VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis called on Christians this morning to put on the helmet of the hope of salvation.
During his weekly general audience today, he turned to St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians in his continuing series on Christian hope.
Addressing faithful and pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, the pope explained that St. Paul penned his letter to confirm this young Christian community in its faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. But he also sought to convey all of the effects and consequences which this unique and decisive event has for the story and life of every believer.
The Thessalonian’s difficulty, the pope explained, “was not so much that of acknowledging the Resurrection of Jesus — everyone believed in it — but of believing in the resurrection of the dead.”
“Yes, Jesus is risen, but the difficulty was believing that the dead will rise,” Pope Francis said.
“In this sense, this letter is more relevant that ever,” he said. “Each time we are faced with our own death, or that of a loved one, we feel that our faith is put to the test. All of our doubts emerge, all of our weakness, and we wonder: ‘But will there really be life after death…? Will I see and embrace again the people I have loved …?’”
“Just a few days ago,” Pope Francis told the crowd, “a woman asked me this question during an audience, showing doubt: ‘Will I meet my loved ones again?’”
“In the current environment,” he continued, “we too need to return to the root and foundation of our faith, so as to become aware of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and what our death means. We are all somewhat afraid about the uncertainty of death. An old man comes to mind, a good elderly man who said: ‘I am not afraid of death. I am a little afraid to see it come.’ This is what he feared.”
Paul tells the Thessalonians to wear the hope of salvation like a helmet (1 Thess 5:8), in the knowledge that, because Christ is risen, the object of our hope is certain.
“It is a helmet. This is what Christian hope is,” he said.
We often think of hope “in reference to something something beautiful that we want, but that can or cannot be attained. We hope that it happens; it is like a wish. We say, for example: ‘I hope there is good weather tomorrow’; but we know that the next day there may be bad weather instead,” he explained.
This is not Christian hope, he said. Christian hope “is the expectation of something that has already been accomplished; there is a door there, and I hope to arrive at the door. What must I do? Walk towards the door! I am sure that I will arrive at the door. Such is Christian hope: to be sure that I am journeying to something that is, not what I want it to be.”
“Even our resurrection, and that of the faithful departed, then, is not something which may or may not happen; rather, it is a certain reality, as it is rooted in the event of the Resurrection of Christ,” Pope Francis said.
“To hope, therefore, means learning to live in expectation. Learning to live in expectation and to find life. When a woman realizes that she is pregnant, each day she learns to live in the expectation of seeing the gaze of her baby who will come,” he added.
“So also, we must learn from these human expectations to live in expectation of gazing at the Lord, of meeting the Lord.”
The pope acknowledged that living in expectation is not easy, but with a humble heart and the virtue of hope we receive in baptism, it can be learned. “Hope means and implies a humble heart, a poor heart. Only one who is poor knows how to wait. One who is already full of himself and his possessions, isn’t able to place his trust in anyone other than himself.”
St. Paul goes on: “He [Jesus] died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:10). These words are always a reason for great comfort and peace. Also for our loved ones who have gone before us, we are therefore called to pray that they might live in Christ and be in full communion with us,” Pope Francis said.
“Something that I find very touching is an expression of St. Paul, also addressed to the Thessalonians. It fills me with the surety of hope. He says: ‘And so we shall always be with the Lord’ (1 Thess. 4:17). It is beautiful: everything passes away but, after death, we shall always be with the Lord,” Pope Francis said. “This is the total certainty of hope, the same [hope] that, long ago, made Job exclaim: ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives […] whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold’ (Job 19:25,27).”
Pope Francis concluded: “And so we shall always be with the Lord. Do you believe this?” he asked the faithful and pilgrims. “I am asking you: do you believe this? To strengthen it a bit, I invite you to say it three times with me: And so we shall always be with the Lord. And there, with the Lord, we shall meet again.”