Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI: "...the first step towards salvation.."

A few days ago, before giving the traditional Christmas blessing to the City of Rome and the world ("urbi et orbi"), Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the Child of Bethlehem as Savior.  His Holiness said (in part): "He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death.."

The Holy Father said that human beings cannot save themselves from this sin, "unless we rely on God's help, unless we cry out to him: 'Veni ad salvandum nos! -- Come to save us!'"

He affirmed, though, that "the very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: We are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved."

The Bishop of Rome spoke of God as the physician, while we are the infirm. And to realize this, he said, "is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance."

"Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry," the Pope declared. "And not only this! God's love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition. The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation." (See here).

There is a famous hymn written by Martin Luther which begins, "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.." For all too many people today (including sadly, many Catholics) the conscience has become a "mighty fortress" built so as to shelter one from the exacting demands of truth. In the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "In the Psalms we meet from time to time the prayer that God should free man from his hidden sins. The Psalmist sees as his greatest danger the fact that he no longer recognizes them as sins and thus falls into them in apparently good conscience. Not being able to have a guilty conscience is a sickness...And thus one cannot aprove the maxim that everyone may always do what his conscience allows him to do: In that case the person without a conscience would be permitted to do anything. In truth it is his fault that his conscience is so broken that he no longer sees what he as a man should see. In other words, included in the concept of conscience is an obligation, namely, the obligation to care for it, to form it and educate it. Conscience has a right to respect and obedience in the measure in which the person himself respects it and gives it the care which its dignity deserves. The right of conscience is the obligation of the formation of conscience. Just as we try to develop our use of language and we try to rule our use of rules, so must we also seek the true measure of conscience so that finally the inner word of conscience can arrive at its validity.

For us this means that the Church's magisterium bears the responsibility for correct formation. It makes an appeal, one can say, to the inner vibrations its word causes in the process of the maturing of conscience. It is thus an oversimplification to put a statement of the magisterium in opposition to conscience. In such a case I must ask myself much more. What is it in me that contradicts this word of the magisterium? Is it perhaps only my comfort? My obstinacy? Or is it an estrangement through some way of life that allows me something which the magisterium forbids and that appears to me to be better motivated or more suitable simply because society considers it reasonable? It is only in the context of this kind of struggle that the conscience can be trained, and the magisterium has the right to expect that the conscience will be open to it in a manner befitting the seriousness of the matter. If I believe that the Church has its origins in the Lord, then the teaching office in the Church has a right to expect that it, as it authentically develops, will be accepted as a priority factor in the formation of conscience." (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Keynote Address of the Fourth Bishops' Workshop of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, on "Moral Theology Today: Certitudes and Doubts," February 1984).

In the same address, Cardinal Ratzinger explains that, "Conscience is understood by many as a sort of deification of subjectivity, a rock of bronze on which even the magisterium is shattered....Conscience appears finally as subjectivity raised to the ultimate standard."

A broken conscience, an ill-formed conscience, becomes a mighty fortress which shuts the truth out. Have we built an interior castle, as did St. Teresa of Avila, which remains open to the demands of truth and the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Or has our conscience become a mighty fortress built to prevent our encounter with truth?

Related reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1783-1785.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Our broken culture will not be healed until people call out to the Lord Jesus for His mercy and repent of their sins. For now, pride is in the way. Many want simply to do their own will and to ignore or sweep away God's Commandments. How wretched our nation has become.

But we have a choice. The Child i the manger has come to save us. We have only to approach Him in Confession.

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