Sunday's Gospel is one of the Biblical passages that best expresses the Christian "revolution," Pope Francis told pilgrims gathered for the Angelus in St Peter's Square today.
In the reading from Matthew's Gospel, describing part of the Sermon on the Mount, he said: "Christ shows the path of true justice, through the law of love that overcomes that of retaliation, that is, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'." Jesus does not ask His disciples simply to bear evils patiently, but to return good for evil: "Only in this way can the chains of evil be broken, and things can truly change."
Pope Francis said that for Jesus, the refusal to return evil for evil goes so far as to sometimes involve giving up a legitimate right: turning the other cheek, or giving up one's cloak, or making other sacrifices. But, he said, "this renunciation doesn't mean that the needs of justice should be ignored or contradicted; on the contrary, Christian love, which is manifested in a special way in mercy, represents a superior realization of justice."
Jesus wants to teach us the distinction between justice and vengeance. "We are allowed to ask for justice; it is our duty to practice justice. On the other hand, we are forbidden to revenge ourselves or to encourage vengeance in any way, insofar as it is an expression of hatred or of violence."
In fact, Christ's law of love calls on us to love our enemies. This, Pope Francis said, should not be seen as an approval of their wicked actions, but as "an invitation to a higher perspective, like that of the heavenly Father, who makes His sun rise on the wicked and the good." Even our enemies, the Pope explained, are human persons, created in the image of God - even if that image is sometimes obscured by evil acts. Christ calls us to respond to our enemies with goodness, inspired by love.
Before leading the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed that the Virgin Mary might help us follow "this demanding path" set out by Jesus, "which truly exalts human dignity, and makes us live as children of our Father Who is in heaven." The Holy Father prayed that Mary might help us to practice patience, dialogue, forgiveness, and to be artisans of communion and of fraternity in our daily life."
During the Angelus gathering Pope Francis also led prayers for the victims of violence in Africa and around the world. In particular, he prayed for those affected by violence in the region of the Kasaï Central province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "I suffer deeply for the victims, especially for so many children ripped from their families and their schools to be used as soldiers."
The Holy Father renewed his "heartfelt appeal to the consciences and the responsibility of the national authorities and the international community, that they might take adequate and timely decisions to assist these our brothers and sisters."
In praying for victims of violence in the world, the Pope turned his thoughts in particular to "the dear peoples of Pakistan and of Iraq, struck in recent days by cruel acts of terrorism."
Pope Francis prayed for all victims of violence, those who have died and those who have been injured, as well as for their families. "Let us pray ardently," he concluded "for every heart hardened by hatred, that they might be converted to peace, according to the will of God." Then, following a moment of silent prayer, he led the crowd in the recitation of the Hail Mary.