Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Day with the Holy Father - I

I've been reading the Pope's various speeches and homilies from the past few weeks. There's so much there!

First, let's start with his annual Christmas address to the Curial officials from December 22. (The Vatican website doesn't have an English translation up. However, the indefatigable Teresa Benedetta at Papa Ratzinger Forums, does.] It's a long speech, that is presented as a reflection on his travels in the past year, starting with his visit to Poland, and culminating with the visit to Turkey. And boy, does he cover ground! Here's some tidbits that leapt out at me.

In traveling to Poland, I could not miss making a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, site of the most cruel barbarities - the attempt to wipe out the people of Israel, to nullify God's own choice, indded to ban God Himself from history.

It was a great comfort for me to see a rainbow appear in the sky, at a moment when, like Job, I cried out to the Lord, shaken by His apparent absence during these horrors, but also sustained by the certainty that even in His silence, He does not cease to be and remains with us.

The rainbow was like a response: Yes, I am here, and the words of my promise, the Alliance, which I spoke after the Great Deluge, are still valid today (cfr Jn 9,12-17).
Valencia and the gathering on the family
Before these families with their children, before these families in which generations come together and the future is present, the problem of Europe - the Europe which apparently does not wish to have more children - pierced me to the soul.

For the stranger, this Europe appears exhausted, as though it wishes to take leave of history. Why are things so? That is the great question. The answers are definitely quite complex.

But before looking for answers, we must thank all the married couples who even today, in our Europe, say Yes to having children and accept all the efforts that this requires - social adn financial problems, as well as the day-to-day concerns and efforts, the dedication needed, to open the way to the future for their children.
Then, for other forms of coupling, there is an added relativization of genders - making the coupling of a man and a woman equivalent to that of persons of the same gender. This tacitly confirms the dismal theories that would take away relevance from the masculinity or femininity of the human being, as if it it only had to do with biological fact.

These theories claim that a person - that is, his intellect and his will - decides autonomously what he is or is not. This implies a devaluation of corporality, from which it follows that a person, wishing to be emancipated physically from the 'biological sphere', ends up by destroying himself.
(And it's this section from this huge long speech that ended up in the headlines that screamed, "Pope: Homosexuals destroy themselves." Um. Read what he said! He did not say that homosexual persons destroy themselves simply because of their attraction. He just did not say that! But of course, when confronted with a long and complicated talk, let's just trot out an old template, and anything that seems to fit, twist it in there, and, voilà, story!)

The great theme of my trip to Germany was God. The Church should speak about many things - of everything that concerns the human being, of its own structure and its own order. But its real theme - and in certain aspects, its only theme - is God.

And the great problem of the West is forgetting God: it is a forgetfulness that is spreading. Ultimately, every single problem can be traced back to this, I am convinced.

Therefore, on that trip, my principal intention was to highlight very strongly the theme of God, conscious of the fact that in some parts of Germany, there is a majority of unbaptized persons, to whom Christianity and the God of faith seem to be things of the past.

Speaking of God, we also touch on what was the central interest of Jesus in his earthly preaching - the "Kingdom of God". By this He did not mean something which will come at some point in the indeterminate future. Nor did He mean that better world which we ourselves seek to create step by step with our own efforts.

In the term "Kingdom of God", the word God is the genitive subject. It means, God is not an adjunct to the "kingdom" which perhaps could even be dropped!
Priesthood and celibacy
This is marvelously expressed in a verse from a priestly Psalm which we - the older generation - pronounced during our admission to the priesthood: "Lord, my alloted portion and my cup: my life is in your hands" (Ps 16[15],5).

The praying priest of this Psalm interprets his existence in terms of the distribution of territory described in Deuteronomy (cfr 10,9). After taking possession of their land, every tribe also obtained, by drawing lots, its portion of the Holy Land, and thus take part in the gift promised to the patriarch Abraham. Only the tribe of Levi (priests) did not receive a portion: its portion was God Himself.

This affirmation certainly had a most practical significance: Priests do not live, like the other tribes, from cultivating the land, but from offerings. But the statement also goes deeper. The true foundation of the priest's life, the ground of his existence, the land of his life is God Himself.
Celibacy, which is the rule for bishops in the whole Church, Oriental and Occidental, and for priests in the Latin Church, in general, following a tradition going back to a time close to the Apostles, can be understood and lived only on the basis of this formulation.

The purely pragmatic reasons, such as (making possible) maximum availability, do not suffice. A greater availability with regard to time can easily become a form of selfishness, which is simply saving oneself from the sacrifices and efforts of reciprocally accepting and supporting another human being in matrimony. And this can lead to spiritual impoverishment and to a hardness of heart.

The true basis for celibacy can be contained in the words, "Dominus pars" - You, Lord, are my portion of land. A priest can only be God-centered. It doesn't mean he will remain deprived oflove, but it should mean allowing oneself to be rapt by the passion for God and to learn, thanks to a more intimate communion with God, to serve men.

Celibacy should be a testimony of faith - faith in God that becomes concrete in a way of life that only makes sense if it starts with God. To rest my whole life on Him, renouncing matrimony and family, means that I can welcome and experience God as a reality and therefore I can bring Him to other men.

Our world which has become totally positivistic - in which God comes into play at the very most as hypothesis. but not as a concrete reality - has need of this relying on God in the most concrete and radical way possible. It has need of a testimony for God constituted by a decision to accept God as the ground on which to establish one's existence.

That is why celibacy is so important today in the world we live in, even if comppliance with it is continually threatened and under question in our time.
In Regensburg, the dialog between religions was only marginally touched and under a double viewpoint. Secular reason is not capable of entering into a true dialog with religions. If it remains closed to the question of God, this could lead to a conflict of cultures.

The other perspective concerns the statement that religions should converge in the common mission of being in the service of truth and therefore of men.

I am so thankful that this gentle, thoughtful and humble man is leading Peter's Barque in our time!

To all who moan and groan and carp about him, I keep saying: read what he say! Not the newspapers and the soundbites. But his writings!

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