The only way truly to receive the gift of salvation in Christ is with sincerity to recognize oneself as weak and sinful, and to avoid any form of self-justification. This was the focus of Pope Francis' remarks at Mass Friday morning.
Aware of being a weak vessel of clay, yet the guardian of a great treasure that was given to him in a totally free way: this is the follower of Christ before the Lord. Pope Francis took the point of reflection from the day's readings, specifically from the 2nd Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, which explains that the "extraordinary power" of faith is God's work, that it has been poured out into sinful men, into "earthen vessels", in fact. Nevertheless, explained Pope Francis, it is precisely from the relationship "between the grace and power of Jesus Christ" and ourselves, poor sinners as we are, that "the dialogue of salvation" springs. This dialogue, moreover, must avoid any "self-justification", and be between God and “ourselves as we are.”:
“Paul has spoken many times - it's like a refrain, no? - of his sins. 'But I tell you this: I've been a persecutor of the Church, I pursued ...' it always comes back to his memory of sin. He feels sinful. – but even then he does not say: 'I was [a sinner], but now I am holy', no. Even now, a thorn of Satan in my flesh. He shows us his own weakness, his own sin. He is a sinner who accepts Jesus Christ, who dialogues with Jesus Christ.”
The key, says Pope Francis, is therefore humility. Paul himself proves it. He publicly acknowledges "his track record of service," i.e. all he had done as an Apostle of Jesus, but he does not hide or gloss over what the Pope calls "his handbook", i.e. his sins:
"This is the model of humility for us priests – for us priests, too. If we only pride ourselves on our [service record] and nothing more, we end up [going] wrong. We cannot proclaim Jesus Christ the Saviour because we do not feel Him [present and at work] deep down. We have to be humble, but with real humility, [from head to toe]: 'I am a sinner for this, for this, for this', as Paul did: 'I persecuted the Church, " - as he did, [recognizing ourselves] concrete sinners: not sinners with that [kind of ] humility, which seems more a put-on face, no? Oh no, strong humility. "
"The humility of the priest, the humility of a Christian is concrete," said Pope Francis, for which, therefore, if a Christian fails, "to make this confession to himself and to the Church, then something is wrong," and the first thing to fail will be our ability "understand the beauty of salvation that Jesus brings us."
"Brothers, we have a treasure: that of Jesus Christ the Saviour. The Cross of Jesus Christ, this treasure of which we pride ourselves - but we have it in a clay vessel. Let us vaunt also our ‘handbook' of our sins. Thus is the dialogue Christian and Catholic: concrete, because the salvation of Jesus Christ is concrete. Jesus Christ has not saved us with an idea, an intellectual program, no. He saved with His flesh, with the concreteness of flesh. He is lowered, made man, made flesh until the end. This is a gift that we can only understand, only receive, in earthen vessels. "
The Samaritan woman, as well, who met Jesus and after speaking to him told her countrymen first of her sin and then about having met the Lord, behaved in a similar way to Paul. "I believe,” said Pope Francis, “that this woman is in heaven, sure," because, as [the Italian author Alessandro] Manzoni once said, 'I have never found that the Lord began a miracle without finishing it well' and this miracle that He began definitely ended well in heaven." The Pope concluded saying, let us ask her, "to help us to be vessels of clay in order to carry and understand the glorious mystery of Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis: Friday Mass at Santa Marta