Vatican Radio) On Wednesday Pope Benedict XVI began the second instalment in his general audience catechesis on faith, by putting a series of questions to the thousands of pilgrims and visitors to St Peter’s Square. He asked them: What is faith? Does faith still make sense in a world where science and technology have opened new horizons that were, until recently, unthinkable? What does it mean to believe today?
These “unrelenting” questions, he told them, are typical of the world today of “a certain kind of culture, has educated us to move only within the horizon of things, of the feasible, to believe only what we can see and touch with our hands. On the other hand, the number of people who feel disoriented is growing and, in seeking to go beyond a purely horizontal reality, they are willing to believe anything and its direct opposite”.
But, added the Pope, these questions also reveal that despite the “greatness” of our human discoveries, we need and want more than the simply tangible. We need and are looking for “love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation, a solid ground to help us live with an authentic sense even moments of crisis, darkness, difficulties and daily problems. Faith gives us just that: it is a confident trust in a “You”, that is God”.
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s general audience catechesis:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
last Wednesday with the start of the Year of Faith, I began a new series of catechesis on faith. Today I would like to reflect with you on an elementary question: What is faith? Does faith still make sense in a world where science and technology have opened new horizons that were, until recently, unthinkable? What does it mean to believe today? In fact, in our time what we need is a renewed faith education, which includes a certain awareness of its truth and the events of salvation, but that mainly arises from a real encounter with God in Jesus Christ, from loving Him, trusting him, so that our entire life is involved.
Today, along with many signs of good, a sort of spiritual desert is growing around us. Sometimes, the events we hear about in the news every day, give us the feeling that the world is not projected toward building a more fraternal and peaceful community; the very ideas of progress and well-being show their darker shadows. Despite the greatness of the discoveries of science and the breakthroughs of technology, today man does not seem to have truly become freer, more humane; there are still many forms of exploitation, manipulation, violence, oppression, injustice … Moreover a certain kind of culture, has educated us to move only within the horizon of things, of the feasible, to believe only what we can see and touch with our hands. On the other hand, the number of people who feel disoriented is growing and, in seeking to go beyond a purely horizontal reality, they are willing to believe anything and its direct opposite. In this context, some fundamental questions emerge, which are much more concrete than they appear at first sight: What is the meaning of life? Is there a future for the man, for us and for future generations? Where should we direct the choices of our freedom for a successful and happy life? What awaits us beyond the threshold of death?
These unrelenting questions reveal how the world of planning, of exact calculation and experimentation, in a word, the knowledge of science, while important for human life, is not enough. We need not only material bread, we need love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation, a solid ground to help us live with an authentic sense even moments of crisis, darkness, difficulties and daily problems. Faith gives us just that: it is a confident trust in a “You”, that is God, who gives me a different but no less solid certainty, than that which comes from exact calculation or science. Faith is not a mere intellectual assent to the special truths of God, it is an act by which I entrust myself freely to a God who is our Father and loves me, it is adherence to a “You” that gives me hope and confidence. Certainly this union with God is not devoid of content: with it we know that God has revealed himself to us in Christ, He showed us His face and became really close to each of us. Indeed, God has revealed His love without measure for man, for each one of us: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the most luminous way how far this love can go, even to the point of giving himself up in total sacrifice. With the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, God descends to the depths of our humanity to bring it back to Him, to raise it to His heights. Faith is to believe in this love of God which is not lacking in the face of man’s wickedness, evil and death, but it is capable of transforming all forms of slavery, gifting the possibility of salvation. Having faith, then, is encountering this “You,” God, who sustains me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity, but gifts it; it is entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child, who knows that all his difficulties, all his troubles are safe in the “You” of the mother. And this possibility of salvation through faith is a gift that God offers to all men. I think we should meditate more often – in our daily lives, characterized by problems and sometimes tragic situations – that Christian believing means this confident abandonment to this profound sense that supports me and the world, a sense that we are not able to give ourselves us, but only to receive as a gift, and that is the foundation on which we can live without fear. And we must be able to proclaim this liberating and reassuring certainty of faith by word and show it with our lives as Christians.
Around us, however, we see every day that many are indifferent or refuse to accept this Good News. At the end of the Gospel of Mark, today we have the harsh words of the Risen Jesus who says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). He loses himself. I invite you to reflect on this. Confidence in the action of the Holy Spirit, we must always push us to go and preach the Gospel, to a courageous witness of faith, but, in addition to the possibility of a positive response to the gift of faith, there is also the risk of rejection of the Gospel, of not welcoming the vital encounter with Christ. St. Augustine already addressed this issue in a commentary on the parable of the sower: “We talk – he said -, cast the seed, spread the seed. There are those who despise, those who criticize, those who scoff. If we fear them, we have nothing more to sow and when the day comes to reap we will be left without a harvest. So the seed comes from good land “(Discourseon Christian discipline, 13,14: PL 40, 677-678). Rejection, therefore, must not discourage us. As Christians we are witness to this fertile soil, our faith, even within our limits, shows that there is good soil, where the seed of the Word of God produces abundant fruits of justice, peace and love, of a new humanity, of salvation . And the whole history of the Church, with all the problems, also shows that there is fertile ground, there is a good seed and it bears fruit.
But let us ask ourselves: where does man draw that openness of heart and mind from to believe in the God who has made himself visible in Jesus Christ who died and rose again, to receive His salvation, so that He and His Gospel are the guide and the light of existence? The answer: We can believe in God because He comes to us and touches us, because the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Risen Lord, enables us to accept the living God. Faith then is primarily a supernatural gift, a gift of God The Second Vatican Council affirms this. I quote: ” To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving “joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it”. (Dogmatic Constitution. Dei Verbum, 5). The basis of our journey of faith is baptism, the sacrament which gifts us the Holy Spirit, making us children of God in Christ, and marks our entry into the community of faith, the Church: we can not believe by ourselves, without coming of the grace of the Spirit, and we do not believe alone, but together with our brothers and sisters. From Baptism onwards, every believer is called to re-live and make this their own confession of faith, together with their brethren.
Faith is a gift of God, but it is also a deeply human and free act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it with clarity. It states: ” Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.”(n. 154). Thus states the Catechism. Indeed, it implies and exalts them, in taking a chance on life that is somewhat like an exodus, that is from our freedom: a going beyond ourselves, our securities, our thought patterns, to rely on the action of God who shows us the way to achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of heart, peace with everyone. To believe is to trust freely and joyfully in God’s providential plan in history, as did the patriarch Abraham, as did Mary of Nazareth. Faith then is an agreement by which our minds and our hearts say their “yes” to God, confessing that Jesus is Lord. And this “yes” transforms life, opens the way towards fullness of meaning, thus making it new, full of joy and of reliable hope.
Dear friends, our time needs Christians who are siezed by Christ, to grow in faith through familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments. People who are almost an open book that recounts the experience of new life in the Spirit, the presence of the God who sustains us on our journey and opens us to life that will never end. Thank you.
Has our Holy Father written this just for Toad?
Perhaps not…… but hopefully Toad will read it carefully, then think and meditate on the beautiful – and very reasonable – lessons to be learnt here. 🙂
Toad promises to read this very carefully before offering his paltry opinion.
If he manages to form one.
“…today we have the harsh words of the Risen Jesus who says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). “
There’s a lot to be said about this post, but Toad will content himself for the moment with the extract above. It is the very essence of why it would be against his conscience a sort of sin, in fact – to revert to Catholicism.
Harsh words from Christ indeed.
And cruel, brutal, unfair and heartless. If taken at face value. But how else are we to take them? The clear implication is that even the merely unbaptised will be damned.
And that unbelievers, however good they might be, however decent in their lives, however little they know of Christianity, however honest in their disbelief, “Will be condemned.” The vast majority of everyone who has ever lived, in fact.
Into the everlasting furnace. Why? For holding the wrong beliefs, even if they were born with them and know no others.
This is utterly pernicious, and Toad first realised that fact as a young toadpole when it was taught to him as Gospel, and he sees no reason to think differently in his dotage.
Of course you will reply saying “Christ didn’t really mean it like that, he actually loves everybody,” or whatever. But that’s what he says!
Unequivocally. No messing.Take it or leave it.
Toad thinks any decent-minded person must, in all conscience, leave it.
There is much Catholic dogma that, he simply cannot, logically or reasonably, bring himself in all honesty to believe.
And it would seem, if Christ is to be believed here, that he (Toad) is going to be condemned to eternal suffering for his beliefs as a result.
It hardly seems just, or fair, or even Christian, deeply uncharitable in fact – but so be it.
(First time he’s ever heard Jesus described as “harsh.” Fair comment, though. He thinks.)
Toad might be wrong, of course.
And he awaits Kathleen’s answer with great ninterest.
Not only ninterest, but also interest.
And…wouldn’t it be nice if someone else wrote in saying. “You know, old Toad’s got a bit of a point, there.”?
Dream on, foolish amphibion!
Toad, I have no time to give you a longer reply right now…… but truly, you have a totally distorted image of God.
More tomorrow…… I hope! 😉
Toad, first of all please read St. Matthew 25: 31-46
It is quite clear from the words of Jesus, that it is he who practices charity, that is, he who sees Jesus Himself (sometimes without even realising it) in his neighbour, and treats him with love, caring for his every need, is obeying the commandment of Jesus to us: “Love God above all things, and your neighbour as yourself.” IOW, this is how we should live, by being “other Christs” in the world…… followers of Jesus Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
From the Dominican website I found this appropriate article explaining the meaning of this Gospel passage that says it far better than I could. (Sorry, a bit long, but well worth reading and understanding):
“Unfortunately many people can have an image of God as a harsh judge scrupulously keeping an account of all the sins we commit and waiting eagerly for the time of judgement to hold us to account. But this is a gross misrepresentation of who God really is. God’s true essence is love and mercy. If we ever doubt this, all we have to do is look at a crucifix to be reminded of the length He went to prove his love for us and save us from our sins. He has given us the gift of his Church and the sacraments, in particular the wonderful gift of the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, to help us to get up when we fall and to grow in his love so that we may arrive at our true homeland in Heaven with him. But God is also just and true justice requires judgement and atonement for wrongs that have not been atoned for in this life.
What will we be judged on?
I think St. John of the Cross put it best when he said: “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone”
Christ has said as much in this Gospel. Love of God should lead to love of neighbour for how can we say we love God whom we cannot see, if we do not love our neighbour whom we can see. In this Gospel, Christ gives us a very clear charter for how we should love and thereby avoid being judged harshly, or at all. He lists some of what the Church calls the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the imprisoned, visiting the sick, and burying the dead. It is through these loving and compassionate acts that we build a true civilisation of love, one built on Gospel values. Christ clearly reminds us that He counts as done, or not done, to him what we do or neglect to do for those who need our love and care. Christ is a King who cares deeply about his subjects and He sees in each of us another of himself, for we are created in his image and likeness. Jesus also told us another way to avoid judgement: “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37). Judgement is God’s right, not ours. Christ asks us to imitate his example and to love and forgive.
This Gospel also reminds us that it is in this very short life that we work out our eternal salvation. Everyday presents us with new opportunities to grow in love, in our families, our places of work, and amongst the strangers that we meet every day who need not remain strangers if we are open to the prompting of God and disposed to allowing him to use us to spread his love in this world where so many people do not know him. Christ is asking us to be his hands and feet and to express our love for him by loving and helping those that He puts in our path. On our own strength we may not be able to do much, but if we sincerely try to walk with God each day, his grace will be enough to help us to help others.”
In no way does this undermine the teaching of Our Blessed Lord to: “Go therefore and teach all Nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit“. Baptism and initiation into the teachings of Christ is a duty of all followers of Christ to bring the message of Salvation of Mankind.
But yes Toad, you are quite right that there are still millions of men for whom the Gospel message of salvation is unknown….. through no fault of their own.
We can only hope and pray that the revelation of Christ (the only Saviour) at the hour of their death will provide for them the necessary “Baptism of desire” to gain them entry into Heaven.
This is hopeless isn’t it?
“We can only hope and pray that the revelation of Christ (the only Saviour) at the hour of their death will provide for them the necessary “Baptism of desire” to gain them entry into Heaven.”
We can hope and pray until we are all as green in the face as Toad, but Christ categorically said, as printed above, ..unbelievers and the unbaptised will not go to Heaven, “…whoever does not believe will be comdemned.” And if you ask a Muslim, for instance if he believes in Jesus Christ as God, what will he say? Tough luck, Mohammed.
When I was a boy nobody ever mentioned this “baptism of desire” theory.
Prods, Atheists and Jews were out of luck. Finish. (There weren’t any Muslims.)
Must be a newish notion. As far as I know Christ never mentioned it.
Or did he?
If he didn’t you’d think he might have though, wouldn’t you?
It being rather important and all.
Toad, you mention ‘baptism of desire’, but did you see my earlier comment @ 11:57 yesterday?
St. John of the Cross assures us that: “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.”
Special prayers for you Toad at Holy Mass today……. “Lord, that I may see.” (Bartimaeus’s words to Jesus in today’s Gospel.)
Those who “want” to see generally do, Kathleen – whether there’s anything there or not. Must dash to Mass!
In this article of the General Audience, I was comforted to see that the Holy Father asked many questions on faith, “unrelenting” questions as he called them.
It is heartening to know that he values questioning, that we might better understand.