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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

General Audience on Christian hope: living in expectation

This morning's General Audience began at 9:30am in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican.  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 catecheses on the theme of Christian hope, adding his mediation on the theme: The helmet of hope (1 Thess 5:4-11).

After having summarized His catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed 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 recent catecheses, we have begun our new journey on the theme of hope, re-reading some pages of the Old Testament from this perspective.  Now, we want to move on to focus on the extraordinary power that this virtue takes on in the New Testament, when it meets the novelty of Jesus Christ and of the Easter event: Christian hope.  We Christians are women and met of hope.

What emerges in a very clear way, beginning in the very first text that was written: that is to say, the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.  In the passage that we have just heard (1 Thess 5:4-11), we can perceive all the freshness and the beauty of the first Christian proclamation.  Thessalonica's Christian community was young, recently founded; yet, despite many difficulties and trials, it was rooted in faith and celebrated the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with enthusiasm.  The Apostle therefore heartily rejoiced with all of them, for all those who are reborn at Easter truly become children of light and children of the day (1 Thess 5:5), by virtue of full communion with Christ.

When Paul was writing, the community of Thessalonica had only just been established, and only a few years separated them from Christ's resurrection.  For this reason, the Apostle sought to help them understand all the effects and the consequences that this unique and decisive event - the Lord's resurrection - implies for history and for the life of each person.  In particular, the community's difficulties were not so much a matter of recognizing Jesus resurrection - everyone believed this - but rather to believe in the resurrection of the dead.  Yes, Jesus is risen, but the difficulty was a matter of believing that the dead rise.  In that sense, this letter is more timely than ever.  Every time that we find ourselves facing our death, or that of a person who we love, we feel that our faith is put to the test.  All our doubts, all our frailties emerge, and we ask ourselves: Is it true that there will be life after death ...? Will I be able to see and hug the people I love ...? A woman asked me these very questions just a few days ago in an audience, demonstrating a doubt: Will I meet them?  Even we, in the current context, need to return to the root and the fundamentals of our faith, so that we can become aware of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and what our death means.  We all have a little fear about the uncertainty of death.  I remember an elderly man, a good man, who said: I'm not afraid of death.  I have a bit of fear about seeing it approaching.  He was afraid of that.

Faced with the fears and concerns of the community, invites them to hold firmly to their leader (Christ) like a helmet, our hope for salvation, especially in the midst of trials and in moments that are the most difficult in life.  Our Christian hope is a helmet.  When we speak of hope, we can be tempted to understand it in terms of the common understanding of the term, that is to say in reference to something that is good that we desire, whether or not it can actually come to pass.  We hope that this will happen.  It's like a wish.  For example, we say: I hope that there will be good weather tomorrow!, but we know that the next day the weather can be very bad ... Christian hope is not like this.  Christian hope is the expectation of something that has already been accomplished: the door is there and I hope to arrive at the door.  What must I do?  Keep walking toward the door!  I am sure to arrive at the door.  This is Christian hope: knowing with certainty that I am on my way toward something that is, not something that I wish for.  This is Christian hope.  Christian hope is the expectation of something that has already been accomplished and that will certainly come about for each of us.  Our resurrection, and that of our loved ones who have died is therefore not something that might happen or might not; it is a certainty which is rooted in the resurrection of Christ.  Therefore, to hope means to learn how to live in anticipation.  To learn how to live in the expectation of finding life.  When a woman realizes that she is pregnant, every day she learns how to live in expectation of looking into the eyes of the child who will be born.  This is how we too should live and learn, from human expectations, and live in expectation of gazing upon the Lord, of encountering the Lord.  This is not easy, but it can be learned: living in anticipation.  To hope means and implies a humble heart, a poor heart.  Only someone who is poor can wait.  Someone who is already filled with self and his or her possessions cannot develop the proper level of trust in anything else if it is not in him- or herself.

Saint Paul writes: He (Jesus) dies for us so that whether we are alive or dead, we will live with him (1 Thess 5:10).  These words are still a source of great consolation and peace.  Even for loved ones who have left us, we are called to pray that they may live in Christ and be in full communion with us.  One thing that touches my heart very much is an expression that Saint Paul addresses to the Thessalonians.  I think that it fills us with the security of hope.  He says: Therefore we will live forever in with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).  This is a beautiful thing: things happen but, after death, we will be forever with the Lord.  This is the absolute certainty of hope, the hope that many times before, was proclaimed to Job: I know that my redeemer lives ... I will see him, I myself, my eyes will gaze on him (Job 19:25-27).  And we will be forever with the Lord.  Do you believe this?  I ask you: do you believe this?  In order to develop a bit of strength, I invite you to say it three times with me: And we will be forever with the Lord.  There, with the Lord, we will meet one another.

This catechesis was then summarized 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 the groups from Korea and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you, and your families, I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
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