In this column, I rarely offer recommendations of something to read. So the fact I am now indicates how much I think you’ll get out of setting aside an hour or so and reading every single one of Pope Benedict XVI’s speeches during his four-day visit to his homeland, Germany, last month.
Don’t worry: They are fewer than 20, and some are only a couple of paragraphs long. (They can be found at the Vatican’s website.)
In this week’s issue, we’ll give you a sampling. On Page 5, Austen Ivereigh reports on the audacity of the pope’s language on the role of religion in public life, especially in his speech to German lawmakers. It may well go down as one of the most important talks of his pontificate.
On Page 7, you’ll find a three-paragraph excerpt (“‘Desecularizing’ the Church”) from another striking speech the pope gave to Catholic laity, in which he said quite forcefully that the Church continually must strip itself of worldliness and temporal power if it is to be able to fulfill its mission as a conduit of God’s mercy and encounter with Christ. “The real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith,” he said. “If we do not find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.”
As I read through the speeches, the pope kept coming back to a couple dominant themes.
One was the theme of the trip itself, “Where God is, there is a future.” He hoped that message would resonate in an arguably post-Christian country that is facing a bleak social and economic outlook.
Another recurring theme in his talks was the importance of community, not least in the Church. We don’t do the important things in isolation from those around us. “Particularly in our faith,” he said, “we do not stand alone, we are links in the great chain of believers. Nobody can believe unless he is supported by the faith of others, and conversely, through my faith, I help to strengthen others in their faith.”
For some reason, I also found it striking that Pope Benedict more than once touched on the apparent scandal of an all-powerful God not intervening to prevent the suffering of innocent people and the evil done — even by us. The manifestation of suffering and evil makes us fearful, he noted. So he urged his listeners to trust in God.
“[God] is always close to us, especially in times of danger and radical change, and his heart aches for us, he reaches out to us. We need to open ourselves to him so that the power of his mercy can touch our hearts. We have to be ready freely to abandon evil, to raise ourselves from indifference and make room for his word. God respects our freedom. He does not constrain us. He is waiting for us to say ‘yes,’ he as it were begs us to say ‘yes.’”
I’d be very interested to know what portions of the pope’s speeches strike you. Write firstname.lastname@example.org.