In his catechesis for this Saturday's Jubilee of Mercy audience, Pope Francis addressed the theme of piety, and how it manifests God's mercy through compassion for the suffering and afflicted.
“The piety of which we speak is a manifestation of God's mercy,” the Pope told the rain-soaked crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square.
The pontiff explained that piety, or “pietà” — which in Italian can also be translated as compassion, pity, or mercy — should not “be confused with compassion which we feel for the animals who live with us.”
“It happens, in fact, that at times one feels this sentiment toward animals, and remains indifferent to the suffering of their brothers and sisters.”
He added in off-the-cuff remarks: “How often do we see people greatly attached to cats, to dogs,” he said, but fail to “help their neighbor, their neighbor who is in need... This will not do.”
The May 14 gathering at the Vatican was the latest in a series of special audiences for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which are being held throughout the year in addition to the weekly general audiences on Wednesdays.
The Jubilee of Mercy is an Extraordinary Holy Year that officially commenced December 8 — the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica. It will close Nov. 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Pope Francis centered Saturday's catechesis piety with regard to those “who need love.” Piety is an aspect of mercy, and one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, he said. As noted in the English language synthesis of the address, the word piety denotes a sense of “religiosity or devotion,” but it also relates to compassion and mercy.
The concept of piety existed in the Greco-Roman world, the Pope explained in Italian, where it referred to being submissive toward superiors, such as the gods, one's parents, the elderly, etc.
“Today, however, we must be careful not to identify piety with that pietism, fairly widespread, which is only a superficial emotion and which offends the dignity of others,” he said.
The pontiff cited the many instances in the Gospel in which persons who were sick, possessed, in poverty, or otherwise afflicted would call on Jesus to “Have mercy” (“Abbi pietà” in Italian).
“Jesus responded to everyone with his gaze of mercy and the comfort of his presence,” he said.
In asking Jesus for help or mercy, each of these persons demonstrated their faith, referring to him as “Teacher,” “Son of David,” or Lord, the Pope explained.
“They intuited that in him there was something extraordinary, that could help them leave behind the condition of sadness in which they had found themselves. They perceived in him the love of God himself.”
Jesus, in turn, took pity, and called the suffering and wounded persons “to have faith in him and in his Word.”
The pontiff explained that Jesus “shares the sadness of those he encounters,” while at the same time works in them to “transform them in joy.”
Pope Francis said “we too are called to cultivate” attitudes of compassion when confronted with situations which shake us from “the indifference that prevents us from recognizing the needs of our brothers and sisters,” and free us from the “slavery of material goods.”
He concluded his catechesis by invoking the example of Mary, who “cares for each of her children and for us believers,” and who is “the icon of piety.”