27 October 2019, The Tablet

Don't leave God 'out in the cold', says Pope

'To consider ourselves righteous is to leave God, the only righteous one, out in the cold.'

Don't leave God 'out in the cold', says Pope

Pope Francis at the final session of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region
Vandeville Eric/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

The Pope is warning Catholics who believe themselves to be “righteous” that they are pushing God “out in the cold”.

Pope Francis said the true path to redemption is found by listening to the voices of the poor. 

Francis was speaking during a homily at a Mass to conclude a three-week-long synod on the Amazon region, which has been condemned in some Catholic quarters for allegedly opening the Church up to pagan and heretical ideas. 

The Pope, seeking to apply the gospel story of the Pharisee and the tax collector to today’s Church, pointed to those who engage in self-righteous, hypocritical religious behaviour where people end up worshipping themselves. 

“Many of them are Catholic, they call themselves Catholic,” he said. 

Francis said the Pharisee, who follows the religious customs assiduously, is “brimming with self-assurance” and boastfulness but because he is without love “ends up praising himself instead of praying”. On the other hand, the tax collector, shows “what is pleasing to God.” He admits his shortcomings, prays for mercy  and “places his heart before God”. 

Catholics, the Pope argues, must do the same. 

“To consider ourselves righteous is to leave God, the only righteous one, out in the cold,” Francis told the congregation in St Peter’s basilica. 

“We are a bit tax collector because we are sinners, and a bit Pharisee because we are presumptuous, able to justify ourselves, masters of the art of self-justification.”

The Pope arrived for the final Mass carrying an Amazonian-style crosier gifted to by members of the Synod of Bishops, the majority of whom minister in the region. 

The synod’s work concluded last night with a document which called for married priests in remote parts of the Amazon and the re-starting of a commission to consider female deacons. 

These proposals have been fiercely attacked in conservative Catholic circles, who have also criticised the use of wooden indigenous statues of a pregnant woman during proceedings. During the last week of the synod two unnamed men removed the statues from a Church near the Vatican and threw them into the River Tiber. 

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, an internationally respected theologian and synod father, told EWTN, the United States Catholic broadcaster, that the throwing of the statues was "outrageous" and that he saw nothing offensive in the images. 

"It is a representation of an [Amar]-indian woman with a child in her womb," he said. "In the Catholic Church we are fighting for life. These people have a deep sense of the sacredness of life." The Austrian cardinal said whoever is "pro-life" should see "the little statue as a clear sign for life".

Francis’ criticism of Pharisaical religious behaviour in the Church, follows on from his speech last night where he warned against certain Catholic “elites” who have obsessed over small parts of the synod. 

Speaking during his homily the 82-year-old Argentine Pope said the 6-27 October gathering had offered the “grace of listening” to the forgotten people of the Amazon, threatened by “predatory models of development”.

Much of the Amazon synod’s final document is a defence of the indigenous people in the region, a call to protect the environment and for a change in western lifestyles.

“It is possible to look at reality in a different way, accepting it with open arms as a gift, treating the created world not as a resource to be exploited but home to be preserved, with trust in God,” the Pope explained. 

The Pope said that while the prayers of those who presume themselves righteous become “crushed by the gravitational force of egoism”, the prayer of the “poor person rises directly to God”. 

Their prayers, he added, are the “sense of the faith of the People of God”, and it is the poor “who are the gatekeepers of heaven”. 

Francis went on: “They are the ones who will open wide or not the gates of eternal life. They were not considered bosses in this life, they did not put themselves ahead of others; they had their wealth in God alone. These people are living icons of Christian prophecy.”

Before the Amazon synod gathered in Rome, organisers undertook an unprecedented consultation which took into account the views of 87000 people. 

“How many times, even in the Church, have the voices of the poor not been heard and perhaps scoffed at or silenced because they are inconvenient,” the Pope said, concluding his homily. “Let us pray for the grace to be able to listen to the cry of the poor: this is the cry of hope of the Church. When we make their cry our own, our prayer too will reach to the clouds.”


For more an analysis of the Amazon synod:


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