Pope Benedict’s speeches in Portugal were all very fine and worthy of consideration, but I wish to call attention to one speech in particular, his address on culture in Belém. Normally, we try and lift a couple lines from a long quote, but I want to call attention to the final paragraph in its entirety. (You can get the whole speech here.)
Pope Benedict said: "Precisely so as ‘to place the modern world in contact with the life-giving and perennial energies of the Gospel’ (John XXIII, Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, 3), the Second Vatican Council was convened. There the Church, on the basis of a renewed awareness of the Catholic tradition, took seriously and discerned, transformed and overcame the fundamental critiques that gave rise to the modern world, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. In this way the Church herself accepted and refashioned the best of the requirements of modernity by transcending them on the one hand, and on the other by avoiding their errors and dead ends. The Council laid the foundation for an authentic Catholic renewal and for a new civilization – ‘the civilization of love’ – as an evangelical service to man and society. Dear friends, the Church considers that her most important mission in today’s culture is to keep alive the search for truth, and consequently for God; to bring people to look beyond penultimate realities and to seek those that are ultimate. I invite you to deepen your knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ for our complete fulfilment. Produce beautiful things, but above all make your lives places of beauty. May Our Lady of Belém intercede for you, she who has been venerated down through the centuries by navigators, and is venerated today by the navigators of Goodness, Truth and Beauty."
The entire talk highlighted an openness to the modern world, a commitment to dialogue with the modern world, and a confidence about such an engagement that is, frankly, very different from the defensive posture that seems to characterize too many of the public expressions by the hierarchy in this country and by those who often claim to speak for the Pope. It is not so much that Benedict is unafraid of dialogue with the modern world, although he clearly is unafraid. It is that he communicates his love for modernity, and that his critique of modernity comes from that love, not from some hatred of contemporary culture and its questions or, still less from any self-hatreds buried deep in his psychology.
The Pope emphatically is not looking for a culture war, unlike so many of the uber-Catholics stateside who seem to want nothing more than a daily battle between the Church and the world. This difference in one’s stance towards the modern world was evidenced, as well, in the differing postures adopted by the archdioceses of Boston and Denver regarding the acceptance of children of same-sex couples in Catholic schools, about which Father Martin wrote so eloquently yesterday. I understand why a churchman can feel defensive, living in the same century as the Holocaust and in the same decade as Srebrenica, residing in a country that permits abortion-on-demand and which, despite its astounding wealth, allows poverty and want to define the lives of too many fellow citizens. But, I know too, that such defensiveness finds no justification or warrant in the Gospels nor in the writings of Pope Benedict. The Holy Father sees the possibility of the Christian faith generating culture, and defensiveness cannot generate anything except a snarl and anxiety.