Pope Francis’ words disconcert, sometimes they even make people indignant. Christ still outrages today. “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offence”, as Apostle Peter called Jesus. This, indeed, is the meaning of the Greek word: obstacle. Those who preach the Word without perturbing, do not do justice, but emits useless and worthless breath. It is not easy, it forces you to stop and change direction in life.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, […] if you love only those who love you, what reward have ye?” Jesus says. Is there a more scandalous commandment? This is what we should think about whenever the other, anyone – family, friend, colleague, Southerner, black, migrant, or refugee – makes us see red with their words or actions.
Perhaps, an even bigger scandal springs from Christ’s call to respect the spirit and not the letter of the law. This is the call Pope Bergoglio repeatedly refers to when he astonishes. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”, reads the Gospel. Thus, the primacy of conscience – the one all of us claim, while fearing it above all – affirms itself. There is nothing more fascinating and more excruciating for the Man than his freedom of conscience, Dostoevsky wrote.
Tragically true. But what is conscience? Man’s ability to recognize the truth and distinguish between good and evil, we might say. An innate ability, eternal, which compels us to follow the truth, according to the sublime lesson of Cardinal Newman, who toasted first to conscience, then to the Pope. He is not a judge we can bribe to make things go according to our desires, but a just and inflexible judge who knows what the truth is, who shows it to us and invites us to follow it if we listen to Him with a sincere heart.
Is it impossible to change the world? It is not, if you follow the voice of your conscience, helped by the grace of God. If all of us did so, crimes would disappear, legislative codes would become useless, the courts would have no usefulness and prisons would become empty. We should no longer hope for heaven, because heaven would be here and now. Instead, we silence our conscience; stifle it with camouflaged ideology of alleged rationality, like Pinocchio and the Talking Cricket. The result is we do not change and the world remains a havoc. Then, we hide behind our mothers’ dresses, shouting that there is no justice in this world. An alibi, for us who are unjust. As if justice were outside and not inside ourselves.
There are too many laws, we say. Incomprehensible and often contradictory. And it is true. Yet, there are only ten Commandments and they are very clear. Yet, people do not apply them. Just one of them would be enough, the commandment of love, which embraces all other commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The golden rule of not doing unto others as you would not have them do unto you. We fail to respect even that one. This is where Pope Francis’ behavior seems scandalous: in his invitation, patient and determined to love ourselves, love each other, and love God as He loves us.
We cannot blame the quantity and quality of the laws for our social and moral disorders. Responsibility falls on our will. It is difficult and tiring to listen to the voice of conscience; it is much easier to ignore it or adapt it to our coziness. When we look in the mirror of our souls, however, we know we are lying and fooling ourselves. The question is ‘how do we think we can get away with God? Do we think He is blind, deaf, or dumb? Do we think we can fool Him? Let us stop this buck-passing. Let us lay down the hammer of judgment and let the living conscience speak out loudly. It will lead us to the Promised Land, which is the Man’s free heart.