The greatest blasphemy is to profane God’s name by hating our brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis made this statement March 6 at Abraham’s birthplace in what is today a war-torn Iraq. Here’s the direct quote as reported by Catholic News Service:
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters.”
The Holy Father’s pilgrimage to Iraq March 5 to 8 was profoundly beatitudinal. With every stop he made to visit a church shattered by terrorist attacks or a people wounded by years of violence, he spoke of forgiveness, of kinship and of our foundational belief that through sacrificial love, we will have eternal life.
During Mass March 6 in the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, he spoke directly of the beatitudes:
“Dear sister, dear brother, perhaps when you look at your hands, they seem empty, perhaps you feel disheartened and unsatisfied by life,” he said in his homily. “If so, do not be afraid: The beatitudes are for you — for you who are afflicted, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are persecuted. The Lord promises you that your name is written on his heart, written in heaven!”
Christ came to change the order of the world, he told his listeners: “That is how the world is changed: not by power and might, but by the beatitudes.”
Pope Francis acknowledged that when one is wounded, “the temptation is to react to these and other painful experiences with human power, human wisdom.”
But Jesus’ way is to serve, heal, love and offer one’s life for others. But in order to do so, “our heart must be cleansed, put in order and purified,” the pope said. “We need the baneful temptations of power and money to be swept from our hearts and from the church.”
Such cleansing in the Catholic Church is available through the sacrament of reconciliation.
While most of us laypeople here in the United States don’t know much of war and the kind of experiences people in Iraq have suffered, we all know other kinds of injustice and sin that can tempt us away from our unity with God and one another.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral message March 9 that named a host of struggles we’ve experienced in the last year:
“Many have endured extraordinary hardships: sickness, death, mourning, a lack of food, unstable housing, loss of work and income, struggles with education, separation, abuse, isolation, depression and anxiety,” said the message, approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee during its virtual meeting.
“We witnessed racial injustices, the diminishment of the poor and the elderly, and painful divisions in our political life,” the message said.
While our struggles are different from those in Iraq, Pope Francis’ advice to look to the beatitudes and to love one another are just as important.
At the heart of the problem, Pope Francis said in Iraq, is the sinful inclination to classify some people as “us” and others as “them.”
Peace begins with “the decision not to have enemies,” he said.
When we direct hate toward our brother or sister, we are, as the pope said, blaspheming God.
But this is Lent, the penitential season, and where there is repentance, there is hope. Our hearts can be “cleansed” and “purified,” as Pope Francis suggested, through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Let us reconcile ourselves to one another and God as Easter nears, and help change the order of the world the way Jesus did, with sacrificial love and forgiveness.