Here is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ address during this morning’s General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall:
THE HOLY FATHER’S CATECHESIS
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Last month of December and the first part of January we celebrated the Season of Advent and then that of Christmas, a period of the Liturgical Year that reawakens hope in the People of God. To hope is a primary need of man: to hope in the future, to believe in life, so-called “positive thinking.”
However, it is important that such hope be placed in what can truly help us to live and to give meaning to our existence. It is because of this that Sacred Scripture puts us on guard against the false hopes that the world presents to us, unmasking their uselessness and showing their folly. And it does so in several ways, but especially by denouncing the falsity of idols, in which man is continually tempted to place his trust, making them the object of his hope.
The prophets and wise men insist on this in particular, touching a neuralgic point of the believer’s journey of faith. Because faith is to trust in God — one who has faith trusts in God –, but the moment comes when, running into the difficulties of life, man experiences the fragility of that trust and feels the need of different certainties, of tangible, concrete securities. I entrust myself to God, but the situation is quite bad and I need a certainty that is somewhat more concrete. And therein lies the danger! And then we are tempted to seek even ephemeral consolations, which seem to fill the emptiness of solitude and soothe the fatigue of believing. And we think we can find it in the security that money can give, in alliances with the powerful, in worldliness, in false ideologies. Sometimes we seek them in a god that can bow to our requests and intervene magically to change the reality and make it as we wish; an idol, in fact, that as such can do nothing, is impotent and a liar. But we like idols, we like them so much! Once, at Buenos Aires, I had to go from one church to another, a thousand meters, more or less. And I did so walking. And there was a park in between, and there were small tables in the park, but many, many, where seers were seated. It was full of people, who also formed a queue. One would give one of them one’s hand, and <the seer> would begin, but the discourse was always the same: there is a woman in your life, a shadow is coming, but everything will go well … And then, one paid. And this gives one security? It is the security of a – allow me the word – of a stupid thing. To go to a male seer or a female seer that reads cards: this is an idol! This is an idol, and when we are very attached to them, we buy false hopes. Whereas that, which is the hope of gratuitousness, which Jesus Christ has brought us, freely giving His life for us, that sometimes we do not trust so much.
Psalm 115, a Psalm full of wisdom which depicts for us in a very thought-provoking way the falsity of these idols, which the world offers to our hope and to which the men of all times are tempted to entrust themselves, states:
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them” (vv. 4-8).
The Psalmist presents to us, also in a somewhat ironic way, the absolutely ephemeral reality of these idols. And we must understand that it is not only about depictions made in metal or another material, but also those built with our mind, when we trust in limited realities which we transform into absolutes, or when we reduce God to our schemes and to our ideas of divinity; a god that is similar to us, comprehensible, predictable, in fact like the idols of which the Psalm speaks. Man, image of God, makes a god to his own image, and it is also a botched image: it does not feel, does not act and, above all, it cannot talk. But we are happier to go to idols than to go to the Lord. Many times we are happier with the ephemeral hope that this false idol gives us than with the great and sure hope that the Lord gives us.
To the hope in a Lord of life who with His Word has created the world and directs our existences, is contrasted trust in dumb simulacra. Ideologies with their claim of the absolute, riches – and this is a great idol –, power and success, vanity, with their illusion of eternity and omnipotence, values such as physical beauty and health, when they become idols to which to sacrifice everything, are all realities that confuse the mind and heart and, instead of fostering life, lead to death. It was awful to hear and it pained my soul what once, years ago, I heard in the diocese of Buenos Aires: a good, very beautiful woman, boasted about her beauty and commented, as if it were natural: “Ah yes, I had to abort because my figure is very important.” These are the idols, and they lead one on a mistaken way and do not give happiness.
The Psalm’s message is very clear: if one places one’s hope in idols, one becomes like them: empty images with hands that do not touch, feet that do not walk, mouths that cannot speak. There is nothing more to say, one becomes incapable of helping, of changing things, incapable of smiling, of giving oneself, incapable of loving. And we also, men of the Church, run this risk when we become “worldly.” It is necessary to remain in the world but to defend oneself from the illusions of the world, which are the idols I mentioned.
As the Psalm continues, it is necessary to trust and hope in God, and God will give a blessing. Thus says the Psalm: “Israel, trust in the Lord […] house of Aaron, put your trust in the Lord […] you who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord […] the Lord has been mindful of us; He will bless us” (vv. 18.104.22.168). The Lord is always mindful of us. He is also mindful of us in awful moments, and this is our hope, and hope does not disappoint – never, never. Idols always disappoint: they are fantasies, not reality. Behold the stupendous reality of hope: trusting in the Lord one becomes like Him, His blessing transforms us into His children, who share His life. Hope in God makes us enter, so to speak, in the ray of action of His remembrance, of His memory, which blesses us and saves us. And then an alleluia can burst forth, the praise of the living and true God, who was born for us of Mary, died on the cross and rose in glory. And we hope in this God, and this God – who is not an idol – never disappoints.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking faithful. In particular, I greet the priests-teachers in the Major Seminaries or Institutes affiliated to the Pontifical Urban University; the “Fidelis Andria” Sports Society and the youngsters of the Caetani Institute of Cisterna di Latina. I exhort all to live generously their ecclesial commitment with a humble spirit of dedication to brothers.
Now I must say something that I do not want to say, but I must say it. There are tickets to enter the Audiences in which it is written in one, two, three, four, five and six languages, that “The ticket is totally free.” To enter an Audience, whether in the Hall or in the Square, one must not pay; it is a free visit made to the Pope to speak with the Pope, with the Bishop of Rome. However, I have learnt that there are wise guys that make one pay for tickets. If someone says to you that to go to the Pope’s Audience you need to pay something, he is cheating you: be careful, be careful! The entrance is free. One comes here without paying, because this is everyone’s home. And if someone makes you pay to come into the Audience he commits an offense, as a delinquent, and does something that shouldn’t be done!
A special greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a propitious occasion to rethink our Baptism in the faith of the Church. Dear young people, rediscover daily the grace that comes from the Sacrament received. Dear sick, draw from Baptism the strength to face moments of pain and discomfort. And you, dear newlyweds, be able to translate the commitments of Baptism into your journey of family life.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]