Pope Extols a Key Virtue for an Angst-Filled Society


The theological counterpart to this sociological and political analysis came in the Pope's recent encyclical. He started by observing the novelty of the Christian message of hope. St. Paul, the Pontiff noted, told the Ephesians that before coming into contact with Christ, they were "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).

The pagan gods were questionable and the myths contradictory, the encyclical added. Therefore, without Christ they were, "in a dark world, facing a dark future" (No. 2).

Christians, by contrast, know that their lives will not end in emptiness, even if the details of their future life are not all clear. This certainty changes our lives, and so the Christian message, the Pope continued, is not just informative but it is life-changing. "The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life," he said.

The current crisis of faith in modern society is "essentially a crisis of Christian hope," the Pope explained (No. 17). The encyclical went on to urge a dialogue between modernity and Christianity, and its concept of hope.

In this dialogue Christians "must learn anew in what their hope truly consists, what they have to offer to the world and what they cannot offer" (No. 22). For its part contemporary society needs to re-examine its uncritical faith in material and scientific progress. Benedict XVI does not reject progress, but notes that it is ambiguous.


"Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil -- possibilities that formerly did not exist," he observed. True progress, the Pope went on to say, also needs to be moral, and if reason opens itself to faith, then it becomes possible to distinguish between good and evil.

The encyclical does not disparage material and scientific progress, and in fact, Benedict XVI acknowledged the need for "the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day" (No. 31). Nevertheless, the text continued, these hopes are not enough without the "great hope" that is God.

"God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety," the Pope concluded.

A world without God is a world without hope, the Pontiff observed further on in the encyclical. Perhaps, then, we should not be surprised at the fear-ridden state of modern society. Along with science, humanity needs to rediscover its faith in God if it is to heal the deeper sources of its fears.


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