Pope Francis continues his catechesis on the elderly at the Wednesday General Audience, and reminds those advanced in years that their witness of faith can fill the young with determination and courage.
At the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis focused his attention on the Biblical figure of Eleazar, as recounted in 2 Maccabees 6:18-31.
The 90-year-old man—extremely old at a time (c.170 BC) when life expectancy averaged around 40—was ordered by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes to eat pork, which was forbidden by Jewish Law.
The king’s subjects offered to let Eleazar eat another meat and pretend it was pork, thus saving his life through what they called an unimportant gesture.
Eleazar, however, refused to even consider breaking God’s law and give scandal to the young people looking on. He was therefore killed for disobeying the king.
Trading faith for a ‘fistful of days’
Pope Francis held up the honorable witness of Eleazar as an old man, and spoke about the relationship between “the faithfulness of old age and the honor of faith.”
“The honor of faith occasionally finds itself under pressure—sometimes violent—from the dominant culture, which seeks to weaken it by treating it as an archeological endeavor, old superstition, or out-of-date practice,” he said.
The Pope noted that Eleazar offered a powerful witness of faith in his explanation of why he refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
“Dishonoring the faith in old age, just to gain a handful of days, is incomparable with the heritage which we must leave to the young, to entire generations yet to come.”
Living the faith consistently
The Pope pointed out that the elderly Eleazar upheld the importance of consistency in the faith, even in old age.
The practice of the faith is too important for life to be set aside when it becomes inconvenient, he added.
“If an old person who, due to their vulnerability, were to accept to treat the practice of the faith as irrelevant would lead young people to believe that faith has no real relationship with life,” he said.
Seduction of gnosticism
Pope Francis went on to consider an ancient heresy—gnosticism—that still offers a seductive invitation to young people today.
Gnosticism, he said, considers faith only a spirituality, or force of mind, to hold on to, but which has no real connection with daily life.
“This mindset is extremely seductive, because it interprets—in its own way—an indisputable truth: that faith cannot be reduced to a set of dietary rules or social practices.”
He added that gnosticism turns the Christian faith into an ephemeral belief and empties it of true witness.
Yet, said Pope Francis, our Christian faith must always pass through the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Restoring honor to the faith
The Pope said modern societies belittle the practice of the faith through cultural irony, considering faith something for the old to practice.
The elderly, he concluded, have the important mission to “restore honor to the faith” because faith is a sign of strength and not of weakness.
“Faith deserves respect and honor. It has changed our lives, purified our minds, and taught us to adore God and love our neighbor. Faith is a blessing for everyone!”