In today’s weekly audience, Pope Francis signaled that he is going to spend some time in the coming weeks talking about authentic Christian hope. “Following our celebration of the seasons of Advent and Christmas, with their message of the fulfilment of God’s promises in the coming of the Saviour, we now continue our catechesis on Christian hope.”
Today he drew a stark contrast between authentic Christian hope and the “false hopes and worldly idols” that we find tempting and distracting us from the cultures within which we find ourselves. These things are recognizable, things that call to us as seemingly worthy goals or solutions to the problems we face, things like “money, power or physical beauty,” Pope Francis said.
This is not the first time that Pope Francis has drawn such a distinction. One thinks of his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, in which hope plays such a prominent role. In this exhortation, Pope Francis named our culture of consumerism as instrumental in peddling false hopes:
Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts (no. 60).
In contrast with the worldly hope that affirms individualism and isolation, authentic Christian hope encourages relationship and interdependence, and this hope that finds its source in Christ Jesus is a hope that is inextricably tied to God’s mercy. As the Body of Christ, which is the church, we are called to be people of this hope:
Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel (no. 114).
Returning to todays’s audience, the Holy Father goes on to explain that,
Hope in God demands strength and perseverance, whereas these false gods promise an easy security, a future we can control. The Psalmist denounces this kind of idolatry, stating that those who put their trust in images that are the work of human hands, will come to be like them: spiritually blind, deaf and insensible. God is always greater than we are, and we, created in his image and likeness, cannot reduce him to our size or fabricate other gods, made in our own image and tailored to our desires. By trusting in God’s word and hoping in his promises, we become more and more like him, sharing in his life and rejoicing in his provident care, revealed in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus his Son.
Hope is not something fleeting like the empty promises offered to us by the consumer-driven logic of our cultures or by the all-too-commonly divisive rhetoric of contemporary political discourse. True hope comes from faith in Christ, who is the source of our hope, the one who is both the deliverer of the message and the promise fulfilled. Faith in Christ as the source of our hope is a commitment to see the world as it really is, not as it is malevolently sold to us to promote the sale of goods and the division of peoples, but to see the opportunity for the building of relationship and the revelation of God’s mercy in all our encounters. It is the belief that neither death nor our death-driven culture has the last word, but that in Christ God has spoken a new word, a new promise. As Pope Francis reminds us in The Joy of the Gospel, ” It is the Risen Christ who tells us, with a power that fills us with confidence and unshakeable hope: ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Rev 21:5).”