Pope Francis on Wednesday urged Catholics to “rediscover the beauty of being children of God.”
Speaking at the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Sept. 8, the pope said that Christians often took this reality for granted.
“It is decisive even for all of us today to rediscover the beauty of being children of God, to be brothers and sisters among ourselves, because we have been united in Christ, who redeemed us,” he said.
“The differences and contrasts that separation creates should not exist among believers in Christ.”
The pope recalled that the Epistle of James warned Christians against discriminating between the rich and poor in their collective worship.
He said: “We create these differences, many times unconsciously so. No, we are equal! Rather, our vocation is that of making concrete and evident the call to unity of the entire human race. Everything that exacerbates the differences between people, often causing discrimination — all of this, before God, no longer has any basis, thanks to the salvation effected in Christ.”
The pope reflected on Galatians 3:26-29, in which Paul proclaims that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.
Addressing pilgrims seated in the hall and wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the pope said that St. Paul sensed that the Galatians were in danger of forgetting the novelty of God’s revelation.
“We Christians often take for granted this reality of being God’s children. Instead, it is good to remember with gratitude the moment in which we became such, the moment of our baptism, so as to live the great gift we received with greater awareness,” he said, encouraging those present to find out and celebrate the date of their baptisms.
The pope said that St. Paul wanted the recipients of his letter to understand that Christ had brought about a “radically new condition” that led to “divine sonship.”
“The sonship of which Paul speaks is no longer a general one involving all men and women insofar as they are sons and daughters of the same Creator,” he said.
“No, in the passage we have heard, he affirms that faith allows us to be children of God ‘in Christ.’ This is what is new. This ‘in Christ’ is what makes the difference. Not just children of God, like everyone: all men and women are children of God, all of them, regardless of the religion we embrace. No. But ‘in Christ,’ this is what makes the difference for Christians, and this happens only by participating in Christ’s redemption, and in us in the sacrament of baptism: this is how it begins.”
For Paul, the pope said, undergoing baptism was the same as taking part in the mystery of Jesus.
“For example, in the Letter to the Romans, he would even go so far as to say that in baptism we have died with Christ and have been buried with him so as to live with him. Dead with Christ, buried with him so as to live with him,” he commented.
“This is the grace of baptism: to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism, therefore, is not merely an external rite. Those who receive it are transformed deep within, in their inmost being, and possess new life, which is precisely what allows them to turn to God and call on him with the name of ‘Abba,’ that is, ‘daddy.’”
That is why St. Paul asserted “audaciously” that the new identity given in baptism prevailed over all “ethnic-religious” differences, the pope explained.
“For Paul, to write to the Galatians that in Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek’ was equivalent to an authentic subversion in the ethnic-religious sphere,” he said, observing that the notion sounded “a bit heretical” at the time.
Paul’s insistence on the equality between slave and free was also “shocking,” the pope said.
“The distinction between slaves and free citizens was vital in ancient society,” he noted. “By law, free citizens enjoyed all rights, while the human dignity of slaves was not even recognized.”
He suggested that this distinction was perpetuated today, with millions of people worldwide effectively enslaved.
“They are the new slaves. They are the ones who live on the margins, who are exploited by everyone. Slavery exists even today,” he said.
The pope described Paul’s emphasis on equality between men and women in Christ as revolutionary.
“This needs to be reaffirmed even today,” he said. “How many times we hear expressions that denigrate women! How often we hear: ‘But no, do not do anything, those are women’s concerns’?”
“But, look, men and women have the same dignity. And it has happened in history, even today, a type of slavery of women: women do not have the same opportunities as men. We have to read what Paul says: we are equal in Christ Jesus.”
Following his catechesis, the pope issued an appeal for peace in Ethiopia, where government soldiers are locked in conflict with the forces of the Tigray Region, the country’s northernmost regional state.
He said: “New Year’s Day will be celebrated in Ethiopia this coming Sept. 11. I extend to the Ethiopian people my most cordial and heartfelt greetings, particularly to those who are suffering due to the ongoing conflict and the serious humanitarian situation it has caused.”
“May this be a moment of fraternity and solidarity so that the common desire for peace can be heard.”
A precis of the pope’s catechesis was read out in seven languages. After each summary, he greeted members of each language group.
In his remarks to Spanish-speaking pilgrims, the pope highlighted the feast of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, which falls on Sept. 8.
“On this day, Cubans celebrate their Patroness and Mother, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. With a grateful memory of my pilgrimage to her shrine in September 2015, I want to present once again at the feet of the Virgin of Charity the life, dreams, hopes, and pains of the people of Cuba,” he said.
“Wherever there is a Cuban today, may he or she experience Mary’s tenderness, and may she lead them all to Christ, the Savior.”
Greeting Catholics from Poland, the pope looked ahead to the beatification of two giants of 20th-century Catholicism in Warsaw on Sept. 12.
“I express my joy at the imminent beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka. May the spiritual testament of the Primate of the Millennium, ‘I gambled everything on Mary,’ and the trust of Mother Elżbieta Róża placed in the Cross of Christ always be the strength of your nation.”
“About Cardinal Wyszyński, St. John Paul II said the historic words: ‘This Polish pope … would not be on Peter’s chair were it not for your faith which did not retreat before prison and suffering. Were it not for your heroic hope, your unlimited trust in the Mother of the Church!’ May God bless Poland. May you be supported by your great saints and blesseds.”
The general audience ended with the recitation of the Our Father and the Apostolic Blessing.