Pope Francis has dedicated his customary general audience held every Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square to the topic of “Mercy and correction.” “Speaking about divine mercy – he said – we have often evoked the figure of the father who loves his children, helps them, cares for them, and forgives them. And as a father, he educates them and corrects them when they make mistakes, encouraging their growth for better.” “This is how – he continued – God is presented in the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah, when the Lord, as a loving, but also careful and strict father, addresses, accusing him of infidelity and corruption, to bring him back on the path of righteousness. The Prophet expresses the bitterness of a disappointed father, “he raised his children and now they have rebelled against Him. Even animals are loyal to their master and recognize the hand that feeds them; whereas the people no longer recognizes God and refuses to understand.”
Nevertheless, divine charity is limitless. Though wounded, “God allows love to speak and appeals to the conscience of these degenerate children, so they repent and leave again to love. This is what God does! He comes to us because we let ourselves be loved by Him in the heart of our God.” Connecting it to modern times, the Pope has noted that “The parent-child relationship, often mentioned by the prophets when talking about the covenant relationship between God and his people, has degenerated. The educational mission of the parents aims at making them grow in freedom, to make them responsible, capable of good deeds for themselves and for the others. But because of sin, freedom becomes pretense of autonomy, claim for pride, and pride leads to opposition and the illusion of self-sufficiency.” “This is when God reproaches His people: ‘You are on the wrong way’… Affectionately and bitterly he says ‘my’ people.”
Then, the Pope added: “God never rejects us; we are His people. The most evil of all men, the most evil of all women, the most evil of all the peoples are His children. And this is God: he never ever rejects us! He always says: “Son, come here.” And this is our Father’s love; This is the mercy of God. Having such a Father gives us hope and confidence.” “This belonging – he continues – should be experienced with trust and obedience, knowing that everything is a gift that comes from the love of the Father. But there is vanity, folly, and idolatry instead. Thus, now the prophet addresses his people directly and with severe words, to help it understand the gravity of its guilt: “Woe betide you, sinners, […] corrupt children! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Saint of Israel and wen back”.
The suffering caused by sin is not useless, because it opens our heart to conversion. “The consequence of sin – Francis said – is a state of suffering, whose consequences affect also the country, devastated and rendered a desert, to the point that Zion – which is Jerusalem – becomes uninhabitable. Where God is rejected and so is his paternity, no life is possible, existence loses its roots, and everything seems perverse and destroyed. However, even this painful moment is in view of salvation. The test is needed so that the people can experience the bitterness of those who abandon God, and then confront the bleak emptiness of chosing death. Suffering, the inevitable consequence of a self-destructive decision, has to make the sinner think and open him to conversion and forgiveness.”
“This is the path of divine mercy – he continues – God does not treat us according to our iniquities. Punishment becomes the means to make us think. This makes it clear that God forgives his people, and gives grace does not destroy everything, but always leaves the door open to hope. Salvation involves the decision to listen and be converted, but remains a free gift. The Lord, therefore, in His mercy, indicates a path which is not that of ritual sacrifices, but rather that of justice. The cult is not criticized as unnecessary in itself, but because, instead of expressing conversion, it wants to replace it; thus it becomes a quest for its own righteousness, creating the misleading belief that sacrifices save, not the divine mercy that forgives sin.”
Then he added of the cuff again: “To understand it better: when one is sick, (s)he goes to the doctor; when one feels a sinner, (s)he goes to the Lord. But if instead of going to the doctor, we go to the sorcerer, it does not heal us. So many times we prefer to walk along the wrong paths, searching for a justification, justice, peace, which we receive as a gift from our Lord if we look for him.” “God, the prophet Isaiah says, does not like the blood of bulls and lambs, especially if the offer is made with hands coated in brothers’ blood.”
Still off the cuff, he said that the Church does not need “dirty money”: “But I think about some benefactors of the Church who come with offers – ‘Take this offer for the Church’ -. It is the result of the blood of so many exploited, and abused people who are enslaved by poorly paid jobs! I tell those people: ‘Please, take your check back, burn it’. God’s people, that is, the Church, does not need dirty money, it needs hearts that are open to God’s mercy.” “It is necessary to approach God with purified hands, avoiding evil, with good deeds and justice. How beautiful, as the prophet concludes: “Cease to do evil – the prophet urges – learn to do good deeds; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, make justice to the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Finally, the Holy Father addressed a thought to the many refugees who are arriving to Europe from distant lands: “Think about the many refugees who land in Europe and do not know where to go. Then, the Lord says, the sins, even if they are scarlet, shall become snow-white, and white like wool, and the people will be able to feed on the goods of the earth and live in peace. This is the miracle of forgiveness God wants to give his people as a Father.” “God’s mercy is offered to everyone, and these words of the prophet work even today for all of us, called to live as children of God. Thank you,” Pope Francis has concluded.