This was one of the key questions posed by Pope Francis during his homily at the morning Mass on Friday at the Santa Marta residence.
The Pope stressed that a life of faith is closely linked to a life of charity, and Christians who do not practice the latter are hypocrites.
He reflected on the essential role of charity in the life of every Christian. Christianity, the Pope said, is not a repository of formal observances for people who put on a hypocritical good appearance to conceal their hearts empty of any charity. Rather, Christianity is showing the flesh of Jesus who bends down without shame in front of whoever is suffering.
This contrasts with the Pharisees who criticized Jesus and the disciples for not practicing the commandment to fast and who as, Doctors of the Law, transformed the observance of these commandments into a formality and transformed religious life into an ethic.
“Receiving from our Lord the love of a Father, receiving from our Lord the identity of a people and then transforming it into an ethic means we are refusing that gift of love,” the Pope explained. “These hypocritical people are good persons. They do all they should do. They seem good. But they are ethicists without goodness because they have lost the sense of belonging to a people! Our Lord gives us salvation through belonging to a people.”
True charity or fasting, the Pope added, means breaking the chains of evil, freeing the oppressed, sharing our bread with the hungry, opening our houses to the homeless and clothing the naked.
“This is the charity or fasting that our Lord wants! Fasting that is concerned about the life of our brother, that is not ashamed – Isaiah said it himself – of the flesh of our brother,” Francis explained. “Our perfection, our holiness is linked with our people where we are chosen and become part. Our greatest act of holiness relates to the flesh of our brother and the flesh of Jesus Christ. Our act of holiness today, here at the altar, is not a hypocritical fasting: instead it means not being ashamed of the flesh of Christ which comes here today!
“This is the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ,” the Pope said. “It means going to share our bread with the hungry, taking care of the sick, the elderly, those who can’t give us anything in return: this is not being ashamed of the flesh!”
He said the most difficult charity (or fasting) is the sacrifice of goodness such as that practiced by the Good Samaritan who bent over the wounded man unlike the priest who hurried past, maybe out of fear of becoming infected. And this, the Pope said, is the question posed by the Church today: “Am I ashamed of the flesh of my brother and sister?"
“When I give alms, do I drop the coin without touching the hand (of the poor person, beggar)? And if by chance I do touch it, do I immediately withdraw it? When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister? When I know a person is ill, do I go and visit that person? Do I greet him or her with affection? There’s a sign that possibly may help us, it’s a question: Am I capable of giving a caress or a hug to the sick, the elderly, the children, or have I lost sight of the meaning of a caress? These hypocrites were unable to give a caress. They had forgotten how to do it.”
“Don’t be ashamed of the flesh of our brother,” the Pope implored. “It’s our flesh! We will be judged by the way we behave towards this brother, this sister.”