Three ways to knowing God (the world, the human being and the faith) provided the theme for Benedict XVI’s catechesis one morning this week.
The Holy Father began by explaining that “God’s initiative always precedes any initiative on the part of man, and, even on our journey towards Him, it is He Who first illuminates and guides us, while always respecting our freedom. … God never tires of seeking us, He is faithful to the man He created and redeemed, and He remains close to us because He loves us. This is a certainty which must accompany us every day”.
“We know that today the faith faces no lack of difficulties and trials, and its often poorly understood, contested and rejected. … In the past, in the West, in a society held to be Christian, the faith was the environment in which people moved. Reference and adherence to God were, for most people, part of their daily lives, and it was those who did not believe who felt the need to justify their incredulity. In our world the situation had changed, and believers have to be increasingly able to give reasons for their faith. … Our own times have seen the emergence of a phenomenon which is particularly dangerous for the faith. There exists, in fact, a form of atheism, which we define as ‘practical’, in which the truths of faith and religious ritual are not denied but are simply held to be irrelevant to daily existence, detached from life, useless. Often, then, people believe in God superficially but live as if He did not exist. In the final analysis, however, such a lifestyle turns out to be even more destructive, because it leads to indifference towards the faith and towards the question of God.
“The fact is”, the Holy Father added, “that separation from God reduces man to a single horizontal dimension. This reduction was one of the fundamental causes of the totalitarian systems which had such tragic consequences last century, and of the crisis of values we are currently witnessing. Obscuring the reference to God has also obscured the ethical horizon”.
Faced with this situation the Church, “faithful to Christ’s mandate, never ceases to affirm the truth about man and his destiny”, said the Pope. Yet, he asked, “what responses is the faith called to give – with ‘mildness and respect’ – to atheism, scepticism and indifference to the vertical dimension, so that the men and women of our time may continue to question themselves about the existence of God, and follow the paths that lead to Him? I would”, he said, “like to mention some of these paths, which derive both from a natural process of reflection and from the power of the faith itself. They are: the world, man, and faith”.
Referring to the first of these paths – the world – the Pope expressed the view that “we must recover and restore to modern man the chance to contemplate the creation, its beauty and structure. The world is not some shapeless mass; rather, the more we know it, the more we discover its wonderful mechanisms, the more we see a design, a creative intelligence. Albert Einstein said that the laws of nature reveal ‘an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection'”.
To explain the second path – the human being – Benedict XVI quoted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, saying: ‘With his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence'”.
Turning finally to consider the faith, the Pope noted how “believers are united to God, open to His grace and to the force of charity. … Their faith is not afraid to show itself in daily life, it is open to a dialogue which expresses profound friendship for all men and women, and is able to bring the light of hope to our need for redemption, happiness and future life. Faith means meeting God Who speaks and works in history. … A single Christian or a community who are diligent and faithful to the project of the God Who first loved us, are a great help to people experiencing indifference or doubt about His existence and action”.
Nowadays, “many people have a limited concept of Christian faith, which they identify as a mere system of beliefs and values, and not as the truth of God revealed throughout history in order to communicate directly with mankind. … In reality, at the basis of all doctrine and values is the encounter between man and God in Jesus Christ. Christianity, rather than a moral or ethical code, is first and foremost the experience of love in welcoming Christ”, Benedict XVI concluded.