The Vatican

"The light of faith makes us see God's mercy."

The Holy Father focused the catechesis of this Wednesday's audience on the doctrine of "justification," of which St. Paul speaks in the Letter to the Galatians, recalling that justification comes from faith in Christ.

David Fernández Alonso-September 29, 2021-Reading time: 3 minutes
catechesis justification

Photo: ©2021 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In his catechesis on Wednesday, September 29, Pope Francis reflected on the concept of justification. "In our journey to better understand the teaching of St. Paul, we encounter today a difficult but important topic, that of justification. There has been much discussion on this argument in order to find the interpretation most consistent with the apostle's thought and, as often happens, we have also come to contrast positions. In the Letter to the Galatians, as also in the Letter to the Romans, Paul insists on the fact that justification comes from faith in Christ".

"What lies behind the word "justification" which is so decisive for faith? It is not easy to arrive at an exhaustive definition, but in the whole of St. Paul's thought it can simply be said that justification is the consequence of the "merciful initiative of God who grants forgiveness" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1990). God, in fact, through the death of Jesus, has destroyed sin and has definitively given us forgiveness and salvation. Thus justified, sinners are welcomed by God and reconciled in Him. It is like a return to the original relationship between the Creator and the creature, before the disobedience of sin intervened. The justification that God performs, therefore, allows us to recover the innocence lost through sin. How does justification take place? To answer this question is to discover another novelty of St. Paul's teaching: that justification occurs by grace.

"The Apostle," the Pontiff explains, "always keeps in mind the experience that changed his life: the encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul had been a proud, religious and zealous man, convinced that in the scrupulous observance of the precepts was justice. Now, however, he has been conquered by Christ, and faith in Him has transformed him to the depths, allowing him to discover a truth that had been hidden until now: it is not we who become righteous through our efforts, but Christ who makes us righteous through his grace. So Paul, in order to be fully aware of the mystery of Jesus, is ready to renounce everything in which he was previously rich (cfr. Fil 3:7), because he has discovered that God's grace alone has saved him."

Francis assures us that "faith has a global value for the apostle". "It touches," he says, "every moment and every aspect of the believer's life: from baptism to departure from this world, everything is permeated by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who gives salvation. Justification by faith underlines the priority of grace, which God offers to those who believe in his Son without distinction".

"We must not conclude, therefore, that for Paul the Mosaic Law no longer has any value; it, in fact, remains an irrevocable gift of God, it is," writes the apostle, "holy" (Rm 7,12). The fulfillment of the commandments is also essential for our spiritual life, but here too we cannot count on our own strength: the grace of God that we receive in Christ is fundamental. From him we receive that gratuitous love which enables us, in turn, to love in a concrete way".

In this context, says the Holy Father, "it is well to recall also the teaching that comes from the Apostle James, who writes: '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" (Gc 2,24.26). Thus the words of James integrate the teaching of Paul. For both of them, therefore, the response of faith demands that we be active in love for God and love for our neighbor".

The Pope concluded his catechesis by saying that "justification introduces us to the long history of salvation, which shows the justice of God: in the face of our continual falls and our inadequacies, he did not resign himself, but wished to make us just and he did so by grace, through the gift of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. Thus, the light of faith enables us to recognize how infinite is God's mercy, the grace that works for our good. But the same light also makes us see the responsibility entrusted to us to collaborate with God in his work of salvation. The power of grace must be combined with our works of mercy, which we are called to live in order to bear witness to how great is God's love".

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