What does the Pope truly have at heart? With increasing clarity the answer comes from Benedict XVI himself. He has once again chosen the essential in his review of the year that is inexorably drawing to a close. With a perfectly realistic interpretation which at the same time knows how to go straight to the heart of the matter, pruning away contingent situations and confirming that Pope Benedict XVI’s main preoccupation is the crisis of faith, in a certain way depicted by the biblical image of Lot’s wife.
However, worry is not equivalent to pessimism, despite the somewhat shabby representations that events are denying, day after day. No, Benedict XVI is neither pessimistic nor weary, and his kindly form of governance, attentive and practical, is rooted in the essential itself. He himself said so in advance, in presenting his programme at the beginning of his pontificate: abandonment to the Word and to the will of the one Lord, in order “to be guided by him, so that he himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history”, he said at the inaugural Mass
In his adherence to reality the Pope returned to speaking of the economic and financial crisis that is oppressing Europe and repeated that it is based on an ethical crisis, for all too often we lack the strength to make renouncements and sacrifices. So how can we find it? This is the question that must be answered by the proclamation of the Gospel – in societies that have either forgotten it or have expunged it – an urgent need which has motivated the establishment of a new curial office and explains the choice of the theme at the heart of the next Synodal Assembly, as well as the announcement of a “Year of Faith” on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the most important religious event of the past century.
There is a crisis in the Church in Europe and its core is, precisely, the crisis of faith that is resulting in the weariness and even “faith fatigue” of Christians. However Benedict XVI’s analysis does not stop at this pitiless diagnosis, nor, especially, does it leave room for any pessimism. Precisely two of his most recent international journeys – to Africa and to Spain – have shown that the remedy, indeed, the “powerful remedy”, against this faith fatigue is found in joy.
The Pope outlined it on the basis of the experience of the World Youth Day in Madrid. Thus the catholicity of the Church enables us to experience the profound unity of the human family, while daily decisions in the use of time are crucial. And here fits the image – chosen by Benedict XVI as an emblem of the faith crisis – of Lot’s wife, who looked back, concerned with herself, and was turned into an irreparably empty pillar of salt.
Instead, what saves is the personal relationship with the one God, an authentic relationship that is motivated neither by the wish to win Heaven nor by the fear of Hell but simply “because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others”; together with the nourishment that is the heart of the Catholic faith, the adoration of God really present in the Eucharist; the God who forgives and overcomes the force of gravity of evil through penance and who truly loves every human being.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 22, 2020
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