Pope Francis prays for families to grow in love and respect

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta May 15, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.

Pope Francis prayed for the world’s families to grow in love and respect for one another at his morning Mass today.

At the start of the Mass in the chapel at Casa Santa Marta, he noted that May 15 is the International Day of Families, an annual observance instituted by the UN General Assembly in 1993. 

He said: “Let us pray for families so that the Spirit of the Lord — the spirit of love, respect, and freedom — may grow in families.”

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day’s first reading, Acts 15:22-31, in which the apostles write to the troubled community in Antioch, advising them that pagans are not required to follow Jewish customs in their entirety in order to become Christians.   

Speaking via livestream, he said: “What had happened? These Christians who came from the pagans had believed in Jesus Christ and received baptism, and they were happy: they had received the Holy Spirit. From paganism to Christianity, without any intermediate step.”

Yet the community was divided because some argued that, in order to become Christians, converts must follow the precepts of Jewish law. They advocated a “religion of prescriptions” that took away the freedom of the spirit, the pope said.

“Rigidity is not of the good Spirit, because it questions the gratuitousness of the Redemption, the gratuitousness of the Resurrection of Christ,” he explained.

Pope Francis said that such rigidity is evident throughout Church history. He cited the example of the Pelagians in the 5th century, as well as “some apostolic organizations” in our own times that seemed “really well organized” but were marred by corruption, “even in the founders.”

“Where there is rigidity there is no Spirit of God, because the Spirit of God is freedom,” he said. 

He added: “Justification is free. The death and Resurrection of Christ is gratuitous. You do not pay, you do not buy: it is a gift!”

The pope noted that the apostles resolved the debate in Antioch by writing a letter that urged converts to follow “common sense” obligations that would show clearly that they had rejected paganism. 

He said: “And in the end, these Christians who were troubled, gathered in assembly, received the letter and ‘When they read it, they rejoiced at the encouragement it gave’ [Acts 15:31].”

The “spirit of rigidity” leaves people worrying that they have acted incorrectly, he said. In contrast, “The spirit of evangelical freedom leads you to joy.”

He encouraged Catholics to ask the Lord to help them discern “the fruits of evangelical gratuitousness”, and free them from a “spirit of rigidity that takes away your freedom.”

The pope ended the celebration with adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The congregation then sang the Easter Marian antiphon “Regina caeli.”