Friday, September 21, 2007

Openness to transcendence is an indispensable guarantee of human dignity

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
to Catholic Parliamentarians
September 21, 2007

In effect, when human rights are violated, the dignity of the human person suffers; when justice is compromised, peace itself is jeopardized. On the other hand, justice is truly human only when the ethical and moral vision grounding it is centred on the human person and his inalienable dignity. . . .

There are those who maintain that human reason is incapable of grasping the truth, and therefore of pursuing the good that corresponds to personal dignity. There are some who believe that it is legitimate to destroy human life in its earliest or final stages.

Equally troubling is the growing crisis of the family, which is the fundamental nucleus of society based on the indissoluble bond of marriage between a man and a woman. Experience has shown that when the truth about man is subverted or the foundation of the family undermined, peace itself is threatened and the rule of law is compromised, leading inevitably to forms of injustice and violence.

Another cause highly esteemed by all of you is the defence of religious liberty, which is a fundamental, irrepressible, inalienable and inviolable right rooted in the dignity of every human being and acknowledged by various international documents, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The exercise of this freedom also includes the right to change religion, which should be guaranteed not only legally, but also in daily practice. In fact, religious liberty corresponds to the human person’s innate openness to God, who is the fullness of truth and the supreme good.

An appreciation for religious freedom is a fundamental expression of respect for human reason and its capacity to know the truth. Openness to transcendence is an indispensable guarantee of human dignity since within every human heart there are needs and desires which find their fulfilment in God alone.

For this reason, God can never be excluded from the horizon of man and world history! That is why all authentically religious traditions must be allowed to manifest their own identity publicly, free from any pressure to hide or disguise it.

Moreover, due respect for religion helps to counter the charge that society has forgotten God: an accusation shamelessly exploited by some terrorist networks in an attempt to justify their threats against global security.

Terrorism is a serious problem whose perpetrators often claim to act in God’s name and harbour an inexcusable contempt for human life. Society naturally has a right to defend itself, but this right must be exercised with complete respect for moral and legal norms, including the choice of ends and means. In democratic systems, the use of force in a manner contrary to the principles of a constitutional State can never be justified. Indeed, how can we claim to protect democracy if we threaten its very foundations? Consequently, it is necessary both to keep careful watch over the security of civil society and its citizens while at the same time safeguarding the inalienable rights of all.

Terrorism needs to be fought with determination and effectiveness, mindful that if the mystery of evil is widespread today, the solidarity of mankind in goodness is an even more pervasive mystery. In this regard, the social teaching of the Catholic Church offers some points for reflection on how to promote security and justice both at the national and international levels. This teaching is based on reason, natural law and the Gospel: that is, principles that both accord with and transcend the nature of every human being.

The Church knows that it is not her specific task to see to the political implementation of this teaching: her objective is to help form consciences in political life, to raise awareness of the authentic requirements of justice, and to foster a greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 28). In this her mission, the Church is moved only by love for humanity and the desire to work together with all people of goodwill to build a world in which the dignity and inalienable rights of all persons will be safeguarded.

For those of you who share a faith in Christ, the Church asks you to bear witness to that faith today with even greater courage and generosity. The integrity of Christians in political life is indeed more necessary than ever so that the "salt" of apostolic zeal does not lose its "flavor," and so that the "lamp" of Gospel values enlightening the daily work of Christians is not obscured by pragmatism or utilitarianism, suspicion or hate.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why I Believe, or, How I Know that God Exists

I believe in Truth, in Reason, and in Love. I believe that there is truth, not only physical truth, transcendent moral truth -– right and wrong, good and evil -– and that this morality is not relative, otherwise, it would not be truth. In a world without God, any evil thing is possible. But in a world with God, love and salvation and freedom are possible; life is possible.

Indeed, Christ has already saved the world in a very tangible way. He has redeemed the world. Without Christian love and forgiveness and reconciliation, the world would have destroyed itself long ago. One wrong would lead to retaliation, which would lead only to retaliation for that act, in never-ending cycles of wars of vengeance, on both a personal and national level. We only need to look at some non-Christian cultures in the world today to see that they differ from Christian values and morality.

Yet, although I believe, I am also a sinner. My sins are great and many, and I am greatly in need of a savior to pay my debts, to ransom me. Maybe others believe that they can live well without Christ, and that they can have eternal life without Him. Maybe they don’t need Him. But I do need Him. I do need, not only His forgiveness, but His grace –- the power to do things that I could never do or accomplish on my own, things like love and forgiveness and perseverance and peace of heart and hope.

If it were just me, I’d probably want to nuke the entire Muslim world as payback for the bastards that do things like fly planes into buildings and set off car bombs and suicide bombs, killing thousands of innocent people. But Christ commands me to love my enemies, and He gives me the grace to do the impossible -- to let go of hate, to let go of the thirst for vengeance. He gives me the grace to do things like love and forgive such people.

Yes, He gives me the grace to be able, when we hopefully have peace, to live together with them as children of God. Left to myself, I would not want to accomplish any of these things, and I could not do any of these things myself. It is only because God does exist, that such things are possible. We do not have peace now, and because peace requires both sides to set aside their arms, it may still be necessary to implement the tragic tools of war, but we should do so, not out of hate and vengeance, but only in order to gain that peace.

So, pray for true peace. Pray for our enemy, that God grant them grace and wisdom to choose peace. Pray for us, that, as we must necessarily destroy that enemy to obtain the peace, that God grant us grace and strength to not hate those He commands us to love, that we kill not for vengeance, but to end the violence and the capacity and will of the enemy to make war on us, until the day we again may live in peace with these children of God.
Eternal and Merciful God, at times of tragedy our intellects seek understanding, our hearts seek healing, and our souls turn to You: our source of hope and solace. Heal our troubled nation as our nation turns its eyes to You and comfort those whose lives are changed forever: those who have perished, those who have lost family, friends or loved ones, and those who now live in the aftermath of these acts of terror. May God bless our national leadership, may God bless our servicepersons, and may God bless America. Amen

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, let thy protection be upon all those who are in the service of our country; guard them from all harm and danger of body and soul; sustain and comfort those at home, especially in their hours of loneliness, anxiety, and sorrow; prepare the dying for death and the living for your service; give success to our arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just and lasting peace. Amen.

News From the Morning Paper

The Morning Washington Post
September 11, 2001

Afghan Rebel Leader Is Victim of Bombing; Some Reports Say Attack Killed Commander Who Led Charge Against Taliban

Ahmed Shah Massoud, the guerrilla commander most responsible for preventing the radical Islamic Taliban movement from taking control of all of Afghanistan, was seriously wounded in a suicide bombing Sunday, and conflicting reports today indicated he might be dead. Two assassins posing as Arab journalists reportedly detonated a bomb during an interview with Massoud at his field headquarters in northern Afghanistan, the last corner of the nation that remains outside Taliban control, according to spokesmen for the Afghan commander. . . .

Many of Massoud's associates blamed the attack on reputed terrorist Osama bin Laden, a close ally of the Taliban who lives in Afghanistan under its protection. . . . Many sources close to Massoud said the attack was commissioned by bin Laden, a Saudi dissident who is wanted by U.S. authorities on charges of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

“Show us Jesus!”

Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Solemn Eucharistic Celebration

Mariazell, Saturday, 8 September 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With our great pilgrimage to Mariazell, we are celebrating the patronal feast of this Shrine, the feast of Our Lady’s Birthday. For 850 years pilgrims have been travelling here from different peoples and nations . . . Today we join in this great centuries-old pilgrimage. We rest awhile with the Mother of the Lord, and we pray to her: Show us Jesus. Show to us pilgrims the one who is both the way and the destination: the truth and the life.

The Gospel passage we have just heard (Mt 1:1-16, 18-23) broadens our view. It presents the history of Israel from Abraham onwards as a pilgrimage, which, with its ups and downs, its paths and detours, leads us finally to Christ. The genealogy with its light and dark figures, its successes and failures, shows us that God writes straight even on the crooked lines of our human history.

God allows us our freedom, and yet in our failures He can always find new paths for His love. God does not fail. Hence this genealogy is a guarantee of God’s faithfulness; a guarantee that God does not allow us to fall, and an invitation to direct our lives ever anew towards Him, to walk ever anew towards Jesus Christ.

Making a pilgrimage means setting out in a particular direction, travelling towards a destination. This gives a beauty of its own even to the journey and to the effort involved. Among the pilgrims of Jesus’s genealogy there were many who forgot the goal and wanted to make themselves the goal. Again and again, though, the Lord called forth people whose longing for the goal drove them forward, people who directed their whole lives towards it.
The awakening of the Christian faith, the dawning of the Church of Jesus Christ was made possible, because there were people in Israel whose hearts were searching –- people who did not rest content with custom, but who looked further ahead, in search of something greater: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph, the Twelve and many others. Because their hearts were expectant, they were able to recognize in Jesus the one whom God had sent, and thus they could become the beginning of His worldwide family.

The Church of the Gentiles was made possible, because both in the Mediterranean area and in those parts of Asia to which the messengers of Jesus Christ travelled, there were expectant people who were not satisfied by what everyone around them was doing and thinking, but who were seeking the star which could show them the way towards Truth itself, towards the living God.

We too need an open and restless heart like theirs. This is what pilgrimage is all about. Today as in the past, it is not enough to be more or less like everyone else and to think like everyone else. Our lives have a deeper purpose. We need God, the God who has shown us His face and opened His heart to us: Jesus Christ.

Saint John rightly says of Him that only He is God and rests close to the Father’s heart (cf. Jn 1:18); thus only He, from deep within God himself, could reveal God to us -– reveal to us who we are, from where we come and where we are going.

Certainly, there are many great figures in history who have had beautiful and moving experiences of God. Yet these are still human experiences, and therefore finite. Only He is God and therefore only He is the bridge that brings God and man together. So if we call Him the one universal Mediator of salvation, valid for everyone and, ultimately, needed by everyone, this does not mean that we despise other religions, nor are we arrogantly absolutizing our own ideas; on the contrary, it means that we are gripped by Him who has touched our hearts and lavished gifts upon us, so that we, in turn, can offer gifts to others.

In fact, our faith is decisively opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth –- as if this were more than he could cope with. This attitude of resignation with regard to truth lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe.

If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world.

We need truth. Yet admittedly, in the light of our history we are fearful that faith in the truth might entail intolerance. If we are gripped by this fear, which is historically well grounded, then it is time to look towards Jesus as we see Him in the shrine at Mariazell.

We see Him here in two images: as the child in His Mother’s arms, and above the high altar of the Basilica as the Crucified. These two images in the Basilica tell us this: truth prevails not through external force, but it is humble and it yields itself to man only via the inner force of its veracity.

Truth proves itself in love. It is never our property, never our product, just as love can never be produced, but only received and handed on as a gift. We need this inner force of truth. As Christians we trust this force of truth. We are its witnesses. We must hand it on as a gift in the same way we have received it.

“To gaze upon Christ” is the motto of this day. For one who is searching, this summons repeatedly turns into a spontaneous plea, a plea addressed especially to Mary, who has given us Christ as her Son: “Show us Jesus!” Let us make this prayer today with our whole heart; let us make this prayer above and beyond the present moment, as we inwardly seek the Face of the Redeemer. “Show us Jesus!”

Mary responds, showing Him to us in the first instance as a child. God has made Himself small for us. God comes not with external force, but He comes in the powerlessness of His love, which is where His true strength lies. He places Himself in our hands. He asks for our love. He invites us to become small ourselves, to come down from our high thrones and to learn to be childlike before God. He speaks to us informally. He asks us to trust Him and thus to learn how to live in truth and love.

The child Jesus naturally reminds us also of all the children in the world, in whom He wishes to come to us. Children who live in poverty; who are exploited as soldiers; who have never been able to experience the love of parents; sick and suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy.

Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished -– when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future.

“To gaze upon Christ”: let us look briefly now at the Crucified One above the high altar. God saved the world not by the sword, but by the Cross. In dying, Jesus extends His arms. This, in the first place, is the posture of the Passion, in which He lets himself be nailed to the Cross for us, in order to give us His life.

Yet outstretched arms are also the posture of one who prays, the stance assumed by the priest when he extends his arms in prayer: Jesus transformed the Passion, His suffering and His death, into prayer, into an act of love for God and for humanity.

That, finally, is why outstretched arms are also a gesture of embracing, by which He wishes to draw us to Himself, to enfold us in His loving hands. In this way He is the image of the living God, He is God Himself, and we may entrust ourselves to Him.

“To gaze upon Christ!” If we do this, we realize that Christianity is more than and different from a moral code, from a series of requirements and laws. It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death: “No longer do I call you servants, but friends” (Jn 15:15), the Lord says to His disciples. We entrust ourselves to this friendship. Yet precisely because Christianity is more than a moral system, because it is the gift of friendship, for this reason it also contains within itself great moral strength, which is so urgently needed today on account of the challenges of our time.

If with Jesus Christ and His Church we constantly re-read the Ten Commandments of Sinai, entering into their full depth, then a great teaching unfolds before us: It is first and foremost a “yes” to God, to a God who loves us and leads us, who carries us and yet allows us our freedom: indeed, it is He who makes our freedom real (the first three commandments). It is a “yes” to the family (fourth commandment), a “yes” to life (fifth commandment), a “yes” to responsible love (sixth commandment), a “yes” to solidarity, to social responsibility and to justice (seventh commandment), a “yes” to truth (eighth commandment) and a “yes” to respect for other people and for what is theirs (ninth and tenth commandments). By the strength of our friendship with the living God we live this manifold “yes” and at the same time we carry it as a signpost into our world.

“Show us Jesus!” It was with this plea to the Mother of the Lord that we set off on our journey here. This same plea will accompany us in our daily lives. And we know that Mary hears our prayer: yes, whenever we look towards Mary, she shows us Jesus. Thus we can find the right path, we can follow it step by step, filled with joyful confidence that the path leads into the light -– into the joy of eternal Love.

Amen.

We must Create a Society Where Children are Again Seen as a Gift for All, Rather than a Burden or Illness

Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Meeting with Austrian Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

Vienna, Hofburg
Friday, 7 September 2007

The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right -– it is the very opposite. It is “a deep wound in society,” as the late Cardinal Franz K├Ânig never tired of repeating.

In stating this, we are not expressing a specifically ecclesial concern. Rather, we are acting as advocates for a profoundly human need, speaking out on behalf of those unborn children who have no voice. I do not close my eyes to the difficulties and the conflicts which many women are experiencing, and I realize that the credibility of what we say also depends on what the Church herself is doing to help women in trouble.

I appeal, then, to political leaders not to allow children to be considered as a form of illness, nor to abolish in practice your legal system’s acknowledgment that abortion is wrong. I say this out of a concern for humanity. But that is only one side of this disturbing problem.

The other is the need to do everything possible to make European countries once again open to welcoming children. Encourage young married couple to establish new families and to become mothers and fathers! You will not only assist them, but you will benefit society as a whole. We also decisively support you in your political efforts to favour conditions enabling young couples to raise children. Yet all this will be pointless, unless we can succeed in creating once again in our countries a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden, but rather as a gift for all.

Another great concern of mine is the debate on what has been termed “actively assisted death.” It is to be feared that at some point the gravely ill or elderly will be subjected to tacit or even explicit pressure to request death or to administer it to themselves. The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care and accompaniment on the journey towards death –- especially with the help of palliative care –- and not “actively assisted death.”

But if humane accompaniment on the journey towards death is to prevail, urgent structural reforms are needed in every area of the social and healthcare system, as well as organized structures of palliative care. Concrete steps would also have to be taken: in the psychological and pastoral accompaniment of the seriously ill and dying, their family members, and physicians and healthcare personnel. In this field the hospice movement has done wonders.

The totality of these tasks, however, cannot be delegated to it alone. Many other people need to be prepared or encouraged in their willingness to spare neither time nor expense in loving care for the gravely ill and dying.

Finally, another part of the European heritage is a tradition of thought which considers as essential a substantial correspondence between faith, truth and reason. Here the issue is clearly whether or not reason stands at the beginning and foundation of all things. The issue is whether reality originates by chance and necessity, and thus whether reason is merely a chance by-product of the irrational and, in an ocean of irrationality, it too, in the end, is meaningless, or whether instead the underlying conviction of Christian faith remains true: In principio erat Verbum – in the beginning was the Word; at the origin of everything is the creative reason of God who decided to make himself known to us human beings. . . .

Upon you and all the people of Austria, especially the elderly and infirm, as well as the young whose lives lie ahead of them, I invoke hope, confidence, joy and God’s blessings!