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God's Love precedes the Law & gives it meaning

Catechesis by Pope Francis on the Commandments
General Audience, Wednesday 27 June 2018 - in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today, this audience is taking place as it did last Wednesday: there are many sick people in the Paul VI Hall. To protect them from the heat, and to make them more comfortable, they are there. But they will follow the audience on the jumbo screen, and so we are together, that is, there are not two audiences. There is only one. Let us greet the sick people in the Paul VI Hall. And let us continue speaking about the Commandments which, as we have said, more than commandments are the words of God to his people to help them journey properly, obeying the Father’s loving words.

The Ten Words begin in this way: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20, 2). This beginning would seem foreign to the true and proper laws that follow. But it is not so.

Why does God make this proclamation about himself and about liberation? Because one reaches Mount Sinai after having crossed the Red Sea: the God of Israel first saves, then asks for trust.[1] In other words: the Decalogue begins from God’s generosity. God never asks without giving first. First he saves; first he gives; then he asks. Such is our Father: a good God.

Let us understand the importance of the first declaration: “I am the Lord, your God”. There is a possessive; there is a relationship; there is belonging. God is not extraneous: he is your God.[2] This illuminates the entire Decalogue and also reveals the secret of Christian action, because it is the very same attitude of Jesus, who says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn 15, 9). Christ is loved by the Father, and he loves us with that love. He puts not himself but the Father first. Often our deeds fail because we put ourselves, and not gratitude first. And one who begins with himself: where does he end up? He ends up with himself! He is incapable of making headway; he turns in on himself. It is precisely this selfish attitude that, in jest, people say: “that person is just I; me; with me and for me”. He begins and ends with himself.

Christian life is above all the grateful response to a generous Father. Christians who only fulfil their ‘duties’ do not have a personal experience with that God who is ‘ours’. I must do this, this, that.... only duties. But you lack something! What is the foundation of this duty? The foundation of this duty is the love of God the Father, who gives first, then commands.

Placing the law before the relationship does not help the journey of faith. How can a young person want to be Christian, if we start with obligations, responsibilities, consistency and not with liberation? But being Christian is a journey of liberation! The Commandments free you from your selfishness and free you because it is God’s love that leads you forward. Christian formation is not based on will power, but on the acceptance of salvation, on letting oneself be loved: first the Red Sea, then Mount Sinai. First salvation: God saves his people in the Red Sea; then on Sinai he tells them what they have to do. But those people know that they are doing these things because they have been saved by a Father who loves them.

Gratitude is a characteristic of a heart that has been visited by the Holy Spirit. In order to obey God, it is above all necessary to remember his benefits. St Basil says: “Those who do not let such benefits fall into disregard orient themselves towards good virtue and towards all works of justice” (Shorter Rules, 56). Where does all this take us? To perform a memory exercise:[3] how many wonderful things God has done for each of us! How generous our Heavenly Father is! I would now like to propose a small exercise in silence. Each can answer in his or her own heart. How many beautiful things has God done for me? This is the question. Let each of us reply in silence. How many beautiful things has God done for me? And this is the liberation of God. God does many beautiful things and he frees us.

And yet some may feel that they have not yet truly experienced God’s liberation. This can happen. It may be that one looks inside oneself and finds only a sense of duty, a spirituality of servants, not of sons and daughters. What should be done in this case? As the Chosen People did. The Book of Exodus reads: “And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew their condition” (Ex 2:23-25). God thinks of me.

God’s liberating action placed at the beginning of the Decalogue — that is, the Commandments — is the response to this groaning. We do not save ourselves on our own, but a cry for help can escape us: “Lord save me; Lord teach me the way; Lord caress me; Lord give me some joy”. This is a cry for help. It is up to us to ask to be liberated from selfishness, from sin, from the chains of slavery. This cry is important. It is prayer; it is being conscious of what is still oppressed and not liberated within us. There are many things fettered in our soul. “Save me; help me; set me free”. This is a beautiful prayer to the Lord. God awaits that cry because he can and wants to break our chains. God did not call us to life to remain oppressed but rather to be free and to live in gratitude, with joy
obeying the One who has given us so much, infinitely more than we could ever give to him. This is beautiful. May God always be blessed for all that he has done, does and will do within us!"


"Je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins venus de France et de divers pays francophones. Je forme le vœu que cette période estivale qui commence soit l’occasion pour chacun d’approfondir sa relation personnelle avec Dieu afin de le suivre plus librement sur la voie de ses commandements. Que Dieu vous bénisse !

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Australia, China, Vietnam and the United States of America. I also welcome the delegation from the NATO Defense College, with prayerful good wishes for their service to the cause of peace. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all!

Gerne heiße ich die Brüder und Schwestern deutscher Sprache willkommen. Besonders grüße ich die verschiedenen Schulgruppen, die an dieser Audienz teilnehmen. Der Anfang des Dekalogs erinnert uns daran, dass Gott uns zuerst geliebt hat. Unser Leben nach den Geboten ist Antwort auf das liebende Handeln Gottes und Ausdruck unserer Dankbarkeit. Der Heilige Geist schenke uns stets seine Gnade.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los grupos provenientes de España y Latinoamérica. Los invito a que, recordando todo lo bueno que Dios ha hecho en ustedes, respondan con libertad y alegría a la llamada de Dios, que nos ama y nos libra de nuestras esclavitudes para que podamos vivir como sus hijos amados. Que Dios los bendiga. Muchas gracias.

Dirijo uma cordial saudação aos grupos vindos de Portugal e do Brasil e demais peregrinos de língua portuguesa, desejando que esta visita por ocasião da Solenidade dos Santos Apóstolos Pedro e Paulo possa confirmar a todos na fé, esperança e caridade. Que Nossa Senhora vos acompanhe e proteja!

أرحب بمودة بالحاضرين الناطقين باللغة العربية، وخاصة كورال "الفرح التام" القادم من مصر، وجوقة "نوسروتو" من لبنان، ومؤمنين كنيسة "المٌخلص". لقد أعطى الله الوصايا لشعبه بعد أن حرره من العبودية، مظهرا هكذا سخاء محبته الأبوية. فالله يرغب في أن يحل جميع قيودنا، كي نعيش الحياة والوصايا، لا بروح العبيد، ‏وإنما بحرية الأبناء. ليبارككم الرب جميعا ويحرسكم من الشرير!‏

Pozdrawiam serdecznie Polaków, którzy przybyli z Polski i zza granicy w pielgrzymce do Grobów św. Apostołów. Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Łodzi, towarzyszących swemu Arcybiskupowi, który otrzyma paliusz metropolity. Witam również nowo wyświęconych diakonów z Archidiecezji Krakowskiej i Diecezji Bielsko-Żywieckiej. Życzę wszystkim, by okres wakacji, który się rozpoczyna był dla was czasem wypoczynku i piękną okazją uwielbiania Boga za dzieło stworzenia. Z odwagą trwajcie w wierze, przyznając się zawsze do Jezusa. Z serca wam błogosławię.

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Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana.

Sono lieto di accogliere le partecipanti al Capitolo Generale delle Suore Francescane Immacolatine; le Religiose Carmelitane di Trivandrum; le Suore Scolastiche di Nostra Signora e i Cresimandi della Cittadella di Modena.

Saluto la Casa famiglia Sant’Antonio Abate di Sassari; la Comunità Cima di Milano; l’Associazione Emmaus di Lodi; l’Associazione socio culturale di musica di Orosei e la Caracciolo Academy musical school di Roma.

I offer a special thought to young people, to the elderly, to the sick and to newlyweds.

The day after tomorrow is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Patrons of Rome. Let us learn from these Apostles of the Lord the ability to witness courageously to the Gospel of Jesus, beyond our differences, preserving the harmony and friendship that is the basis for the credibility of any message of faith."

[1] In rabbinic tradition there is an enlightening text on the matter: “Why were the 10 words not proclaimed at the beginning of the Torah? ... To what can they be compared? A man, taking on the governing of a city, asked its inhabitants : ‘May I govern you?’ But they answered: ‘What good have you done that you would claim to govern us?’ So, what did he do? He built them a protective wall and channels to provide water for the city; then he fought wars for them. And when he asked again: ‘May I govern you?’, they answered, ‘Yes, yes.’ Just as the Lord made Israel leave Egypt, split the sea for them, made manna descend for them and water rise from the well, brought them quails flying and lastly fought the war against Amalek for them. And when he asked them: ‘May I govern you?’, they answered: ‘Yes, yes’” (“The gift of the Torah, Commentary on the Decalogue of Ex 20” in R. Ishmael’s Mekilta, Rome, 1982, p. 49).

[2] Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, 17: “The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy”.

[3] Cf. Homily in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, 7 October 2014: “What is prayer? It means “remembering our history, before God. Because our history” is “the history of his love for us”, ore, 10 October 2014, p. 17; cf. Detti e fatti dei padri del deserto, Milan 1975, p. 71 “Disregard is the root of all evil”.