“The first time the name ‘Saul’ appears,” he said, “is at the stoning of Stephen.” Saul, he observed, was a “young man, rigid, idealistic,” and he was “convinced” of the rigidity of the law.
Even now there are people in the Church who use rigidity to cover-up their own sins. That was the warning of Pope Francis at the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. Commenting on the first Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, the Pope focused on the figure of Saint Paul who, from being a rigid persecutor, became a meek and patient proclaimer of the Gospel.
No to rigid people living a double life in the Church
He was rigid, the Pope insisted, but he was “sincere.” Jesus, on the other hand, condemned those who were rigid but “insincere”:
“They are rigid people living a double life: They make themselves look good, sincere, but when no one sees them, they do ugly things. On the other hand, this young man was honest. He believed that. I think, when I say this, of the many young people in the Church today who have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are sincere, they are good. We have to pray that the Lord might help them to grow along the path of meekness.”
Others, he said, “use rigidity in order to cover over weakness, sin, personality problems; and they use rigidity” to build themselves up at the expense of others. Pope Francis said that in this way, Saul grew even more rigid, to the point where he couldn’t tolerate what he saw as a heresy; and so he began to persecute the Christians. But, the Pope said, parenthetically, at least Saul allowed children to live – nowadays, those who persecute Christians don’t even spare children.
Saul then went to Damascus to arrest the Christians in order to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. And on the road to Damascus, he encountered “another Man, who spoke with a language of meekness: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’”
Saint Paul: From persecutor to evangelizer
“This rigid young man, who had become a rigid man – but sincere! – was made a little child, and allowed himself to be led where the Lord called him.” This is “the power of the meekness of the Lord.” Saul, then, having become Paul, proclaimed the Lord to the very end, and suffered for Him:
“And so this man preached to others out of his own experience, from one part to another: persecuted, with so many problems, even in the Church, even having to suffer from Christians quarreling among themselves. But he, who had persecuted the Lord with the zeal of the law, said to the Christians, ‘With those same things by which you have drawn away from God, with which you have sinned – with the mind, with the body, with everything – with those same members now you are perfect, you give glory to God.’”
Let us pray for those who are rigid, that they may follow the way of meekness of Jesus
“There is a dialogue between what is sufficient, rigidity, and meekness,” the Pope said, and this is “the dialogue between a sincere man and Jesus, who speaks to him with sweetness.” And so, he said, “begins the story of this man whom we have known from his youth, in the stoning of Stephen, who would end up betrayed by an internal conflict among Christians.” For some, the life of Saint Paul “is a failure,” like that of Christ:
“This is the path of the Christian: to go forward along the path marked out by Jesus: the path of preaching, the path of suffering, the path of the Cross, the path of the resurrection. Today, in a special way, let us pray to Saul for those in the Church who are rigid: for the rigid who are sincere, as he was, who have zeal, but are mistaken. And for the rigid who are hypocrites, those who live a double life, those of whom Jesus said, ‘Do what they say, but not what they do.’ Let us pray today for the rigid.”