The Pope was speaking during his homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta.
Taking his cue from the prophet Isaiah, Pope Francis said that God saves his people not from afar but being close and tender.
“God’s closeness is such that he is presented like a mother, a mother who talks to her baby, and sings lullabies to her baby” The Pope said that the mother even taken on the voice and the language of a child so much so she can seem ridiculous if one does not understand how great the context actually is: ‘Do not fear, you little worm Jacob’. How often – Francis pointed out – does a mother say this kind of thing to her child as she caresses him? ‘I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, full of teeth… I will make you grow big’ and she caresses him again and holds him close. And so does God. This is God’s tenderness. And He is he expresses his closeness with tenderness: the tenderness of a mother”.
God loves is free – the Pope continued – just as a mother’s love is for her child. And the child “allows himself to be loved”: “this is the grace of God.” “But many times, just to be sure, we want to control the grace”. He said that “in history and also in our lives we are tempted to transform grace into a kind of a merchandise, perhaps saying to ourselves something like “I have so much grace,” or, “I have a soul clean, I am graced”:
“In this way this beautiful truth of God’s closeness slips into a kind spiritual book-keeping: ‘I will do this because it will give me 300 days of grace … I will do that because it will give me this, and doing so I will accumulate grace’. But what is grace? A commodity? That’s what it appears. And throughout history this closeness of God to his people has been betrayed by this selfish attitude, selfish, by wanting to control grace, to turn it into merchandise”.
The Pope recalled the groups at the time of Jesus who wanted to control grace: the Pharisees, enslaved by the many laws that they loaded “on the shoulders of the people.” The Sadducees with their political compromises. The Essenes, “who were good, very good, but they had so much fear, they never took any risks” and ended up isolated within their monasteries. The Zealots, for whom the grace of God was the “war of liberation”, “another way to transform grace into merchandise.”
“The grace of God – Pope Francis said – is another matter: it is closeness, it is tenderness. This rule is always valid. If, in your relationship with the Lord, do not feel that He loves you tenderly, you are missing something, you still have not understood what grace is, you have not yet received grace which is this closeness”. Pope Francis recalled the confession many years ago, of a woman who was tormented by the question of whether a Mass attended on a Saturday evening for a wedding was valid as it had readings different to that on the Sunday. This was his answer: “Madam, the Lord loves you so much. You went to Church and there you received Communion, you were with Jesus… Do not worry, the Lord is not a merchant, the Lord loves us, He is close”:
“St. Paul reacts strongly against this spirituality of the law.’I am right, and this and this. If I do not do this I am not right’. But you are right because God has drawn close, because God caresses you, because God tells you these beautiful things with tenderness: this is our justice, this closeness of God, this tenderness, this love. At the risk of seeming ridiculous our God is so good. If we had the courage to open our hearts to this tenderness of God, how much spiritual freedom we would have! How much! Today, if you have a little ‘time, at home, take the Bible: Isaiah, chapter 41, from verse 13 to 20, seven verses. Read them. This tenderness of God, this God who sings in each of us a lullaby, like a mother”.