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Pope Warns Of False Hope Offered By Idols

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Pope Warns Of False Hope Offered By Idols

At the General Audience held in the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday, 11 January, warning against the false hopes that idols offer, Pope Francis continued his series of catecheses on Christian hope, in light of Scripture. His reflection was inspired by Psalm 115. The following is
a translation of the Holy Father”€™s catechesis, which he gave in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning! In the month of December and in the first
part of January we celebrated the Season of Advent and then Christmas: a period
of the liturgical year that awakens hope in God”€™s people. Hope is a basic human
need: hope for the future, belief in life, so-called “€œpositive thinking”€. But it is important that this hope be placed in what really can help you to live and give meaning to our existence. This is why Scripture warns us against the false hopes that the world presents to us,
exposing their uselessness and demonstrating their foolishness. And it does so
in various ways, but especially by denouncing the falsehood of the idols in
which man is continually tempted to place his trust, making them the object of
his hope.
The prophets and scholars in particular insist on this, touching a nerve centre of the believer”€™s journey of faith. Because faith means trusting in God “€” those who have faith trust in God “€” but there”€™s a moment when, in meeting life”€™s difficulties, man experiences the
fragility of that trust and feels the need for various certainties “€” for
tangible, concrete assurances. I entrust myself to God, but the situation is
rather serious and I need a little more concrete reassurance. And there lies
the danger! And then we are tempted to seek even ephemeral consolations that
seem to fill the void of loneliness and alleviate the fatigue of believing. And
we think we can find them in the security that money can give, in alliances
with the powerful, in worldliness, in false ideologies. Sometimes we look for
them in a god that can bend to our requests and magically intervene to change
the situation and make it as we wish; an idol, indeed, that in itself can do
nothing, impotent and deceptive. But we like idols; we love them! Once, in
Buenos Aires, I had to go from one church to another, a thousand meters, more
or less. And I did, on foot. And between them there is a park, and in the park
there were little tables, but many, many, where fortune tellers were sitting.
It was full of people who were even waiting in line. You would give him your hand
and he”€™d begin, but the conversation was always the same: “€˜there is a woman in
your life; there is a darkness that comes, but everything will be fine …”€™.
And then, you paid. And this gives you security? It is the security of “€” let me
use the word “€” nonsense. Going to a seer or to a fortune teller who reads
cards: this is an idol! This is the idol, and when we are so attached to them:
we buy false hope. Whereas, in that gratuitous hope which Jesus Christ brought
us, freely giving his life for us, sometimes we fail to fully trust.

A Psalm full of wisdom depicts in a very suggestive way, the falsity of these idols that the world offers for our hope and on which men of all ages are tempted to rely. It is Psalm 115, which is
recited as follows: “€œTheir idols are silver and gold, / the
work of men”€™s hands. / They have mouths, but do not speak; / eyes, but do not
see. / They have ears, but do not hear; / noses, but do not smell. / They have
hands, but do not feel; / feet, but do not walk; / and they do not make a sound
in their throat. / Those who make them are like them; / so are all who trust in
them!”€ (vv. 4-8).

The psalmist presents to us, also a bit
ironically, the absolutely ephemeral character of these idols. And we must
understand that these are not merely figures made of metal or other materials
but are also those we build in our minds: when we trust in limited realities
that we transform into absolute values, or when we diminish God to fit our own
template and our ideas of divinity; a god that looks like us, is
understandable, predictable, just like the idols mentioned in the Psalm. Man,
the image of God, manufactures a god in his own image, and it is also a poorly
realized image. It does not hear, does not act, and above all, it cannot speak. But, we are happier to turn to idols than to turn to the Lord. Many times, we are happier with the ephemeral hope that this false idol gives us, than with the great and sure hope that the Lord
gives us. In contrast to the hope in a Lord of life who, through his Word created the world and leads our existence, [we turn to] dumb effigies. Ideologies with their claim to the absolute, wealth – and this is a great idol – power and success, vanity, with their illusion of eternity and omnipotence, values such as physical beauty and health: when they become idols to which everything is sacrificed, they are all things that confuse the mind and the heart, and
instead of supporting life, they lead to death.It is terrible to hear, and painful to the
soul: something that once, years ago, I heard in the Diocese of Buenos Aires. A
good woman – very beautiful – boasted about her beauty. She said, as if it were
natural: “€œYes, I had to have an abortion because my figure is very important”€.
These are the idols, and they lead you down the wrong path, and do not give you
happiness. The message of the Psalm is very clear: if you place hope in idols, you become like them: hollow images with hands that do not feel, feet that do not walk, mouths that cannot speak. You no longer have anything to say; you become unable to help, to change things, unable to smile, to give of yourself, incapable of love. And we, men of the Church, run this
risk when we “€œbecome mundanized”€. We need to abide in the world but defend
ourselves from the world”€™s illusions, which are these idols that I mentioned.
As the Psalm continues, we must trust and hope in God, and God will bestow the blessing. So says the Psalm: “€œO Israel, trust in the Lord …. O House of Aaron, put your trust in the Lord…. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord…. The Lord has been mindful of us; he will
bless us”€ (vv. 9, 10, 11, 12). The Lord always remembers. Even in the bad
times he remembers us. And this is our hope. And hope does not disappoint.
Never. Never. Idols always disappoint; they are make-believe; they are not
real. Here is the wonderful reality of hope: trusting in the Lord, we become
like him. His blessing transforms us into his children who share in
his life. Hope in God allows us to enter, so to speak, within the range of his
remembrance, of his memory that blesses us and saves us. And it is then that
[our] Hallelujah can burst forth in praise to the living and true God, who was
born for us of Mary; he died on the Cross and rose again in glory. And in this God we have hope, and this God – who is not an idol – never disappoints. 


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