The words of Benedict XVI were stronger than the bad weather that prevented him from going to La Verna, the memorial of the Franciscan mystic, where he had planned to give a Reflection on the soul of Christian life, which is especially important when Catholics are called to commit themselves to civic life today afflicted by crisis and discouragement.
Arezzo and Sansepolcro were the two stops on the Pope's 27th Apostolic Visit in Italy, along with La Verna, which in the end it was impossible for the Holy Father to reach due to fog. In reality, these seemingly unconnected places form part of an itinerary on the why and how to be Christians at the service of the common good in society.
In order to truly be one — is the message of the Pontiff — we must ascend La Verna spiritually, listen to the voice of God and then descend the mountain, transformed and ready to serve not our own interests but the needs of others, especially the poorest and the most needy. However, he said, doing good to all, promoting a “City with an ever more human face” does not come about by way of “purely materialistic ideologies”. An ethical leap is always necessary, especially now.
Even believers cannot manage it if they only speak about or do good deeds without conforming their entire lives to Christ, after the example of St Francis. The heart of the experience of La Verna is, in fact, to be found in following Christ, seeking to imitate him and conforming oneself to him.
Benedict XVI recounted the history of the founders of Sansepolcro who, on returning from Jerusalem, conceived of a model city in which the disciples of Jesus would be called to be the moving force of society and of peace, through the practice of justice. This goal is possible on one condition: keeping one’s eyes and one's heart ever fixed on God who does not alienate anyone from daily life, from humanity, but directs it and makes it come alive in a more intense way. God does not want to remain confined in the solitude of La Verna, but descends to be among the people in the city where they live.
This kind of Christian is, according to the Pope, present, resourceful, coherent in faith. They are not primarily social or political activists, but those who carry a hope that never disappoints, founded on the Resurrection of Jesus, established in history through brotherly love for all, near and far. This is Joseph Ratzinger's intimate theological conviction which reemerged powerfully at the Pope's meeting with the community of Arezzo and Sansepolcro. Today too, as it was fruitful in the past, in Medieval times and in the Renaissance, being Christian makes sense if one is the salt of society. When one ceases to be such, he renounces his diversity and becomes superfluous like salt which, losing its flavour, is thrown away. For this reason, despite the trials and difficulties, Benedict XVI remains optimistic for the Church which God will not leave without saints, good Samaritans, who are the best of friends especially in difficult periods of history. Hence, his obvious regret at having to skip La Verna, a Franciscan experience which is emblematic and a compelling model for being Christian. Many pilgrims have climbed there, seeking God “which is the true reason for which the Church exists: to build a bridge between God and mankind”. And, finally, he encouraged Italy — in a quick but cordial meeting with the Prime Minister — and young people in particular to think big, to dare, and to be ready to give “new flavour” to the whole of society “with the salt of honesty and disinterested altruism”.
St. Peter’s Square
Oct. 17, 2019
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