Here is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ address during this morning’s General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today we begin a new series of catecheses, on the theme of Christian hope. It is very important, because hope does not disappoint. Optimism disappoints, but not hope! We are in such need of it, in these times that seem dark, in which sometimes we feel lost in face of the evil and violence that surround us, in face of the pain of so many of our brothers. We need hope! We feel lost and also somewhat discouraged, because we feel impotent and it seems that this darkness will never end.
However, we must not let hope abandon us, because God walks with us with His love. “I hope because God is by my side: all of us can say this. Each one of us can say: “I hope, I have hope, because God walks with me.” He walks and leads me by the hand. God does not leave us alone. The Lord Jesus has overcome evil and opened to us the way of life.
And then, particularly in this Season of Advent, which is the time of expectation, in which we prepare ourselves to receive once again the consoling mystery of the Incarnation and the light of Christmas, it is important to reflect on hope. Let us allow ourselves to be taught by the Lord what it means to hope. Therefore, we listen to the words of Sacred Scripture, beginning with the prophet Isaiah, the great prophet of Advent, the great messenger of hope.
In the second part of his Book, Isaiah addresses the people with a proclamation of consolation: “Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service has ended, that her guilt is expiated, That she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
God the Father consoles by arousing consolers, to whom He asks to hearten the people, His children, proclaiming that the warfare is ended, sorrow is ended, and sin is pardoned. This is what heals the afflicted and fearful heart. Therefore, the prophet asks to prepare the way of the Lord, opening oneself to His gifts of salvation.
For the people, consolation begins with the possibility to walk on the way of God, a new way, straightened and passable, a way to prepare in the desert, so that one can go across it and return to the homeland. Because the people the prophet was addressing was living the tragedy of the exile in Babylon, and now, instead, it hears it said that it will be able to return to its land, through a way made easy and wide, without valleys and mountains that make the way exhausting, a way leveled in the desert. Therefore, to prepare that way means to prepare a way of salvation and of liberation from every obstacle and hindrance.
The exile was a dramatic moment in the history of Israel, when the people had lost everything. The people had lost their homeland, freedom, dignity and even their trust in God. They felt abandoned and without hope. Instead, see the prophet’s appeal, which reopens their heart to faith. The desert is a place in which it is difficult to live, but precisely there is where they will be able to walk to return, not only to their homeland but also to God, and to hope and to smile again. When we are in darkness, in difficulties, we cannot smile and it is, in fact, hope that teaches us to smile to find that way that leads to God. One of the first things that happen to persons who are tired of God is that they are persons without a smile. Perhaps they are able to have a great laugh, they do so one after another, a beat, a laugh … but a smile is lacking! Hope alone gives a smile: it is the smile of the hope of finding God.
Life is often a desert, it is difficult to walk in it, but if we entrust ourselves to God it can become beautiful and wide as a highway. Suffice it never to lose hope, suffice it to continue to believe, always, despite all. When we find ourselves before a child, perhaps we might have many problems and many difficulties, but a smile comes to us from within, because we find ourselves before hope: a child is a hope! And so we must be able to see in life the way of hope, which leads us to find God, God who became a Child for us — and it will make us smile, it will give us all!
In fact, these words of Isaiah are later used by John the Baptist in his preaching, which invites to conversion. He said thus: “The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3). It is a voice that cries where it seems that no one is able to hear — but who can hear in the desert? — that cries in the loss due to the crisis of faith. We cannot deny that today’s world is in a crisis of faith. One says ”I believe in God, I am Christian” – “I am of that religion …” But your life is very far from being Christian; it is very far from God! Religion, faith has fallen in an expression: “Do I believe?” – “Yes!” However, here it is about turning to God, converting the heart to God and of going on this way to find Him. He awaits us. This is John the Baptist’s preaching: to prepare. To prepare the encounter with this Child who will give us back a smile. When the Baptist proclaims the coming of Jesus, for the Israelites it was as if they were still in exile, because they were under Roman domination, making them strangers in their own homeland, governed by powerful occupants who decided their life. However, the true history is not that made up of the powerful but rather that made by God together with His little ones. The true history – that which will remain in eternity – is that which God writes with His little ones: God with Mary, God with Jesus, God with Joseph, God with the little ones. Those little and simple ones that we find around Jesus about to be born: Zechariah and Elizabeth, elderly marked by sterility; Mary, young virgin girl betrothed bride of Joseph, the shepherds held in contempt, accounted as nothing. It is the little ones, made great by their faith, the little ones who are able to continue to hope. And hope is the virtue of little ones. The great, the satisfied do not know hope they do not know what it is.
It is the little ones with God, with Jesus that transform the desert of exile, of desperate loneliness, of suffering into a level way on which to walk to go to encounter the glory of the Lord. And we come, therefore, to allowing ourselves to be taught hope. Let us wait confidently for the coming of the Lord and no matter what the desert is of our lives – each one knows in what desert he walks — it will become a flowering garden. Hope does not disappoint![Original text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT]
I give a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the Missionaries of Charity; the Love and Freedom Community; the Aphasic Community of Puglia and the artists of the 24th edition of the Christmas Concert promoted by the “Don Bosco in the World” Foundation. Dear brothers and sisters, I exhort you to cultivate in every circumstance of life the theological virtue of hope, gift of God, who with His tenderness does not cease to console His people.
A special greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. The Liturgical Season of Advent is an occasion of special grace to reflect on our journey to encounter the Lord. May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Conception we will celebrate tomorrow, be the model for interior preparation for Christmas, so that each one’s heart becomes a cradle to receive the Son of God, face of the Father’s mercy, with the listening of His word, with works of fraternal charity and with prayer.[Original text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT]
The Holy Father’s Appeal
In the forthcoming days, two important Days will be observed, promoted by the United Nations: that against corruption — December 9 — and that for human rights — December 10 –. They are two closely linked realities: corruption is the negative aspect to combat, beginning from one’s personal conscience and watching over realms of civil life, especially those that are most at risk; human rights are the positive aspect, to be promoted with ever renewed determination, so that no one is excluded from effective recognition of the fundamental rights of the human person. May the Lord support you in this twofold commitment.[Original text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT]