The Gospel leads to adult Faith. A look on Benedict XVI’s Papacy
To be adult faithful. Not to be slave of the dictatorship of the public opinion. In the midst of the utter chatters and the leaks, Benedict XVI meets the priests of the dioceses of Rome. He never talks about scandals, and it is obvious, since he gives a lectio divina, a “divine lesson”. But he gives a lesson of what the Church should be. His words order are: duc in altum, reach for highness. The Pope always does. He does not take care of polemics, he just goes straight and search for God. «I have come to speak about God», the Pope said when he landed in Germany, the last September. Looking back to his Papacy, he always spoke about God.
This was how he explained the sense of his trip – and of his mission – landing to Germany the last September: «I have not come here primarily to pursue particular political or economic goals, as other statesmen do, but rather to meet people and to speak to them about God». But just a few remember that the Pope pronounced similar words in 2006, in an interview with broadcasters ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, Deutsche Welle, ZDF and Vatican Radio. Benedict XVI – speaking about the issues he was about touching on during his next visit to Germany – said: «The basic theme is that we have to rediscover God, not just any God, but the God that has a human face, because when we see Jesus Christ we see God. Starting from this point we must find the way to meet each other in the family, among generations, and then among cultures and peoples as well. We must find the way to reconciliation and to peaceful coexistence in this world, the ways that lead to the future. We won’t find these ways leading to the future if we don’t receive light from above. So I didn’t choose very specific themes, but rather, it is the liturgy that leads me to express the basic message of faith which naturally finds its place in everyday reality where we want to search, above all, for cooperation among peoples and possible ways that can lead us to reconciliation and peace».
Higher than scandals
Let’s make a step forward from Bavaria, and back in time from today. It is the 10th of March 2010, and the Catholic Church is battered from the storm of the scandal presented to the «little ones» by some of his priests. Joseph Ratzinger face the challenge in a way uniquely his own. With a lesson on the theology of history, given to the pilgrims crowding the hall for the general audience.
At the center of the lesson stood Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, doctor of the Church, one of the first successors of Saint Francis as head of the order he founded. And this is the first of the autobiographical features. Because it was precisely on Saint Bonaventure’s theology of history that the young Joseph Ratzinger published, in 1959, his thesis for certification to teach theology.
The novelty of this early text was that it compared, for the first time, Saint Bonaventure’s theology of history with the highly influential version of Joachim of Fiore. Joachim of Fiore has had a tremendous influence on both Christian and atheist thought, in his own century and in later ones, up until our own time. Thirty years ago, the theologian Henri De Lubac dedicated a two-volume study to this influence, entitled: «La posterité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore».
When – in reaction to the scandal of some priests – appeals come again for an epochal, radical purification of the Church, a new Council to be a «new beginning and rupture», a spiritual Christianity made up of the bare Gospel without any more hierarchies or dogmas, the age of the Spirit proclaimed by Joachim of Fiore has been often invoked.
In his lesson, Benedict XVI described and made accessible the contrast between Joachim and Bonaventure. He showed how Joachim’s utopia found fertile ground in Vatican Council II to reproduce itself once again, successfully opposed, however, by the «wise helmsmen of Peter’s barque», by the Popes who were able to defend simultaneously the novelty of the Council and the continuity of the Church.
It’s a small step from spiritualism to anarchy, Benedict XVI warned. That’s the way it was in Saint Bonaventure’s century, and that’s the way it is today. In order to be governed, the Church needs hierarchical structures, but these must be given a clear theological foundation. This is what Saint Bonaventure did in governing the Franciscan order. For him, «to govern was not simply a task but was above all to think and to pray. At the base of his government we always find prayer and thought; all his decisions resulted from reflection, from thought illumined by prayer».
The same thing – the Pope said – must happen today in the universal Church: «Governing, that is, not only through commands and structures, but through guiding and enlightening souls, orienting them to Christ». Benedict XVI so said how he intends to govern the Church. He said it with the meek humility that is characteristic of him, putting himself in the shadow of a saint.
Just as for Saint Bonaventure the theological and mystical writings were «the soul of governance», so it is for the current pope. The soul of his governance is the liturgical homilies, instruction for the faithful and the world, the book on Jesus, in short, «thought illuminated by prayer». It is there that the hierarchical structure of the Roman Church and its acts of governance find their foundation and nourishment. It is from there that the Church of Pope Benedict draws healing for its children’s sins and an answer to the attacks – far from innocent – that reach it from without and from within.
From Koln 2005…
In the front of the priests of the diocese of Rome, the 23rd of February 2012, the Pope speaks off the cuff. It is always difficult to summarize Benedict XVI’s lectio divinas: each notion is linked together with the other, each view is told with rationality and deepness. And these rationality and deepness represent – better than any other thing – what the Pope wanted to explain to the Roman Priest. Be an adult faithful: this is what the Pope wishes for faithful people. It is the same message Bendict XVI launched to the young people gathered in Koln, for the World Youth Day of 2005. It was the first trip abroad of Benedict XVI. More: it was his first impact with the so-called “generation John Paul II”.
The message of Benedict XVI was fair. Unexpectedly, at the end of the Adoration of the Vigil, the Pope took the ostensory, and with it he gave a silent blessing. The 2 million people in Marienfeld were shocked. The day after, the Pope said: «People tend to exclaim: “This cannot be what life is about!”. Indeed not. And so, together with forgetfulness of God there is a kind of new explosion of religion. I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon. There may be sincere joy in the discovery. But to tell the truth, religion often becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion sought on a “do-it-yourself” basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves». Young people understood that everything had changed.
… to the priests in 2012
The notion of adult faith is pivotal in Benedict XVI’s Papacy. And this notion Benedict XVI underline to the priests of Rome. His catechesis takes food for thought from a passage of the Letter of Paul to Ephesians (4: 1-6): «As God’s prisoner, then, I beg you to live lives worthy of your high calling».
According to Joseph Ratzinger, the reasonability of faith is stronger if we are convinced to be meager. The freedom of the Sons of God erupt from the consciousness to be meager. The Pope speaks to the priests with «calm firmness». For Joseph Ratzinger, true faith is first of all a meeting with a person, and just after that faith needs to be filled with contents. Beginning from this issue, one can understand all the other pivotal theme of Benedict XVI’s Papacy: the Year of Faith, the re-reading of the Vatican Council II, the effort for a new kind of interreligious dialogue (he said in Regensburg, in 2006: «In this time of interreligious encounters we are tempted to attenuate or hide our faith. But by doing this we only make God less accessible»), the Church put in penance during the sacerdotal year to find humility and with humility to find back itself and turn back to Jesus.
In Munchen, in 2006, Benedict XVI affirmed that «we impose our faith on no one. Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to open their hearts to God, to seek him, to hear his voice. As we gather here, let us here ask the Lord with all our hearts to speak anew his “Ephphatha”, to heal our hardness of hearing for God’s presence, activity and word, and to give us sight and hearing. Let us ask his help in rediscovering prayer, to which he invites us in the liturgy and whose essential formula he has taught us in the Our Father. The world needs God. We need God».
From childhood to adulthood
Actually, people do not know their own faith faith. People lives – the Pope says in his lectio divina – in a “childhood of the faith”, and this risks to make people slave of the dictatorship of the public opinion. If one remains in the childhood of the Faith, one is just following the waves of the world, and nothing else. That is why Christians cannot, «as skillful and convinced adults, explain the philosophy of Faith, the judgment of the Faith, the reason of Faith that opens the others’ eyes, that opens the eyes to what is good and true in the world».
Yet – the Pope underlines – «adult faith» is used in the terms of a faith emancipated by the Magisterium of the Church. But this – Benedict XVI says – «does not give an adult faith as a result. The result is the dependence from the waves of the world, from the opinions of the world, from the dictatorship of the mass media, of the opinions that everybody thinks and wants. It is not true emancipation. The emancipation from the Communion of the Body of Christ is, on the contrary, the falling under the dictatorship of the waves of the wind of the world».
It is just like get rid of roots. Without roots, one is at the mercy of everybody, since he simply does not know who he is. This was the deep sense of the struggle brought on by the Holy See to acknowledge the Christian foundations of Europe in the European Constitution.
Let us make another step back. It is 2007. Fifty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which in 1957 brought into life what today is the European Union, Benedict XVI formulated a very severe diagnosis of the status of the continent. He has even come to the point of stating that Europe is falling into a «remarkable form of apostasy».
John Paul II also spoke of «apostasy», in the sense of the abandonment of the faith, in the 2003 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa. But Benedict XVI has gone even further. He has accused Europe of being ever more frequently an apostate «from itself, even before [being an apostate] from God»: to the point of «doubting its very identity».
The Pope formulated this diagnosis while receiving in the Vatican’s Sala Clementina on March 24, 2007 the cardinals, bishops, and politicians who were taking part in a conference organized in Rome by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, dedicated to the theme of «Values and perspectives for the Europe of tomorrow».
Joseph Ratzinger dedicated a significant portion of his reflections to Europe even before he was elected pope. Particularly memorable even now is the conference on “Europe in the crisis of cultures” that he held in Subiaco, in the monastery of Saint Benedict, on the evening of April 1, 2005, twenty-four hours before the death of John Paul II.
In the address of 2007, the Pope pointed out to it how to find the strength again to be «leaven for the entire world». To renew this, its worldwide vocation – the Pope warned – Europe must again rely not only on its Christian foundations, but also on those «universal and absolute values» in which it believes less and less: values that are fixed in “a stable and permanent human nature, the source of rights common to all individuals, including those who deny them».
It is in the rejection of these universal and inviolable principles, inscribed in the heart of every man, that the pope sees the origin of, among other things, the laws that in many countries harm the dignity of life and the family.
What is true emancipation?
Has Europe emancipated from God? When he visited Czech Republic – where the 70 per cent of people claim themselves atheistic or with no religious reference – he sustained that Catholics should be a «creative minority». No need to say that they should be a minority linked to the Church.
«True emancipation – the Pope then said to the priests of Rome – is freeing yourself from this dictatorship, while being in the freedom of the Sons of God, who believe together in the resurrected Christ, who can see the reality and are able to respond to the challenges of our times. We have to pray Lord a lot that He would help us to be emancipated in this sense, free in this sense, adult faithful able to see, let see and help the other to get to the true perfection, to the true adulthood in Communion with Christ».
The Pope asks to be true in charity, albeit – he explains – «the notion of truth is sometimes considered suspicious, since truth is linked to violence. But truth and violence are the one the opposite of the other. Truth does not impose with other ways but itself. We need Truth. Without Truth, we are blind in the world, we have no path to thread».
Less diplomacy, more Gospel
And we should look one more time back to the Benedict XVI’s visit to Bavaria, in 2006, to find out that the program of the Pontificate has never changed. At the end of the trip, Benedict XVI emphasized: «I came to Germany, to Bavaria, to re-propose the eternal truths of the Gospel as present-day truths and strength, and to strengthen believers in their adherence to Christ, the Son of God who became man for our salvation. I am convinced in the faith that in Him, in his word, is found the way not only to attain eternal happiness, but also to build already a future worthy of man upon this earth».
Less diplomacy and more Gospel: this is the course that Joseph Ratzinger is setting for the Church’s central governance. It was fair when he installed Bertone as secretary of State. Bertone was not a career diplomat, but a man of doctrine and a pastor of souls. More than secretary of state – he said – he wants to be secretary «of Church». By installing him, the pope has confirmed that what is expected from the secretariat of state and the pontifical representatives is, above all, collaboration in the task that belongs to him as successor of Peter: «strengthening the brethren in the faith». Even in the choice of archbishop Mamberti as foreign minister, what the pope kept in mind - more than his diplomatic competency – was his direct familiarity with the Muslim world and with the related questions of faith and civilization. And the Pope confirmed this line even with the recent choice of Charles J. Brown, a non-diplomat, as Papal nuncio to Ireland. And this line is one more else confirmed looking from a wider point of view to the new cardinals created during the last consistory.
The Gospel is the key of this Pontificate. This is the reason why Benedict Xvi wrote two books on Jesus of Nazareth. It is just looking at Jesus – and to the Church he founded – that one can become an adult faithful.
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