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Pope Francis: Christians ‘are invited to be open to change’

Pope Francis waves from a window of the Apostolic Palace during his Angelus address and prayer on Aug. 20, 2023. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Aug 20, 2023 / 06:12 am (CNA).

Christians should imitate Jesus in being steadfast — not inflexible — in their convictions, thus being open to change for the good of others, Pope Francis said on Sunday.

“This is what God is like: he is love, and the one who loves does not remain rigid,” the pope said on Aug. 20. “You stand firm, you stay firm, not rigid.”

The Christian, he added, “does not remain rigid in his own positions, but allows him or herself to be moved or touched. He or she knows how to change plans. It’s creative love.”

Pope Francis said: “We Christians want to imitate Christ; we are invited to be open to change. How good it would be in our relationships, as well as in our lives of faith, to be docile, to truly pay attention, to soften up for the name of compassion and the good of others…”

The pope addressed a crowd of people from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square for his usual Sunday address and Angelus prayer on a hot, late August day in Rome.

An estimated 10,000 people were present, according to the Vatican.

The Vatican said an estimated 10,000 people attended Pope Francis’ Angelus address and prayer on Aug. 20, 2023. Vatican Media.

Francis’ reflection before the Marian prayer drew on the day’s Gospel reading: The Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter.

Originally, Jesus did not respond to the foreign woman’s request, explaining that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Francis summarized what happened: The woman asked Jesus “to liberate her daughter, who is tormented by a demon. But the Lord pays no attention to her. She insists, and the disciples advise Jesus to acknowledge her so she might stop. Jesus, however, explains that his mission is directed to the children of Israel, using this image: ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. And the woman responds, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then, Jesus says to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

“We see,” the pope noted, “that Jesus changed his behavior; what made him change it was the strength of the woman’s faith.”

He explained that at the time of the episode in the Gospel, Jesus’ preaching was directed toward the chosen people, while later, “the Holy Spirit would push the Church to the ends of the world.”

Upon witnessing the great faith of the Canaanite woman, however, Jesus anticipates the universality of God’s work, Francis continued. “Faced with her concrete case, he becomes even more sympathetic and compassionate.”

Pope Francis addressed a crowd of 10,000 people from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday address and Angelus prayer on Aug. 20, 2023. Vatican Media.

The Canaanite woman, Pope Francis said, probably did not know the laws and religious precepts of the nation of Israel. Her faith, instead, was based on deeds rather than concepts.

And she overcame all the obstacles to speak frankly with Jesus about her need, he added.

“This is the concreteness of faith, which is not a religious label… but is a personal relationship with the Lord,” he underlined. “How many times do we fall into the temptation to confuse the faith with a label?”

“This woman’s faith,” the pope continued, “is not fraught with theological gallantry, but with insistence — she knocks at the door, she knocks, she knocks — it is not done with words, but with prayer. And God does not resist when he is prayed to.”

He encouraged Catholics to ask themselves a few questions, including: “Am I capable of changing opinion? Do I know how to be understanding and compassionate, or do I remain rigid in my position?”

Francis also invited people to reflect on their faith with the following questions: “Do I stop at concepts and words, or is it truly lived with prayer and deeds? Do I know how to dialogue with the Lord? Do I know how to insist with him? Or am I content to recite beautiful formulas?”

After the Angelus, the pope said he was praying for Niger, which is experiencing a political crisis after the military leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani seized power of the country in a coup.

“I am following with concern what is happening in Niger. I join the appeal of the bishops in favor of peace in the country and stability in the Sahel Region,” he said. “Let us pray for the dear people of Niger.”

Seminarians and faculty from the Pontifical North American College, a seminary for U.S. seminarians in Rome, wave and clap at Pope Francis’ greeting after the Angelus on Aug. 20, 2023. Vatican Media.

Francis also greeted those present at the Angelus, including the 29 new students who arrived this week at the Pontifical North American College, a seminary for U.S. seminarians in Rome. He wished them “a good educational journey” as they continue their priestly formation.

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