Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hope Down Under

Benedict XVI’s remarks today during the welcoming ceremony with the youth at Barangaroo, Sydney Harbor were outstanding. The enthusiasm and hope of his message combined with an element that can only be called poetry to make this one of the most endearing speeches of his Pontificate. Of course, my ears were perked for any hints of the content of the upcoming encyclical, and I was not disappointed. I have posted below the sections of the speech which I found both most stirring and most pertinent to our topics here. However, my favorite aspect of Benedict’s words are his compassionate and personalist perspective – that is, he uses as a focal point the creature man, as the “apex of creation” and in relationship with God. Only in this context do any of the other “issues” addressed have any real meaning or weight.

[T]he views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous. The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia’s forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendour of Australia’s natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days; these all evoke a profound sense of awe. It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are “good” in God’s eyes (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4). Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: “how majestic is your name in all the earth?” (Ps 8:1).

And there is more – something hardly perceivable from the sky – men and women, made in nothing less than God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). At the heart of the marvel of creation are you and I, the human family “crowned with glory and honour” (Ps 8:5). How astounding! With the Psalmist we whisper: “what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Ps 8:4). And drawn into silence, into a spirit of thanksgiving, into the power of holiness, we ponder.

What do we discover? Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption. Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought. God’s wondrous creation is sometimes experienced as almost hostile to its stewards, even something dangerous. How can what is “good” appear so threatening?

Benedict XVI went on to speak of the good and wholesome wonders which man has wrought, but afterward noted that “the social environment – the habitat we fashion for ourselves – has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss.” Some of these “scars” mentioned by His Holiness include drug and alcohol abuse, “entertainment” taking the form of sexual exploitation or violence, and of course relativism.

After enumerating these evils, Benedict XVI struck a resounding note of hope (by means of attack on materialism, especially in the forms of determinism and consumerism):

Dear friends, life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose (cf. Gen 1:28)! Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.

Sounding the challenge to action, Benedict XVI wisely noted: “If God is irrelevant to public life, then society will be shaped in a godless image. When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the “good” begins to wane.”

Before closing, Benedict XVI re-emphasized the central focus of his remarks:

My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable.

The Pontiff called attention to the deep desire for hope in our world, even in the most secular corners. While pointing to many problems which highlight the need for such hope and the urgency of our societal and environmental situation, Benedict XVI was clear that only one place holds the true answer: “This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at Baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at Confirmation. Let this be the message that you bring from Sydney to the world!”

[Read the full speech.]

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