God and Peace
By Fr. Joseph Roesch, MIC (Jan 24, 2007)
I recently wrote about Pope Benedict's trip to Spain last summer. I would like to reflect on three other apostolic journeys Our Holy Father took last year — to Poland in May, to Germany in September and to Turkey in November.
He, himself, spoke about these journeys to the people with whom he works at the Vatican in a talk he gave just before Christmas. The Holy Father had used the Season of Advent to reflect on the graces received in the course of the year. He found two themes to be prominent in each of his journeys: the presence or absence of God in our world, and the need for peace, in light of what he called the general danger that hangs threateningly over our time in history, of a clash between cultures and religions.
His trip to Poland was an opportunity to give thanks to this nation for the great gift to the Church of Pope John Paul II, whose motto had been, "Totus tuus," which means "totally yours." Pope Benedict felt that this motto perfectly reflected Pope John Paul II, since he had given himself "without reserve to God, to Christ, to the Mother of Christ, to the Church ... he held nothing back. He let the flame of faith consume him to his inmost depths. He showed us how, as people of today, it is possible to believe in God, the Living God who made himself close to us in Christ."
Our Holy Father was also touched by the "joy of faith" he found there and by the warm welcome he received from the Polish people. We need to keep them in our prayers, as they endure difficult times involving the revelation of the collaboration between some of the clergy and the Communist regime of the past.
While in Poland, our Holy Father visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Prison Camp. In his address at the camp — like Job from the Old Testament — Pope Benedict cried out to God over His apparent absence in the midst of all the suffering that people had endured there. Yet, he added that he was strengthened by the certainty that God does not cease to exist in His silence, but that He remains with us always. As the Pope was saying these words, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky over the death camp. Our Holy Father reflected, "The rainbow was, as it were, a response: Yes, I exist, and the words of the promise, of the Covenant, which I spoke after the flood, are still valid today" (cf. Gn 9: 12-17).
In May, Pope Benedict visited his homeland of Germany. In some parts of Eastern Germany that had been under Communist rule for many years, the vast majority of the people are not baptized, and the ideas of "Christianity and the God of faith seem to belong to the past." He stated that this is our biggest problem in the west, "forgetfulness of God. This forgetfulness is spreading. In short, all individual problems can be traced back to this question. I am sure of it."
He spoke about the expression, the "Kingdom of God." It actually means, God reigns! "God is not something added to 'Kingdom' which one might even perhaps drop. God is the subject ... He is present and crucial to human beings in the world. He is the subject, and wherever this subject is absent, nothing remains of Jesus' message ... Jesus is the Kingdom of God in person."
He also spoke about the priesthood and how "the priest must truly know God from within and thus bring Him to men and women: this is the prime service that contemporary humanity needs."
Dialogue was an important theme for the Holy Father. He told of a philosopher friend of his who had spoken of the need to translate the beliefs of our faith into the language of our secularized world so that our faith can become effective once again. There shouldn't be a disconnect between our faith and our daily lives. His mention of Islam in one speech, which drew so many headlines, was a minor point in that speech. He wanted to challenge the equating of violence with God's will. All religions must put themselves at the service of truth and, therefore, of the human being, in order for us to encounter one another and to be able to dialogue. He also had strong words for the west in that speech — words that were not widely reported.
"Secularized reason is unable to enter in a true dialogue with the religions," he said. "It remains closed to the question of God, and thus will end by leading to the clash of cultures."
In his trip to Turkey two months later, the Holy Father continued to touch on the important themes of faith and reason. He said that a scientific approach to the world that leaves no room for the possibility of a Divine Creator "excludes God from the life of the community and from public organizations, thereby depriving man of his specific criteria of judgment."
Our Holy Father had spoken on this theme on the Feast of the Epiphany. As our world focuses on "globalization," we know that "a new world economic and political order cannot work unless there is a spiritual renewal, unless we can once again draw close to God and find God in our midst."
However, "we realize today how easy it is to lose sight of the terms of this same challenge, precisely because we are involved in it: this risk is heavily reinforced by the vast expansion of the mass media. Although, on the one hand, the media increase information indefinitely, on the other, they seem to weaken our capacity for critical synthesis." We receive an endless supply of bits of information, but are we able to step back and see the big picture in order to understand what is happening? We need to take quiet time away from the noise, to reflect and to listen to God.
Regarding dialogue between Christians and Muslims, to find the right solution, he stated, "we Christians feel in solidarity with all those who, precisely on the basis of their religious conviction as Muslims, work to oppose violence and for the synergy between faith and reason, between religion and freedom." He has often spoken recently of the need for "reciprocity." People of all different faiths have come to the west and found freedom to practice their religions and to build their centers of worship. Christians should be able to find those same freedoms and be protected by laws to practice their faith in different lands.
Peace is connected with opening our hearts to God. "We must learn that peace can only exist if hatred and selfishness are overcome from within. The human being must be renewed from within, must become new and different ... For this very reason we are called especially to let ourselves be penetrated within by God's peace and to take His power into the world. All that was wrought in and through the Sacrament of Baptism must be fulfilled in our lives: the dying of the former self, hence, the rebirth of the new. And we will pray to the Lord insistently over and over again: Please move hearts! Make us new people! Help the reason of peace to overcome the irrationality of violence! Make us bearers of your peace!"
May Our Lady, the Queen of Peace, intercede for us and our world, which will change, as we begin to change, by finding God in our midst.
Father Joseph Roesch, MIC, serves in Rome on the General Council of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.