Pope Francis said on Wednesday that Christians must receive the truth of the Gospel “as it was announced,” without seeking to “negotiate” with it.
Speaking at the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Aug. 3, the pope said that there was no room for compromise regarding the Gospel.
“With the truth of the Gospel, one cannot negotiate. Either you receive the Gospel as it is, as it was announced, or you receive any other thing. But you cannot negotiate with the Gospel,” he said.
“One cannot compromise. Faith in Jesus is not a bargaining chip: it is salvation, it is encounter, it is redemption. It cannot be sold off cheaply.”
The audience was held in the Paul VI Hall because it is cooler than the San Damaso Courtyard, where the pope has held the Wednesday gatherings since he resumed general audiences with members of the public on May 12.
Pilgrims sat close together wearing face coverings, applauding frequently throughout the general audience -- the pope’s first since he underwent colon surgery on July 4. The pope walked into the hall, which has a capacity of 6,300 people, wearing a medical mask.
Il Sismografo, an Italian Catholic news aggregator that closely watches the Vatican, commented that the pope appeared to be “in good condition, agile, attentive, and responsive” throughout the audience.
“Exactly a month after the operation, Pope Francis appears to be in full and accelerated recovery,” it said.
The pope began his address by observing that St. Paul was completely devoted to his mission to evangelize.
He said that this was why the Apostle’s letter to the community in Galatia, in modern-day Turkey, was marked by “sadness,” “disappointment,” and even “bitter irony.”
Paul believed that the group’s members were taking the wrong path as they were convinced that when gentiles converted to Christianity, they needed to observe the Mosaic Law, including circumcision.
The pope reflected on Paul’s opening warning (Galatians 1:6-8) that the community was going astray by embracing “a different gospel.”
“The pivot around which everything revolves is the Gospel,” the pope commented. “Paul does not think of the ‘four Gospels,’ as is natural for us. Indeed, while he is sending this Letter, none of the four Gospels had yet been written.”
“For him, the Gospel is what he preaches, what is called the kerygma, that is, the proclamation. And what proclamation? That of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the source of salvation. A Gospel that is expressed in four verbs: ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).”
“This is Paul’s proclamation, the proclamation that gives life to all. This Gospel is the fulfillment of the promises and the salvation offered to all men. Whoever accepts it is reconciled to God, is welcomed as a true son, and receives the inheritance of eternal life.”
The pope said that St. Paul could not fathom why the Galatians would prefer another “gospel” when offered such a great gift.
“It should be noted, however, that these Christians have not yet abandoned the Gospel announced by Paul,” the pope said.
“The Apostle knows that they are still in time not to take a false step, but he warns them strongly, very strongly. His first argument points directly to the fact that the preaching carried out by the new missionaries -- those who bring novelty, who preach -- cannot be the Gospel.”
“On the contrary, it is a proclamation that distorts the true Gospel because it prevents them from attaining the freedom acquired by arriving at faith -- this is the key word, isn’t it? -- it prevents them from reaching the freedom acquired by coming to faith.”
Pope Francis said that as the Galatians were still “beginners” in the faith, their confusion was understandable.
“However, the Apostle cannot risk compromises on such decisive ground. The Gospel is only one and that is what he proclaimed; there can be no other,” the pope observed.
He underlined that Paul did not say that the true Gospel was his because he was the one who announced it.
“Rather, he affirms that ‘his’ Gospel, the same one that the other Apostles were proclaiming elsewhere, is the only authentic one, because it is that of Jesus Christ,” he said.
The Apostle spoke in “very harsh terms,” using the Greek word “anathema,” because the misunderstanding of the Gospel threatened the community’s very foundations, the pope explained.
He noted that the situation was complex as all sides believed that they were acting in a way that was pleasing to God.
“The Galatians who listen to the new missionaries think that by circumcision they will be even more devoted to the will of God and thus be even more pleasing to Paul,” he said.
“Paul’s enemies seem to be inspired by fidelity to the tradition received from the fathers and believe that genuine faith consists in observing the Law.”
The pope said: “The Apostle himself is well aware that his mission is of a divine nature -- it was revealed by Christ Himself, to him -- and therefore he is moved by total enthusiasm for the novelty of the Gospel, which is a radical novelty, not a fleeting novelty: there are no ‘fashionable’ gospels, the Gospel is always new, it is newness. His pastoral anxiety leads him to be severe, because he sees the great risk facing young Christians.”
“In short, in this labyrinth of good intentions, it is necessary to disentangle oneself in order to grasp the supreme truth that is most consistent with the Person and preaching of Jesus and His revelation of the Father’s love.”
Pope Francis said that just as in St. Paul’s time, discernment was also crucial in the Church today.
“Very often we have seen throughout history, and we even see this today, some movements that preach the Gospel in their own way, sometimes with real and genuine charisms; but then they take it too far and reduce all the Gospel to a ‘movement,’” he observed.
“And this is not Christ’s Gospel: this is the Gospel of the founder and yes, it may help at the beginning, but in the end, it does not bear fruit with deep roots.”
“For this reason, Paul’s clear and decisive word was salutary for the Galatians and is salutary for us too. The Gospel is Christ’s gift to us, He Himself revealed it to us. It is what gives us life.”
As the pope ended his address, pilgrims gave him an enthusiastic ovation.
A precis of the pope’s catechesis was then read out in seven languages. After each summary, he greeted members of each language group.
In his remarks to French-speaking pilgrims, the pope noted that Aug. 4 is the Feast of St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, who was declared patron saint of parish priests in 1929.
He said: “Brothers and sisters, let us pray for all pastors that, following the example of St. John Mary Vianney, they may bring to their brothers and sisters in difficulty the living Gospel of their witness of love, mercy, and solidarity.”
Addressing Polish-speakers, the pope noted that the 15th World Youth Day took place in Kraków, Poland, five years ago on July 26-31, 2016.
“With fond memories of the time of grace which, five years ago, during World Youth Day in Kraków, I encourage everyone -- especially young people -- that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, they may carry the Gospel of Christ with courage and enthusiasm to future generations,” he said.
The next World Youth Day will be held in Lisbon, Portugal, in August 2023.
The pope also noted that Aug. 4 marked the first anniversary of the port explosion in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
“In these days, I think especially of the beloved country of Lebanon a year after the terrible port explosion in its capital, Beirut, with its toll of death and destruction. I think above all of the victims and their families, the many injured, and those who lost their homes and livelihoods. So many people have lost the desire to go on,” he said.
Recalling that he held a day of prayer for the country at the Vatican on July 1, he appealed to the international community to help Lebanon to follow “a journey of ‘resurrection,’” not only with words but also with tangible commitments.
“Dear Lebanese friends, I greatly desire to visit you and I continue to pray for you, so that Lebanon will once more be a message of peace and fraternity for the entire Middle East,” he said.
The general audience ended with the recitation of the Our Father and the Apostolic Blessing.
After the audience, the pope stood to greet a handful of bishops, before being guided down the steps towards the pilgrims, who had massed at the barrier separating the seating from the stage.