Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd after praying the Angelus from a balcony overlooking the courtyard of the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sept. 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) — People in all religions, including Christianity, may claim they are following God's law while in reality paying only lip service to God and pursuing their own agendas, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“God's law is his word, which guides people on the journey of life, leads them out of the enslavement of selfishness to the land of true freedom and life,” the pope said Sept. 2 before praying the Angelus with visitors at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo.

Commenting on the readings for the day's Mass, the pope said the Bible recognizes God's laws and commandments not as “a burden, an oppressing limitation, but as the most precious gift of the Lord, the witness of his paternal love, his desire to be near to his people, to be their ally and to write a story of love with them.”

When the ancient Israelites reached the Promised Land, he said, they continued to acknowledge the existence of the law, but they were tempted to put their trust in power and material goods.

“Certainly, the law of God remained, but it was no longer the most important thing,” he said. Many of the people used acknowledgement of God's law as “a cover, while life followed other paths, other rules and often selfish individual and group interests.”

When religion's first concern is not following God's will, he said, “religion loses its authentic meaning” and is reduced to a set of customs that people follow to convince themselves that they are right with God.

“This is a serious risk for every religion, including Christianity, so the words of Jesus against the scribes and Pharisees in today's Gospel is something that must make us think, too,” the pope said.

The pope prayed that all Christians would “listen with an open and sincere heart to the word of God so that it will guide our thoughts, our choices and our actions every day.”