ROME – Pope Francis on Sunday called on Christians to hang on to Jesus’ words instead of horoscopes and fortune tellers, and also said the Catholic Church is a boat threatened by storms that can only be saved from capsizing through faith in Christ.
The Gospel for August 13, taken from the book of Matthew, contains the well-known story of Jesus walking on water. It speaks of the apostles being in a boat in the lake of Galilea and Jesus coming to find them, walking on water. When the men get scared because they don’t recognize him, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”
One of the 12, Peter, asks Jesus to make him walk on water too, and he does, until doubt fills him and he begins to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
According to Pope Francis, this episode is a wonderful image of the Church’s reality at all times: “A boat that, along the way, also has winds against it and storms, threatening to overwhelm it.”
What saves the Church, the pontiff added, is not the courage and the qualities of those in it. The guarantee against shipwreck, Francis said, “is faith in Christ and in his word. We are safe on this boat despite our miseries and weaknesses, especially when we are kneeling and worshiping the Lord.”
“On this ship we are safe, despite our miseries and weaknesses, above all when we get on our knees and adore the Lord” as the disciples did. After Jesus calmed the storm, according to the Gospel, they went down on their knees and said: “Truly you are the Son of God!”
As he often does when he wants to make sure those in the square get the meaning of what he’s saying, he asked those gathered despite Rome’s summer heat, to repeat that phrase three times.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI recently used this image of the Church being a boat on the verge of capsizing. He did so for the July 15 funeral of his long-time friend, German Cardinal Joachim Meisner, which was spun by some as an attack on Francis. Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, called those who did so “stupid people.”
On Sunday, in his remarks before the weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said that everyone can be like Peter and have doubts on the word of Jesus, “which was like the stretched rope to cling to facing the hostile and turbulent waters.”
Yet, the pope continued, when “you do not cling to the word of the Lord, but consult the horoscopes and fortune tellers, you begin to sink.”
Francis used similar language in June during his last daily Mass at the Domus Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where he lives, before his reduced summer schedule.
“A Christian does not have a horoscope to see the future,” the pope said. “He doesn’t go to a fortune teller with a crystal ball or have his palm read. No, no! He doesn’t know where he is going. He is guided.”
That language is consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official compendium of Church teaching, which states in article 2116:
“Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”
Sunday’s Gospel, the pope said, is a reminder that faith in God and his word doesn’t open a path “where everything is easy and quiet,” nor does it prevent the “storms of life.” However, faith is the “certainty of a hand that grabs us to help us face the difficulties, pointing us the way even when it is dark.
“Faith, in short, is not a loophole from the problems of life, but it sustains us on the path and it gives it a meaning,” he said.
As he often does, Francis closed his address asking for the Virgin Mary’s interception, this time in helping all to “stay firm in the faith in order to resist the storms of life, to stay on the boat of the Church, eschewing the temptation to go on the amusing, yet insecure boats of ideologies, fashions and slogans.”