The Discourses the Pope prepares for the exchanges of Christmas greetings afford an opportunity for reflection on the past year. From a particular viewpoint — that of the Bishop of Rome, to whom the visible guidance of the whole Church is entrusted yet, at the same time, he wishes to be heard beyond the boundaries of the Catholicism.
This is why Benedict XVI said “The very future of the world is at stake”. This is why he gently asks to be listened to. In the first place, by the media that are responsible for communicating but, more generally, by anyone who wants to hear the calm but crystal-clear reasoning of a good and lucid man whom God has brought into being in our day.
In a time of confusion and anxiety which, in spite of hopes and possibilities, is reminiscent of the disintegration of the Roman Empire when a world was in decline: a time troubled “by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which”, Benedict XVI analyzed with precision, “juridical and political structures cannot function”. And it is a diagnosis that concerns everyone: the Pope, in fact, looks at the Church but he speaks to every woman and every man, to whoever is prepared to accept his thought, without mutilating it like information mechanisms that are only too easy to foresee.
The Pontiff has picked out two main aspects of the year that is ending, within the Church but also outside her, in the world in which she lives.
On the one hand, the overwhelming and inconceivable dimension of the abuse of minors, committed by priests — who “under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime” — and on the other, the appalling growth of Christianophobia in the very year in which the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East was celebrated.
For more than 20 years Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did all he could to tackle the scandal of the abuse cases, with a broken heart precisely because he is aware of the greatness and oneness of the priestly sacrament which on the contrary is able “to change the world” and to open it to God. The Pope described this scandal with the words of the vision received by a woman, St Hildegard of Bingen, who saw the Church disfigured by the sins of men and the sins of priests.
An outrage, to which is added the current deviation of a world that is silent — when it is not actually conniving — in the face of pornography that violates the innocence of little ones, in the face of sex tourism, in the face of drugs. Because of a subjectivism that ends by perverting the conscience.
He likewise calls the world into question, since not only the Church is affected by “acts of violence in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred, in which on the contrary the most elementary rules of humanity collapse”. In the Middle East — but not only there — “Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority”, Benedict XVI repeated, regretting that the voices of reason raised in the Muslim world are too weak. And he asked once again that a stop to Christianophobia.
Yet at the root of it all is the need — which for Christians is also a responsibility — to rediscover that “fundamental moral consensus” pointed out by Alexis de Tocqueville. Only in this way will it be possible to see once again what is truly real and truly counts: God and the soul, recognizing that man is capable of truth and that truth demands obedience.
Thus Benedict XVI described the three conversions of John Henry Newman — who showed with his life that it is possible to go against the prevailing form of thought to open oneself to the Lord who comes.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 17, 2020
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