Mar 13, 2008
The time of the Holy Father’s pastoral visit to the United States draws near. Last week, an explanation was given for why the Holy Father chose the name he did. In his first general audience after his election in April 2005, he pointed to St. Benedict and how the Benedictine Order that he founded had an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity across Europe. St. Benedict is venerated in Germany and particularly in Bavaria, the pope’s birthplace. Benedict is, in the eyes of our Holy Father, a fundamental reference point for European unity and a powerful reminder of the indispensable Christian roots of its culture and civilization.
The choice of Benedict then reflects the Holy Father’s deep concern that a de-Christianized Europe is one that is in danger of losing true faith and reason. Closely allied to the de-Christianization of Europe are his concerns that secularism and nationalism are doing immense damage to the faith and to human dignity. It will be interesting to see if this concern is reflected in the talks he gives in Washington and New York. Hopefully, our nation will learn from the European experience that total secularization has serious downsides that we Americans would do well to avoid.
The homily that Pope Benedict XVI gave at his inaugural Mass was quite moving to me: “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in his friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. We give ourselves to him; we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life. Amen.”
Reinforcing openness to friendship with Christ clearly is found, in my judgment, in the pope’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, in which he writes: “This impression (that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus) has by now penetrated deeply into the minds of the Christian people at large. This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.”