Ways which lead to the knowledge of God
Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI
General Audience, Wednesday, 14 Nov 2012, Paul VI Hall - in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday we reflected on the desire for God that the human being carries within the depths of himself. Today I would like to continue and deepen this aspect by briefly meditating with you upon some ways of arriving at the knowledge of God. I would like to remember, however, that the initiative of God always precedes every initiative of man and it is He first who illuminates us, orientates us and guides us also on the pathway towards Him, always respecting our freedom. And it is always He Himself who makes us enter into his intimacy, revealing to us and giving us the grace to be able to welcome this revelation in faith. Let us never forget the experience of St Augustine: it is not us who possess the Truth after having sought it, but it is the Truth that seeks us out and possesses us.
However, there are ways that can open up man's heart to the knowledge of God, there are signs that lead to God. Of course, we often risk being dazzled by the glitters of worldliness, which makes us less capable of walking such ways or of reading such/these signs. God, however, never tires of looking for us, He is faithful to man whom He has created and redeemed, He remains close to our lives, because He loves us. This is a certainty that must accompany us every day, even if a certain widespread mentality makes it more difficult for the Church and for the Christian to communicate the joy of the Gospel to every creature and to lead all to an encounter with Jesus, the only Saviour of the world. This, however, is our mission, it is the mission of the Church and every believer must live it joyfully, feeling it as their own, through an existence truly animated by faith, marked by charity, by service to God and to others, and capable of radiating hope. This mission shines above all in the holiness to which we are all called.
Today - as we know - there's no lack of difficulties and trials for faith, which is often little understood, and challenged and rejected. St Peter said to his Christians: "Always be ready to respond, but with gentleness and respect, to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in your hearts" (1 Pt 3, 15). In the past, in the West, in a society considered Christian, faith was the environment in which one moved; the reference and adherence to God were, for the majority of people, part of everyday life. Rather it was the one who didn't believe who had to justify his own incredulity. In our world, the situation has changed and increasingly the believer must be able to give a reason for his faith. Blessed John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et ratio, underlined how faith is put to the test also in these times, crossed by subtle and captious forms of theoretical and practical atheism (cf 46-47). From the Enlightenment onwards, the criticism of religion has intensified; history has also been marked by the presence of atheistic systems, in which God has been considered a mere projection of the human soul, an illusion and the product of a society already distorted by so many alienations. Then the last century knew a strong process of secularism, in the name of the absolute autonomy of man, considered as the measure and maker of reality, but impoverished of being the creature "in the image and likeness of God". In our times a phenomenon has occurred that is particularly dangerous for the faith: there is in fact a form of atheism that we define as "practical", in which neither the truths of the faith nor religious rituals are negated, but simply are deemed irrelevant to daily existence, detached from life, useless. Often, then, one believes in God in a superficial way and lives "as if God did not exist" (etsi Deus non daretur). In the end, however, this way of life proves even more destructive, because it leads to indifference towards faith and towards the question of God.
In reality, man, separated from God, is reduced to a single dimension, the horizontal one, and precisely this reductionism is one of the fundamental causes of the totalitarianisms that have had tragic consequences in the last century, as well as of the crisis of values that we see in actual reality. By obscuring reference to God, the ethical horizon has also been obscured, so as to leave space for relativism and an ambiguous conception of freedom, which instead of being liberating ends up binding man to idols. The temptations that Jesus faced in the desert prior to his public ministry represent well those "idols" which fascinate man, when he does not go beyond himself. If God loses centrality, man loses his proper place, he no longer finds his collocation in creation, in relationships with others. That which ancient wisdom evokes with the myth of Prometheus is not past: man thinks himself capable of becoming "god", the master of life and death.
Faced with this picture, the Church, faithful to Christ’s command, never ceases to affirm the truth about man and his destiny. The Second Vatican Council succinctly affirms: "The highest reason for the dignity of man consists in his vocation to communion with God. From his birth man is invited to dialogue with God: he would not exist, in deed, if he were not created through the love of God, always preserved by Him through love; man cannot live fully according to the truth if he does not freely acknowledge that love and devote himself to his Creator "(Gaudium et spes, 19).
What answers, then, is faith called to give, with "gentleness and respect", to atheism, skepticism and indifference towards the vertical dimension, so that the man of our time can continue to question himself about the existence of God and travel the ways that lead to Him? I would like to outline some ways, that derive both from natural reflection and from the very force of faith. I would like to summarize them very concisely in three words: the world, man, faith.
The first: the world. St Augustine, who in his life long sought the Truth and was gripped by the Truth, has a very beautiful and famous passage, in which he affirms thus: "Question the beauty of the earth, of the sea, of the air rarified and spread out everywhere; question the beauty of the sky... question all these realities. They all answer you: Look at us well and observe how beautiful we are. Their beauty is like their hymn of praise. Now who made these things, so beautiful and yet changeable, if not one who is beautiful in an unchangeable way? "(Sermons, 241, 2: PL 38, 1134). I think that we must recover and let the man of today recover the capacity to contemplate creation, its beauty, its structure. The world is not a shapeless magma, but the more we know it and the more we discover its marvellous mechanisms, the more we see a design, we see that there is a creative intelligence. Albert Einstein said that in the laws of nature "is revealed a mind so superior that all rationality of thought and of human systems is by comparison an absolutely insignificant reflection" (Il Mondo come lo vedo io, 'The World as I See It', Rome 2005). A first way, then, that leads to the discovery of God is the contemplation of creation with attentive eyes.
The second word: man. Again St Augustine has another famous passage in which he says that God is more intimate present to me than I am to myself (cf Confessions, III, 6, 11). From here he formulates the invitation: "Do not go outside of yourself, return within yourself: in the inner man dwells the truth" (De vera religione, 39, 72). This is another aspect that we risk losing in the noisy and distracted world in which we live: the capacity to stop and to look deep within ourselves and to read this thirst for the infinite that we carry within, that pushes us to go further and refers us to Someone who can fill it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms thus: "With his openness to truth and beauty, with his sense of moral goodness, with his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about the existence of God" (n 33).
The third word: faith. Above all in the reality of our times, we must not forget that a path which leads to the knowledge of and an encounter with God is the life of faith. The one who believes is united to God, is open to his grace, to the force of charity. Thus his existence becomes testimony not of himself, but of the Risen One, and his faith is not afraid of showing itself in everyday life, it is open to dialogue which expresses deep friendship for the pathway of every man, and knows how to open lights of hope onto the need for redemption, for happiness, for the future. Faith, in fact, is the encounter with God who speaks and works in history and who converts our daily life, by transforming our mentality, value judgments, choices and concrete actions. It is not an illusion, a flight from reality, a comfortable refuge, a sentimentality, but is the involvement of the whole of one's life and is the announcement of the Gospel, the Good News capable of liberating the whole of man in his entirety. A Christian, a community that is hard-working and faithful to the plan of God who loved us first, constitutes a privileged way for those who are indifferent or are doubtful about his existence and his action. This, however, asks that each one renders ever more transparent their own testimony of faith, purifying their own life so that it conforms to Christ. Today many have a limited conception of the Christian faith, because they identify it with a mere system of beliefs and values and not so much with the truth of a God who has revealed Himself in history, desirous to communicate with man face to face, in a rapport of love. In reality, at the foundation of every doctrine or value there is the event of the encounter between man and God in Christ Jesus. Christianity, before any morality or ethics, is the advent of love, is to welcome the person of Jesus. For this reason, the Christian and Christian communities must first of all look to Christ and let Christ be seen, the true Way which leads to God."
"Je salue tous les francophones présents venus du Canada et de France, spécialement les collégiens de Fénelon-Sainte-Marie ! Puissiez-vous annoncer avec joie l’Évangile par le témoignage courageux de votre foi, par une vie conforme au Christ, et par la force de votre charité. Je vous invite à vivre chaque jour dans la sainteté pour irradier sur notre monde la lumière de l’espérance. Bon pèlerinage !
I greet the participants in the Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. I also greet the El Shaddai European Convention. I welcome the Westminster Cathedral Choir and I thank them, and the other choirs present, for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark, Gibraltar, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.
Mit Freude grüße ich die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Gott ist keine Illusion, sondern höchste Wahrheit und Antwort auf die Suche unserer Vernunft und unseres Herzens. Der Herr selbst kommt uns bei unserem Suchen entgegen. Öffnen wir uns seiner Wahrheit und seiner Liebe. Maria, die Mutter der Glaubenden, möge uns dabei begleiten! Danke.
Saludo a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los fieles de la parroquia de san Francisco Javier, de Formentera, así como a los demás grupos provenientes de España, México, Venezuela, Chile y otros países latinoamericanos. Que el impulso de la fe os lleve a mirar y a hacer mirar a Cristo, verdadera vía que conduce a Dios. Muchas gracias.
Queridos peregrinos vindos de diversas cidades do Brasil e todos os presentes de língua portuguesa: sede bem-vindos! Neste Ano da Fé, procurai conhecer mais a Cristo, único caminho verdadeiro que conduz a Deus, para poder depois transmitir aos demais a alegria desse encontro transformador. Possa Ele iluminar e abençoar as vossas vidas! Obrigado pela visita!
البَابَا يُصْلِي مِنْ أَجَلِ جَمِيعِ النَّاطِقينَ بِاللُّغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ. لِيُبَارِك الرَّبّ جَمِيعَكُمْ.
Witam przybyłych na audiencję Polaków. Bracia i siostry, myśląc dzisiaj o drogach wiodących do poznania Boga, dzielmy się z wszystkimi radością wiary, że Bóg stworzył wszechświat, człowieka, uczynił nas swoimi dziećmi. Niech nasza wiara, modlitwa, świadectwo życia będą hołdem uwielbienia Boga, naszego Ojca, który przemienia nasz sposób myślenia, hierarchię wartości, wybory i konkretne działania. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus.
Сердечно приветствую паломников из России, особенно группу катехизаторов из Епархии Святого Иосифа в Иркутске во главе с Епископом Монсеньором Кириллом Климовичем.
Да благословит Господь ваше паломничество и да сопутствует вам молитва святых Апостолов и мучеников Вечного Города! Слава Иисусу Христу!
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Rivolgo un affettuoso benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai gruppi parrocchiali, alle associazioni e agli studenti. Saluto i partecipanti al Forum organizzato da Caritas Internationalis e i missionari, sacerdoti e laici, che prendono parte al corso organizzato dalla Pontificia Università Salesiana: la visita alla Sede di Pietro favorisca in tutti il rinnovamento spirituale e l’impegno nell’evangelizzazione.
Un pensiero infine per i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli. Domani celebreremo la memoria di Sant’Alberto Magno, patrono dei cultori delle scienze naturali. Cari giovani, sappiate conciliare lo studio rigoroso con le esigenze della fede; cari ammalati, confidate nell’aiuto della medicina, ma in misura ancora maggiore nella misericordia di Dio; e voi, cari sposi novelli, con l’amore e la stima reciproca testimoniate la bellezza del Sacramento ricevuto."