Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Benedict on... Benedict

In the last General Audience before the third anniversary of his election, B16 turned today to his pontificate's "patron":
The "true humanism" of Saint Benedict, which means a journey toward God, remains today an antidote against the culture of the "easy and egocentric" self-realisation of man, a temptation "that is often exalted today", in a Europe that "just having left behind a century profoundly wounded by two world wars, and after the collapse of the grand ideologies, revealed as tragic utopias, is searching for its identity"....

Today's address brought his expression of the hope that "Europe may be enlightened by the religious and moral teaching that emerges from its Christian roots", which was expanded to the vision of the Benedictine rule as a model for all men of today, since by his life Saint Benedict "demonstrates that God is not a faraway hypothesis about the origin of the world, but a concrete presence in the life of man". Thus, on the Old Continent, "in order to create a new and lasting unity, political, economic, and legal instruments are certainly important, but there is also the need for a spiritual and ethical renewal that draws upon the Christian roots of the continent, otherwise Europe cannot be rebuilt. Without this vital sap", he continued, "man is exposed to the risk of succumbing and of wanting to redeem himself". This is "a utopia that in various ways, as Pope John Paul II showed, represents an unprecedented step backward in tumultuous history of humanity".

The pope then recalled that Saint Benedict, who was born around the year 480, was sent by his prosperous parents to study in Rome. But, "disgusted by the lifestyle of many of his companions", and not wanting to fall into the same errors, but "to please God alone", he withdrew to the mountains east of Rome, before his studies were concluded. During the three years when he lived as a hermit in a cave near Subiaco, he experienced a period of "solitude together with God". That period allowed him to overcome three fundamental temptations: that of self-affirmation, of placing himself at the centre, that of sexuality, and that of anger and vengeance".

"In the anxiety and confusion of his time", caused by the fall of the Roman Empire and by the crisis in public behaviour, "he lived under the eyes of God, and with his own eyes directed toward him, without losing sight of man and his concrete problems". "Thus he understood the reality of man and his mission". The pope then emphasised St Benedict's life of prayer, which for him was "in the first place an act of listening, which must then be translated into concrete action. The Lord is waiting for us to respond practically, every day, to his holy instruction". The rule of St Benedict, in conclusion, is still today "a light along humanity's path", and is "the search for the humble and obedient Christ", and precisely in this way is at the service of the other and of peace.
...what's more, in an address that might be of use given the traditional story-lines on hot-button church teachings, the pontiff offered some notable comments to close out a weekend conference on the need for compassionate outreach for those who've had an abortion or divorced:
The pope said both practices had created much suffering in modern society, particularly among innocent victims, leaving wounds that affect people's lives permanently.

He said abortion in particular produces "devastating consequences" for the woman involved, for the family and for society, helping promote a materialistic mentality that shows contempt for life.

"How much selfish complicity often lies at the root of the painful decision that so many women have had to make alone and whose unhealed wound they carry in their souls," he said.

To women who have had an abortion, the pope urged them not to be overwhelmed by discouragement and hopelessness and to open themselves to repentance.

The pope said the church's ethical teachings about abortion and divorce are well known. Although they are of a different nature, both acts are considered grave offenses to human dignity and an offense to God, he said.

In addition, he said, both abortion and divorce create innocent victims: "the child recently conceived and still unborn and the children affected by the breakup of family ties."...

At the same time, the pope said, the church recognizes that such decisions are often made in dramatic and difficult circumstances and that they also bring suffering to those who commit them.

"Following the example of the divine teacher, the church always takes an interest in the concrete person," he said.

Many of the men and women involved in abortion and divorce are troubled by guilt and "are looking for peace and the possibility of recovery," and the church must approach them with love and sensitivity, he said.

"Yes, the Gospel of love and life is also always the Gospel of mercy, offered to the real and sinful people that we are, to raise them from any failing and repair any wound," he said.

The pope quoted Pope John Paul II to emphasize that by showing mercy, the church demonstrates its faith in the human being and in human freedom.

Although public opinion is often focused on the church's "no's" in matters of morality, its teachings are really "a great 'yes' to the human person, to his life and his capacity to love," he said.
PHOTOS: Reuters