At Sunday Angelus, Pope warns against the more subtle ways we hurt our neighbor and offend God’s law
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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis prayed the Angelus with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. In remarks ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, the Holy Father offered a meditation on the Gospel reading for this Sunday, taken from the 5th chapter of Gospel according to St. Matthew, in which Our Lord says:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
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Reflecting on the passage, Pope Francis said:
Today’s liturgy presents us with another page of the Sermon on the Mount, which we find in the Gospel of Matthew (cf. 5:17-37). In this passage, Jesus wants to help his listeners to achieve a reinterpretation of the Mosaic law. What was said in the Old Covenant was true, but it was not all: Jesus came to fulfill and to enact definitively the law of God, down to the last iota (cf. Mt. 5:18). He manifests the Law’s original purposes and He fulfills its authentic aspects – and He does all this by His preaching and even more by offering Himself on the Cross. So, Jesus teaches how to do the will of God fully – and He uses this expression: with a “justice superior” to that of the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Mt. 5: 20) – a justice animated by love, charity, mercy, and therefore capable of realizing the substance of the commandments, avoiding the risk of formalism.
“Formalism,” continued Pope Francis, departing from his prepared text. “This I can do, that I cannot: up to here I can, up to here, I cannot.”
“No,” said Pope Francis, “more, more.”
The second moment of Pope Francis’ reflection concerned the second part of the Gospel reading – again from the 5th Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, in which Jesus says to His disciples:
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife – unless the marriage is unlawful – causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.
Pope Francis continued his reflection, saying: In particular, in [this Sunday’s] Gospel, Jesus examines three aspects, three commandments: murder, adultery and oath-swearing.
With regard to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” He affirms that it is violated not only by actual homicide, but also by those behaviors, which offend the dignity of the human person, including insulting words (cf. Mt. 5:22). Certainly, these injurious words do not have the same gravity and sinfulness of killing, but they are placed on the same line, because they are the premises of the more serious acts and they reveal the same malevolence. Jesus invites us not to establish a ranking list of offenses, but to consider them all harmful, insofar as they are all moved by the intention to harm one’s neighbor.
“Jesus gives the example,” Pope Francis went on to say, once again departing from his prepared text. “Insulting: we are used to insulting, it is like saying, ‘Good morning.’ And that is on the same line as killing. Anyone who insults his brother kills his brother in his heart. Please, do not insult! We earn nothing by doing so.” Pope Francis then returned to his prepared text, and continued with his reflection:
Another fulfillment is made to marriage law. Adultery was considered a violation of a man’s property right over woman. Jesus, however, goes to the root of the evil. Just as one comes to murder through injuries, offenses, and insults, so one comes to adultery through intentions of possession with respect to a woman other than one’s wife.
Adultery, like theft, corruption, and all other sins, is first conceived in our hearts and, once the wrong choice is made in the heart, it is actuated in concrete behavior. Again departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said: “He who looks with a possessing spirit at a woman who is not his own is an adulterer in his heart; he has begun to go down the road to adultery. Let us think a little on this: on the bad thoughts that are in this line.”
The Holy Father then turned his attention to the swearing of oaths:
Jesus then tells his disciples not to swear oaths, because the oath is a sign of insecurity and duplicity with which human relations are conducted. Oath-swearing exploits the authority of God to give assurance to our human affairs. Rather we are called to establish among ourselves, in our families and in our communities, a climate of clarity and mutual trust, so that we can be considered honest without resorting to higher interventions in order to be believed. Mistrust and mutual suspicion always threaten serenity!
Before leading the faithful in the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed that Our Lady – a woman of docile listening and obedience – might help us all to pause and spend more time with the Gospel, that we might be Christians not merely in appearance but in substance. “This,” said Francis, “is possible with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who permits us to do everything with love, and so to fulfil the will of God.”