Francis: 'Judging and condemning a brother that sins is wrong'

Rome — Christians have not been given the power to judge or condemn people they think are committing sins and cannot think of themselves as above or better than others, Pope Francis said in his weekly audience Wednesday.

Reflecting on Jesus' command to his disciples to "be merciful just as your father is merciful," the pontiff said bluntly: "Judging and condemning a brother that sins is wrong."

"Not because you do not want to recognize the sin, but because condemning the sinner breaks the bond of fraternity with him and scorns the mercy of God, who does not want to renounce any of his children," Francis explained.

"We do not have the power to condemn a brother that errs, we are not above him," said the pope. "We rather have the duty to bring him back to his dignity as a child of the father and to accompany him on the path of conversion."

Francis was reflecting in his audience Wednesday on the passage from Luke's Gospel that contains Jesus' command. The pope compared that passage to the famous Sermon on the Mount of Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus tells his disciples: "Be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect."

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"St. Luke makes clear that perfection is merciful love," said the pontiff. "Being perfect means being merciful."

"Is a person who is not merciful perfect?" Francis asked the crowds in St. Peter's Square. "No! Is a person who is not merciful good? No! Goodness and perfection take root in mercy."

The pope said that Jesus explains being merciful with two verbs: forgiving and giving.

"Mercy expresses itself, above all, in forgiveness," said Francis. "It is forgiveness that is the pillar that bears the life of the Christian community because in itself it demonstrates the gratuitous nature of the love with which God loved us first.

"The Christian must forgive!" the pontiff exhorted. "Why? Because he has been forgiven."

"Not one of us in our lives has not had the need of God's forgiveness," said Francis. "And because we have been forgiven, we must forgive. We say it every day in the 'Our Father.'"

"It is so easy to forgive: If God has forgiven me, why must I not forgive others?" the pope asked. "Am I greater than God?"

"Merciful love is the only path to take," Francis said at the end of the audience. "Forgiving, being merciful, living our life in love and giving ... permits the disciples of Jesus to not lose the identity received from him and to recognize themselves as children of the same father."

"Do not forget this: mercy and giving, forgiveness and giving," said the pope. "This way the heart grows, it grows in love. Selfishness, anger make the heart smaller, smaller, smaller, smaller and it hardens like a stone."

"If you prefer a heart full of love, be merciful!" he exhorted.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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