Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 10, 2007
Benedict inspires us to hope in eternal salvation
The 'great hope' can sustain people through the trials of this world
By JOHN THAVIS
The pope has tried to explain the Church's beliefs in ways that are convincing without being authoritarian.
But his critique is based on reasoned analysis, reflecting the pope's conviction that Christianity, more than just an exercise in faith, does and must make sense to the modern mind.
The pope also has shown sympathy for people who may doubt, or who are no longer attracted by the Church's traditional arguments.
In Spe Salvi, for example, the pope acknowledged that many people may find the idea of eternal salvation monotonous and "more like a curse than a gift."
He went on to say that "eternal life" is an inadequate term and suggested that people think of salvation more in terms of a supreme moment of satisfaction or joy.
Some readers of Spe Salvi were struck by the fact that the pope did not mention the Second Vatican Council or cite its documents. Pope Benedict in general appears to prefer the writings of individual Christians - ancient and contemporary - to illustrate his points.
In this encyclical, the pope quoted early Church fathers and contemporary saints, making powerful arguments for hope that drew from centuries of Christian experience. Both the sermons of St. Augustine and the diary of a 19th-century Vietnamese martyr were at home in this text.
Some of the more interesting and striking passages of the new encyclical have been honed in papal talks and writings over the last two years.
For example, the pope's assessment of Marxism, although ultimately negative, contained praise of Karl Marx's "great analytical skill" in describing the social injustices of his time. Pope Benedict made a similar statement in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, published earlier this year.
Some of the encyclical's most compelling language came in a reflection on the Last Judgment, which included these words about divine justice, "Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened."
That's a theme the pope explored during a trip to Germany in 2006, when he said the idea of judgment should call people to accountability.
"Don't we want the outrageous injustice and suffering which we see in human history to be finally undone, so that in the end everyone will find happiness, and everything will be shown to have meaning?" he asked then.
On that occasion, as in the new encyclical, the pope said only one thing can keep people from being afraid of the God of judgment: an encounter with Jesus Christ, God's "human face."
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