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Not a generic god but God who is alive and true

· The Pope to university students ·

The Pope challenged those Roman university students who were to listen to him in the Vatican Basilica on 15 December. Speaking of the waiting for God that is characteristic of Advent he asked: “Is God’s invitation to waiting really untimely?”. And, further, “what does Christmas mean for me? Is it really important for my existence, for building society?”.

These are not rhetorical questions. Yet Benedict XVI pointed out straight away that every attempt to build the world without or in opposition to God and in the wake of pretentious ideologies has ended by turning against human beings themselves and their profound dignity, to the point of making them lose the hope of a positive construction in history, as well as esteem and love for themselves.

Giacomo Leopardi wrote in his Zibaldone [note books]: “The man who does not bother about himself is incapable of bothering about anything, because nothing can interest a person except in relation to him or herself. The person who does not desire for his own sake and does not love himself is not kind to others”.

Today's human beings lack this love. Indeed, they have lost the reason for loving themselves. And they are desperately attached to what they do and what they possess. They seek to find in it their own value, the value of their life, because they do not love and esteem themselves for what they are. “The attachment to what one does as sign of identity”, Fr Luigi Giussani said to university students in 1984, “expresses a lack of self esteem. The affective impulse never wearies the person but increases in its form of expression as it gradually advances. What wears people out is the impulse to possess”.

But when do human beings learn to love themselves? Only when they are the object of great love. “In the experience of great love”, Romano Guardini wrote, “the whole world is summed up in the I-You relationship, and all that happens takes place in that sphere. The personal element to which, in the ultimate analysis, love aspires and which represents what is loftiest among the realities that the world embraces, penetrates and determines every other form: space and countryside, stones, trees, animals”. As these words of the Essenza del cristianesimo suggest, when men and women experience being loved they understand the value of themselves and of the whole world.

For this reason the greatest crime against humanity is the systematic denial of God as a mystery of love from which everything that exists flows, and from which, in particular, flows that unique being which is the free being created and loved for himself, solely with a view to his fulfilment, his happiness, and not dependent upon anything else. Having consummated this denial, human beings have begun once again, as in the darkness of ancient times, to conceive of themselves as children of nothingness, of chance or of natural need. They have ended by losing their self esteem and, with it, the capacity for loving others. The fact that today even the conjugal bond is rejected, stems from a double low opinion: “Can another love me for the whole of my life? And might the other not deserve a faithful love?”. St Paul said with good reason: “he who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph 5:28). Marriage, especially Christian marriage, thus proves to be a sort of new triumph over the apparent uselessness of life and the flaunted affirmation of the human being's worthlessness.

Being is love. If you experience this even for an instant you can no longer ignore this viewpoint. As long as there is someone to remind you of it with his company. And, ultimately, this is the purpose of all authentic human company: the exaltation of human beings, the promotion of their desire to love and to procreate. I believe that those university students to whom the Pope said: we do not need a generic, indefinite god but rather the living, true God who unfolds the horizon of the human future to a prospect of firm, well-founded hope, a hope rich in eternity that enables us to face the present courageously in all its aspects”, felt understood!

Therefore a vague religious sense or some sort of notion of God that we can make for ourselves is no longer enough. What we need is the proclamation of the Christian God, a God who makes himself a child for humankind: “In the Bethlehem Grotto human loneliness is overcome, our existence is no longer left to the impersonal forces of natural and historical processes, our house can be built on the rock: we can plan our history, the history of humanity, not in utopia but in the certainty that the God of Jesus Christ is present and goes with us”. Only the experience of a newness, of the encounter with this God can restore the true sense of ourselves and of history to us, together with hope in a fulfilment.

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