After elevating 20 new cardinals, Pope Francis reminded them that true honor is found in service, and urged them to follow Jesus in breaking rigid ways of thinking and touching society’s marginalized.
“Jesus is not afraid of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes,” the pope said Feb. 15.
Rather than seeking to conform to the norms of others or adhere to a ritualistic purity, Jesus seeks to “reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.”
The logic of Jesus and therefore of the Church is “not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and to seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant,” he said in a Catholic News Agency report.
“Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honor…Truly the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed!”
Pope Francis addressed his words to the 20 new cardinals created in yesterday’s Feb. 14 consistory, which followed a two-day meeting in which cardinals from around the world gathered with the Pope to discuss the reform of the Roman Curia.
They celebrated Mass with the Roman Pontiff Feb. 15 to wrap-up the consistory events.
In his homily, Francis focused on the compassion of Jesus in the Gospel, taken from Mark, in which he heals a leper who approaches him and asks to be “made clean.”
After doing this Jesus could no longer go about the town freely, and had to remain on the outskirts, since lepers were considered unclean and were therefore ostracized, the pope noted.
By healing the leper, Jesus not only shows the man compassion, but seeks to reinstate him into society, and identifies with the man’s shame and suffering by becoming marginalized himself, Francis said.
Although Moses’ law confined lepers to the outskirts of society in order to “safeguard the healthy,” Jesus fulfills that law by showing that welcoming and healing the leper not only kept the healthy safe, but also gave them a new brother.
“Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality. He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment,” the pope said.
By answering the leper’s plea without thinking of the potential consequences, Jesus shows that what is most important is “reaching out to save those far off,” and he is not afraid to scandalize the closed-minded who are stuck inside the rigid confines of the law.
Pope Francis noted that there are two ways of approaching the faith in this regard, saying that the first is to think like the doctors of the law, who fear losing those who are already saved, and therefore cast out the diseased.
The second approach, he said, is to think like God, who embraces and welcomes the diseased man with mercy, and seeks to turn evil into good by reinstating him into society.
The path of the Church, the pope observed, is not to “condemn anyone for eternity, (but) to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the ‘outskirts’ of life.”
“It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: ‘Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”
Jesus, by healing the leper, does not harm the healthy but rather frees them from fear, Francis explained. Jesus does not devalue the law, but rather places greater value on those for whom it was given.
Charity, the pope said, “cannot be neutral, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous!”
He noted that charity must always be creative in finding the right ways of approaching those considered to be “untouchable,” adding that “contact is the true language of communication.”
“How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love,” Francis said, and encouraged the cardinals to turn to Mary in learning how to embrace the poor and those cast-off from society.
Pope Francis urged them to be true servants of the Church to the extent that all Christians would be inspired to turn to Jesus as well as the outcast, and therefore resist the temptation of becoming “a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it.”
He told them to seek the face of the Crucified Jesus in each marginalized and excluded person they meet, whether they are prisoners, sick, persecuted, unemployed or those who have turned away from the faith.
“We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized!” the pope said, and prayed that all would remember the example of St. Francis of Assisi, “who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast.”