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Pope Francis: Christianity Is Not ‘Religion Light’

Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
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Daily homily at Casa Santa Marta

VATICAN CITY — A Christian’s true identity is rooted in the scandal of the Cross. Yet when the message of the Cross is watered down into Religion Light, this most precious gift may be lost, Pope Francis said on Tuesday in his homily at Holy Mass in the Chapel of Santa Marta.

The Pope was commenting on Tuesday’s first Reading from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (1:18-22).

We are sinners with faith in Jesus

“We too need to journey a long way in our lives so that our Christian identity is strong,” the Pope said, so that we might be able to bear witness to it by our lives. “It is a journey from ambiguity to a true identity.”

“It’s true there is sin, and sin makes us fall, but we have the Lord’s strength which enables us to rise and go on with our identity. But I would also say that sin is part of our identity: we are sinners, but sinners with faith Jesus Christ. And it is not only a faith of knowledge, no. It is a faith that is a gift of God, and that has entered into us from God. It is God himself who establishes us in Christ. And he has anointed us, he has put his seal upon us, he has given us the first installment, the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts. It is God who has given us the gift of this identity.”

It is therefore essential “to be faithful to this identity Christian and allow the Holy Spirit, who is this guarantee, the pledge in our hearts, to carry us forward in life.” We are not people who follow a philosophy, he warned. “We are anointed,” and have the “guarantee of the Spirit.”

Christian identity is not ‘religion light’

“It is a beautiful identity,” Pope Francis continued, “and one that is seen in testimony. That is why Jesus speaks of witness as the language of our Christian identity.” But because we are sinners, we can be tempted to stray from our Christian identity, which “can be weakened and lost.” The Pope highlighted two dangerous paths.

“The first is passing from witness to ideas, and watering down the witness. ‘Oh yes, I am a Christian. Christianity is a lovely idea. I pray to God.’  And so, from the real Christ — because the Christian identity is real: we read it in the beatitudes; this concreteness is also in Matthew 25; Christian identity is concrete — we turn to a somewhat soft religion, floating down the road of the gnostics. The Christian identity is scandalous. And the temptation is: ‘No, no, no scandal’.” 

Worldliness makes our witness lose its savor

“The Cross is a scandal,” Pope Francis continued. Yet some people who seek God “though a somewhat ethereal Christian spirituality”; they, he said, are the “modern gnostics.” Then there are “those who always need novelties in the Christian identity.” They have “forgotten that have been chosen and anointed,” that “they have the guarantee of the Spirit,” and they go searching: ‘But where are the visionaries who tell us Our Lady will send a letter at 4pm?’ It's an example, no? And they live for this. This is not the Christian identity. God’s final word is called ‘Jesus’ and nothing more.”

Another way we go backward in our Christian identity, the Pope added, is through worldliness.

“Opening one’s conscience so that everything enters in. ‘Yes, we are Christians, but this is all right … not only morally, but also humanly. Worldliness is human. And so the salt loses its savor. We see Christian communities, and also Christians, who call themselves Christian, but are unable and who don't know how to bear witness to Jesus Christ. And so this identity goes backward, backward, and is lost. We see this worldly nominalism every day. Yet through the history of salvation, God — with his patience as the Father — has brought us from ambiguity to certainty, to the reality of the Incarnation and redemptive death of his Son. This is our identity.”

St. Paul, Pope Francis observed, boasts of Jesus “who became man and died through obedience.” This, he said, “is the identity and here also is the witness.” It is a grace. And, he concluded: “We must ask of the Lord to always give us this gift, the gift of an identity that does not seek to adapt to things,” to the point of becoming like “salt that loses its savor.”

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