Pope's teachings

Walking and maturing in Christian freedom. Letter to the Galatians (II)

The Pope's catechesis on the Letter to the Galatians occupied fifteen Wednesdays, from June 23 to November 10 of this year 2021. We now complete the presentation we made of the first five audiences in the September issue of Omnes.

Ramiro Pellitero-December 2, 2021-Reading time: 8 minutes

St. Paul opposes the "hypocrisy" (Gal 2:13). In Sacred Scripture there are examples where hypocrisy is combated, such as that of the old man Eleazar. And, above all, the appeals of Jesus to some Pharisees.

Love of truth, wisdom and fraternity 

"The hypocrite" -Francisco points out. "is a person who pretends, flatters and deceives because he lives with a mask on his face and does not have the courage to face the truth. Therefore, he is not capable of truly loving - a hypocrite does not know how to love -, he limits himself to living on selfishness and does not have the strength to show his heart with transparency". (General Audience 25-VIII-2021). 

Today we also have many situations in which hypocrisy can occur, at work, in politics and also in the Church: "To act contrary to the truth means to endanger the unity of the Church, for which the Lord himself prayed." (ibid.). Hypocrisy is one of the dangers of clinging to the formalism of preferring the old Law to the new Law of Christ. 

The apostle Paul wishes to warn the Galatians of these dangers into which they may fall and goes so far as to call them "foolish" (cf. Gal 3:1), that is, they are senseless. They are senseless, the Pope explains, because they cling to "a religiosity based solely on the scrupulous observance of precepts." (General Audience1-IX-2021), forgetting what justifies us: the gratuitousness of Jesus' redemption and that holiness comes from the Holy Spirit.

And so, Francis observes, St. Paul also invites us to reflect: how do we live the faith? Is Christ with his newness the center of our life or are we content with formalisms? And the Pope exhorts us: "Let us ask for the wisdom to always be aware of this reality and to expel the fundamentalists who propose to us a life of artificial asceticism, far from the resurrection of Christ. Asceticism is necessary, but wise asceticism, not artificial." (ibid.).

Christian wisdom is rooted in the new of Christian revelation. Through baptism, we are made children of God. Once we "faith has come" in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:25), a radically new condition is created that immerses us in the divine filiation. The sonship of which Paul speaks is no longer the general one that involves all men and women as sons and daughters of the one Creator. The apostle affirms that faith makes it possible to be children of God. "in Christ" (v. 26). 

That is the "novelty": "Whoever accepts Christ in faith, through baptism is coated and filial dignity (cf. v. 27)".. And it is not a question of an external "putting on". In the Letter to the Romans, Paul will go so far as to say that, in baptism, we died with Christ and were buried with him in order to live with him (cf. 6:3-14). "How many receive it" -Francisco points out- They are profoundly transformed, in their innermost being, and possess a new life, which allows them to address God and invoke Him with the name 'Abba', that is to say, 'Abba', dad" (General Audience, 8-IX-2021).

It is, therefore, a new identity that transcends ethno-religious differences. Thus, among Christians, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female (cf. Gal 3:28), but, in fact, there is only brothers. And this was revolutionary at the time and continues to be so. Christians," Francis proposes, "must first reject among ourselves the differences and discriminations that we so often make unconsciously, in order to make concrete and evident the call to the unity of the whole human race (cfr. Lumen gentium, 1).

In this way we see how the love of truth that the Christian faith proposes is transformed into wisdom and promotes fraternity among all people. 

Faith through works, freedom and openness to all cultures

In his catechesis of September 29, the Successor of Peter explained the meaning of the justification by faith and grace, as a consequence of the "God's merciful initiative that grants forgiveness." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1990). It is not we who are saved by our efforts or merits. It is Jesus who "justifies" us. That is, he makes us righteous or holy (for Scripture identifies God's righteousness and holiness).

But from this we must not conclude that for Paul the Mosaic Law no longer has any value; in fact, it remains an irrevocable gift of God. saint (Rom 7:12). Francis observes that it is also essential for our spiritual life to fulfill the commandments, but we cannot count on our own strength alone. grace of God that we receive from Christ: "From Him we receive that gratuitous love that allows us, at the same time, to love in a concrete way." (General Audience, 29-IX-2021).

In this way we can understand a statement of the Apostle James that could seem to be the opposite of what St. Paul says: "You see how a man is justified by works and not by faith alone [...] For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead." (James 2:24,26). 

This means that justification, which faith works in us, demands our correspondence with our works. This is why the teachings of the two apostles are complementary. From there, we must imitate God's style, which is one of closeness, compassion and tenderness: "The power of grace needs to be combined with our works of mercy, which we are called to live in order to manifest how great God's love is." (ibid.). 

Christian freedom is a gift that springs from the Cross: "Precisely where Jesus allowed himself to be nailed, where he became a slave, God placed the source of man's liberation. This never ceases to amaze us: that the place where we are stripped of all freedom, that is, death, can become the source of freedom." (General Audience, 6-X-2021). In complete freedom, Jesus gave himself up to death (cf. Jn 10:17-18) in order to obtain true life for us.

Therefore, Christian liberty is based on the truth of faith, It is not an abstract theory, but the reality of the living Christ, who illuminates the meaning of our personal life. Many people who have not studied or even know how to read and write, but have understood the message of Christ well, have that wisdom that sets them free.

This Christian path of truth and freedom, Francis points out, is a difficult and tiring path, but not impossible, because in it we are sustained by the love that comes from the cross, and that love reveals the truth to us, gives us freedom and, with it, happiness.

The following Wednesday Francis showed how the Christian faith, which St. Paul preached with a heart inflamed by the love of Christ, does not lead to renouncing the cultures or traditions of peoples, but rather to recognizing the seeds of truth and good that are contained in them, opening them to the universalism of faith and bringing them to their fullness. 

This is called inculturation of the Gospel: "To be able to announce the Good News of Christ the Savior while respecting what is good and true in cultures", although it is not easy, because of the temptation to impose one's own cultural model (General Audience, 13-X-2021). And its foundation is the Incarnation of the Son of God, who has united himself in a certain way with every man (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 22).

That is why, Francis deduced, the name Catholic Church is not a sociological denomination to distinguish us from other Christians."Catholic is an adjective that means universal: catholicity, universality. Universal Church, meaning Catholic, means that the Church has in herself, in her very nature, openness to all peoples and cultures of all times, because Christ was born, died and rose again for all." (General Audience, ibíd.).

What does this mean in our present moment of technological culture? That the freedom granted to us by faith - he proposed - asks us to be on a constant journey, to "inculturate" the Gospel also in our digital culture. 

And so we see how the Christian faith, which lives in works, opens itself to cultures with the message of the Gospel, encourages dialogue among them and brings out the best in each one. 

Serving and maturing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit

Through baptism," the Pope insisted, "we are baptized. "we have passed from the slavery of fear and sin to the freedom of the children of God." (General Audience, 20-X-2021). But according to St. Paul, this freedom is in no way "a pretext for meat" (Gal 5:13): a libertine life that follows instinct and selfish impulses. On the contrary, the freedom of Jesus leads us, writes the Apostle, to be at the service of one another out of love.

In fact, it is worth noting that Christian freedom expresses the horizon and goal, the path and the very meaning of human freedom: service out of love; for we possess life only if we lose it (cf. Mk. 8:35). "This" -Francisco points out. "is pure Gospel". This is "the freedom test".

The Pope explains that there is no freedom without love. He warns what kind of love it is: "Not with intimate love, with soap opera love, not with the passion that seeks simply what suits us and pleases us, but with the love that we see in Christ, charity: that is the love that is truly free and liberating" (cf. Jn 13:15). A selfish freedom, without end or reference points," he adds, "would be an empty freedom. On the other hand, true freedom, full and concrete, always sets us free (cf. 1 Cor 10:23-24).

Freedom makes sense when we choose the true good for ourselves and others. "Only this freedom is full, concrete and gets us into the real life of every day. True freedom always frees us. (cf. 1 Cor 10:23-24). It is the freedom that leads us to the poor, recognizing in their faces the face of Christ (cf. Gal 2:10). It is not, as is sometimes said, the freedom that "ends where yours begins," but on the contrary: the freedom that opens us to others and to their interests, that grows when the freedom of others grows. 

Well, Francisco proposes: "Especially in this historical moment, we need to rediscover the communitarian, not individualistic, dimension of freedom: the pandemic has taught us that we need each other, but it is not enough to know it, we have to choose it every day concretely, to decide on that path.".

This is the way it is. Christian freedom is not a gift received once and for all, but requires our collaboration in order to unfold in a dynamic way. Freedom is born of God's love and grows in charity. 

Contrary to what St. Paul teaches - the Pope pointed out the following week -, today "many seek religious certainty rather than the living and true God, focusing on rituals and precepts rather than embracing the God of love with their whole being." This is the temptation of the new fundamentalists, which "they seek the security of God and not the God of security." (General Audience, 27-X-2021).

But only the Holy Spirit, who flows for us from the cross of Christ, can change our heart and guide it, with the power of love, in the spiritual combat (cf. Gal 5:19-21). The apostle opposes the "works of the flesh" (cf. Gal 5:19-21), the consequence of a behavior closed in worldly instincts, to the "fruits of the Spirit" (cf. Gal 5:22), which begin with love, peace and joy. 

Christian liberty, as St. Paul says to the Galatians, calls for walk according to the Holy Spirit (cf. 5:16.25). This," explained the Pope in the penultimate of his catecheses, "means letting oneself be guided by him, believing that God "is always stronger than our resistances and greater than our sins." (General Audience, 3-XI-2021).

The apostle uses the plural we to propose: "let us walk according to the Spirit".(v. 25). "How beautiful it is." -Francisco then points out. "when we meet shepherds who walk with their people and do not separate from them." (ibid.), who accompany him with meekness and solidarity. 

The Pope concludes his catechesis with an exhortation not to let ourselves be overcome by weariness, encouraging an attitude of realistic enthusiasm, knowing our limitations. 

For times of difficulty, two pieces of advice. First, in the expression of St. Augustine, "awakening to Christ" which sometimes seems to sleep in us as in the boat (cfr. Speeches 163, B 6): "We must awaken Christ in our hearts and only then will we be able to contemplate things with His gaze, because He sees beyond the storm. Through His serene gaze we can see a panorama that, alone, we cannot even imagine." (General Audience 10-XI-2021).

Second, we must not tire of invoking the Holy Spirit in prayer. "Come, Holy Spirit." as Mary and the disciples did. 

Thus, service out of love makes full freedom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And that freedom is accompanied by joy and maturity.

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