The latest fake Pope Francis quote is a wakeup call

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fake Pope Francis quote
Pope Francis delivers his homily during Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome Feb. 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

A quote attributed to Pope Francis that appears to downplay Lenten fasting has been making the rounds on social media.

“Eat whatever you want for Easter, the sacrifice is not in the stomach, but in the heart,” the passage begins.

Well, there’s your first clue that it did not come from the supreme pontiff. Catholics can eat whatever they want for Easter, and do so joyfully in honor of Christ’s resurrection. It’s Lent that includes rules for fasting and abstinence.

According to the USCCB: “Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.” The fasting rule applies to Catholics ages 18 to 59, and abstinence to those 14 and older.

Pope Francis actually did say this on Ash Wednesday: “[To return to the heart] means looking within ourselves and acknowledging our real identity, removing the masks we so often wear, slowing the frantic pace of our lives and embracing life and the truth of who we are.” Lent invites us to stop acting, the pope said, and return “to the reality of who we are.”

The spirit versus the letter

The mystery quote moves on to concerns that could plausibly align with Pope Francis’ wheelhouse, calling out hypocrisy:

“They refrain from eating meat, but don’t talk to their siblings or relatives, don’t visit their parents or bother them to attend to them. Don’t share food with the needy, forbid children to see their father, forbid grandparents to see their grandchildren, criticize other people’s lives, beat their wife, etc., A good barbeque or beef stew won’t make you a bad person, just like a fish fillet won’t turn you a saint. Better seek to have a deeper relationship with God through better treatment of others let’s be less arrogant and more humble at heart.”

It’s clear enough that beating one’s wife and then sitting down to a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich is not in keeping with the observance of Lent. But in Catholicism, the spirit of the law is not generally pit against the letter. Christ stressed the importance of keeping the inside of the cup clean, “so that the outside also may be clean” (Mt 23:26). He never said to do away with external practices and signs.

Reinforcing a caricature

What’s really surprising about the misattributed quote is how many Catholics seem to be falling for it. Perhaps this is because it fits in with our own (positive or negative) caricature of the current pope as someone who is “doing away with all the rules” and letting Catholics “decide for themselves.”

But maybe there is a silver lining. If Snopes has to tell us to stop and think before running away with the latest “Pope Francis said” Facebook post, it could be a reminder that it’s not too late to give up social media for Lent.

Our Sunday Visitor Staff

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