Pope Francis greets Mattia Villardita, 27, from northern Italy, dressed as Spider-Man, during his general audience in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican June 23, 2021. The pope began a new series of audience talks focused on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and its lessons about evangelization, faith and freedom. (CNS/Vatican Media)
VATICAN CITY — Those who proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ are humble and trust in God, they do not heap conditions upon others or promote themselves as the only “keepers of the truth,” Pope Francis said.
The path of evangelization, the essential characteristics of an evangelist and the risks posed by the self-proclaimed righteous are illustrated in the Letter to the Galatians, the pope said June 23 as he announced the letter would be the topic of a new series of talks at his weekly general audience.
Spider-Man — known as Mattia Villardita when he is not working, according to Vatican News — was among the hundreds of pilgrims and visitors in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace for the papal audience. After the gathering, Francis spent a few minutes speaking with Villardita, who dresses up in superhero costumes and visits children in hospitals.
In his main audience talk, Francis said St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is important, “I would even say decisive, not only for getting to know the apostle better, but above all in considering some topics that he addresses in depth, showing the beauty of the Gospel.”
The themes of “freedom, grace and the Christian way of life” in the Letter to the Galatians, he said, are “extremely topical since they touch on many aspects of the life of the church in our days. It is a very relevant letter. It seems written for our times.”
The letter shows St. Paul’s “fiery” concern for the new communities of Christians who were Gentiles but were being pressured by some preachers to adopt Jewish practices such as circumcision.
St. Paul was a pastor, who, “like a father or mother, immediately notices the dangers his children face” as they grow in faith, the pope said.
The preachers not only were insisting on things that St. Paul did not insist upon, but they were “even denigrating his person,” the pope said. “They began with doctrine — ‘this no, this yes’ — and then they denigrated the apostle.”
“As we can see,” the pope said, “it is the ancient practice of presenting themselves on certain occasions as the sole possessors of the truth — the pure ones — and trying to belittle the work of others with slander.”
The new Christians were confused and worried, the pope said.
“This situation is not far removed from the experience of many Christians today,” he said. “Indeed, today too there is no shortage of preachers who, especially through the new means of communication, can disturb the community. They present themselves not primarily to proclaim the Gospel of God who loves humanity in Jesus, crucified and risen, but to insist, as true ‘keepers of the truth’ — that’s what they call themselves — on the best way to be Christians.”
“They strongly affirm that the true Christianity is the one they adhere to, often identified with certain forms of the past, and that the solution to today’s crises is to go back so as not to lose the genuineness of the faith,” the pope said.
“How can we recognize these people?” Francis asked, before answering that one sign is their “rigidity.”
“Before the preaching of the Gospel which makes us free, which makes us joyful, these people are rigid,” he said.
Maybe the American Catholic Bishops Conference should be reading this message from Pope Francis, as they continue to ignore his advice; not to proceed with their intention to produce their very own doctrinal statement on The Eucharist, that would (in their estimation) prevent Catholic political leaders like President Joe Biden from receiving this Sacraments of the Church – on the grounds of their refusal to disenfranchise the legalisation of abortion and GLBT+ Human Rights measures in places where they have political power and influence.
Pope Francis is, if indirectly here, allowing people to have a private conscience on matters that pertain to their opinions on Faith and Morals, as they affect each person in their life’s journey. This is an important insight of the Pope, whose own Church is prone to issue diktats on such matters; whereas today’s society is more aware of the conflicts of private conscience which do not always lead to their alignment with extant Catholic Rules on moral issues.
On the issue of abortion, for instance, although the Pope – like most conscientious Christians – cannot condone the use of abortion as a way of ‘convenience’ to avoid the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy; he obviously realises that there can be such a process as ‘therapeutic abortion’ in cases where genuine hardship or the life of the mother may be threatened with the continuence of the state of pregnancy.
However, the main thrust of this homily by Pope Francis, is to question the all-too-readiness of some enthusiastic Christians to disenfanchise other Christians because of what they see as their tendency to not measure up to the moral precepts of the Church – forgetting that, as the U.S. Bishops have been warned by the Vatican, The Eucharist is not a reward for the righteous but a medicine for sinners. God’s people have been warned in Scripture in these words: “Judge not, lest you yourselves be judged” (and found wanting?). As William Shakespeare, the Catholic playright said in his play ‘The Merchant of Venice: “The quality of mercy is not strained, it falleth as the gentle rain from heaven. It is thrice blessed: (Trinitarian).
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand