Close to the Weak

Author: Pope Francis

Close to the Weak

Pope Francis

At the General Audience the Pope speaks of Christian steadfastness and encouragement

Those who "experience God’s faithful love and his encouragement” have a duty “to be close to their weakest brothers and sisters, and take on their frailties”, and to do so without patting themselves on the back. Pope Francis shared this message at the General Audience on Wednesday, 22 March [2017], with pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square. Continuing his catechesis on Christian hope, the Pontiff spoke in particular of two Christian attitudes: steadfastness and encouragement. The following is a translation of the Pope’s remarks, which he delivered in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Good morning!

For the past few weeks, the Apostle Paul has been helping us to better understand what Christian hope consists in. And we have said that it is not a form of optimism; it is something else. And the Apostle helps us to understand this. He does so today by juxtaposing it against two attitudes ever important for our life and our experience of faith: “steadfastness” and “encouragement” (Rom 15:4-5). In the passage of the Letter to the Romans that we have just heard, the terms are stated twice: first in reference to Scripture and then to God himself. What is their deepest, truest significance? And in what way do they shed light on the reality of hope? These two attitudes: steadfastness and encouragement.

We might define steadfastness as patience: it is the capacity to bear with, to carry something (sopportare) upon the shoulders, to “carry-upon” (sop-portare), to remain faithful, even when the burden seems to be too great, unbearable, and wc are tempted to judge negatively and to abandon everything and everyone. Encouragement, rather, is the grace to be able to accept and demonstrate in every situation, even in those most marked by disappointment and suffering, the presence and compassionate action of God. Now, Saint Paul reminds us that steadfastness and encouragement are passed on to us in a particular way through Scripture (v. 4), that is, through the Bible. In fact, the Word of God, first and foremost, leads us to turn our gaze to Jesus, to know him better and to conform to him, to resemble him ever better. Secondly, the Word shows us that the Lord is truly “the God of steadfastness and encouragement” (v. 5), who remains ever faithful to his love for us, that is: he is steadfast in love for us; he never tires of loving us! He is steadfast: he always loves us! And he cares for us, covering our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy. That is, he encourages us. He never tires of encouraging us.

In this perspective, the Apostle’s initial affirmation is also understood: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves (v. 1). This expression, “we who are strong”, might seem presumptuous, but in the logic of the Gospel we know that it is not so, but rather, it is exactly the opposite, because our strength comes not from us, but from the Lord. Those who experience in their own life God’s faithful love and his encouragement are able to, or rather have to be, close to their weakest brothers and sisters, and take on their frailties. If we are close to the Lord, we will have that strength to be close to the weakest, to the neediest, and to encourage them and give them strength. This is what it means. We can do this without patting ourselves on the back, but simply acting as a “channel” which passes on the Lord’s gifts, and thereby become a concrete “sower” of hope. And this is what the Lord asks of us, with that strength and that capacity to encourage, and to be sowers of hope. And today, it is necessary to sow hope, but it is not easy.

The fruit of this way of life is not a community in which some are “A league”, that is, strong, and others are “B league”, that is, weak. But rather, as Paul says, the fruit is “to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (v. 5). The Word of God nourishes a hope that is translated concretely in sharing, in mutual service. Because even one who is “strong” sooner or later experiences frailty and needs the comfort of others; and vice versa, in weakness one can always offer a smile or a hand to a brother or sister in difficulty. It is such a community that “together with one soul and voice may glorify God” (cf. v. 6). But all this is possible if Christ and his Word are placed at the centre, because He is the strong one, He is the one who gives us strength, who gives us patience, who gives us hope, who gives us encouragement. He is the “strong brother”, who takes care of each one of us: indeed, we all need to be taken upon the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and to feel enveloped in his tender and caring gaze.

Dear friends, we will never thank God enough for the gift of his Word, which is made present in Scripture. It is there that the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed as “the God of steadfastness and encouragement”. And it is there that we become aware that our hope is not based on our abilities and strengths, but rather on God’s support and on the fidelity of his love, that is, on God’s strength and encouragement. Thank you.

L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 March 2017, page 3

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