The core of Pope Francis’ Monday homily during the Mass in the Chapel of St. Martha’s House was the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles on the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first martyr in Christian history. In the text, scribes accuse the young man slandering him because they cannot “resist wisdom and the spirit” of his speeches, thus they instigate false witnesses to say they heard him “utter blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
“A heart closed to God’s truth – the Pope notices – clings only to the truth of the law, or to be more precise, to that of the texts rather than law, and finds no other ways out but lying, testifying the false, and death”. Jesus had already reprimanded them for this attitude, because “their fathers had killed the prophets”, and now they are building monuments to the prophets. And the answer of the “scribes” is “cynical” rather than “hypocritical”: “If we had lived at the times of our fathers, we would not have done the same.” “Thus – the Pope explains – they wash their hands of it and judge themselves as pure. But their heart is closed to God’s Word, closed to the truth, closed to the messenger of God who brings the prophecy, and to the further development of God’s people.”
“It pains me when I read that small passage from the Gospel of Matthew when repented Judas goes to the priests and says, ‘I have sinned’ and wants to give… and gives them the coins. ‘Who cares! – they answer – It is your problem!’ A closed heart in front of this poor repentant man who does not know what to do. ‘It is your problem’. And he hanged himself. And what do they do when Judas has hanged himself? They talk and say ‘But poor man’? No! ‘These coins are the price of blood, they cannot enter the temple’ … this and that rule… teachers.”
“A person’s life does not matter to them – the Pope went on -, they do not care about Judas’s repentance: The Gospel says he returned repentant. The only thing that matters to them are their laws and the many words and things they have built. And this is the hardness of their hearts, the folly of the heart of this people, who could not resist the truth of Stephen and therefore goes to look for evidence, false witnesses, so as to judge him.”
Stephen – the Pope said – dies like all the prophets did, he dies like Jesus. And this is repeated in the history of the Church: “History tells us about many people who were killed and judged despite being innocent: judged by the Word of God and against the Word of God. Just think of the witch-hunt or St. Joan of Arc, and many other people who were burnt, condemned, because they did not change, in the judges’ opinion, in accordance with the Word of God. That is ‘Jesus’s model, who ends up on the cross to be faithful and to have obeyed the Word of the Father. How tenderly Jesus says to the disciples of Emmaus: ‘Oh fools, and slow of heart'”.
In conclusion, Francis addressed the customary prayer for the conversion of all the faithful: “We ask the Lord today to look with the same tenderness at the small and large follies of our hearts, caress us, and tell us ‘Oh foolish, and low of heart”, and begin to explain things to us.”