.- Today at noon in Rome, the Holy See released Pope Benedict XVIâs second encyclical, âSpe Salviâ, which proclaims the need for hope in modern society and the necessity for Christians to recover its true meaning.
The Pope begins his 75 page encyclical by explaining that âthe present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.â
âSpe Salviâ draws upon the rich treasure of Benedict XVIâs learning, with references from the lives of the saints and the Church Fathers. Armed with this wisdom and the virtue of hope, the Holy Father says, âThe dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.â
Naturally, this leads to the question, what is hope? The pontiff relates that âto come to know Godâthe true Godâmeans to receive hope.â
Yet Christian hope is different. Referring to the New Testamentâs times, he writes, âChristianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation.â
âJesusâ¦ brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within,â the encyclical explains.
âIt is not the elemental spirits of the universeârelates the Holy Fatherâwhich ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, loveâa Person.â
This changes manâs world because âthe inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.â Christians have hope because Jesus âtells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human,â explains the Pope.
Turning to Hebrews 11:1, the Holy Father points to the impact of faith. âFaith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a âproofâ of the things that are still unseen.â
âFaith,â writes the Pope, âgives life a new basis, a new foundation on which we can stand, one which relativizes the habitual foundation, the reliability of material income.â
Does Modern Society Want Eternal Life?
Not content to remain at the level of the abstract, Benedict XVI turns his focus to modern Christian life. The pontiff asks several crucial questions: How do we experience the Christian faith in our lives? Is it a âlife-changing and life-sustaining hope?â Even more importantly, âdo we really want thisâto live eternally?â
âPerhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive,â he speculates. âWhat they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for everâendlesslyâappears more like a curse than a gift.â
Consequently, âthere is a contradiction in our attitude, which points to an inner contradiction in our very existence,â the Pope notes. âOn the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do not want us to die. Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view. So what do we really want?â
To answer to this deep question, âSpe Salviâ turns to St. Augustine, who says that âultimately we want only one thingââthe blessed lifeâ, the life which is simply life, simply âhappinessâ.â
The transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age
The Holy Father begins his look at the modern Christian understanding of hope by asking, is Christian hope individualistic? In other words, does a personâs salvation depend only on their personal life, or does it hinge upon our service of others too.
Lamenting the âpersonalizationâ of salvation, the Pope asks, âHow did we arrive at this interpretation of the âsalvation of the soulâ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?â
Moreover, âthis programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times and it also shapes the present-day crisis of faith which is essentially a crisis of Christian hope,â says the Pope.
Over the ensuing years, âthe ideology of progress developed further, joy at visible advances in human potential remained a continuing confirmation of faith in progress as such,â the encyclical states.
At the same time, two categories become increasingly central to the idea of progress: reason and freedom. The result of this thinking is that â[p]rogress is primarily associated with the growing dominion of reason, and this reason is obviously considered to be a force of good and a force for good. Progress is the overcoming of all forms of dependencyâit is progress towards perfect freedom.â In all of this, âthe two key concepts of âreasonâ and âfreedomââ¦were tacitly interpreted as being in conflict with the shackles of faith and of the Church,â the pontiff explains.
This new idea of progress resulted in historic changes. âSpe Salviâ briefly addresses âthe two essential stages in the political realization of this hope, because they are of great importance for the development of Christian hope, for a proper understanding of it and of the reasons for its persistence.â
The first development is âthe French Revolution âan attempt to establish the rule of reason and freedom as a political reality.â During the eighteenth century, society âheld fast to its faith in progress as the new form of human hope.â
âNevertheless,â he recounts, âthe increasingly rapid advance of technical development and the industrialization connected with it soon gave rise to an entirely new social situation: there emerged a class of industrial workers and the so-called âindustrial proletariat.â
âAfter the bourgeois revolution of 1789, the time had come for a new, proletarian revolutionââ¦ âKarl Marx took up the rallying call, and applied his incisive language and intellect to the task of launching this major new and, as he thought, definitive step in history towards salvation,â the Holy Father articulates.
âHis promise, owing to the acuteness of his analysis and his clear indication of the means for radical change, was and still remains an endless source of fascination,â he opined.
However, the Pope points out, âwith the victory of the revolutionâ¦Marx's fundamental error also became evident.â âHe forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.â
For Part Two of CNA's in-depth coverage of "Spe Salvi" click here.
To read the entire encyclical go to: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=165