Once again Benedict XVI, speaking off the cuff for almost half an hour, talked about the nature of being Christian. His inspiration came from the opening passage of the First Letter of Peter, “almost the first encyclical”, the text on which the Bishop of Rome reflected before his seminarians. According to the ancient practice of meditating on Scripture inspired by God ( lectio divina ) and with words that touch the heart and challenge reason. It was a rich and impressive reflection on the destiny of those called to preside over the Catholic community, and also on the destiny of the Church and of every Christian.
The speaker is Peter, the first of the Apostles who recognized in the teacher of Nazareth, the Anointed One of God, the Christ. He is a man full of “desire for God”, but also a sinner. As always, as a seasoned teacher used to confronting every difficulty, the Pope did not ignore objections to the authenticity of the text. With finesse and complete historical plausibility he addressed them, stressing that the Letter expresses the faith of the Church, for in her name ( ex persona ecclesiae ) the author wrote these words, and not — he added with a hint of irony — like a genius of the 19th century.
There at the heart of the meditation of the Successor of Peter is the Church of Christ. And precisely the journey of the Apostle from Jerusalem to Rome shows his destiny and that of the Christian community, of all ages. This destiny has always included martyrdom, which — Benedict XVI significantly observed — “can take very different forms”, in a group that today is the most persecuted because it is non-conformist. It is a minority with a “great history” and bears the fate of being scattered throughout this world, of being forever a foreigner.
Using biblical expressions like an ancient author, the Pope described well with striking and true images “the tree of the Church” that does not die but “grows ever anew”. Benedict XVI knows — he has said it often and experiences it like every Christian — that though “the Church is dying because of the sins of men”, but she is also “the tree of God” and carries with her the true lasting inheritance.
Therefore, forcefully the Pope repeated John XXIII’s words, half a century after the opening of the Council again refuting those who insist on painting it as pessimistic, stating: do not be impressed by the “prophets of doom” because the Church does not die, but is always being renewed and reborn ( semper reformanda ). We are in a process of purification, seeking healing and looking to a future of God.
St. Peter’s Square
Oct. 15, 2019
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