Do not sugarcoat your witness of the Gospel, but let the truth be made manifest even through your weakness, Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday.
“We can ask ourselves: are we capable of preserving the tenor of this relationship of Jesus with the disciples, according to that style of his that is so open, so frank, so direct, so humanly real?” the pope said on June 22. “How is our relationship with Jesus? Is it like that, like him with his disciples?”
“Are we not, instead, very often tempted to enclose the testimony of the Gospel in the cocoon of a ‘sugary’ revelation, to which is added our own circumstantial veneration?” he continued. “This attitude, which seems like respect, actually distances us from the real Jesus, and even becomes the occasion for a very abstract, very self-referential, very worldly walk of faith.”
Pope Francis said Jesus is present to us even in our old age and infirmity, as our dependency on others grows.
“Jesus is the Word of God made man, and he acts as man, he speaks to us as man, God-man. With this tenderness, with this friendship, with this closeness. Jesus is not like that sugary image in those little pictures, no: Jesus is at our side, he is close to us,” he said.
Continuing a series of lessons on old age, Francis reflected during the general audience on Jesus’ “moving dialogue” with Peter at the end of the Gospel of John.
The conversation, in which Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, reflects “a relationship in truth,” he said.
He recalled Jesus’ words to St. Peter, that “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
The pope encouraged the elderly to embrace their weaknesses and their ill health, rather than fight against it.
“Tell me about having to go in a wheelchair, eh,” he said. Pope Francis has been using a cane and wheelchair in recent weeks due to an inflamed ligament in his knee.
“But that’s how it is, that’s how life is: with old age you get all these diseases and we have to accept them as they come, don’t we,” he remarked.
“We don’t have the strength of the young,” the pope continued. “And your witness, too, Jesus says, will go along with this weakness. You are to give witness to Jesus even in weakness, in sickness and death.”
Pope Francis recalled a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who said, “Just as in life, even in death we must bear witness as disciples of Jesus.”
Even at the end of life we must continue to be disciples of Christ, he urged, noting that St. John the Evangelist, in the Gospel, explains that Jesus is alluding to the witness of martyrdom.
“But we can well understand more generally the meaning of this admonition: your pursuit [of Jesus] will have to learn to be taught and shaped by your frailty, your helplessness, your dependence on others, even in dressing, in walking,” he said.
Jesus, the pope said, continues to say, “you, ‘follow me.’”
Catholics should reflect, he said, on how to “remain faithful to the lived pursuit, to the promised love, to the justice sought in the time of our capacity for initiative, in the time of fragility, in the time of dependence, of leave-taking…”
“Following Jesus is important: always follow Jesus, on foot, running, slowly, in a wheelchair, but always follow him,” he urged.