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VATICAN CITY — Are you distressed and frightened? Pope Francis says he has the cure.
Beginning a new series on hope at today’s Wednesday audience, the pope said “we need it very much in these times which seem dark, and when at times we feel confused in the face of the evil and violence that surrounds us, in the face of the suffering of our brothers and sisters … and it seems the darkness will never end.”
But God the Father knows “what heals a distressed and frightened heart,” the pope said.
Turning to the Sacred Scriptures, and to God’s message to Israel when she was lonely and in exile, Pope Francis invited all those present “to allow the Lord to teach us what it means to hope.”
He said: “Whatever the wilderness in our lives may be — and each of us knows the wilderness he is journeying in —it will become a flourishing garden,” he said. Whereas human optimism may fail, he said, Christian hope “does not disappoint!”
Here below is an English translation of the Pope’s first catechesis on hope.
Today we begin a new series of catecheses on the topic of Christian hope. It is very important, because hope does not disappoint. Optimism disappoints, but hope does not! We need it very much, in these times which seem dark, and when at times we feel confused in the face of the evil and violence that surrounds us, in the face of the suffering of our brothers and sisters. We need hope! We also feel confused and somewhat discouraged, because we feel powerless, and it seems the darkness will never end.
But we shouldn’t let hope abandon us, since God with his love journeys with us. “I hope, because God is by my side”: we can all say this. Each us us can say: “I hope, I hope, because God is walking with me.” He is walking with me and leading me by the hand. God does not leave us alone. The Lord Jesus has conquered evil and opened to us the way of life.
And so, particularly in the season of Advent, which is a time of waiting, as we prepare to welcome once again the consoling mystery of the Incarnation and the light of Christmas, it is important to reflect on hope. Let us allow the Lord to teach us what it means to hope. Let us listen then to the words of Sacred Scripture, beginning with the prophet Isaiah, the great prophet of Advent, the great messenger of hope.
In the second part of his book, Isaiah turns to the people with an announcement of comfort:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (40:1-5).
God the Father comforts by raising up comforters, whom he asks to hearten the people, his children, by announcing that the tribulation is over, that suffering is over, and that sin has been forgiven. This is what heals a distressed and frightened heart. Hence the prophet asks to prepare the way of the Lord, by opening oneself to his gifts and salvation.
Comfort, for the people, begins with the possibility of walking on the way of God, on a new path, a path made right and passable, a way prepared in the desert, in order to be able to pass through and return to the homeland. For the people to whom the prophet was speaking were living through the tragedy of exile in Babylon, and now instead they hear that they will be able to return to their land, on a path made easy and wide, without valleys and mountains which make the journey difficult, a path made smooth in the desert. Preparing that path therefore means preparing for a journey of salvation and liberation from every obstacle.
The exile was a dramatic moment in the Israel’s history when the people had lost everything. The people had lost their homeland, their freedom, their dignity, and also trust in God. They felt abandoned and without hope. Here instead is the prophet’ appeal that reopens their hearts to faith.
The wilderness is a place where it is difficult to live, but now, precisely there, one can journey to return not only to one’s homeland, but to return to God, to return to hope and to a smile. When we are in darkness and difficulty, we lose our smile, and it is hope that teaches us to smile, to find the path that leads to God. One of the first things that happens when people distance themselves from God is that these people do not smile. They may be able to have a good laugh, one after another, a joke, a laugh … but their smile is missing! A smile gives hope: the smile that comes from the hope of finding God.
Life is often a wilderness. It is difficult to journey in life, but if we entrust ourselves to God, it can become nice and wide like a superhighway. We only need not to lose hope, we only need to continue to believe, always, despite everything.
When we find ourselves before a child, we might have many problems and difficulties, but a smile arises from within us, because we find ourselves standing before hope: a child is hope! And so we have to be able to see in life the path of hope that leads us to find God, God who became a Child for us. And he will make us smile, he will give us everything!
These words of Isaiah are used by John the Baptist in his preaching which invited conversion. He said: “A voice crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3). It is a voice that cries out where no one seems to be listening — but who can listen in the wilderness? — which cries out in the confusion due to the crisis of faith.
We cannot deny that the world today is in a crisis of faith. One says: “I believe in God, I am a Christian,” … “I belong to that religion…”. But your life far from being Christian; it is far from God! Religion, faith has fallen prey to a saying: “Do I believe?” — “Yes!”. But here we are dealing with returning to God, converting one’s heart to God and taking this road to find him. He is waiting for us.
This is the preaching of John the Baptist: Prepare. Prepare to meet this Child who will give us back our smile. When the Baptist announced the coming of the Jesus, it was as if the Israelites were still in exile, because they were still under Roman domination, which made them strangers in their own homeland, governed by occupying forces who decided their lives. But the true story was not that of the powerful, but rather the one made by God together with his little ones.
The true story — the one that shall remain in eternity — is the one God writes with his little ones: God with Mary, God with Jesus, God with Joseph, God with the little ones. We find the small and the simple ones around Jesus who is born: Zachariah and Elizabeth, who are elderly and marked by sterility; Mary, a young virgin betrothed to Joseph; the shepherds, who were scorned and didn’t count at all. They are the little ones, who are made great by their faith, the little ones who know how to continue to hope. Hope is the virtue of the little ones. The great ones, those who are satisfied, do not know how to hope. They don’t know what it is.
They are the little ones with God, with Jesus, who transform the wilderness of exile, of desperate loneliness, of suffering, into an open road to journey on to meet the glory of the Lord. And here we come to the point: let us allow hope to teach us. Let us confidently await the coming of the Lord, and whatever the wilderness in our lives may be — each of us knows the wilderness he is journeying in —it will become a flourishing garden. Hope does not disappoint!