Before starting the catechesis at today’s general audience, Pope Francis was driven around a sun-splashed St. Peter’s Square for just over 10 minutes, seated in a swivel chair in the white, open jeep. Remaining seated due to his painful knee, for which he is being treated, he waved nonstop to the pilgrims and occasionally received an infant or toddler whom he hugged and kissed. (vatican photos)

Arriving at the raised platform, the Holy Father began the catechesis, saying, “In our continuing catechesis on the meaning and value of old age in the light of God’s word, we now consider the example of Eleazar, as found in the Second Book of Maccabees.

“At a time of violent persecution, the Jewish people were being forced under pain of death to eat meat sacrificed to idols. As an elderly and respected member of the community, Eleazar was told that if he merely pretended to do so, his life would be spared. Rather than betray his faith in God, Eleazar preferred death. His witness to the truth and dignity of the faith, even at the cost of his life, thus served as a powerful example to the young. Eleazar showed that faith is not an abstract idea or a set of rules to be followed, but a commitment of one’s entire being to God.”

“The central point is this,” Francis explained. “Dishonoring the faith in old age, in order to gain a handful of days, cannot be compared with the legacy it must leave to the young, for entire generations to come. But well-done Eleazar! An old man who has lived in the coherence of his faith for a whole lifetime, and who now adapts himself to feigning repudiation of it, condemns the new generation to thinking that the whole faith has been a sham, an outer covering that can be abandoned, imagining that it can be preserved interiorly!”

Pope Francis stressed that “the effect of such an external trivialization would be devastating for the inner life of young people. But the consistency of this man who considers the young! He considers his future legacy, he thinks of his people.”

Francis emphasized that, “in our own day, the witness of the elderly to a clear and consistent practice of the faith can counter the powerful cultural forces that would dismiss the faith as outmoded or irrelevant. By showing the dignity of a life of faith expressed in community worship and acts of charity, the elderly can help to strengthen the fabric of society and offer the young a model of integrity and fidelity valid for every age.”

Pope Francis, who is 85, said, “the practice of faith is not the symbol of our weakness, no, but rather the sign of its strength. We are no longer youngsters. We were not kidding around when we set out on the Lord’s path!”

“Dear elderly brothers and sisters, not to say old,” the Pope concluded, “we are in the same group. Please look at the young people: they are watching us. …. Young people are watching us and our consistency can open up a beautiful path of life for them. Hypocrisy, on the other hand, will do so much harm. Let us pray for one another. May God bless all of us old people. Thank you.”