Yesterday morning, in his catechesis on the Holy Mass, Pope Francis said something that has ruffled a few feathers:
If you don't feel the need for God's mercy, or if you don't acknowledge your sins, don't even bother going to Mass!I've been saying the same thing for years, though in different words.
Now, some among the more "pastorally" minded are saying that Pope Francis didn't say not to go to Mass, with one commenter on a friend's Facebook page saying that "one needn't take the Pope too literally here. He's not telling anyone to stop going to Mass, for heaven's sake!" No, he isn't that explicit, but he's come very close to saying it.
Why would the Holy Father make such a statement? First, because he is a pastor. Second, because it is true.
Too often do we forget - or, worse, ignore - the words the Lord Jesus addressed to the Church in Laodicea:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).Those who are hot are those who have accepted the Gospel, who repent, and who strive to live for Christ. Those who are cold are those who have rejected the Gospel, who refuse to acknowledge their sins, and who live for themselves. Those who are lukewarm are those who remain apathetic, who cannot even be bothered to make a decision for or against Christ, the fundamental decision of life.
Most of those to whom Pope Francis addressed his words are the same Catholics who refuse to open themselves to the grace the Lord longs to give them in the Sacraments, they are those who refuse to allow their hearts to be moved and keep the Lord always at a distance. They come to Mass on Christmas and Easter, or even every week, but simply come because they must. They do not have an active life of prayer; they do not examine their consciences; they do not confess their sins; they live as if they did not need the Lord. They have neither embraced him nor rejected him; they are simply lukewarm.
It is often said, "At least they're here. Perhaps the Lord will touch their hearts today." Physically they indeed be present, but spiritually, emotionally, mentally, they could often not be farther away. The Lord respects our freedom; he will not force his grace upon us. If we are to receive his grace, we first be open enough to acknowledge our sins and seek his mercy.
Why might the Lord spew the lukewarm from his mouth? Because "not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). What is more, he also says
Then they will begin to say, "We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets." But he will say, "I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity" (Luke 13:26-27).To be sure, the Lord's mercy is freely given to every person, but his mercy must be freely accepted. That choice is ours to make now. So it is better not to come the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb unworthily than, in the end, to be thrown out into the outer darkness (cf. Matthew 22:13). The Lord calls us to himself, he loves us, and continually gives his life for us. But he also demands something of us: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).