Here you will find the address Pope Francis gave to his general audience on Wednesday, in practical translation by Vatican Radio. Deviations and additions of the Pope are incorporated. The official German version will soon be published on the Vatican’s website.
Dear brothers and sisters, happy day!
Today, as we reflect on the times, we come to Ecclesiastes, another gem of the Bible. On first reading, this short book surprises with its famous quote: “Everything is a breath of wind,” mist, smoke, emptiness. It is surprising to find in the Bible such words that question the meaning of our existence. Indeed, Cohill’s constant oscillation between meaning and insensibility is the ironic depiction of a knowledge of life separated from a passion for the justice guaranteed by God’s judgment. The end of the book indicates the exit from the experience: “Fear God and listen to His commandments! This alone is necessary for every man” (12:13). Here is the advice to solve this problem.
In the face of a reality that, at certain times, seems to confront us with opposites who all share the same fate—not to end in failure—indifference can seem like the only antidote to agonizing disappointment. Then the following questions arise: Have our efforts changed the world? Can someone explain the difference between what is fair and what is unfair? It all seems illogical, so why bother trying?
It’s a type of pessimism that can happen at any stage of life, but there’s no doubt that old age makes disappointment almost inevitable. Thus, the resistance of old age to the depressing effect of this disappointment is paramount: if the old, who have seen everything, retain their passion for justice, then there is hope for love and faith also. And for today’s world, living through this crisis has become crucial. It is a useful crisis, because a culture that claims to be able to measure and manipulate everything also leads to a collective frustration of meaning, love, and goodness.
This frustration deprives us of the will to act. The supposed “truth” that records only the world also records its indifference to opposites, leaving it to the flow of time and the fate of nothingness without salvation. In this form, which pretends to be scientific but is also highly insensitive and highly immoral, the modern pursuit of truth tends to abandon its passion for justice altogether. No one believed in their destiny, in their promise, their salvation.
For our modern culture, which wants to leave practically everything to know things, the emergence of this new ironic reason in which knowledge and irresponsibility work together is a major setback. Indeed, the knowledge that frees us from morals seems at first to be a source of freedom and energy, but soon becomes a paralysis of the soul.
By the paradox of Kohelt, he has already exposed this fatal temptation to the omnipotence of knowledge – the “delirium of absolute science” – which produces a will-deficit. The monks of the early Christian tradition recognized this disease of the soul, which discovers the arrogance of knowledge without faith and without morals, the illusion of truth without justice. They referred to it asAkidiaA affliction we all face, including the elderly. But this does not mean only laziness and depression. Rather, it is a surrender to a world in which there is no passion for justice and consistent action.
This lack of meaning, this lack of motivation, which leads people to reject all moral responsibility and to indulge in the good, is no harm. Not only does it take away the desire for good from any power, but it also opens the door wide to the aggressiveness of the forces of evil. What is meant are the powers of reason which have become cynical through excessive ideology. In fact, with all of our progress and prosperity, we have become an “exhausted society”.
Think about it: We’re a fatigue society. We must produce public welfare and overlook a scientifically selective healthcare market. We must build a wall that protects for peace, and we see more and more brutal wars against defenseless people. Science is advancing of course, and that’s a good thing. But the wisdom of life is something else entirely, and it seems to be lacking more and more.
And in the end, this unloved and irresponsible mind also steals the true knowledge of meaning and energy. It is no coincidence that this is the age of fake news, mass myths, and pseudoscientific facts. It’s a strange thing in this culture of knowledge: in an age when one thinks one knows everything, so many acts of witchcraft have proliferated – the cultured magic that makes one live a superficial life. You try to get to the core of things, but then you go down the path of superstition that ends with belief in witches…
Old age can learn from the cynical wisdom of Kohelt the art of revealing the illusion hidden in the delusion of a mental truth that lacks a penchant for justice. Old people, rich in wisdom and humour, do so much good to young people! They save her from the temptation of sad worldly knowledge that lacks the wisdom of life. And they lead them to Jesus’ promise: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). This is what we need so much: do not resort to rootless idealism – not to the magic of life!
(Vatican News – SKR/PR)