Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the first public Mass of his trip to Bavaria this morning, telling his countrymen while Germany is admired for its scientific and technical prowess and even noted for its social concern for those in need, that it is lacking in faith.
The Pope offered the Eucharistic sacrifice on a white and gray stage erected before a myriad of Germans who were gathered on Munich’s New Fairgrounds. The sparsely decorated sanctuary held at its apex a life-size crucifix, dating from the 9th century. The assembled crowds, standing in groups upon the grassy fields, watched and listened to their countryman, now the head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.
In his Homily the Holy Father challenged his fellow Germans to allow their ears to be opened to God’s word and to do away with the cynicism that is shutting God out of society.
The Pope first noted how the readings of the Mass speak of the presence of God and lead to Him. “But,” the Pontiff noted, “to speak of "God" is also to speak of society: of our shared responsibility for the triumph of justice and love in the world.”
Turning to the Gospel, which tells the story of Jesus healing the man born deaf and mute, the Holy Father noted two themes. Jesus displays his concern for the suffering, “for those pushed to the margins of society. He heals them and, by enabling them to live and work together, he brings them to equality and fraternity.”
Yet, Benedict said, “the whole story has a deeper dimension,” a message which the Church Fathers preached and which, “also has new meaning for us modern men and women.”
The deafness of which the Gospel speaks and which, the Pope said, cuts people off from social life, is not simply a physical deafness. “There is also,” he said, “a ‘hardness of hearing’ where God is concerned, and this is something from which we particularly suffer in our own time. Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God - there are too many different frequencies filling our ears.”
“What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age. Along with this hardness of hearing or outright deafness where God is concerned, we naturally lose our ability to speak with him and to him. And so we end up losing a decisive capacity for perception. We risk losing our inner senses.”
“This weakening of our capacity for perception drastically and dangerously curtails the range of our relationship with reality. The horizon of our life is disturbingly foreshortened,” the Pope worried.
However, the "Ephphatha" - "Be opened" which Jesus spoke to the deaf and mute man in the Gospel, Jesus speaks to men and women today, Benedict said. “What happened then was unique, but it does not belong to a distant past: Jesus continues to do the same thing anew, even today.” By means of our Baptism, he said, we all have been given the ability to hear God’s voice and speak to Him.
And this openness to God is something Germans should renew and export to the world. Benedict said that Bishops from around the world have praised the social activities of German Catholics, but find a lack of concern for faith itself. The Pope recounted the words of an African Bishop, who recently told him, “If I come to Germany and present social projects, suddenly every door opens. But if I come with a plan for evangelization, I meet with reservations".
“Clearly,” the Pontiff lamented, “some people have the idea that social projects should be urgently undertaken, while anything dealing with God or even the Catholic faith is of limited and lesser importance.”
However, he said, for progress to be made in social issues, evangelization and conversion of hearts must be first. Work done in an area such as the AIDS epidemic can only be fruitful once the conversion of hearts is achieved, he said.
“People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical prowess,” the Pope continued, “but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man’s vision, as if this were the highest form of reason, and one to be imposed on their cultures too. They do not see the real threat to their identity in the Christian faith, but in the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom and that holds up utility as the supreme moral criterion for the future of scientific research.”
“Dear friends, this cynicism is not the kind of tolerance and cultural openness that the world’s peoples are looking for and that all of us want! The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God - respect for what others hold sacred. This respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God. This sense of respect can be reborn in the Western world only if faith in God is reborn, if God becomes once more present to us and in us.”
“As we gather here,” the Pope concluded, “let us here ask the Lord with all our hearts to speak anew his "Ephphatha", to heal our hardness of hearing for God’s presence, activity and word, and to give us sight and hearing.”
At the conclusion of the Mass the Holy Father prayed the Angelus with those gathered and joined them in singing a hearty closing hymn. The Pontiff waved enthusiastically to the cheering crowd, prior to departing for a luncheon at the Archbishop’s residence.