On the Papacy of the Spiritual Director, Benedict XVI

On the Papacy of the Spiritual Director, Benedict XVI

Francesco M. Valiante

'Fly high' with both 'wings': reason and faith

"If faith and reason are like two 'wings' on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth", as the evocative incipit of Fides et Ratio says, then one can certainly say that these first months of the Pontificate of Benedict XVI have been a full and demanding appeal to "fly high", addressed to the spirit of humanity in our time.

Such a short period of time is perhaps too little for those who want to measure the times of the soul with the transience of lapidary sentences and learned analyses. But they are certainly a little "treasure" for whoever is seeking to approach the mystery of the Church without the blinders of prejudice or fashionable labels, and who desires to find further meaning and a permanent response to the irrepressible questions that trouble the people of every epoch and latitude.

In the dawn of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has bent over these persons, eternal beggars for the Absolute on the paths of history, like a caring "Samaritan of faith", full of concern. Like the generous Gospel wayfarer who stopped to help the needy man on the road to Jericho, he has invited them to rouse themselves, to rise from the ground, to take flight.

He did not offer them the consoling crumbs of a Word of God "torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage", as he said on the day when, as Bishop of Rome, he took possession of the Chair at St John Lateran. He gave them the strengthening refreshment of a message of love, tender and strong, gentle and vigorous.

The Pope's message brings relief and inner joy: "There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ", he assured the faithful during the Eucharistic Celebration for the inauguration of his Petrine Ministry, but it rejects every attempt to "adapt" it [God's Word] or "water it down" (Homily, Mass for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Benedict XVI [Homily, Mass of Possession of the Chair: St John Lateran Basilica], 7 May 2005; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 11 May, p. 3), so as not to undermine its capacity for responding to the yearning for truth in every human heart.

Benedict XVI has chosen to appeal to the language of intelligence to pluck at our heartstrings. He is aware that should one of the two "wings" — faith and reason — be missing, the human soul is destined sooner or later to tumble into the abyss of desperation, nihilism and alienation, to be lost in one of the many "kinds of desert" that he mentioned to the faithful in St Peter's Square at the beginning of his Pastoral Ministry (Installation Mass, 24 April 2005; ORE, 27 April, p. 8).

The reason for faith must become the answer of faith

The Pope is addressing every person and the whole person. He is presenting the challenge of the truth in its entirety. His invitation is lofty and demanding. His suggestions press the spirit and provoke the mind.

His magisterium asks not only for the acceptance of the heart but also for the understanding of the mind, the effort of an interiorization that is neither skin-deep nor episodic, the full involvement of a "ratio" that is far from weak or rejective.

The orientation of Benedict XVI's conviction — which ignores the strategic contingencies of the beginning of the Pontificate and any personal inclination for philosophical speculation — is summed up in his forceful Address to the clergy of Rome at the end of the meeting in the Cathedral of St John Lateran: "The reason for the faith, the word of faith, must become the answer of faith" (Extemporaneous Remarks in Response to the Clergy, 13 May 2005; ORE, 18 May, p. 4).

Only a short-sighted intellectualism can exchange for fundamentalism or fideism what is in reality an act of boundless trust in the human person and reason's capacity to arrive at the authentic truth, hence, freedom.

Only an anachronistic secularism can take for undue interference that repeated appeal for the protection of life and the defence of the family as the cornerstones of a culture to which no human heartbeats are foreign.

In fact, in this assiduous gaze of love for every person, there is a sense of the
evangelizing mission of the Church, whose basic duty is to reveal man to himself, showing him that "only where God is seen does life truly begin" (Installation Mass, ORE, 27 April 2005, p. 8).

There is the authentic meaning of the Petrine ministry, which is not an absolute power but "a mandate to serve" (Mass for Taking Possession of the Chair, Basilica of St John Lateran, 7 May 2005; ORE, 11 May, p. 3). There is that "wisdom of heart", another phrase of the Pope (Extemporaneous Remarks in Response to the Clergy, ORE, 18 May 2005, p. 4), that every Christian is called to attain through the vigorous beating of both "wings": faith and reason.

Flying high: nourished by truth, emboldened by love

Precisely because Christ is "the standard of true humanism", as the Pope recently recalled in an Address to the Italian Bishops (Address to the 54th Assembly of the Italian Bishops' Conference, 30 May 2005; ORE, 8 June, p. 3), faith cannot be a threat or a harness for
the human being.

This is the liberating proclamation that Benedict XVI, with his words, his manner of communicating and his most simple and discreet gestures, desires to offer the world at the uncertain and tormented beginning of this millennium. The Pope wants to reveal to human beings who are bewildered and frightened, a God whose "patience" is the most effective antidote to the destructive "impatience" of his creatures, a God who asks to be addressed with intimacy, who is "always within hearing" (Homily at Mass for Taking Possession of the Chair, Basilica St John Lateran, ORE, 11 May 2005, p. 3).

We are far from the cold language of pedagogy or of abstract, obscure philosophizing. Instead, we are aware of the vigorous and encouraging tones of the inner guide, the spiritual father who is trembling for the salvation of the souls entrusted to him.

If in the almost 27 years of his Pontificate we learned to see Pope Wojtyła as an active and tireless "parish priest of the world", in these first months of his Petrine service we have begun to see in Pope Ratzinger a sensitive, caring "spiritual director" of the People of God, thirsting for truth and hope.

There is no doubt that Benedict XVI's message is at the same time both encouraging and disturbing; it comforts but does not leave people placid or unmoved, just as, moreover, he did not leave people unmoved at Vespers on 19 April, in the secrecy of the Sistine Chapel. "[We] were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness", he said to his compatriots a week after his election to the throne of Peter (Address to German Pilgrims, 25 April 2005; ORE, 4 May, p. 2).

This gentle and humble man, meek and smiling, who said his "yes" without reserve to the Lord's call before the Cardinals gathered in the Conclave, has quite obviously embraced — with the "holy restlessness" of the Pastor — the "uncomfortable" mission of showing men and women that they can "fly high" towards the horizons of freedom, nourished by truth and emboldened by love.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13 July 2005, page 9

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