Pope’s guide to ‘exiting the illusion of self-sufficiency’

I had wanted to print for you Pope Benedict XVI’s thought-provoking and conscience-pricking message to Catholics for the start of Lent this year. We did not end up having enough space in our pages, so, before Lent slips by entirely, I’d like to highlight key passages (in bold). 

The message centers around the idea of justice. First, the pope points out that injustice cannot be blamed ultimately, contrary to some modern ideologies, on “the system” — accountability is personal, and working for justice means changing hearts: 

Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external roots; its origin lies in the human heart, where the seeds are found of a mysterious cooperation with evil. ...

Indeed, man is weakened by an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into communion with the other. 

By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others: This is egoism, the result of original sin. 

Adam and Eve, seduced by Satan’s lie, snatching the mysterious fruit against the divine command, replaced the logic of trusting in love with that of suspicion and competition; the logic of receiving and trustfully expecting from the other with anxiously seizing and doing on one’s own. ... 

How can man free himself from this selfish influence and open himself to love? 

The answer, of course, he says, is Christ, who offers us liberation by dying for us. But how strange, and unlike our sense of justice, does divine justice turn out to be: The just man dies for the guilty, and the guilty receive the blessings due to the just man. 

That’s precisely the point, the pope says: 

Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need — the need of others and God, the need of his forgiveness and his friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me gratuitously “what is his.” This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the “greatest” justice, which is that of love (see Rom 13:8-10), the justice that recognizes itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected. 

Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love. 

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