In a fractured world is Pope Benedict calling for political engagement?

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Pope Benedict gave his annual address, a "State of the Church," if you will, to the curial officials of the Holy See today. 

You might say the content talk is crucially relevant for the work of the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel as he reviews key events and focuses on some themes.  Among many things which need our attention and reflection, the Pope spoke about nature of man, family life, and inter-religious dialogue. Regarding man in which he gave insight into, he speaks of how evil and destructive vague and ideological the "gender conscious crowd" is to the nature of the person and removes God from conversation. Read the full text here.

The Pope notes the crisis of the family and its effect on society, caused by the unwillingness to make a commitment and by unwillingness to suffer.  But he goes beyond the symptoms to diagnose the cause of the crisis. This talk is not an attack, it is an appeal to truth.

Each of Pope Benedict's addresses to the Roman Curia are important, certainly the 2005 address stands out, but today's will be memorable. 

Here's a section:

First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man's nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? Man's refusal to make any commitment - which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering - means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his 'I' ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child - essential elements of the experience of being human are lost".

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The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being - of what being human really means - is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: 'one is not born a woman, one becomes so' (on ne naĆ®t pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term 'gender' as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being.  They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female - hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defense of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.


In her dialogue with the state and with society, the Church does not, of course, have ready answers for individual questions. Along with other forces in society, she will wrestle for the answers that best correspond to the truth of the human condition. The values that she recognizes as fundamental and non-negotiable for the human condition she must propose with all clarity. She must do all she can to convince, and this can then stimulate political action.

Some questions I have:

  • To what extent have we accepted the lie of the devil? To what degree have Catholics accepted nihilism and pantheism over the Good News of Jesus Christ? Who is the measure of life? Me or God?
  • Why do many people believe that it is their right to own and manipulate for our final end? At Christmastide, we need serious reflection on the fact that the Word became man and not merely a "generic human."
  • If we believe that gender replaces sex, then Jesus Christ isn't Jesus Christ, God and man.  Catholic belief, that is our Christology, holds that Christ cannot be God and a generic human being. Christianity is never generic, in any matter. If there is a reduction of sex to gender then Jesus as the Christ is not our Savior.
  • Does man have a right to a child and right to dispose of that child, too?

We are called to be disciples of Christ. As disciples we have a confidence and certainty that comes from beyond us. It's an Infinite Presence. In another place I have said that we need to know the content of the Faith for our own salvation and to be good witnesses in the world.  Knowledge of our revealed faith means both the acquisition faith's facts, and the integration of that revelation so that it converts our hearts and minds. The deeper level of the faith exists in the heart and extroverted in our behavior. Catholics have a Faith in which we believe and a Faith by which we believe. Faith therefore is a gift given by God which gives us a knowledge of God Himself and the things of God, and it is a lens by which we know and judge reality. Faith has a content because it is relational.

In a very real way what Pope Benedict is talking indicating in this address is to call all of us to a new kind of  engagement, not activism, in society. What is our political, cultural, educational and cultic engagement in our context? The laity have a place, and responsibility in this work that is unique and where the clergy can't be, or, don't have the exact competency. The clergy, remember, have a different vocation from the laity's.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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This page contains a single entry by Paul Zalonski published on December 21, 2012 5:06 PM.

Pope Benedict speaks to Roman Curia, reviews 2012, gives Christmas greetings was the previous entry in this blog.

Benedict XVI forgives former butler Paolo Gabriele is the next entry in this blog.

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