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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

General Audience on hope founded on the Word

This morning's General Audience began at 9:30am in Saint Peter's Square, 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 offered a meditation on the theme: Hope founded on the Word (cf Rom 15:1-2, 4-5).

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father offered particular expressions of greeting to each group of the faithful in attendance.  He then issued an invitation to experience the 24 hours for the Lord - from 24 to 25 March - as an opportunity to rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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!

Over the past few weeks, the Apostle Paul has been helping us to better understand Christian hope.  We have said that this is not a matter of optimism, it is something else.  The apostle helps us to understand this matter.  Today, he does this by paralleling two attitudes which are of prime importance for our lives and our experience of faith: perseverance and consolation (Rom 15:4-5).  In the passage from the Letter to the Romans which we have just heard, these are mentioned twice: first in reference to the Scriptures and then referring to God himself.  What is their significance, their truest meaning?  And how do they shed light on the reality of hope?  These two attitudes: perseverance and consolation.

Perseverance can be defined simply as patience: it is the ability to endure, to wear it over the shoulder, to carry on, to remain faithful even when the weight seems to become too great, unsupportable, and we are tempted to judge negatively and to abandon everyone.  On the other hand, consolation is the grace to know how to grasp and to show in every situation, even in those that are most marked by disappointment and suffering, the presence and the compassionate action of God.  Now, Saint Paul reminds us that perseverance and consolation are offered to us in a particular way by the Scriptures (Rom 15:4), that is to say, the Bible.  In fact, the Word of God leads us to turn our gaze toward Jesus, to know him better and to share ourselves with Him, to resemble Him more and more.  The Word also reveals the fact that the Lord is truly the God of perseverance and consolation (Rom 15:5), who always remains faithful to his love for us, which is to say that he perseveres in love for us, he never grows tired of loving us!  He perseveres: he always loves us!  He cares for us, covering our wounds with the embrace of his goodness and his mercy; in other words, he consoles us.  He never tires, even of consoling us.

From this perspective, we also understand the initial affirmation offered by the Apostle: We who are the strong, have the duty to carry those who are sick and weak, without concerning ourselves with our own comforts (Rom 15:1).  This expression - we who are the strong - can seem to be a presumption, but in the logic of the gospel, we know that this is not the case; in fact, the opposite is true for our strength does not come from ourselves, but from the Lord.  Those who experience in their own lives the faithful love of God and his consolation are able, indeed they must remain close to their brothers and sisters who are weak and care for them in their weakness.  If we are close to the Lord, we will retain the strength to stay close to those who are weak, to those who are most in need and to console them and give them strength.  This is what it means.  We can do this without complacency, but acting simply as channels that pass on the gifts of the Lord; in this way, we truly can become sowers of hope.  This is what the Lord asks of us, to possess the strength and ability to console and to be sowers of hope.  Today, we must seek to sow hope, but this is not easy ...

The fruit of this style of life is not a community in which some are Series A - strong, while others, who are Series B are weak.  Instead, the fruit is, as Paul says: for all to have the same sentiments toward each other, following the example of Jesus Christ (Rom 15:5).  The Word of God feeds our hope which is translated concretely into sharing, into mutual service.  Even those who are strong sooner or later experience fragility and need the comfort of others; and vice versa, even in moments of weakness, we can always offer a smile or a helping hand to our brothers and sisters in need.  And such a community exists with one soul and one voice that gives glory to God (Rom 15:6).  But all of this is possible if we put Christ and his Word at the centre of everything that we do, for He is our strength, He is the one who gives us strength, who gives us patience, who gives us hope, who gives us consolation.  He is the strong son who takes care of every one of us: in fact, we all need to be cared for, carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and experience the reality of being enveloped in His tender and thoughtful gaze.

Dear friends, we can never thank God enough for the gift of his Word, which is present in the Scriptures.  There, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals himself as a God of perseverance and consolation.  That's where we become aware of our hope, which is not based on our own strength or capability, but on the support of God and on the faithfulness of his love, on the strength and consolation of God.  Thank you.

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages and His Holiness offered particular 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 England, Denmark, Norway and the United States of America. May this Lent be a time of grace-filled time of spiritual renewal, filled with the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace.

I also offer a special welcome to the participants in the Watershed” Conference on replenishing water values for a thirsty world, co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Argentinian Chapter of the Club of Rome. Today is World Water Day, instituted twenty-five years ago by the United Nations, while yesterday was the International Day of Forests. I am happy that this meeting is taking place, for it represents yet another stage in the joint commitment of various institutions to raising consciousness about the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone, mindful too of its cultural and religious significance. I especially encourage your efforts in the area of education, through programmes directed to children and young people. Thank you for all that you do and may God bless you!

At the conclusion of the General Audience, the Holy Father invited everyone in attendance to take advantage of this week's '24 Hours for the Lord':

I invite all communities to live the experience of 24 Hours for the Lord - from 24 to 25 Marchas an opportunity to rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation.   I hope that once again this year, this privileged moment of grace during the Lenten journey will be experienced in many churches throughout the world as an opportunity to experience the joyful meeting with the merciful Father who welcomes everyone and always forgives.
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