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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis, a relentless critic of populist leaders, has cautioned Catholics not to criticize secular and spiritual leaders as even during the apostolic period "no one complained about Herod's evil and his persecution."
"No one abused Herod — and we are so accustomed to abuse those who are in charge," the pontiff preached in his Monday homily for the solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul — a feast marked as a secular holiday in Rome.
"It is pointless, even tedious, for Christians to waste their time complaining about the world, about society, about everything that is not right. Complaints change nothing," the Holy Father chided, addressing a small congregation at St. Peter's Basilica.
"Humanly speaking, there were reasons to criticize Peter, but no one criticized him. They did not complain about Peter; they prayed for him," Francis declaimed.
"Saint Paul urged Christians to pray for everyone, especially those who govern," the pope stressed, quoting the Apostle's first epistle to Timothy and describing how citizens criticized political leaders using "many adjectives."
"I will not mention them, because this is neither the time nor the place to mention adjectives that we hear directed against those who govern. Let God judge them; let us pray for those who govern!" Francis reiterated.
If we "prayed more and complained less, if we had a more tranquil tongue," the pope pleaded, "so many closed doors would be opened, so many chains that bind would be broken" as happened when the early Church prayed for Peter while he was in prison.
A Rome-based biblical scholar told Church Militant that Pope Francis' emphasis on praying for leaders was commendable and needed to be heeded by Catholics.
However, he noted, "the Holy Father seems to be injudiciously, or perhaps even disingenuously, conflating 'criticism,' 'complaint' and 'insult' in his sermon."
"On the one hand, Francis preaches [in Italian] saying 'Nessuno insulta Erode' [nobody insulted Herod]. On the other hand, he says 'ma nessuno lo criticava' [nobody criticized him — Peter]," the biblical scholar noted.
"What Francis doesn't mention is that many Lukan scholars interpret Luke's account of the death of Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12 as a polemic by the powerless early Church against their persecutor."
"Luke is using an ancient 'motif of disgust' to describe how Herod is struck down by God and eaten by worms," he explained, "while the Jewish historian Josephus less polemically attributes his death to heart pains and a pain in his abdomen."
"Jesus insulted religious leaders, calling them blind fools, hypocrites, vipers, wolves in sheep's clothing, white-washed tombs and, in Luke's gospel, labels Herod Antipas a fox," he observed.
"In his epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul tells us that when Peter came to Antioch, 'I opposed him to his face,'" the scholar added.
"I must confess to you that when I hear a speech [by] someone responsible for order or for a government, I think of speeches by Hitler in 1934, 1936," Francis said in a Nov. 2019 address to the International Association of Penal Law.
Francis has criticized Trump as "not Christian" because of the president's immigration policies. In 2017, the pope put down Trump for his decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA): "The president of the United States presents himself as pro-life and if he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected."
Francis later ratcheted up his anti-Trump rhetoric: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian."
Pope Francis addressed the themes of unity and prophecy in his sermon, castigating "speeches that promise the impossible."
"Start serving and shut up. Not theory, but testimony," the pontiff scolded.
"But we need joy for the world to come, not of those pastoral projects that seem to have their own efficiency — as if they were sacraments, efficient pastoral projects, no — but we need pastors who offer their lives, to fall in love with God," he continued.
Last week, the pontiff blasted faithful pastors for offering the sacraments during pandemic-related lockdown and insultingly described them as "adolescents."
Francis added that the majority of priests, however, have been "obedient and creative" and called these compliant priests "fathers" and not "teenagers."
At Mass, Francis blessed the pallia — white wool strips of cloth with black crosses worn over the shoulders, that nuncios — the Vatican's ambassadors in various countries — will confer on the 54 metropolitan archbishops whom Francis has named over the last year, placing the pallium on Cdl. Giovanni Battista Re, the new dean of the College of Cardinals.