In his message for yesterday's Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis told thousands of pilgrims assembled in St. Peter's Square that while everyone, including himself, is a sinner, that God can and will give us the grace to be holy, and that people should not be afraid of holiness.“Do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit,” Francis said.
Reflecting on the words of the Nicene creed that the Church is "one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic," the Pope remarked, “how can we say that the Church is holy when she is all too evidently made up of sinners? Sinful men, women, priests, nuns, Bishops, Cardinals, Popes? All of them. How can a church like this be holy?”
“The Church is holy because it proceeds from God who is holy,” urged the Pope, “It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his Love makes the Church holy,” the Pope taught, reflecting on the words of St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians when he said that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy.” (cf. Ephesians 5:25)
The Holy Father reminded the pilgrims that the temptation exists among some to assume in their minds that the Church is only for those who are without sin, or who are "pure, but the Pope exclaimed "this is not true, this is heresy!"
“The Church, which is holy, does not reject sinners, but “welcomes them and calls everyone to be wrapped by mercy, tenderness and the forgiveness of the Father, which gives everyone the chance to meet him, to walk towards holiness.”
The Holy Father asked the crowd if anyone among them had come to the audience without sin. “No, none of us. We all carry our sins with us,” he said. Francis reflected that the God of the Church is not a ruthless God, but said that God was more like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, always waiting for us to return home. The Church should be a Body of Christ that “that knows how to open their arms to welcome everyone, which is the home not of a few, but the home of all, where everyone can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love, including the strongest and the weakest, the sinners, the indifferent, and those who feel discouraged and lost.” These open arms, the Pope taught, should not preclude the Church from proclaiming and living holiness. “The Church offers to all the possibility to pursue the path of holiness, which is the way of the Christian,” Francis said, saying that Christ can help bring us to greater holiness through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession.
“Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things,” said the Pope, “the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, is to have confidence in his active service to others.”