Pope Francis stressed on Wednesday that “we do not become righteous by our own efforts”, because “it is Christ, with his grace, who makes us righteous”.
Speaking at the general audience in the Paul VI Vatican Hall on September 29, the Pope reflected on âjustification,â a doctrine fiercely contested during the Protestant Reformation era.
He said, âWhat is justification? We who were sinners have become righteous. Who justified us? This process of change is a rationale. We, before God, are righteous. That’s right, we have our personal sins. But fundamentally, we are righteous. It is a justification.
The Pope described the doctrine of justification as âa difficult but important subject,â noting that it had generated âmuch discussionâ among Christians, centered on the writings of Saint Paul the Apostle.
He said that while the doctrine was “decisive for the faith”, it was difficult to provide “an exhaustive definition”.
âIndeed, God, through the death of Jesus – and we must emphasize this: through the death of Jesus – destroyed sin and definitively granted us his forgiveness and salvation. Thus justified, sinners are welcomed by God and reconciled with Him, âhe explained.
âIt is as if the original relationship between the Creator and the creature before the intervention of the disobedience of sin has been restored. The justification operated by God therefore allows us to recover the innocence lost because of sin.
In recent years, Catholics and Protestants have begun to overcome their divisions over justification.
In 1999, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation issued a landmark joint statement on the doctrine of justification, concluding that Catholics and Lutherans were “now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by the grace of God.” by faith in Christ â.
The pope’s address live, dedicated to the theme âLife of faithâ, was the ninth of his catechetical cycle on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians.
At the start of the audience, Galatians 2: 19-20 was read to the pilgrims in different languages.
The Pope underlined what he said was ânewâ in the teaching of Saint Paul: this justification comes by grace.
âThe Apostle is always aware of the experience that changed his life: his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul had been a proud, religious and zealous man, convinced that justification lay in the scrupulous observance of the precepts of the law, âhe said.
âNow, however, he was overcome by Christ, and faith in Him completely transformed him, allowing him to discover a truth that had been hidden: We don’t become righteous by our own effort, no, we don’t. is not us, but it is Christ, with his grace, who makes us righteous.
But the Pope said it would be wrong to assume that Paul therefore rejected the law of Moses that had so profoundly shaped his life.
âIt should not be concluded, however, that the Mosaic law, for Paul, had lost its value; rather, it remains an irrevocable gift from God. It is, writes the Apostle, ‘holy’ (Romans 7:12), âFrancis noted.
âEven for our spiritual life, keeping the commandments is essential – we have said this many times before. But even here we cannot rely on our efforts: the grace of God which we receive in Christ is fundamental.
The pope’s comments were notable, as his previous general audience remarks on Jewish law have sparked controversy. Rabbis wrote to him following his audience address on August 11, expressing concern that his words implied that Jewish law was obsolete.
Vatican Cardinal Kurt Koch responded to Jewish leaders, assuring them that Francis’ remarks did not devalue the Torah.
Continuing with his explanation of justification, the Pope recalled the words of the Apostle James, that âa person is justified by works and not by faith aloneâ (James 2:24).
He said that the teaching of James, which Reformation leader Martin Luther strongly criticized, complemented that of Paul.
âFor both, therefore, the response of faith requires that we be active in our love for God and in our love of neighbor,â he said.
He continues: “Justification integrates us into the long history of salvation which demonstrates the righteousness of God: in the face of our continual falls and insufficiencies, he did not give up, but he wanted to make us righteous and he did so by grace. , by the gift of Jesus. Christ, of his death and resurrection.
He recalled that he frequently described âthe style of Godâ in three words: closeness, compassion and tenderness.
“And justification is precisely the greatest closeness of God to us, men and women, the greatest compassion of God for us, men and women, the greatest tenderness of the Father,” he said.
âJustification is that gift of Christ, of the death and resurrection of Christ which sets us free. ‘But, Father, I am a sinner … I have stolen … I have …’ Yes, yes. But basically you are right. Let Christ effect this justification. We are not fundamentally doomed. Let me say, we are saints. But, deep down, we are saints: let Christ’s grace come and this justice, this justification, will give us the strength to progress.
At the conclusion of his catechesis, he declared: âThe power of grace must be associated with our works of mercy which we are called to live to bear witness to the greatness of the love of God. Let’s move forward with this confidence that we’ve all been justified, we’re righteous in Christ. We must do this justice with our works.
A summary of the Pope’s catechesis was read in seven languages. After each summary, he greeted the members of each language group.
In his remarks to French-speaking pilgrims, the Pope noted that September 29 is the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
âOn this day when the Church celebrates the Holy Archangels, I ask Saint Michael, protector of France, to watch over your country, to keep it faithful to its roots, and to lead your people on the paths of your people on the paths of ever greater unity and solidarity, âhe declared.
Greeting Catholics in the United States, the Pope said: âI especially greet the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College and their families gathered for diaconal ordination. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the joy and peace of the Lord. God bless you!”
At the end of the audience, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of a recent attack in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.
“I learned with sadness the news of the armed attacks last Sunday on the villages of Madamai and Abun in northern Nigeria,” he said.
âI pray for those who have died, for those who have been injured and for all the people of Nigeria. I hope that the safety of every citizen can be guaranteed in the country.
The audience ended with the recitation of the Our Father and the Apostolic Blessing.