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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Final General Audience of 2016

This morning's General Audience, the last one of the year 2016, began at 10:00am in the Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from every corner of the world.

In his speech, the Pope continued the new cycle of catechesis on the theme of Christian hope, adding a mediation on Abram, our Father in faith and in hope (cf Gen 15:3-6).

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul reminds us of the great figure of Abram, in order to show us the path of faith and hope.  Of him, the apostle writes: He believed, hoping against all hope, and in that way, he became a father to many peoples (Rom 4:18); Hoping against all hope.  This concept is strong: even when there is no hope, I hope.  Our father Abraham is like this.  Saint Paul was referring to the faith with which Abraham believed in the word of God who had promised him a son.  His was truly a trusting hope, against all hope, what the Lord was promising was so far-fetched because he (Abram) was elderly - he was almost one hundred years old - and his wife was barren.  This couldn't be!  But God had said so, and he believed.  There was no human hope because he was old and his wife was barren: yet he believed.

Sharing in this promise, Abraham set out on a journey, accepting God's invitation to leave his homeland and to become a stranger, hoping in this impossible son that God had promised to give him despite the fact that Sarah's womb was now as good as dead.  Abraham believed, his faith opened him to a hope of unreasonable appearance - the ability to go beyond the limits of human reasoning, the wisdom and the prudence of this world, above and beyond that which is normally considered to be common sense, in order to believe in the impossible.  Hope opens new horizons, makes it possible for us to dream that which seems to be unimaginable.  Hope allows us to enter into the darkness of an uncertain future and to walk on toward the light.  The virtue of hope is beautiful; it gives us great strength in order to walk through life.

But it is a difficult journey.  There were moments when, even Abraham experienced moments of discomfort.  He had confided himself, he had left his home, his land, his friends ... Everything.  He had left, he had arrived in the land God had pointed out to him, time had passed.  At that time, travelling was not what it is today, with aircrafts - in a few hours it is over -; it took months, even years!  Time passed, but the promised son did not arrive, Sarah's womb remained closed in its infertility.

And Abraham, I wouldn't say he lost his patience, but he lamented with the Lord.  This is another thing that we learn from our father Abraham - to complain to the Lord is one form of prayer.  Sometimes I hear, when I listen to confessions: I complained to the Lord ..., and I respond: But, no!  You complained to him, he is your father!  This is a form of prayer: lamenting with the Lord, it is good.  Abraham complained to the Lord, saying: Lord, God ... I am childless and the steward of my household is Eliezer of Damascus (Eliezer was the one who controlled everything).  Abraham continued: Behold, to me you have given no seed and my servant will be my heir.  And then there came a word from the Lord: He will not be your heir, but one born of you will be your heir.  Then God made him go outside; He led him out and said to him: Look to the skies and count the stars, if you can; and then he added: Such will be your descendants.  And once again, Abraham believed the Lord, and credited it to him as an act of righteousness (Gen 15:2-6).  

The scene takes place at night, outside in the dark, but also in Abraham's heart there is darkness and doubt, discouragement, difficulty for him to continue hoping in something that seems impossible.  Now, the patriarch is too advanced in years, it seems that there will no longer be time for a son and his servant will inherit everything.

Abraham turns to the Lord, but God, even if he is present and speaking with him, seems to be far away, as though he has not remained faithful to his word.  Abraham feels all alone; he is old and tired, death is near.  How can he continue to trust?

Yet, his lament is itself a form of faith, a prayer.  Despite everything else, Abraham continues to believe in God and to hope that something can happen.  Otherwise, why would he question the Lord, why complain to him, why remind him of his promise?  Faith is not merely an act of silence and of accepting without replying, hope is not a certitude that makes us secure in the face of doubt and perplexity.  Many times, hope is dark, but there is hope ... that leads us onward.  Faith is also found in the act of struggling with God, showing our bitterness, there is no magic pie.  I was angry with God and I told him so and so ... He is your father, He understands: go in peace!  We need to have courage!  This is what it means to hope.  Hope is also the act of not being afraid of seeing reality for what it is and accepting its contradictions.

Therefore in faith, Abraham turned to the Lord and sought his help so that he could continue to hope.  It is curious, he did not ask for a child.  He asked: Help me to continue hoping, his prayer was to have hope.  And the Lord answered, insisting on his far-fetched promise: the heir would not be a servant, but truly a son, born of Abraham, created by him.  Nothing had changed on God's part.  He continued to repeat what he had said and did not offer any possibility for Abraham to feel reassured in his doubt.  is only security was to trust in the word of God and to continue hoping.

The sign that God gave to Abraham was a request to continue believing and hoping: Look to the skies and count the stars ... Such will your descendants be (Gen 15:5).  This is still God's promise, there is still something to look forward to in the future.  God led Abraham outside his tent, actually outside of his narrow-mindedness, and showed him the stars.  In order to believe, we need to know how to look with the eyes of faith; they were only stars, which everyone could see, but for Abraham they became a sign of God's faithfulness.

This is the meaning of faith, of the journey in faith that every one of us must undertake.  Even if the only thing we can do is look to the stars, it is time for us to trust in God.  There is nothing more beautiful.  Hope does not disappoint.  Thank you.

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized and repeated in various languages, and the Holy Father offered greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said: 

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Bangladesh and the United States of America. May each of you, and your families, cherish the joy of Christmas and draw near in prayer to the Saviour who has come to dwell among us. God bless you!
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