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POPE’S MESSAGE | Success, well-being at any cost will deceive, disappoint

VATICAN CITY — Watch out for the tempting promises and easy rewards of false gods and idols because they always lead to confusion, disappointment and even death, Pope Francis said.

"We are tempted to seek even fleeting comfort, which seems to fill the emptiness of solitude and ease the exertion of believing" in God, especially in times of trouble, he said Jan. 11 at his weekly general audience.

But the hope and security that come from God "never ever disappoint," he said. "Idols always let you down" since they are figments of the imagination and not "alive and real" like God.

The pope continued his series of talks on Christian hope by reflecting on Psalm 115, which warns of the false hopes and securities offered by man-made idols.

While the psalmist speaks of statues made of "silver and gold," the pope said idols also include anything people hold up as the ultimate answer to their happiness and security such as money, power, success and false ideologies — all of which carry "illusions of eternity and omnipotence."

Even things such as physical beauty and health become idols when a person is willing "to sacrifice everything" in order to obtain or maintain them, he said.

"They are all things that confuse the heart and mind and instead of promoting life, they lead to death," he said. As an example of this, he cited a woman he once heard speaking very nonchalantly about procuring an abortion because the pregnancy would have ruined her figure.

"These are idols and they take you down the wrong path. They do not give you happiness," he said.

"We buy false hope," which shows how much people cling to it, he said. True hope, the kind Jesus brought freely by "giving His life for us, that kind we don't trust in so much sometimes."

Faith in God takes strength and perseverance, and when bad things happen in life, he said, sometimes that faith wavers and people feel they need a different kind of certainty, something easier or more "tangible and concrete."

"Sometimes we seek a god that can bend to our wishes and magically intervene to change reality and make it be the way we want," he said. This is what people love and seek — a god "that looks like us, understandable, predictable," even though "it can do nothing — impotent and deceitful."

The psalmist says that those who worship or trust in things that cannot speak, see, feel, move or hear, will become like them with nothing to say, "incapable of helping, changing things, smiling, giving oneself and incapable of loving."

"Even we, people of the Church, run this risk" of becoming worldly, he said. "We need to be in the world, but defend ourselves from the illusions" and idols of the world.

But with perseverance and trust and hope in the Lord, they become more and more like Him, sharing in His life and blessings, "transforming us into his children."

"In this God, we have hope. This is the God that is not an idol, that never disappoints," and always remembers His people even during their most difficult trials, he said. 

Pope asks for warm hearts to help homeless deal with the cold

VATICAN CITY — Looking out over St. Peter's Square where icicles hung from usually bubbling fountains, Pope Francis prayed for the homeless.

The freeze in Rome, subzero temperatures in large parts of Europe and heavy snowfalls in many areas in early January forced the closure of roads and schools and were blamed for at least a dozen deaths.

"In these very cold days, I think and I invite you to think of the people who live on the streets, struck by the cold and, many times, by indifference," Pope Francis told people in St. Peter's Square Jan. 8.

"Unfortunately, some have not survived," the pope told people who had bundled up against the midday chill to recite the Angelus prayer with him. "Let us pray for them and ask the Lord to warm our hearts so that we can help them."

Because of the cold weather, the papal charities office instituted a 24-hour open-door policy at the shelters it runs with the Missionaries of Charity for homeless men and women. Usually the shelters open in the evening and close in the morning.

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service 

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