Pope Francis says "Faith deserves respect and honour to the very end: it has changed our lives, it has purified our minds, it has taught us the worship of God and the love of our neighbour." FULL TEXT
POPE FRANCIS at the GENERAL AUDIENCE
St Peter's Square - Wednesday, 4 May 2022
Catechesis on Old Age
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
On the path of these catecheses on old age, today we meet a biblical figure – and old man – named Eleazar, who lived at the time of the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. He is a wonderful character. His character gives us a testimony of the special relationship that exists between the fidelity of old age and the honour of faith. He’s a proud one, eh? I would like to speak precisely about the honour of faith, not only about faith’s consistency, proclamation, and resistance. The honour of faith periodically comes under pressure, even violent pressure, from the culture of the rulers, who seek to debase it by treating it as an archaeological find, or an old superstition, an anachronistic fetish, and so on.
The biblical story – we have heard a short passage, but it is good to read it all – tells of the episode of the Jews being forced by a king’s decree to eat meat sacrificed to idols. When it’s the turn of Eleazar, an elderly man highly respected by everyone, in his 90s; highly respected by everyone – an authority – the king’s officials advised him to resort to a pretence, that is, to pretend to eat the meat without actually doing so. Hypocrisy. Religious hypocrisy. There is so much! There is so much religious hypocrisy, clerical hypocrisy, there is so much. These people tell him, “Be a little bit of a hypocrite, no one will notice. In this way Eleazar would be saved, and – they said – in the name of friendship he would accept their gesture of compassion and affection. A hypocritical way out. After all, they insisted, it was a small gesture, pretending to eat but not eating, an insignificant gesture.
It is a little thing, but Eleazar’s calm and firm response is based on an argument that strikes us. The central point is this: dishonouring the faith in old age, in order to gain a handful of days, cannot be compared with the legacy it must leave to the young, for entire generations to come. But well-done Eleazar! An old man who has lived in the coherence of his faith for a whole lifetime, and who now adapts himself to feigning repudiation of it, condemns the new generation to thinking that the whole faith has been a sham, an outer covering that can be abandoned, imagining that it can be preserved interiorly. And it is not so, says Eleazar. Such behaviour does not honour faith, not even before God. And the effect of this external trivialization will be devastating for the inner life of young people. But the consistency of this man who considers the young! He considers his future legacy, he thinks of his people.
It is precisely old age – and this is beautiful for all you old people, isn’t it! – that appears here as the decisive place, the irreplaceable place for this testimony. An elderly person who, because of his vulnerability, accepts that the practice of the faith is irrelevant, would make young people believe that faith has no real relationship with life. It would appear to them, from the outset, as a set of behaviours which, if necessary, can be faked or concealed, because none of them is particularly important for life.
The ancient heterodox “gnosis,” which was a very powerful and very seductive trap for early Christianity, theorised precisely about this, this is an old thing: that faith is a spirituality, not a practice; a strength of the mind, not a form of life. Faithfulness and the honour of faith, according to this heresy, have nothing to do with the behaviours of life, the institutions of the community, the symbols of the body. Nothing to do with it. The seduction of this perspective is strong, because it interprets, in its own way, an indisputable truth: that faith can never be reduced to a set of dietary rules or social practices. Faith is something else. The trouble is that the Gnostic radicalisation of this truth nullifies the realism of the Christian faith, because the Christian faith is realistic. The Christian faith is not just saying the creed: it is thinking about the Creed and understanding the Creed and doing the Creed. Working with our hands. Instead, this gnostic proposal pretends, but [imagines] that the important thing is that you have an interior spirituality, and then you can do whatever you please. And this is not Christian. It is the first heresy of the gnostics, which is very fashionable at the moment, in so many centres of spirituality and so on. It makes void the witness of this people, which shows the concrete signs of God in the life of the community and resists the perversions of the mind through the gestures of the body.
The gnostic temptation, which is one of the – let us use the word – heresies, one of the religious deviations of this time; the gnostic temptation remains ever present. In many trends in our society and culture, the practice of faith suffers from a negative portrayal, sometimes in the form of cultural irony, sometimes with covert marginalization. The practice of faith for these gnostics, who were already around at the time of Jesus, is regarded as a useless and even harmful external, as an antiquated residue, as a disguised superstition. In short, something for old men. The pressure that this indiscriminate criticism exerts on the younger generations is strong. Of course, we know that the practice of faith can become a soulless external practice. This is the other danger, the opposite, isn’t it? And it’s true, isn’t it? But in itself it’s not so. Perhaps it is for us older people – and there are still some here – to give faith back its honour, to make it coherent, which is the witness of Eleazar: consistency to the very end. The practice of faith is not the symbol of our weakness, no, but rather the sign of its strength. We are no longer youngsters. We were not kidding around when we set out on the Lord’s path!
Faith deserves respect and honour to the very end: it has changed our lives, it has purified our minds, it has taught us the worship of God and the love of our neighbour. It is a blessing for all! But the faith as a whole, not just a part of it. Like Eleazar, we will not barter our faith for a handful of quiet days. We will show, in all humility and firmness, precisely in our old age, that believing is not something “for the old.” No. It’s a matter of life. Believing in the Holy Spirit, who makes all things new, and He will gladly help us.
Dear elderly brothers and sisters – not to say old, we are in the same group – please look at the young people: they are watching us. They are watching us. Don't forget that. I am reminded of that wonderful post-war film: The Children Are Watching Us. We can say the same thing with young people: young people are watching us and our consistency can open up a beautiful path of life for them. Hypocrisy, on the other hand, will do so much harm. Let us pray for one another. May God bless all of us old people. Thank you.
I extend a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the SIMBA Association of Taranto, and the Voices and White Hands Choir of Carpi.
Finally, as usual, my thoughts go to the elderly, the sick, the young and the newlyweds. At the beginning of this Marian month, I invite everyone to venerate the Mother of Jesus with filial trust: look to her as a teacher of prayer and spiritual life.
Then I will greet you. Unfortunately I will not be able to pass between you due to knee disease. And for that I apologize for having to say hello from seated, but it is a thing of the moment. We hope it passes soon and I can come to you later in other hearings.
My blessing to all.
Je salue cordialment les pèlerins de langue française, particulièrement l'Association la “Voie Romaine”, the Communauté de l'Arche et les jeunes venus de France.
Frères et sœurs, puissions-nous, par notre prière et notre proximité, être un réconfort et un soutien pour les personnes âgées, particulièrement dans les moments où le poids de l'âge et les souffrances les exposent à l'Abbandon de la foi.
Que Dieu vous bénisse!
[ I cordially greet the French-speaking pilgrims, in particular the Via Romana Association, the Community of the Ark and the young people who have come from France. Brothers and sisters, with our prayers and closeness we can be a comfort and support for the elderly, especially in times when the weight of age and suffering expose them to abandonment of the faith. God bless you!]
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today's Audience, especially those from England, Norway, Canada and the United States of America. I also welcome the members of the various ecumenical and interreligious groups present. In the joy of the Risen Christ I invoke upon you and your families the loving mercy of God our Father. May the Lord bless you!
Liebe Brüder und Schwestern deutscher Sprache, der Monat Mai ist der Gottesmutter Maria geweiht, die auch unsere Mutter ist. Ich lade euch ein, sie vertrauensvoll um ihre Fürsprache zu bitten: in euren persönlichen Anliegen, in den Anliegen der Kirche und für den Frieden in der Welt.
[ Dear German-speaking brothers and sisters, the month of May is dedicated to the Mother of God, who is also our Mother. I invite you to invoke her intercession for your personal intentions, for the intentions of the Church and for peace in the world. ]
I cordially greet los peregrinos de lengua española. Veo allí mexicanos, chilenos, argentinos, muchos peregrinos de lengua española, españoles y colombianos. Pidamos al Espíritu Santo que nos ayude a ser testigos fieles y valientes de Cristo, y sobre todo a ser coherentes when las dificultades ponen a prueba nuestra fe. Que Dios los bendiga. Muchas gracias.
Queridos fiéis de língua portuguesa, saúdo-vos a todos e de modo particular aos alunos and professores do Colégio Horizonte, do Porto. Começamos há pouco or mês de maio, which traditionally chama or povo cristão a multiplicar os gestos diários de veneração à Virgem Maria. O segredo da paz e coragem of her was this certainty: "a Deus, nada é impossível". Precisamos de aprender isto com a Mãe de Deus; mostremo-nos agradecidos, rezando or terço todos os dias. Que Deus vos abençoe and Nossa Senhora vos proteja!
[ Dear Portuguese-speaking faithful, I greet you all, especially the students and professors of the Horizonte College in Porto. We have just started the month of May, which traditionally calls the Christian people to multiply their daily gestures of veneration to the Virgin Mary. The secret of his peace and her courage was this certainty: "nothing is impossible for God". We need to learn this with the Mother of God; let us be grateful by praying the rosary every day. God bless you and Our Lady protect you. ]
أُحَيِّي المُؤمِنِينَ الناطِقِينَ باللغَةِ العَرَبِيَّة. الإيْمانُ غَيَّرَ حَياتَنا ، وَطَهَّرَ عُقُولَنا ، وَعَلَّمَنا السُّجُودَ لله وَمَحَبَّةَ القَرِيب. إِنَّهُ بَرَكَةٌ لِلْجَمِيعِ وَيَسْتَحِقُّ الاحْتِرامَ والكَرامَة. باركَكُم الرَّبُّ جَميعًا وحَماكُم دائِمًا مِن كُلِّ شَرّ!
[ I greet the Arabic-speaking faithful. Faith has changed our lives, it has purified our minds, it has taught us the worship of God and love of neighbor. It is a blessing to everyone and deserves respect and honor. The Lord bless you all and always protect you from all evil! ]
Pozdrawiam serdecznie wszystkich Polaków. Wczoraj obchodziliście uroczystość Najświętszej Maryi Panny Królowej Polski. Na Jasnej Górze wspominaliście błogosławionego kard. Wyszyńskiego, który uczył was ufać Maryi w najtrudniejszych chwilach waszych dziejów. Idąc za jego przykładem z ufnością zawierzajcie Matce Bożej losy waszej Ojczyzny i pokój w Europie. Z serca wam błogosławię.
[ I cordially greet all the Poles. Yesterday you celebrated the solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland. To Jasna Góra you remembered Blessed Cardinal Wyszyński, who taught you to trust in Mary in the most difficult moments of your history. Following his example, entrust the fate of your homeland and peace in Europe to the Blessed Virgin. I bless you from my heart. ]