Pope Benedict XVI in the Czech Republic said the kinds of things one would expect a pope to say on a pastoral visit.
We might be tempted to take it for granted and ignore it. This was a visit to a somewhat out-of-the-way European nation, right? Not to the U.S. How does it concern us?
On his return to the Vatican last week, the Pope said he hoped that his trip would help the largely secular Czech Republic rediscover its Christian roots and resist relativism and consumerism.
His message could equally apply to Americans.
In an encounter with university rectors and cultural figures, for example, he spoke of the need for scholarship to be rooted in Truth, “an integral Truth that shuns relativism and determinism,” as he put it during his weekly general audience Sept. 30.
There exists an “indissoluble tie between liberty and Truth,” he said. “We must not be afraid of Truth because it is the friend of mankind and of liberty.” Only by searching for Truth, he said, “can we construct a future for young people and future generations.”
The Czech people are undergoing a difficult moment, he said during his Sept. 26-28 visit, like the rest of Western Europe. The “long winter” of atheism under 40 years of communist rule has produced “the poisonous effects of a certain secularism and Western consumerism.”
Pope Benedict faced not so much an anti-papal reception as an apathetic one. His message may have been ignored by many in the Czech Republic, but it need not go to waste. Americans, facing strong secularizing trends, can benefit richly from his wisdom.
We offer these nuggets:
During an outdoor Mass Sept. 27 in the Moravian Diocese of Brno, the Pope spoke of the necessity of God. “History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions, and how hard it is to build a society inspired by the values of goodness, justice and fraternity,” he said.
“True freedom presupposes the search for Truth — for the True Good — and hence finds its fulfillment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just,” Pope Benedict said during a meeting Sept. 26 with diplomats and political, civil, religious and cultural leaders in Prague’s presidential palace. “Jointly we must engage in the struggle for freedom and the search for Truth, which either go together, hand in hand, or together they perish in misery,” the Pope said.
He urged people “to apply their faith respectfully yet decisively in the public arena” so that the truth and wisdom of faith could light the path of human progress.
“Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, the pursuit of Truth makes consensus possible, keeps public debate logical, honest and accountable” and ensures a society that is united and dedicated to the common good, he said.
Something to ponder in a society where too many people are afraid of offending someone because “not everyone believes the same thing you do.”
At an outdoor Mass Sept. 28 to celebrate the feast of St. Wenceslas, the martyr and patron saint of the Czech Republic, the Pope said bearing witness to the Gospel was not easy.
“The good and honest person is the one who does not obscure God’s light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows God to shine through,” the Pope said.
And, of the temptation to put self ahead of God’s will, he recognized that sometimes it seems there is little motivation to put Christ first when so many people who exclude God from their lives and show no respect for others end up reaching the highest pinnacles of power or achieve great success. But “one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are,” and history points to many powerful figures in history who all of a sudden were stripped of their power, he said.
After the Mass, the Pope told young people that Christ “knocks on the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend.” While young people are often led astray by “illusory visions” of happiness, he said, only Christ can satisfy the human desire for happiness and meaning in life.
And, as he bade farewell to the country at Prague’s international airport, he even quoted native son Franz Kafka, who has been interpreted variously as a modernist, existentialist or anarchist. The Pope gave us an example in using the language of those who are not necessarily friends of the Church to focus our attention on what is essential.
“According to a saying attributed to Franz Kafka,” Benedict said, “‘Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.’ If our eyes remain open to the beauty of God’s creation and our minds to the beauty of his truth, then we may indeed hope to remain young and to build a world that reflects something of that divine beauty, so as to inspire future generations to do likewise.”
America has not suffered under communism, as the Czech Republic has, though some warn of socialist trends in our current federal government. But atheism, secularism and consumerism have certainly gained more traction in this country of late. And a recent survey shows that more and more Americans are declaring no religious affiliation.
“Americans who don’t identify with any religion are now 15% of the U.S.A., but trends in a new study shows they could one day surpass the nation’s largest denominations — including Catholics, now 24% of the nation,” reported USA Today Sept. 22.
From studying the history of countries like the one the Pope visited at the end of September, we can see where such trends can lead. Catholics here need to know that history and embrace the words Pope Benedict offered a nation that needs healing. Let us live by those words, and let our example lead our secularized compatriots to that freedom that thrives on the Truth.