Vatican City — God's grace isn't "merchandise" that people can hoard or exploit for themselves; it is a free and loving embrace from God, Pope Francis said.
"The Lord is not a merchant," giving his grace as an object in exchange for something, the pope said Thursday at his morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives.
God loves us freely like a mother loves her child -- the child "lets himself be loved," and this is the grace of God, he said, according to Vatican Radio.
"But many times, in order to feel secure, we want to control grace" and are tempted to "commercialize grace" by seeing it as some sort of "merchandise or something that can be controlled," the pope said.
When people say, "My soul is cleansed, I am in a state of grace" or they choose to do certain things "because it will give me 300 days of grace," they are turning God's gift into some kind of "spiritual bookkeeping," the pope said.
Today and all throughout history people have betrayed God's loving presence among his people because of their "self-centeredness," he said. Look at the Pharisees, who became slaves to so many laws; the Sadducees and their political compromises; the Essenes, who were "good, very good, but they were so afraid of taking risks" that they hid in their monasteries; and the Zealots, who saw God's grace as "the war of liberation."
"But what is grace? Is it merchandise?" the pope asked.
"God's grace is something else: It is being close, it is tenderness," he said.
As an example of what that tender closeness is like, the pope referred to the day's first reading, Isaiah 41:13-20, in which God speaks gently and with affectionate endearments to communicate his love.
He appears much like "a mom, a mom who talks to her child, a mom who sings her child a lullaby and speaks with a baby voice and makes herself little like a child," he said.
To some people it might seem "ridiculous if they don't understand the greatness that is there: 'Fear not, O worm Jacob.' How often do moms say things like this to their child while they cuddle them," he asked.
"That's what God does. It is the tenderness of God. He is so close to us that he expresses this tenderness -- a mom's tenderness."
Pope Francis said if people do not feel this kind of love and tenderness in their relationship with God, then "you are still missing something, you still don't understand what grace is, you still have not received grace," which is this close loving presence of God.
People are justified not because of their own efforts, "you are justified because God is close to you, because God caresses you, because God tells you these beautiful things with tenderness -- this is our justification, this closeness of God, this tenderness, this love."
God will even "risk seeming silly to us" because he is so good and loving, the pope said.
Pope Francis said that "if we had the courage to open our hearts to God's tenderness, how much spiritual freedom we would have! So much!"
He asked people to read the verses from the day's reading in the Book of Isaiah and see this tenderness of a God, "who sings to each one of us a lullaby like a mom does."