This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
In his address in Italian, the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: “Hope founded in the Word” (cf. Romans 15:1-2.4-5).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present. Then he invited to live the appointment of March 23 – 24, “24 Hours for the Lord,” to rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
For some weeks now, the Apostle Paul has been helping us to understand better in what Christian hope consists. And we said that it was not optimism, it was something else. And the Apostle helps us to understand this. Today he does so by approaching it from two altogether important attitudes for our life and our faith experience: “perseverance” and “consolation” (vv. 4.5). They are mentioned twice in the passage of the Letter to the Romans that we just heard: first in reference to the Scriptures and then to God Himself. What is their most profound, truest meaning? And in what way do they throw light on the reality of hope? These two attitudes: perseverance and consolation.
We can describe perseverance in fact as patience: it is the capacity to endure, to carry on one’s shoulders, “support,” to remain faithful, even when the burden seems to be too great, unbearable, and we are tempted to judge negatively and to abandon everything and everyone. Consolation, instead, is the grace to be able to receive and show in every situation, even in those largely marked by disappointment and suffering, the compassionate presence and action of God. Now Saint Paul reminds us that particularly the Scriptures, namely, the Bible, transmit to us perseverance and consolation (v. 4). In fact, in the first place, the Word of God leads us to turn our gaze to Jesus, to know Him better and to be conformed to Him, to be ever more like Him. In the second place, the Word reveals to us that the Lord is truly “the God of perseverance and of consolation” (v. 5), who is always faithful to His love for us, namely, that He is perseverant in His love for us, He does not tire of loving us! He is perseverant: He always loves us! And He who takes care of us, covering our wounds with the caress of His goodness and His mercy, that is, He consoles us. He does not tire of consoling us, either.
Understood in this perspective also is the Apostle’s initial affirmation: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (v.1). This expression “we who are strong” might seem presumptuous, but, in the logic of the Gospel, we know that it is not so, rather, it is in fact the contrary, because our strength does not come from ourselves, but from the Lord. One who experiences in his life the faithful love of God and His consolation is able, more than that, has the duty to be close to weaker brothers and take on their frailty. If we are close to the Lord we will have that strength to be close to the weakest, to the neediest and to console them and give them strength. This is what it means. We can do this without being pleased with ourselves but feeling ourselves simply as a “channel” that transmits the Lord’s gifts; and thus become concretely a “sower” of hope. This is what the Lord asks us, with that strength and capacity to console and to be sowers of hope. And today it is necessary to sow hope, but it is not easy . . .
The fruit of this lifestyle is not a community in which some are “series A,” namely, the strong, and others “series B”, namely, the weak. Instead, as Saint Paul says, the fruit is “to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (v. 5). The Word of God nourishes a hope that is translated concretely in sharing, in mutual service. Because even one who is “strong” finds himself sooner or later experiencing frailty and the need of others’ comfort and, vice versa, in weakness one can always offer a smile or a hand to a brother in difficulty. And it is such a community that “with one spirit and one voice renders glory to God” (cf. v. 6). However, all this is possible if Christ and his Word are put at the center, because He is “strong. He is the one who gives us strength, who gives us patience, who gives us hope, who gives us consolation. He is the “strong brother,” who takes care of each one of us: all of us, in fact, are in need of being carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and of feeling enveloped by His tender and solicitous gaze.
Dear friends, we can never thank God enough for the gift of His Word, which is rendered present in the Scriptures. It is there that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed as “God of perseverance and of consolation.” And it is there that we realize that our hope is not founded on our capacities and our strength, but on God’s support and on the faithfulness of His love, that is, on God’s strength and consolation. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims, welcome! I greet the participants in the Migrantes meeting for Directors and I encourage them to continue in their commitment to the reception and hospitality of the displaced and of refugees, fostering their integration, taking account of the mutual rights and duties of the one who receives and the one who is received. Let’s not forget that this problem of today of refugees and migrants is the greatest tragedy since that of World War II.
I greet the youngsters with Down’s Syndrome of the Diocese of Ascoli Piceno and the workers of the Italian Bathing Syndicate, of the Fruit Imprese Group and of the Accenture Services.
A particular greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Next Saturday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord to the Virgin Mary. Dear young people, be able to listen to the will of God like Mary; dear sick, do not get discouraged in the more difficult moments, knowing that the Lord does not give a cross that is beyond one’s strength; and you, dear newlyweds, build your marital life on the solid rock of the Word of God.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
The Holy Father’s Appeal
I invite all communities to live with faith the appointment of March 23 and 24, “24 Hours for the Lord,” to rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I hope that this year also this privileged moment of grace of the Lenten journey is lived in many churches to experience the joyful encounter of the mercy of the Father, who receives and forgives all.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]