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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

General Audience on false hopes placed in idols

This morning's General Audience began at 9:40am in the Paul VI Hall.  The Holy Father, Pope Francis met there 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 meditation on Psalm 115: False hopes placed in idols (cf Ps 115:4-5, 8-11).

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!

During the month of December and in the first part of the month of January, we celebrated the season of Advent and then Christmas: a time of the liturgical year that reawakens hope in the people of God. Hope is a basic human need: hope in the future, belief in life, so-called positive thinking.

But it is important that this hope be placed in that which can truly help us to live and give us a sense of our existence.  This is the reason why Sacred Scriptures place us on guard against the false hope that the world presents, exposing its uselessness and demonstrating its senselessness.  And Scripture does this in various ways, above all by denouncing the falsity of idols in which man is continually tempted to place his trust, making them the objects of his hope.

In particular, the prophets and sages insist on this, touching a central point of the believer's journey of faith and belief.  Because faith is trusting in God - whoever has faith, places trust in God - but there is a moment when, faced with the difficulties of life, man experiences the frailty of his trust and feels the need for other certainties, tangible and concrete sureties.  I trust God, but the situation is a bit difficult and I need something more concrete to rely on.  This is the danger!  We are tempted to seek consolation in temporal things, which seem to fill the emptiness of our solitude and soothe our worry about believing.  And we think that we can find it in the security of money, in creating alliances with those who are powerful, in worldliness, in false ideologies.  Sometimes we seek it in a god that can bend to our requests and magically intervene in order to change our reality and make things turn out the way we want them to be; an idol, indeed, which can do nothing, one that is powerless and even deceptive.  We like idols, we like them a lot!  Once, in Buenos Aires, I had to go from one church to another, a thousand metres, more or less.  And I did it, walking.  There was a park between the two churches, and in the park there were little tables, many many of them, where visionaries were sitting.  The tables were filled with people, there was even a lineup to sit there.  As soon as there was a place, they would sit, and the conversation would begin, but it was always the same: there is a woman in your life, there is a shadow coming, but everything would be fine ... And then, you would pay.  And this would give you security?  This is the security of - permit me to use the word - nonsense.  Going from one seer to another visionary who would read the cards: this is an idol!  This is an idol, and when we are so attached to them, they bring us false hopes.  While Jesus Christ brought us the gifts of hope and gratitude by freely giving his life for us, at times we don't trust these gifts too much.

One of the Psalms that is full of wisdom depicts in a very suggestive way the falsity of these idols that the world offers as sources of our hope to which men of every age are tempted to rely on.  It is Psalm 115, which reads as follows:
Their idols are silver and gold,works made by human hands.They have mouths but they cannot speak,they have eyes but they cannot see,they have ears but they cannot hear,they have nostrils but they cannot smell.Their hands do not move,their feet do not walk;no sounds issue from their throats!Those who create them become like themas do those who confide in them (Ps 115:4-8)
The Psalmist presents us, in a somewhat ironic way, the absolutely ephemeral reality of such idols.  And we should understand that idols are not only made of metal or other material representations, bt also include those constructed with our minds, when we rely on the limited realities and transform them into absolutes, or when we reduce God to our plans and our ideas of divinity; a god who looks like us, who is understandable, who is predictable, just like the idols mentioned in the Psalm.  Man, created in the image of God, creates a god in his own image, and it always turns out to be an image that is unsuccessful: it cannot smell, it cannot act, and above all it cannot speak.  Yet we are happier to surround ourselves with such idols rather than to go to the Lord.  Many times, we are more content with the passing hopes that these false idols give us rather than the greater and surer hope that the Lord offers us.

Against hope placed in a Lord of life who, with his Word, has created the world and leads our existence, we contrast the trust we place in silent objects.  Other ideologies, with their claims of absolute, of riches - and this is a great idol - power and success, vanity, with their illusions of eternity and omnipotence, values such as physical beauty and health, when they become idols for which we are ready to sacrifice everything; all of these are realities that confound the mind and the heart, and instead of favouring life, they lead us to death.  It is terrible to hear - it brings pain to my soul - to remember that once, many years ago, I heard, in the Diocese of Buenos Aires, about a good woman, very beautiful, one who used to boast about her beauty, who commented as though it were something natural: Oh yes, I had to have an abortion because my figure is very important.  These are idols, and they lead us along the wrong path and will never give us happiness.

The message of the Psalm is very clear: if we place your hopes in idols, we will become like them: empty images with hands that cannot touch, feet that cannot walk, mouths that cannot speak.  We will have nothing more to say, we will become incapable of helping, changing things, incapable of smiling, giving of ourselves, incapable of loving.  And even we, man of the Church, run this risk when we try to be like the world.  We must remain in the world but defend ourselves against the illusions of the world: these idols that I have spoken about.

The Psalm continues, showing us how we must trust and hope in God, and God will give us his blessing.

The Psalm says:
Israel, trust in the Lord ...House of Aaron, trust in the Lord ...You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord ...
The Lord remembers us, blesses us (Ps 115: 9-12).  The Lord always remembers.  Even in difficult moments, he remembers us.  And this is our hope.  Hope does not disappoint. Never.  Never.  Idols always disappoint: they are dreams, not realities.

This is the stupendous reality of hope: placing our trust in the Lord, we become like Him, his blessing transforms us into his children, who share in his life.  Hope in God makes us enter, so to speak, into the range of motion of his memories, his memory which blesses and saves us.  Then we can shout Alleluia, the praises of the living and true God, who was born of Mary for us, died on the cross and rose in glory.  In this god, we place our hope, and this God - who is not an idol - will never disappoint us.

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages and he offered greetings to each group of pilgrims 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 Australia, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your families, I cordially invoke and abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
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