Pope Benedict XVI’s recent first apostolic journey to the United States was a tremendous success.
Most importantly, our country got to see the pope as he is, rather than the usually sparse and inaccurate portrayals we have been given over the past three years by the major media. The nation, as a whole, was not expecting much, but those who knew him had a far different hope.
From the moment Benedict walked off the plane and was greeted by President Bush until his departure six days later, this hope was fulfilled more fully each day. People finally saw him with their own eyes, and heard him with their own ears. And what they saw and heard was an intelligent, humble, holy man bringing a message of joyful hope.
This message was so clear that some began referring to him as the “Pope of Hope.” And so he is. Not only was this his second encyclical on hope (Spe Salvi), it was the very theme of his visit: “Christ our Hope.”
“Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition. Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through Him, our lives reach fullness . . . Indeed the world has greater need of hope than ever: hope for peace, for justice, and for freedom, but this hope can never be fulfilled without obedience to the law of God.” (message to the US).
Essential to the pope’s message of hope is a clear recognition of the dangers, like materialism and secularism, that stand in the way of “’an encounter with the living God, the source of that life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks.” (address to the bishops, April 16, 2008).
In his address to young people and seminarians April 19 (the third anniversary of his election as pope), Pope Benedict spoke of the “activities and mindsets which stifle hope, pathways which seem to lead to happiness and fulfillment, but in fact, end only in confusion and fear.” He called this “darkness.”
There is a darkness that pertains to the heart, manifested in many ways, which “all have in common, a poisoned attitude of mind which results in people being treated as mere objects a callousness of heart takes hold which first ignores, then ridicules the God-given dignity of every human being.”
There is also a “second area of darkness” that affects the mind. “The manipulation of truth distorts our perception of reality, and tarnishes our imagination and aspirations.” This is the “dictatorship of relativism” that he spoke of the day before he was elected pope, and it directly affects our notion of freedom.
When it is dark, we cannot see the things that are around us, but they are still there. The same is true on the spiritual level. The darkness of mind and heart does not make these spiritual realities go away, it keeps us from seeing them and letting them permeate our lives: “Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going.” (Jn12:35).
The light of Christ breaks into this darkness, showing us the path to true freedom and happiness. “This is the way of the saints. It is a magnificent vision of hope Christ’s light beckons you to be guiding stars for others, walking Christ’s way of forgiveness, reconciliation, humility, joy, and peace.” (address to young people).
This is the hope that our Holy Father brought to our nation, and has been bringing to the world all along. Indeed, in this historic visit, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is 9:1).
Let us pray that we do not prefer the darkness. (Jn 3:19).