Pope Francis on Wednesday spoke against a comfortable Christianity that keeps Jesus at arm's length, rather than inviting him into the heart to change it.
“If one of us says, ‘Ah, thank you Lord, because I am a good person, I do good things, I do not commit major sins…’ this is not a good path, this is the path of self-sufficiency, it is a path that does not justify you, it makes you turn up your nose,” the pope said during his weekly public audience March 29.
He called this attitude being “an elegant Catholic, but an elegant Catholic is not a holy Catholic, he is elegant.”
“The true Catholic, the true Christian is one who receives Jesus within, which changes your heart,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square.
“This,” he continued, “is the question I ask you all today: What does Jesus mean for me? Did I let him enter my heart, or do I keep him within reach, but so that he does not really enter within? Have I let myself be changed by him? Or is Jesus just an idea, a theology that goes ahead...”
At his Wednesday general audience, the pope continued his reflections on evangelization and apostolic zeal with a catechesis centered on St. Paul’s transformation from a persecutor of Christians to a great evangelist.
St. Paul “was a man who was zealous about the law of Moses for Judaism, and after his conversion, this zeal continued, but to proclaim, to preach Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis explained. “Paul loved Jesus. Saul — Paul’s first name — was already zealous, but Christ converts his zeal.”
To better explain zeal, the pope referenced St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that passion, from a moral perspective, is neither good nor bad: it depends on if it is used virtuously or sinfully.
“In Paul’s case, what changed him is not a simple idea or a conviction: it was the encounter, this word, it was the encounter with the risen Lord — do not forget this, it is the encounter with the Lord that changes a life — it was the encounter with the risen Lord that transformed his entire being,” the pope said.
“Paul’s humanity,” he added, “his passion for God and his glory was not annihilated, but transformed, ‘converted’ by the Holy Spirit.”
The pope noted that part of the change that takes place in Paul is his conversion from feeling righteous before God, and thus authorized to persecute, to arrest, and even to kill — to someone who, enlightened by God, recognizes himself to be a “blasphemer and persecutor.”
After recognizing what he had done, Paul becomes truly capable of loving, Francis said.
“If Jesus did not enter your life, it did not change,” he said. “You cannot be Christian only from the outside. No, Jesus must enter and this changes you, and this happened to Paul. It is finding Jesus, and this is why Paul said that Christ’s love drives us, it is what takes you forward.”
“This is zeal, when one finds Jesus and feels the fire, like Paul, and must preach Jesus, must talk about Jesus, must help people, must do good things,” he explained. “When one finds the idea of Jesus, he or she remains an ideologue of Christianity, and this does not justify, only Jesus justifies us. May the Lord help us find Jesus, encounter Jesus, and may this Jesus change our life from within and help us to help others.”
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.