Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 10, 2007
Pope's encyclical invites people to encounter Jesus
The world needs God, or it remains without hope, says Benedict
By JOHN THAVIS
While praising Karl Marx for his great analytical skill, the pope said Marx made a fundamental error in forgetting that human freedom always includes "freedom for evil," which is not neutralized by social structures.
In the same way, the pope said, those who believe man can be "redeemed" through science and technological advances are mistaken.
"Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it"
"Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it."
The pope said that while Christians have a responsibility to work for justice, the hope of building a perfect world here and now is illusory. Hopes for this world cannot by themselves sustain one's faith.
"We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God," he said.
The second half of the encyclical discussed how Christian hope can be learned and practised - particularly through prayer, acceptance of suffering and anticipation of divine judgment.
The pope called prayer a "school of hope."As an example he held out the late Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Nguyen Van Thuan, who spent 13 years in prison, nine of them in solitary confinement.
In this "situation of seemingly utter hopelessness," the fact that he could still listen and speak to God gave him an increasing power of hope, the pope said.
He emphasized that prayer should not be isolating and should not focus on superficial objectives.
"When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well," he said.
"Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened."
- Pope Benedict
Suffering is part of human existence, and the sufferings of the innocent appear to be increasing today, the pope said. He said Christians should do whatever they can to reduce pain and distress.
Yet suffering cannot be banished from this world, and trying to avoid anything that might involve hurt can lead to a life of emptiness, he said. Instead, Christians are called to suffer with and for others, and their capacity to do so depends on their strength of inner hope.
"The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope," he said.
The pope recalled that in the not-too-distant past, many Christians would "offer up" to Christ their minor daily disappointments and hardships. Perhaps that practice should be revived, he said.
The pope said the idea of judgment - specifically the Last Judgment - touched strongly on Christian hope because it promises justice.
It is impossible for the Christian to believe that the injustices of history will be the final word, he said.
The Last Judgment should not evoke terror, however, but a sense of responsibility, the pope said. It is a moment of hope, because it combines God's justice and God's grace - but "grace does not cancel out justice," he said.
"(Grace) is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value," he said. "Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened."
The pope said the idea of purgatory, as a place of atonement for sins, also has a place in the logic of Christian hope. Heaven is for the "utterly pure" and hell for those who have destroyed all desire for truth and love, but "neither case is normal in human life," he said.
Thus, the souls of many departed may benefit from prayers, he said.
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