Several times during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI sounded the alarm about the direction society was taking, and told us what we must do in response.
By Joseph Pronechen on the National Catholic Register
Like the seers and prophets of old, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI several times warned about the direction society was taking and where it was heading, and what we should do.
“In the Old and New Testaments, the Lord proclaims judgment on the unfaithful vineyard,” Benedict XVI said in his homily to bishops gathered together in October 2005.
“The threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. … The Lord is also crying out to our ears… ‘If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.’ Light can also be taken away from us and we do well to let this warning ring out with its full seriousness in our hearts, while crying to the Lord: ‘Help us to repent! Give all of us the grace of true renewal! Do not allow your light in our midst to blow out! Strengthen our faith, our hope and our love, so that we can bear good fruit!’”
Benedict’s reference to Revelation 2:5, where Jesus is speaking to the church in Ephesus, serves an even more stark reminder today. It wasn’t the only time Benedict turned to the Book of Revelation.
During his 2010 Christmas greetings he warned, “The Book of Revelation (18:13) includes among the great sins of Babylon — the symbol of the world’s great irreligious cities — the fact that it trades with bodies and souls and treats them as commodities. In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world — an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough…”
Benedict warned that this “fatal misunderstanding of freedom… actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it.”
Two years later, speaking to the United States bishops on their ad limina visit, he again cautioned about what he saw happening. He told them, “It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”
Benedict put a spotlight on the “power of terroristic ideologies. Violent acts are apparently made in the name of God, but this is not God: they are false divinities that must be unmasked; they are not God,” and then the drugs “like a voracious beast clawing “all parts of the world and destroys it: it is a divinity, but a false divinity that must fall. Or even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion: today we must do things like this, marriage no longer counts, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.”
These words are even more relevant today as we see limits on religious freedom in different ways.
Benedict reminded that many of the bishops told him of the “concerted efforts” made to “deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices” or of reducing “religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.”
Of course there is the never-ending case of the Little Sisters of the Poor as a prime example of what he was talking about.
He reminded that America’s founding documents were “grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.”
Don’t we see that every day in news, entertainment and politics?
Earlier in 2010 Benedict also turned to the Book of Revelation. “Concerning this battle in which we find ourselves, of this taking power away from God, of this fall of false gods, that fall because they are not deities, but powers that can destroy the world, Chapter 12 of Revelations mentions these, even if with a mysterious image, for which, I believe, there are many different and beautiful interpretations.” He focused in on the river of water the dragon spews at the fleeing woman.
Benedict looked on the river as “the currents that dominate all and wish to make faith in the Church disappear, the Church that seems no longer to have a place in the face of the force of these currents that impose themselves as the only rationality, as the only way to live.”
On Pentecost 2012, in his homily Benedict reminded about Babel and its tower, “a kingdom in which men had concentrated so much power that they thought they no longer needed to rely on a distant God and that they were powerful enough to be able to build a way to heaven by themselves in order to open its gates and usurp God’s place.”
This biblical account holds “a perennial truth” we see in history and in our world. “The progress of science and technology have enabled us to dominate the forces of nature, to manipulate the elements and to reproduce living beings, almost to the point of manufacturing the very human being. In this situation praying to God seems obsolete or pointless, because we ourselves can construct and achieve whatever we like… Yet we do not realize that we are reliving the same experience as Babel. It is true, we have increased the possibility of communication, of obtaining information, of transmitting news, but can we say that our ability to understand each other has increased? Or, perhaps, paradoxically, do we understand each other less and less? Doesn’t a sense of mutual mistrust, suspicion and fear seem to be creeping in among human beings even to the point of making one individual dangerous to another?”
Benedict answered his question by affirming that Sacred Scripture tells us unity can “only exist as a gift of God’s Spirit who will give us a new heart and a new language, a new ability to communicate. And this is what happened at Pentecost.”
In Caritas in Veritate he warned again, “A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism. Only a humanism open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of social and civic life.”
In 2010, during his Christmas greetings, Benedict echoed the prophets of old, saying, “Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni (Stir up, O Lord, your power and come).”
“Repeatedly during the season of Advent the Church’s liturgy prays in these or similar words. They are invocations that were probably formulated as the Roman Empire was in decline. The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.”
We see similar threats as many areas of society are showing obvious signs of similar deterioration. Benedict said: “Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. Today too, we have many reasons to associate ourselves with this Advent prayer of the Church. For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently, the forces mobilized for the defense of such structures seem doomed to failure.”
Though this perspective might seem to make Dicken’s Bleak House look like Little House of the Prairie, Benedict did not leave us without hope and without a way forward and out. For instance, he said in Light of the World, “The Church is always called upon to do what God asked of Abraham, which is to see to it that there are enough righteous men to repress evil and destruction.”
Hope and Action
When Benedict talked about Revelation 12 and the water spewed at the Woman and her Child, he emphasized something other than the possible harm. The Woman is not harmed because “the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple people, that does not allow itself to be overcome by these rivers and that saves the Mother and saves the Son. This is why the Psalm says the first psalm of the Hour the faith of the simple at heart is the true wisdom (Psalm 119:130). This true wisdom of simple faith, that does not allow itself to be swamped by the waters, is the force of the Church. And we have returned to the Marian mystery.”
Like the early prophets, he did not leave people in the dark but spoke plainly.
Benedict added that Psalm 82 has a “final word” on a source of the problem and solution even after verse 5 laments that “the foundations of the earth are shaken. We see this today, with the climatic problems, how the foundations of the earth are shaken, how they are threatened by our behavior. The external foundations are shaken because the internal foundations are shaken, the moral and religious foundations, the faith that follows the right way of living. And we know that faith is the foundation, and, undoubtedly, the foundations of the earth cannot be shaken if they remain close to the faith, to true wisdom.”
But Benedict the seer does not leave us there without giving us other strong stirrings. He made it clear to a general audience in spring of 2005 when he asserted, “History, in fact, is not in the hands of the powers of darkness, chance or human decisions alone. When evil energy that we see is unleashed, when Satan vehemently bursts in, when a multitude of scourges and ills surface, the Lord, the supreme arbiter of historical events, arises. He leads history wisely towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth of which, in the image of the new Jerusalem, the last part of the Book of Revelation sings.”
And in the 2010 speech he directed us to hope and to a solution as he quoted Psalm 82:8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!”
Then he ended with this plea: “Thus we say to the Lord: ‘Arise at this moment, take the world in your hands, protect your Church, protect humanity, protect the earth.’ And we once again entrust ourselves to the Mother of God, Mary, and pray: ‘You, the great believer, you who have opened the earth to the heavens, help us, open the doors today as well, that truth may win, the will of God, which is the true good, the true salvation of the world.’ Amen.”