by Elise Harris
On Wednesday Pope Francis issued strong words against worshipping idols, cautioning against the false hope that beauty, wealth and power can give, but which lead a person to trust in empty promises rather than in the Lord.
“It’s terrible, it hurts the soul what I heard one time years ago in the diocese of Buenos Aires: a woman, a good woman, very, very beautiful and who bragged about her beauty, commented as if it were natural: ‘Yeah, I had to have an abortion because my figure is so important.’”
Attitudes like this, he said “are the idols, and they take you on the wrong path and they don’t bring you happiness.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall during his weekly general audience, continuing his catechesis on Christian hope. While he has so far focused on the meaning and source of hope, in today’s audience he highlighted several types of false hope that can endanger one’s relationship with God.
In his address, the Pope said hope is “a primary need for man: to hope in the future, to believe in life, the so-called ‘thinking positive.’”
However, he cautioned that this hope must be rooted in “what can actually help in living and giving meaning to our existence,” rather than false illusions which in the end are both useless and meaningless.
Faith essentially means entrusting oneself to God, he said, but noted that when life’s difficulties come along, “man experiences the fragility of that trust and feels the need of various certainties, tangible, concrete securities.”
When faced with these difficulties, we are often tempted to seek consolation in the ephemeral, “which seems to fill the emptiness of solitude and alleviate the fatigue of believing,” he said, noting that first places we tend to look for security are in wealth, power, worldliness and false ideologies.
“At times we look for (security) in a god that can bend to our requests and magically intervene to change reality and make like we want; an idol, indeed, that in itself can do nothing, impotent and deceitful,” he added.
Francis then recounted in off-the-cuff comments how while still in Buenos Aires, he would frequently walk by a park where “seers” would sit at small tables and tell people their fortunes for a fee.
The story, he said, “always the same: there’s a woman in your life, a man will come,” or “everything will go well.” But the people paid anyway, and “this gives you security. A security of – excuse the word – stupidity.”
“This is an idol, and we are so attached,” he said, observing that “the hope of gratuity” that Jesus Christ gives is sadly something “we don’t trust as much.”
Pope Francis pointed out that idols aren’t always made of metal or a statue, but also consist of “those built in our minds,” when we try to transform what is limited into something absolute or when we reduce God to our own plans and ideas of the divine.
In these cases, “an, the image of God, creates a god in his own image, and is an unsuccessful image: it doesn’t feel, doesn’t act and above all doesn’t speak. But we are happier going to idols than to the Lord.”
However, hope in the Lord who both created the world and guides our lives blatantly contradicts the trust we place “in mute idols.”
Ideologies of wealth, power and success, “with their illusion of eternity and omnipotence,” and values such as physical beauty and health are not bad in themselves, but “when they become idols to which we sacrifice everything, they are all realities that confuse the mind and the heart.”
“Instead of favoring life, they bring death,” Francis said, noting that if we place our hope in idols we eventually become like them: “empty images with hands that can’t touch, feet that can’t walk, mouths that can’t speak… incapable of helping, changing things, smiling, giving of yourself and loving.”
This risk is also present in the men and women of the Church “when we make ourselves worldly,” he said, adding that we need to remain in the world, but must always guard against its illusions.
Francis closed his address saying the “marvelous reality” of hope is that by trusting in the Lord, we become like him and “his blessing transforms us into his children, who share in his life.”
“Hope in God makes us enter, so to say, into the range of his memory, his memory that blesses us and saves us,” he said.
After the audience, Pope Francis greeted pilgrims from various countries around the world, and gave a word of caution against “tricksters” who try to sell tickets to the weekly gather, which is always free of cost.
Whether it’s in St. Peter’s Square or Paul VI Hall, the audience is always free and an opportunity to “to talk to the Pope, to visit the Pope,” he said, cautioning attendees that if someone tells them they have to pay to get in, “they are ripping you off.”
“Be aware! This is free. Here you come without paying, because this is everyone’s house and whoever tells you to pay – this person is a delinquent. You don’t do this,” he said, and gave his blessing.