Pope Francis may have been preaching to the hundreds of thousands filling the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, but his words were directed to the participants in the upcoming synod, which begins next weekend.
Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.
Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing “scandal” are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly “intolerable” scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!
Unfortunately, the cameras did not know to pan to Cardinal Muller, Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, to catch his reaction. For this, truly, is the question beneath all the other questions at the synod: Is the Spirit moving outside officialdom? Is the Spirit still active at all? This question, importantly, can be applied to the advocates of change, who sometimes let their desire to bring mercy cloud their appreciation for the fact that the Spirit is the Spirit sent forth from the Father and the Son, and does not contradict them. But, given the way the discussion has developed so far, the people who will have the hardest time listening to today’s Gospel will be those who oppose any development in the Church’s teaching and practice. “To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group”, who are not “like us”, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith!” the Holy Father instructed.
The Holy Father spoke movingly about how the “little gesture” in the Gospel, giving a cup of water for His sake, remains normative for us in family life, where it is the little gestures of daily love that bring strength and holiness to the family. He gave a shout out to his repeatedly stated concern for the environment, reminding everyone that if we are truly concerned about our children, and their children, we must care for our common home.
Pope Francis put forward the vocation of the family in transcendent terms – the gestures of love are miracles – and in inter-religious terms, as well. And, gently but unmistakably, he reminded his listeners, and the Church beyond, that the generation of life within the family is a revelation of God’s Will:
And how beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders, we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle! We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God! Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region, or religion to which they belong!
With this sermon, the pope concludes his major public addresses. Tomorrow, I will begin a wrap-up of his visit.