Christianity is not the study of laws or commands: this is an impediment to understanding and living the truth that God is joy and generosity. This was the message of Pope Francis at Mass celebrated this morning in Casa Santa Marta.
The hypocrites who “lead the people of God down a dead-end street” Pope Francis said, are the subject of today’s Gospel. The Pope reflected on the famous passage of Matthew’s Gospel that contrasts the behaviour of the scribes and Pharisees – who make a show of praying, fasting, and almsgiving – with the path indicated by Jesus, Who points out to His disciples the proper attitude to assume in the same circumstances: giving alms and praying “in secret.” “And your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you.”
Pope Francis criticized not only the vanity of the scribes and Pharisees, but also those who impose “so many precepts on the faithful.” He called them “hypocrites of casuistry,” “intellectuals without talent” who “don’t have the intelligence to find God, to explain God with understanding,” and so prevent themselves and others from entering into the Kingdom of God:
“Jesus says: ‘You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to others.’ They are ethicists without goodness, they do not know what goodness is. But they are ethicists, aren’t they? ‘You have to do this, and this, and this . . .’ They fill you with precepts, but without goodness. And those are some of the phylacteries, of the tassels they lengthen, so many things, to make a pretence of being majestic, perfect, they have no sense of beauty. They have no sense of beauty. They achieve only the beauty of a museum. They are intellectuals without talent, ethicists without goodness, the bearers of museum beauty. These are the hypocrites that Jesus rebukes so strongly.
“But He doesn’t stop there,” Pope Francis continued. “In today’s Gospel, the Lord speaks about another class of hypocrites, ‘holy rollers’ [It: quelli che vanno sul sacro]:
“The Lord speaks about fasting, about prayer, about almsgiving: the three pillars of Christian piety, of interior conversion, that the Church proposes to us all in Lent. There are even hypocrites along this path, who make a show of fasting, of giving alms, of praying. I think that when hypocrisy reaches this point in the relation with God, we are coming very close to the sin against the Holy Spirit. These do not know beauty, they do not know love, these do not know the truth: they are small, cowardly.”