the letter’, and do not find outlets other than in lies, false witness and death.”

Francis recalled Gospel accounts of Jesus likening the cynical and hypocritical “doctors of the letter” to their “fathers” who “had killed the prophets” before him.

The Pope observed the unwillingness of these “doctors of the law” to open their hearts to the repentant sinner. He cited in particular the scene in which Judas Iscariot, after having betrayed Jesus, regrets his decision and approaches the Sanhedrin to return the money.

“It hurts when I read that small passage from the Gospel of Matthew, when Judas, who has repented, goes to the priests and says: ‘I have sinned' ... and gives them the coins. ‘Who cares!’ - they say to him: ‘it’s none of our business!’”

“They closed their hearts before this poor, repentant man, who did not know what to do,” he said. “And he went and hanged himself.”

The Pope spoke of their concern with following “the laws, so many words and things they had built,” but not the good of the repentant man.

“And what did they do when Judas hanged himself? They spoke amongst themselves and said: 'Is he a poor man? No! These coins are the price of blood, they must not enter the temple'... and they referred to this rule and to that… The doctors of the letter.”

Instances of innocent people put to death for being wrongly accused of going against the law appears throughout history, Francis said.

“History tells us of many people who were judged and killed, although they were innocent: judged according to the Word of God, against the Word of God,” he said.

“Let’s think of witch hunts or of St. Joan of Arc, and of many others who were burnt to death, condemned because according to the judges they were not in line with the Word of God.”

Noting that Jesus was crucified for his trust and obedience to God's word, Pope Francis recounted resurrected Jesus' words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.”

The Pope concluded: “Let us ask the Lord to look to the large and to the small follies of our hearts with the same tenderness, to caress us gently and to say to us: ‘Oh you foolish and slow of heart’ and begin to explain things to us.”

Tags: Pope Francis