Pope: bringing God into play instead of banishing him
by Franco Pisano
In his address to the Curia, Benedict XVI assessed his trips this year and highlighted the centrality of the “problem of God” while tackling issues like marriage, de facto marriages, PACS, the Holocaust, ecclesial celibacy, inter-faith dialogue and ecumenism.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – “Bringing God back into play as a reality”: this is the way ahead to find peace in the Holy Land, to restore Europe’s courage to have children, to give a boost to ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue, and to understand the true meaning of ecclesial celibacy. Prompting the world to “lean upon God in the most concrete and radical way possible” is a thread that has run through all the steps taken by Benedict XVI in the year coming to a close. It is a point he came back to, especially when dwelling upon his international trips, in an “assessment” he gave during an address to cardinals, members of the pontifical family and the Roman curia, who met today for the delivery of Christmas greetings.
In a long and fluent speech, the pope also tackled issues like de facto couples and PACS – reasserting the right of the Church to condemn legislation that permits them – and the relationship between faith and reason, central to the “lectio” in Regensburg. For this, “faith in that God who is in person the Reason creator of the universe must be welcomed by science in a new way as a challenge and chance. Reciprocally, this faith must newly acknowledge its intrinsic vastness and own reason”.
The pope said: “The year coming to a close is imprinted in our memory with the deep marks of the horrors of war around the Holy Land as well as, in general, the danger of a clash between cultures and religions – a danger that still now hangs threateningly over this historic moment of ours. The problem of paths to peace has thus become a challenge of chief importance for all those who are concerned about mankind. This goes especially for the Church – the promise that has accompanied it from the beginning signifies both a responsibility and a task: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours’ (Lk ).
This greeting of the angel to the shepherds on the night of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem reveals an inseparable connection between the relationship of men with God and their mutual relationship. Peace on earth cannot be found without reconciliation with God, without harmony between heaven and earth. This correlation of the theme ‘God’ with the theme ‘peace’ has been the determining factor of this year’s four Apostolic Journeys and it is to them that I wish to return now.”
The trip to Poland (25 to 28 May) was described as an “intimate duty of gratitude” towards John Paul II “for all that he gave me personally and especially the church and the world throughout the quarter of a century of his service. His greatest gift for all of us was his unwavering faith and the radicalism of his dedication. ‘Totus tuus’ was his motto: it reflected his entire being.”
The pope recalled: “In my travels in Poland, I could not but visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the most barbaric cruelties of the attempt to eradicate the people of Israel, to thus negate God’s election, to banish God from history. For me, it was very comforting to see a rainbow appear in the sky while I, before the horror of that place, cried out to God with the attitude of Job, shaken by the fear of His apparent absence and, at the same time, sustained by the certainty that even in his silence He does not cease to be and to stay with us. The rainbow was like an answer: Yes, I am here, and the words of the promise of the Covenant that I pronounced after the flood are valid still today (cfr Gn -17)”.
The journey to Spain, in Valencia (8 and 9 July) “was all in the name of the theme of marriage and the family”. Benedict XVI recalled testimonies shared at the World Meeting of Families, which “did not hide the fact that there were difficult days too, of passing through times of crises. The effort of putting up with each other day after day, renewed acceptance in the ups and downs of daily worries, living and enduring that initial yes to the limit: it is in this gospel journey of ‘losing oneself’ that they matured, found themselves and became happy’.
“Faced with these families with their children, these families in who generations hold hands and the future is present, the problem of Europe, which practically seems not to want to have children anymore, penetrated my heart. For the outsider, this Europe seems to be tired; in fact, it’s as if it wants to take leave of history. Why are things like this? This is the big question. The answers are definitely very complex.” Among them, alongside the fear of commitment “for always”, Benedict XVI felt that a central fact was that parents did not know “which norms” to transmit to their child, to teach him to follow “the right way”. “The problem has become so difficult not least because we are no longer sure what norms to transmit; we no longer know what a proper use of freedom is, what the right way to live is, what is our moral duty and what is on the other hand inadmissible. The modern spirit has lost its orientation, and this lack of orientation prevents us from being indicators of the straight path to others. The problem goes even deeper. Mankind today is insecure about the future. “This deep insecurity of man himself – alongside the desire to have life all to oneself – is perhaps the deepest reason why the risk of having children seems to many to be something practically unsustainable. In reality, we can transmit life in a responsible way only if we are capable of transmitting something more than mere biological life, that is, a meaning that bears up to the crises of the future and a certainty in hope that is stronger than the clouds obscuring the future. If we do not learn the foundations of life anew – if we do not discover the certainty of faith in a new way – it will be ever less possible to entrust to others the gift of life and the task of facing an unknown future.”
Talk about marriage led the pope to express his “concern for laws about de facto couples”. He said: “When new juridical forms are created that relativize marriage, the renunciation of a definitive bond attains, so to speak, a juridical seal. In this case, those who are already hard pressed to decide will find it even more difficult to do so. Then there is, for another type of couples, relativization of the difference between the sexes. Thus, man and woman coming together becomes the same thing as two people of the same sex coming together. In this way, pernicious theories are tacitly confirmed, that do away with all relevance of masculinity and femininity of the human person, as if it was merely a biological matter; theories claiming that man – that is, his intellect and his will – would autonomously decide what he is and is not. There is in this a depreciation of the body from which follows that man, wanting to cut himself loose from his body – from the ‘biological sphere’ – ends up by destroying himself. If there are those who say the Church should not interfere in such affairs, then we can only answer: perhaps you think we are not worried about human beings?”
The trip to Bavaria from 9 to 14 September had the “great theme” of God, because “the big problem of the West is forgetting God: it is an oblivion that is spreading. All individual problems could be whittled down to this matter, I am convinced of it. Thus, my main intention in that trip was to highlight the theme ‘God’ properly.”
With the theme of God, recalled the Pope, “were and are connected two themes that marked the days of the visit in Bavaria: the themes of priesthood and dialogue”.
About the existence of the priesthood, Benedict XVI today underlined in particular its “theocentricity”, describing it as “necessary in our totally operational world, in which everything is based on calculable and verifiable performance. The priest should truly know God from within and thus take him to others: this is the service that mankind needs most today.”
The fundamentally “theocentric” starting point also allows one to understand celibacy, continued the pope. “The true foundation of celibacy can be summed up in the one phrase: Dominus pars – You are my land. It could only be theocentric.” “Our world has become totally positivistic, where God comes into play at most as a hypothesis, but not as a concrete reality; it needs to lean upon God in the most concrete and radical way possible. It needs testimony for God that lies in the decision to welcome God on earth on which one’s existence is based. This is why the celibacy is so important today, in our current world, even if its realization in our times is continually threatened and questioned.”
The Germany trip will however remain linked to the “lectio magistralis” of Regensburg. “The meeting in Regensburg was dedicated to the dialogue between faith and reason, as was pointed out there,” the pope said today.In effect, on the one hand, “the cognitive capacity of man, his dominion over matter through the strength of thought” has made progress that once was unthinkable. “But the power of man, which grew in his hands thanks to science, becomes ever more a danger that threatens man himself and the world. Reason that is totally geared towards taking over the world no longer accepts limits. It is at the point of treating even human beings as if they were simply a product of its work and power. Our knowledge increases but at the same time reason is progressively being blinded to its own foundations; to the criteria that give it direction and meaning. Faith in that God who is in person the Reason creator of the universe should be welcomed by science in a new way as a challenge and chance. Reciprocally, this faith should recognize anew its intrinsic vastness and its own reason. Reason needs Logos that is at the beginning and is our light; faith, for its part, needs dialogue with modern reason, to become aware of its greatness and to match its own responsibilities.”
In that address, in which a quotation about Islam sparked irate reactions in the Muslim world, in reality “the dialogue between religions was touched upon only marginally”.
But the visit to Turkey (28 November – 1 December) “offered me the opportunity to illustrate also publicly my respect for the Islamic religion... In a dialogue to be strengthened with Islam, we should keep in mind the fact the Muslim world today finds itself facing a task with urgency, one similar to that facing Christians from the times of the Enlightenment and which the Second Vatican Council translated into concrete solutions for the Catholic Church after strenuous long research. It is about an approach that the community of the faithful must assume in the face of convictions and demands that became clear in the Enlightenment. On the one hand, there should be opposition to a dictatorship of positivistic reason that excludes God from the life of the community and public rules, thus depriving man of specific criteria to measure himself by. On the other, it is necessary to welcome the real achievements of the Enlightenment, human rights and especially religious freedom and the exercise of the same, recognizing in them essential elements for genuineness of religion. Just as the Christian community undertook lengthy research about the right stand of faith to take in the face of these convictions – a quest that certainly will never be definitively over – thus the Islamic world too, with its own traditions, stands before the considerable task of finding the right solutions in this regard. The content of dialogue between Christians and Muslims will now be above all a meeting of this commitment to identify the right solutions.”
One last thought linked to those days was about the meetings with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with who, the pope said, “we had the experience of being brothers not only on the basis of words and historic events, but in the depths of our hearts; of being united by the shared faith of the Apostles beneath our thoughts and personal thoughts and feelings. We experienced profound unity in faith and will pray to the Lord more insistently that he may soon give us full unity in the shared breaking of bread.”