Pope Francis' Homily "Without God, without his grace, we are not healed of our sin. His grace is the source of our change." on Solemnity of St. Paul - FULL TEXT + Video

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Free Official Vatican Booklet PDF for the Vespers Service with music: https://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2023/20230125-libretto-conversione-san-paolo.pdf
We have just heard the Word of God which characterized this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. These are strong words, so strong that they might seem inappropriate while we have the joy of meeting as brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate a solemn liturgy in praise of him. Already today there is no shortage of sad and worrying news, so that we would gladly do without the "social reproaches" of Scripture! And yet, if we listen to the anxieties of the time we live in, we must be even more interested in what makes the Lord for whom we live suffer; and if we have gathered in his name, we can only place his Word at the centre. It is prophetic: in fact God, with the voice of Isaiah, admonishes us and invites us to change. Warning and change are the two words on which I would like to offer you some ideas tonight.

1. Caveat. Let us listen again to some divine words: «When you come to present yourselves to me, [...] stop presenting useless offers; [...] when you stretch out your hands I take my eyes off you. Even if you multiplied your prayers, I would not listen" (Is 1:12.13.15).
 What arouses the Lord's indignation, to the point of calling the people he loves so much in such indignant tones? The text reveals two reasons. First of all, he blames the fact that in his temple, in his name, what he wants is not done: no incense and offerings, but that the oppressed be helped, that justice be done to the orphan, that the cause of widow (cf. v. 17). In the society of the prophet's time, there was a widespread tendency - unfortunately still current - to consider the rich and those who made many offerings blessed by God, and to despise the poor. But this is completely misunderstanding the Lord. Jesus proclaims the poor blessed (see Lk 6:20), and in the parable of the final judgment he identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the needy, the sick, the imprisoned (see Mt 25:35-36). Here then is the first reason for indignation: God suffers when we, who call ourselves his faithful, put our vision before his, follow the judgments of the earth rather than those of Heaven, contenting ourselves with external rituals and remaining indifferent towards those to whom He holds more. God therefore grieves, we could say, for our indifferent misunderstanding.
In addition to this, there is a second and more serious reason that offends the Most High: sacrilegious violence. He says: «I cannot bear crime and solemnity. […] Your hands are dripping with blood. […] Remove from my eyes the evil of your actions» (Is 1,13.15.16). The Lord is "irritated" by the violence committed towards the temple of God which is man, while he is honored in man-made temples! We can imagine how much suffering he must witness wars and violent actions undertaken by those who profess to be Christians. That episode comes to mind in which a saint protested against the cruelty of the king by going to him in Lent to offer him some meat; when the sovereign, in the name of his religiosity, refused indignantly, the man of God asked him why he had scruples about eating animal flesh while he did not hesitate to put God's children to death.
Brothers and sisters, this admonition from the Lord makes us think a lot, as Christians and as Christian confessions. I would like to reiterate that “today, with the development of spirituality and theology, we have no excuses. However, there are still those who feel they feel encouraged or at least empowered by their faith to advocate various forms of closed and violent nationalism, xenophobic attitudes, contempt and even ill-treatment of those who are different. Faith, with the humanism it inspires, must keep alive a critical sense in the face of these tendencies and help to react quickly when they begin to creep in" (Encyclical Fratelli tutti, 86). If, following the example of the Apostle Paul, we want God's grace in us not to be in vain (cf. 1 Cor 15:10), we must oppose war, violence and injustice wherever they insinuate themselves. The theme for this Week of Prayer was chosen by a group of faithful from Minnesota, aware of the injustices perpetrated in the past against indigenous peoples and against African Americans today. Faced with the various forms of contempt and racism, faced with indifferent misunderstanding and sacrilegious violence, the Word of God admonishes us: "Learn to do good, seek justice" (Is 1:17). In fact, it is not enough to denounce, it is also necessary to renounce evil, to pass from evil to good. Here the admonition is aimed at our change.
2. Change. Diagnosed the errors, the Lord asks to remedy them and, through the prophet, says: «Wash yourselves, purify yourselves [...]. Stop doing evil” (v. 16). And knowing that we are oppressed and as it were paralyzed by too many faults, he promises that he will be the one to wash away our sins: «Come on, come and let's discuss - says the Lord. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will become white as snow. If they were red like purple, they will become like wool” (v. 18). Dear ones, from our misunderstandings about God and the violence that lurks within us, we are unable to free ourselves. Without God, without his grace, we are not healed of our sin. His grace is the source of our change. The life of the Apostle Paul, whom we commemorate today, reminds us of this. We cannot do it alone, but with God everything is possible; we can't do it alone, but together it's possible. Together, in fact, the Lord asks his followers to convert. Conversion - this much-repeated and not always easy to understand word - is asked of the people, it has a community, ecclesial dynamic. We therefore believe that our ecumenical conversion also progresses to the extent that we recognize ourselves in need of grace, in need of the same mercy: recognizing that we are all dependent on God in everything, we will feel and truly be, with his help, "one thing" (Jn 17 ,21), brothers for real.
How beautiful it is to open ourselves together, in the sign of the grace of the Spirit, to this change of perspective, rediscovering that "all the faithful scattered throughout the world are in communion with others in the Holy Spirit, and thus - as St John Chrysostom wrote - whoever Rome knows that the Indians are its members» (Lumen gentium, 13; In Io. hom. 65,1). On this journey of communion, I am grateful that so many Christians of various communities and traditions are accompanying the synodal journey of the Catholic Church with participation and interest, which I hope will become ever more ecumenical. But let us not forget that walking together and recognizing ourselves in communion with one another in the Holy Spirit involves a change, a growth that can only take place, as Benedict XVI wrote, "starting from an intimate encounter with God, an encounter that has become communion of will coming up to touch the feeling. Then I learn to look at this other person no longer just with my eyes and with my feelings, but according to the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend" (Encyclical Deus caritas est, 18).
The Apostle Paul helps us to change, to convert; he get us some of his indomitable courage of him. Because, on our journey, it is easy to work for one's own group rather than for the Kingdom of God, to become impatient, to lose hope of that day in which "all Christians, in the single celebration of the Eucharist, will find themselves gathered in that unity of the only Church that Christ gave to his Church from the beginning" (Decr. Unitatis redintegratio, 4). But precisely in view of that day let us place our trust in Jesus, our Passover and our peace: while we pray and adore him, he works. And we are comforted by what he said to Paul and which we can hear addressed to each of us: "My grace is enough for you" (2 Cor 12:9).
My dear friends, I wanted to share in a fraternal spirit these thoughts that the Word aroused in me so that, admonished by God, by his grace we change and grow in praying, in serving, in dialogue and in working together towards that full unity that Christ desires. Now I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart: I express my gratitude to His Eminence Metropolitan Polykarpos, Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to His Grace Ian Ernest, Personal Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome, and to the Representatives of the other Christian communities present. I express my deepest solidarity with the members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. I greet the Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox students, scholarship holders from the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with the Orthodox Churches at the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and those from the Bossey Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches. A warm, very fraternal greeting also to Frère Alois and the brothers of Taizé, engaged in the preparation of the ecumenical prayer vigil which will precede the opening of the next session of the Synod of Bishops. We all walk together on the path that the Lord has set before us, that of unity.
Source: Vatican.va