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GENERAL AUDIENCE: On the Commandments (IV)

‘All stems from the inability to trust above all in God, to put our securities in Him, to let Him give true profundity to our heart’s desires’

This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 in Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.

Continuing with the series of catecheses on the Commandments, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on idolatry (Biblical passage: Exodus 32:7-8).

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.

The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Today we continue to meditate on the Decalogue, reflecting further on the theme of idolatry, of which we spoke last week. Now we take up the theme because it’s very important to know it. And we take our cue from the idol par excellence, the golden calf, of which the Book of Exodus speaks (32:1-8)  — of which we just heard a passage. This episode has a precise context: the desert, where the people wait for Moses, who went up the mountain to receive God’s instructions.

What is the desert? It’s a place where precariousness and insecurity reign — there is nothing in the desert –, where water, food and shelter are lacking. The desert is an image of human life, whose condition is uncertain and doesn’t have inviolable guarantees. Such insecurity generates primary anxieties in man, which Jesus mentions in the Gospel: “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” (Matthew 6:31). They are the primary anxieties. And the desert sparks these anxieties. And in that desert something happens that triggers idolatry: “Moses delayed to come down from the mountain” (Exodus 32:1). He stayed there 40 days and the people became impatient. The point of reference was lacking, which Moses was: the leader, the head, the reassuring guide, and this became unbearable. Then the people asked for a visible god — this is the trap in which the people fell —  which they could identify and be guided. And they said to Aaron: “Make us god, who shall go before us!” ”Make us a head, make us a leader.” To flee from precariousness, — the precariousness of the desert — human nature seeks a “do-it-yourself” religion: if God doesn’t make Himself seen, we make a god to our measure. “Before an idol one doesn’t risk the possibility of a call that makes one come out of one’s securities, because idols ‘have mouths, but do not speak’ (Psalm 115:5). Then we understand that an idol is a pretext to put oneself at the center of reality, in adoration of the work of one’s hands” (Encyclical Lumen Fidei, 13).

Aaron is unable to oppose the people’s request and he creates a molten calf. The calf had a double meaning in the ancient Near East: on one hand it represented fecundity and abundance and, on the other, energy and strength. But first of all it was of gold, therefore it was a symbol of wealth, success, power and money. They are the constant temptations! See what the golden calf is: the symbol of all the desires that give the illusion of freedom and instead enslave, because an idol always enslaves. There is the fascination and one goes for it. The fascination of the serpent, which looks at the little bird and the little bird stays, without being able to move, and the serpent takes it. Aaron was unable to oppose them.

However, all stems from the inability to trust above all in God, to put our securities in Him, to let Him give true profundity to our heart’s desires. This enables one to endure even weakness, uncertainty and precariousness. Reference to God makes one strong in weakness, in uncertainty and also in precariousness. Without God’s primacy, one falls easily into idolatry and is happy with meager reassurances. But this is a temptation that we always read about in the Bible. And think this well: it didn’t cost God so much work to liberate the people from Egypt. He did so with signs of power <and> of love. However, God’s great work was to take Egypt out of the people’s heart, namely, to take idolatry out from the people’s heart. And God continues to work again to take it out of our hearts. This is God’s great work: to take out “that Egypt” that we carry inside, which is the fascination of idolatry.

When one welcomes the God of Jesus Christ, who though He was rich became poor for us (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9), one then discovers that to recognize one’s weakness is not the disgrace of human life, but is the condition to open oneself to   Him who is truly strong.  Then, God’s salvation enters through the door of <one’s> weakness (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:10); it’s by dint of his insufficiency that man opens to God’s paternity.  Man’s freedom stems from allowing the true God to be his only Lord. And this enables us to accept our fragility and reject the idols of our heart.

We Christians turn our gaze to Christ crucified (Cf. John 19:37), who was weak, scorned and stripped of all possessions. However, in Him is revealed the face of the true God, the glory of love and not that of the glittering deceit. Isaiah says: ”With His stripes we are healed” (53:5). We were healed in fact by the weakness of a man who was God, by His wounds. And, from our weaknesses, we can open ourselves to God’s salvation. Our healing comes from Him who made Himself poor, who accepted failure, who took to the end our precariousness to fill it with love and with strength. He came to reveal to us God’s paternity; in Christ our fragility is not longer a malediction, but a place of encounter with the Father and source of new strength from on high.

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s working translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

In Italian

Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims, welcome!

I’m happy to receive the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. I greet the parish groups, the Good Shepherd Institute of Piacenza, the Scout Group of Palermo, the Participants in the “Sacred Heart” camp-school of Padua, the “Waiting for An Angel” Association and the Members of the “Candlelight Vigil for Peace” of Val Brembilla: I hope that each one will spread, with credible enthusiasm, the joy of the Gospel.

A particular thought goes to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds. Observed today is the liturgical memorial of Saint Dominic Guzman, Founder of the Order of Preachers. May his example of faithful servant of Christ and of his Church be of encouragement and stimulus for us all. Particular good wishes for those that bear this name. And, celebrated tomorrow in Europe is the feast of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) — martyr, woman of consistency, woman who sought God with honesty, with love and woman martyr of her Jewish and Christian people. May she, Patroness of Europe, pray and protect Europe from iciness. May God bless you all!

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s working translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

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