I had planned this week to explore Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to representatives of the Catholic press from around the world, in Rome for a meeting, including our own Greg Erlandson, president and publisher, and Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher. Don’t miss Erlandson’s report (Page 4) or the account of how his mind went blank — or did it? — when he met the pope (Page 18).
That was the plan, anyway. Then Pope Benedict pulled a surprise move, speaking off-the-cuff for about 20 minutes at the start of a Synod of Bishops for the Middle East earlier this month. His reflection relied heavily on Scripture, but also the early councils of the Church as well as the Second Vatican Council, and his interpretation of today’s challenges, both global and local, through the eyes of the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
The pope doesn’t speak extemporaneously very often, so his words were carefully parsed by Church observers. (There’s an unofficial English translation of the pope’s entire remarks in Italian at http://bit.ly/aClmVw.)
He speaks in cosmic terms about the history of the world and where we find ourselves in it. He said the gradual transformation of the world from Abraham’s time and beyond to today, and the “weakening of the forces that dominate the earth,” is “a process of suffering.”
The “downfall of the gods” is a process that continues today, he said.
The modern divinities he identified included “anonymous” economic interests that instead of serving people actually enslave them and even slaughter them; terrorist ideologies, and violence done in the name of God; the “ravenous beast” of drug addiction; and strong social currents that downplay the importance of marriage and the virtue of chastity. He also called climate change a threat that, in the words of the Psalms, shakes the foundations of the earth — the outer foundations shaken because of people’s eroded moral foundation.
Strikingly, the pope said the Church’s struggle against such forces in history was captured by an image in the Book of Revelation, in which a serpent creates a river to drown a woman in flight, but the earth swallows up the water, saving her.
He said the river was easily interpreted as dominant currents “that impose themselves as the only way of thinking, the only way of life. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of ordinary people, which does not allow itself to be swept away by these rivers.”
“This true wisdom of simple faith, which does not let itself be devoured by the waters, is the power of the Church,” he said.
Reading the pope’s words, you cannot but help interpret your own life, sufferings and joys against the backdrop of the drama of good and evil in the history of the cosmos. Puts things in a different light.
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