Traces N.3, March 2007

The Pope’s Challenge and Our Responsibility

Some time ago, the well-known editor of an Italian daily informed a large audience that it was quite some time that something had changed in what they, the journalists (and, along with them, intellectuals and opinion leaders), call “Catholicism.” As a clear sign of this rather recent phenomenon of change in the Church, he noted that for the first time a Pope, in an encyclical letter, had used the word “Event” to describe the nature and originality of the Christian fact. He saw this as a warning light. Now, there is nothing new in the concept of Christianity as an historical event–it pertains to the whole of Church history–but the use of this word particularly aroused this editor’s curiosity.
To tell the truth, Benedict XVI’s use of certain words is astounding many people–just read the authoritative writers published in this issue of Traces: Riotta, Allam, Reale, Borgna, Albacete and Lenoci–and is worrying others who hear him. The Pope is speaking of the heart, of love, of reason, of education, of dialogue. He is speaking of “secular” matters, instead of concerning himself with faith and religion, which is, after all, his field of competence. Instead, he dares to use the words that thinkers and ideologies hostile to Christianity claim as their own, and on questions into which Christians, not to mention the Pope, have no right to poke their noses; these are the words of modernity, which interest modern man.
By excluding the Church from the use of these terms and from the debate on the questions linked to them, they want to present the Church as an antique curiosity that can have nothing useful to say about present-day life–but they are wrong, because the Church has always addressed herself to what interests man of all ages, to that which the Pope called the “heart.”
In taking up the challenge of modernity and, as it were, throwing it back, Benedict XVI has used those forbidden words but, above all, he has re-examined them and re-proposed them in their original meaning. He has thrown out a loftier and more loving challenge, and we Christians are the first at whom the challenge is aimed. Look at your own experience and see if the meaning of those words is more open and deeper in light of a familiarity of life with Christ. It is a challenge to love man’s freedom to the end, as Christ did, entrusting yourself to this freedom in order to see if the most important message that can reach us is true–that there is something that survives amidst all this confusion, that life is not empty, that there is a Father who wanted you and is waiting for you, and that what you love will not be lost.
What a responsibility–and what a change–for Christians, immersed like everyone else in a world that has erased certain words from its dictionary, declaring them impossible to live. To take up the Pope’s challenge doesn’t mean merely to repeat his words, it means above all to document the truth of those words–what is the essence of Christianity. “Christ gives flesh and blood to concepts–an unheard-of realism” (Deus Caritas Est); it means to demonstrate that it is possible to live like this, because if men don’t see, they don’t believe it. They can be attracted only by a change that they see in the lives of men like themselves. So our responsibility before the world is called “witness.”