The World in 2013: a Pope’s Eye View
Earlier this month, on January 7th, Pope Benedict continued the longstanding tradition of starting the New Year with an address to the diplomats accredited before the Holy See. These papal addresses are always wide in their scope and insightful in their depth. This year proved no different. If you want to know how the Pope views the world, this annual address is a great place to start. Though many points can be made, I think there are six main take-aways.
- The Holy Father’s job encompasses the whole world. We often wonder why the Holy Father doesn’t solve the problems we see in our parish or in our diocese. The truth is, the Church is much larger than the Church in the United States. He cannot mention every country in a short speech, but some he did mention include Mali, Burundi, and Equatorial Guinea. Beyond the recent violence, which put Mali in print in mid-January, have you so much as read anything about one of those countries in an American newspaper lately? (If you ever have a chance to listen to Vatican radio news, you will have a much more universal picture of the world.)
- The Holy Father is not a politician. The purpose of the Holy See having diplomatic relations with other nations is simple. The pope states it clearly: “It involves a dialogue which has at heart the integral spiritual and material good of each man and woman, and seeks to advance their transcendent dignity everywhere.” It is out of love for his Father and for us that Jesus came. It is out of love for God and man that the Church, as the continuation of Christ’s mission on earth, acts. When the Pontiff touches on issues many may deem “political,” he does not do so as a politician, but as a pastor.
- The exclusion of God leads to human selfishness and violence. The Holy Father has mentioned this many times in his pontificate. If man was truly created by God and for God, then we cannot achieve fulfillment of peace apart from Him. Trying to do so only leads to error, frustration, and self-centered pursuits that end up pitting human beings against each other. “[F]rom the Christian point of view, the glorification of God and human peace on earth are closely linked, with the result that peace is not simply the fruit of human effort, but a participation in the very love of God. It is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence.”
- Greed can displace God as well, and is a threat to peace. In economic matters, God is excluded when profit becomes an end unto itself. “The current economic and financial crisis… developed because profit was all too often made absolute, to the detriment of labour, and because of unrestrained ventures in the financial areas of the economy, rather than attending to the real economy. There is a need, then, to rediscover the meaning of work and proportionate profit. To that end, it would be well to teach people how to resist the temptations of particular and short-term interests, and to look instead to the common good. Furthermore, it is urgent to train leaders who will one day guide national and international public institutions (cf. Message for the 2013 World Day of Peace, 6).”
- Human rights are only truly human if based on the truth of the human person. The Church stands for man, for human rights, but only when they are rights based on a complete and true vision of who we, as human persons are and what our destiny is. The Holy Father sees this as a problem in our part of the world: “Sadly, especially in the West, one frequently encounters ambiguities about the meaning of human rights and their corresponding duties. Rights are often confused with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who becomes self-referential, no longer open to encounter with God and with others, and absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or her own needs. To be authentic, the defense of rights must instead consider human beings integrally, in their personal and communitarian dimensions.” It is only in this context that one can understand the Church’s commitment to life, to education, to religious and economic freedom, all of which are mentioned in this address.
- 2013 is a year of Anniversaries. The Church, like every mother and teacher, enjoys commemorating anniversaries. They mark important milestones on her earthly pilgrimage. This year if the 60th anniversary of Bl. John XIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, which the Holy Father quotes twice to bookend his remarks. This Year of Faith is also the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. There will be many more references to both of these as this year progresses.
But don’t take my word for it. Read the address yourself and allow the Holy Father’s thoughts to widen your view of the world and deepen your view of who we are. So many challenges to face, but with so great a God in our corner!