Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

‘Be not afraid!’ - ‘Saved in Hope’ — VIII

Hope and individualism

Is placing all our hope in God’s unconditional love a totally individualistic act, made with indifference before our relationships with others? Is it a kind of "God and me" hope? In the first place, it must be observed that our relationship with God is not something that we establish on our own or by our own power. It is, first, God’s gift of unconditional love of us, to which we are called to respond with love.

The answer to the question regarding hope and individualism, therefore, is found in our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ Who alone is the sure anchor of hope in our lives. Life in Christ is life poured out in love of others, without boundary. "Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into His ‘being for all’ it makes it our own way of being" (Spe Salvi, n. 28).

Living in communion with Christ means living with Him, for others. He alone makes it possible for us to live so. To illustrate the point, Pope Benedict XVI quotes words of St. Maximus the Confessor, a Doctor of the Eastern Churches, who died in the year 662. St. Maximus the Confessor, when he urged the faithful to love God above all else, at the same time reminded them that love of God frees us to give love, to give of ourselves and of our means to others in imitation of divine love. "Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: The love of God is revealed in responsibility for others" (Spe Salvi, n. 28).

Example of St. Augustine of Hippo

Pope Benedict XVI helps us to understand the essential "connection between love of God and responsibility for others" by recalling for us the life of St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine, who had led a very worldly and, frankly, sinful life until the time of his conversion, had decided, after his conversion, to join with some "like-minded friends" in forming a type of contemplative community, that is a fraternity devoted to the things of God.

But God had other plans for St. Augustine. One Sunday, while attending Mass at Hippo, St. Augustine was called by the bishop to receive priestly ordination for the service of the faithful. Writing about the event in his "Confessions," St. Augustine tells how he had thought of running away from priestly ordination because of his gravely sinful past. It was the Word of God which gave him the courage to respond to the bishop’s call: "And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15). St. Augustine understood that living in Christ "means allowing oneself to be drawn into His being for others" (Spe Salvi, n. 28).

Life in Christ for others

Life for St. Augustine as a priest and, eventually, a bishop was most challenging. The variety of sheep making up the flock, with their various needs, and the effects of original sin in the world demanded nothing less that the total gift of himself to them. Pope Benedict XVI quotes a text of St. Augustine about his pastoral work:

"The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved" (Spe Salvi, n. 29).

Such is the life of a true shepherd of the flock in a world inhabited not by angels but by human beings who are deeply affected by the sin of our first parents. It is not, however, a life given to discouragement or desperation, for Christ has redeemed the world and acts in the Church for the transformation of the world, until the day of His return in glory, when all of creation will be restored to God in its original perfection. One of the specific ways in which Christ acts in the Church for the transformation of the world is the ministry of the bishop and his co-workers, the priests.

An additional source of deep concern in the heart of Augustine was the collapse of the Roman Empire in North Africa, of which Hippo was a part, and the resulting instability of daily life and loss of political security. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that in Augustine’s last years Roman Africa was, in fact, destroyed.

Our Holy Father comments on how St. Augustine, notwithstanding "his introverted temperament," dedicated himself to transmitting, to the people of Hippo, the hope which comes through faith. Conscious of his own sins and of the perilous social and political situation of the city of Hippo, St. Augustine put his trust in Christ and assisted others to do the same. "On the strength of his hope, Augustine dedicated himself completely to the ordinary people and to his city — renouncing his spiritual nobility, he preached and acted in a simple way for simple people" (Spe Salvi, n. 29).

Summary

Pope Benedict XVI then proceeds to summarize his reflections, thus far, on Christian hope. First of all, man embraces various causes of hope throughout his life, some of which can seem to be "totally satisfying without any need for other hopes." When those hopes are fulfilled, however, we discover that they are not all for which we were hoping. "It becomes evident that man has need of a hope that goes further. It becomes clear that only something infinite will suffice for him, something that will always be more than he can ever attain" (Spe Salvi, n. 30).

In our time, man has thought to replace the Kingdom of God with his own kingdom developed by means of progress in scientific knowledge and "scientifically based politics." The hope based on faith, which is taught to us by the Word of God, is truly replaced "by hope in the kingdom of man." Our culture urges us to put our hope more and more hope in man’s scientific and technological achievements, but our experience demonstrates that the realization of such hope grows ever more distant from us.

Secondly, hope for the future, while it necessarily embraces all our brothers and sisters, also is at the heart of who we as individuals are. It, therefore, also involves human freedom. The hope of the future depends on the free choice of the good by each succeeding generation. Any initiative which does not respect human freedom, even if it purports to give man hope, will not bear lasting good fruit for individuals or for the whole of society. While we must be committed to making the world better, that end in itself is not "the proper and sufficient content of our hope" (Spe Salvi, n. 30). Our hope is ultimately in the good which comes from the hand of God alone.

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that God Who has taken "a human face and Who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety" is "the foundation of hope" (Spe Salvi, n. 31). Our hope in Him and in His Kingdom is not some fantasy which will never become reality but is fulfilled in the love which He pours out upon us here and now, and to which we respond, here and now, with love. God’s love, given to us in the Church, sustains us throughout the trials of our earthly pilgrimage. At the same time, it trains our minds and hearts on the future when we will know God’s love fully and forever. "His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is ‘truly’ life" (Spe Salvi, n. 31).

Conclusion

The Holy Father’s reflections lead us naturally to consider how much our own hope rests upon our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ and, therefore, expresses itself in Christlike responsibility for others. Does hope daily transform our lives, so that we ourselves are animated by hope and, at the same time, give hope to others?

Considering all of the causes of hope in our lives, we are also led to consider that God alone is the final and lasting cause of our hope. It is God’s love given so abundantly to us in the Church that both gives us hope in the present, so that we continue steadfastly along the path of the pilgrimage of life on this earth to our destiny in heaven, and is the sure promise of that destiny: life without end in the world to come, that is, the eternal life which is the fullness of the life we live now in Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate.

Having completed a rather extensive reflection on the nature of hope in the Christian life, Pope Benedict XVI proceeds to describe what he calls "settings" of hope. The "settings" he proposes in the last part of the encyclical letter will help us to gain a practical knowledge of "hope and its exercise" (Spe Salvi, n. 31).

‘Saved in Hope’ — VII

Hope and human freedom

Pope Benedict XVI returns again to the question about the substance of our hope. He reminds us that hope is not founded upon a steady progress that is realized in the world of our interaction with material reality. Hope is not sustained by the progress in the knowledge of material things or the progress of technology in controlling the material world by "ever more advanced inventions" (Spe Salvi, n. 24).

Hope depends upon us, and we are free to either accept the good which is handed down to us from one generation to the next or to reject it. No one can make moral decisions for us. Because we are free, we must decide. "Freedom presupposes that in fundamental decisions, every person and every generation is a new beginning" (Spe Salvi, n. 24). The good, also in the history of man, is there for us to choose, but it is not imposed upon us. We know, for instance, how man has made choices in our time that reject goods long treasured and protected in society; for instance, the protection of innocent and defenseless human life and the prohibition of procured abortion.

Hope and human structures

The Holy Father draws two conclusions from his reflection on freedom and the nature of hope. First, good human structures alone, necessary as they are, will not guarantee man’s choice of the moral good. "Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order" (Spe Salvi, n. 24). The community must be attentive to instill in her members the conviction that leads to choosing the good in practical matters.

Secondly, in this life, we will never arrive at a point in which "the kingdom of good" is definitively established. It must be established ever anew in each individual and in the whole community by our free choice of what is good and right. "Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good" (Spe Salvi, n. 24). There can never be a complacency in society about the good having been achieved.

It must be achieved again and again in the lives of the members of society and, thus, in the whole of society. Pope Benedict XVI rightly cautions us against anyone who would try to convince us that a certain societal structure represents the definitive establishment of the good for all. The reality of human freedom shows such a claim to be a lie.

Hope and the challenge of each generation

Hope of achieving "the kingdom of good" means that each generation of mankind must do its best, seek the best structures, for the right exercise of human freedom. What those who have gone before us have accomplished for the good of society gives us hope of meeting the challenge to do the same in our time and place.

It is not a question of scientific progress, as the philosopher Francis Bacon and other modern philosophers have thought and would have us believe. Science offers us so much in the work of doing the good, but, unless it is disciplined and directed by the moral order, it also can destroy us. Think, for instance, of the scientific research which would artificially generate human life outside of the conjugal act and would, then, experiment with and eventually destroy the human life generated.

In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI offers a criticism of modern Christianity, inasmuch as it also has had a kind of blind faith in scientific progress and, thereby, "has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation" (Spe Salvi, n. 25). The hope which our Christian faith offers cannot be restricted only to our personal lives, in which it inspires great good, especially on behalf of those in most need. It must also address scientific and technological progress with the message of eternal salvation. The moral good sought in one’s personal life cannot be different from the good which must be sought in our interaction with the world.

Unconditional love and hope

Christian faith teaches us that we are not redeemed by science but by divine love, and, as the Holy Father makes clear, this "applies even in terms of this present world." We experience this truth, in a limited way, when we are loved by another. Human love nourishes hope, but it is not enough in itself, for it is fragile and subject to death.

The love which redeems the world, including the world of here and now, is the unconditional love of God. Only when we know that we are loved unconditionally and absolutely, do we have lasting hope. Writing of God’s unconditional love of us, which alone gives us secure hope, Pope Benedict XVI quotes St. Paul:

"For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

In our Lord Jesus Christ, we have come to know God’s unconditional love of us.

So immense and so ceaseless is God’s love of us that He has taken our human nature, that He might be our Brother, might love us always in the Church. God is not far away and abstract for us, an unknown power over us, but, rather, He has become one with us in the fullest manner possible. For that reason, St. Paul can declare:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
God the Son has taken a human heart under the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and has permitted His Heart to be pierced by the Roman soldier’s spear, after He died for us on the Cross, to pour out His every last ounce of being in love of us.

God alone is our hope

It is God alone who gives us sure hope. Without faith in God, a man can "entertain all kinds of hopes," but he is finally without hope because he has not come to know and love God Who has created and sustains all being, and Who alone, therefore, gives us sure hope. "Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God — God Who has loved us and Who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. John 13:1 and 19:30)" (Spe Salvi, n. 27).

Our Lord Himself teaches us what it is to have life and, therefore, hope. In his prayer for the Church before entering upon His Passion and Death, our Lord addressed these words to God the Father: "And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Life ultimately is not "something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: It is a relationship" with God (Spe Salvi, n. 27). Life for us is Jesus Christ, to Whom we relate as Brother and Who is the secure anchor of our lives, our lasting hope.

Pope Benedict XVI recalls his earlier reflection on the Rite of Baptism before the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Spe Salvi, n. 10). During the dialogue between the priest, parents and godparents at the beginning of the Rite of Baptism the parents declare that they are seeking faith for their children, the faith which gives eternal life. In other words, faith puts us into relationship with God "Who is Life itself and Love itself," and, therefore, faith indeed offers the gift of life in Christ, which is eternal life (Spe Salvi, n. 27).

Conclusion

Our Holy Father’s reflection on the relationship of human freedom and human structures to hope leads us to consider our own understanding of the freedom with which God has created us. Do we live in such a way that we daily choose anew the good and encourage others, especially those who depend upon us for an example, to do the same? Are we complacent before the good which we have inherited from those who have gone before us or do we actively choose it for ourselves and our world? Do we think that human structures can establish "the kingdom of good" in our personal lives and in the world? Do we understand that the good in any human structure depends upon the daily choice of the good by individuals and by the whole of society?

Is our hope founded on our relationship with God in Jesus Christ, a relationship in which God loves us unconditionally? Is Jesus Christ the center of all our affections and desires, the center of our lives? Do we say with St. Paul: "(T)he life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20)?

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

I interrupt my reflection on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter "Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)," to write to you about the 49th International Eucharistic Congress to be held from this coming June 15-22 at Qubec City, Canada.

The Church regularly organizes a worldwide celebration of Christ’s greatest gift to us in the Church, the gift of the Holy Eucharist. The practice of the International Eucharistic Congress is inspired by the truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is alive for us in the Church, above all, through the Holy Eucharist. At the worldwide celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery, we worship the Most Blessed Sacrament which sustains our life in Christ and is the highest expression of our life in Him.

The theme of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress is: "The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World."

Through solemn eucharistic celebrations, through catechesis and through special activities for youth and family, the participants in the Congress will come to a deeper understanding of how the Holy Eucharist comes to us from God and is for the salvation of the world. All of the prayer, worship, teaching and witness will be directed to helping the participants more fully recognize Christ in the Holy Eucharist, continuing to offer Himself for the salvation of all men.

Origin and purposes of the congress

The first International Eucharistic Congress was held at Lille, France, in June 1881. You may recall the 41st Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Philadelphia during the bicentennial year of the Declaration of Independence.

The last (48th) International Eucharistic Congress was held from Oct. 10-17, 2004, in Guadalajara, Mexico. It marked the beginning of the Year of the Eucharist (October 2004 to October 2005).

The purposes of the International Eucharistic Congress are twofold: the worship of the Holy Eucharist and evangelization regarding the Eucharistic mystery. Each day of the congress, the Holy Mass is celebrated and there are opportunities for eucharistic worship, for example, exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament with Benediction and processions with the Most Blessed Sacrament. On Thursday, June 19, of the coming International Eucharistic Congress, there will be a procession with the Most Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Qubec City. If you wish to learn more about the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, please consult the website: www.cei2008.ca. You may also contact Msgr. Henry Breier and Jennifer Stanard at the Catholic Center, 4445 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis 63108; telephone: (314) 633-2222.

Archdiocesan pilgrimage to the congress

Faithful from all over the world are invited to take part in the International Eucharistic Congress and are warmly welcomed by the community of the place in which the congress is being held. To assist faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Louis who would like to participate in the International Eucharistic Congress, the archdiocese is organizing a pilgrimage to Qubec City to participate in the congress and to visit some of the holy places in Montreal, Qubec City, and the area surrounding these historic and most beautiful cities of Canada.

God willing, I personally will lead the pilgrimage to Qubec City for the 49th International Eucharistic Congress from this coming June 16-23. Father Joseph M. Simon, chaplain of the Archbishop’s Committee on Eucharistic Adoration, will also accompany the pilgrimage. An advertisement for the pilgrimage is found in this issue of the Review. Information can also be obtained on the website of the Archdiocese: www.archstl.org.

Some details of the pilgrimage

The pilgrimage will take us, first, to Montreal to visit the Oratory of St. Joseph and pray at the tomb of Blessed Andr Bessette. Mass will be celebrated at the tomb of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in St. Francis Xavier Mission at Kahnawake, just outside of Montreal. On the way from Montreal to Qubec City, a visit will be made to the Shrine of Notre-Dame-du-Cap, during which we will pray the Rosary.

On Thursday and Friday, June 19 and 20, we will take part in the activities of the International Eucharistic Congress, which include a Penance Service with the opportunity for individual confessions. On Thursday evening, we will take part in the eucharistic adoration and the procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Qubec City. On Friday afternoon, we will participate in the celebration of the Holy Mass for pilgrims from the United States at the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupr.

On Saturday, there will be a visit to Montmorency Falls Park, for a picnic and, in the evening, a vigil of prayer and adoration for youth and young adults.

The Eucharistic Congress concludes with the Mass of Statio Orbis, that is, Mass celebrated with the participation of faithful from throughout the world. The legate of Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the Mass, which marks the conclusion of the International Eucharistic Congress.

Conclusion and invitation

I conclude by inviting you to consider taking part in the archdiocesan pilgrimage for the 49th International Eucharistic Congress. If it is possible for you, it will be a time of special grace, a time of deepening your knowledge and love of our Eucharistic Lord.

Please pray for God’s blessing upon the 49th International Eucharistic Congress. In a special way, pray for the Cardinal Marc Ouellet, PSS, archbishop of Qubec, and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Qubec, who are laboring so intensely to prepare the Congress for the benefit of the Church throughout the world.

May the 49th International Eucharistic Congress lead us all closer to our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, "Gift of God for the Life of the World."

‘Be not afraid!’

Part six of a series on Pope Benedict XVI

'Be Not Afraid!'

Hope, the individual and the community

Christians have naturally tried to represent in their minds and through art the eternal life which is our hope, which we know and, at the same time, do not know fully. These representations, which necessarily must remain inadequate to the full reality of eternal life, have, nevertheless, inspired in the faithful the desire to live by faith and not by an attachment to various kinds of material security, for example, property and possessions. Pope Benedict XVI refers again to the Letter to the Hebrews, which provides a description of those who have gone before us and have given us an example of living by faith, living in hope (Hebrews 11:4-39).

The hope of Christians, however, "has been subjected to an increasingly harsh critique in modern times: it is dismissed as pure individualism, a way of abandoning the world to its misery and taking refuge in a private form of eternal salvation" (Spe Salvi, n. 13). The Holy Father quotes one author, Jean Giono, who caricatures Christian hope as an individualistic joy in life, which is completely impervious and untroubled by the suffering of others. In other words, Christians are accused of holding onto an individualistic notion of salvation, which permits them to be complacent about or indifferent to the needs of their brothers and sisters in the world.

‘The City of the Living God’

The truth is otherwise. Cardinal Henri de Lubac, SJ, one of the greatest theologians of the last century, has shown, through a study of the Fathers of the Church, "that salvation has always been considered a ‘social’ reality" (Spe Salvi, n. 14). The Holy Father refers once again to the Letter to the Hebrews, which describes Christians hope in terms of "the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). The Letter to the Hebrews also refers to Heaven as "a better country" (Hebrews 11:16), "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22), and "the city which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14). In other words, eternal life is attained in the community of believers, the inhabitants of "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," the citizens of the "better country." Our Christian hope is hope for all our brothers and sisters and involves a commitment to assist them in their needs as they journey with us on the pilgrimage of life.

At the same time, the Fathers of the Church understand sin "as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division" (Spe Salvi, n. 14). The account of the Tower of Babel illustrates the effect of sin: the introduction of confusion and division in the community. Christ’s redemptive work restores unity, drawing together those who were scattered. Christian hope forbids a complacency before or indifference to our brothers and sisters in the world.

St. Augustine’s Letter to Proba

Pope Benedict XVI chooses St. Augustine’s Letter to Proba as an example of the teaching of the Fathers of the Church on hope. St. Augustine writes about what he calls "the blessed life," another term for eternal life. Quoting Psalm 144 (143), St. Augustine describes the blessed life in terms of being numbered among the people who belong to God. We attain eternal life not as isolated individuals but as members of the body of believers: "This real life, toward which we try to reach out again and again, is linked to a lived union with a ‘people,’ and for each individual it can only be attained within this ‘we’" (Spe Salvi, n. 14).

Eternal life certainly points us toward the hereafter, but, at the same time, it directs us to the building up of the present world. At the time of St. Augustine of Hippo, for example, "the incursions of new peoples were threatening the cohesion of the world, where hitherto there had been a certain guarantee of law and of living in a juridically ordered society; at that time, then, it was matter of strengthening the basic foundations of this peaceful societal existence, in order to survive in a changed world" (Spe Salvi, n. 15). In each time, man ultimately comes to realize that a "positive world order" depends upon the purification of human souls. In every time and place, there are challenges to the life of the community, like the challenges that divided the community at Babel. It is Christian hope that leads us to face the challenges with trust in God’s plan for us as the community of His sons and daughters.

Monastic life

Our Holy Father chooses the monastic life, as it was seen in the Middle Ages, to illustrate the connection of eternal life with both the world to come and the world in which we live. In medieval times, some saw the monastery as a haven in which to seek "private salvation" by fleeing from the world and renouncing any responsibility for it.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the renowned Cistercian monk who attracted so many other young people to enter the monastery with him, saw the matter otherwise. "In his view, monks perform a task for the whole Church and hence also for the world" (Spe Salvi, n. 15). The monks dedicated to a life of contemplation are obliged by the monastic rule to engage in manual labor. Their work with the soil reminds them of the discipline and purification of their own souls by which they anticipate the New Jerusalem. The monastic life teaches us all that the transformation of the world depends upon our conversion of life to Christ.

In my own experience, I have never found individuals more keenly attuned to the needs of the world and more ardently committed to seeking God’s help for their brothers and sisters in the world than contemplative religious. The late Mother Mary Francis, native of St. Louis and renowned author on the life of contemplative religious, rightly observed that the walls of the enclosure of a contemplative monastery embrace, in fact, the whole world.

Francis Bacon and the modern age

The philosophy of the modern era has very much re-enforced the idea of salvation as an individualistic and private matter. In the thought of the English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626), for example, man, through his scientific achievements, can attain the "dominion over creation" which Adam and Eve lost by original sin (Spe Salvi, n. 16). In Bacon’s view, salvation no longer depends upon Christ but upon scientific achievement. "It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level — that of purely private and other worldly affairs — at the same time it becomes somewhat irrelevant for the world" (Spe Salvi, n. 17). In such a view, hope becomes "faith in progress," that is, trust in the advance of the world through new discoveries and inventions of the human mind.

For Bacon, philosophical thought is reduced ultimately to a philosophy of nature, from which God as the source and end of things, and the immortal human soul in relation to God have been removed. His philosophy of nature has both a speculative and practical aspect. "The speculative moment in this discipline studies the natural causes for the sake of the knowledge itself; the practical aspect has regard primarily for the use to which this causal knowledge can be put in establishing control over nature, for human purposes" (James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy, Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1954, p. 63). Yet today, we are witnesses to the dominance of a similar thinking in which scientific research and the advance of technology are divorced from the moral order. The insistence that is right to generate artificially human life through cloning or to destroy human life at its beginning for the sake of scientific research on embryonic stem cells are current and most disturbing examples of the immoral thinking which results from a completely mechanistic and utilitarian view of nature, especially human life.

For philosophers like Bacon, the idea of progress is tied to reason and freedom. Reason is seen as the tool for man to attain ever greater dominion over creation; it is "obviously considered to be a force of good and a force for good." At the same time, reason’s dominion over creation permits man to become ever more independent. These notions naturally have a political aspect which, in fact, becomes revolutionary. Reason and freedom by themselves are seen to lead to "a new and perfect human community." They are also seen to be "in conflict with the shackles of faith and of the Church as well as those of the political structures of the period" (Spe Salvi, n. 18).

Conclusion

The Holy Father’s presentation of the virtue of Christian hope in its essentially social or communitarian dimension leads us to reflect on our own images of eternal life, of the "blessed life" which is without end. In making our reflection, it will be helpful for us to read again the last three chapters of the Letter to the Hebrews. Do we view our own salvation in the context of our active hope for the salvation of all our brothers and sisters in the world? Does our Christian hope engage us in working to meet the challenges to the life of the community in our day, that is, to address those forces which destroy the order which God has placed in our relationships with each other and the world, the forces which confuse us and divide us from each other?

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI’s reflection leads us to reflect upon the trust that we place in human progress. Do we see progress ultimately in terms of God’s plan for us and our world? Do we view human technology in the light of the moral order, understanding that the fact that man can do something does not mean that, in fact, it is right for him to do it?

‘Be not afraid!’

Hope in eternal life

Having discussed in depth the essential relationship between the theological virtues of faith and hope in the Christian life in his encyclical "Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)," Pope Benedict XVI asks: "(I)s the Christian faith also for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope?" In other words, when we talk about faith and hope, we are not only speaking about the past but about the "here and now," about our own "living and dying." In the words of the Holy Father, faith and hope are not merely past "information" for us, but they are "performative," that is, they give meaning and direction to our lives in the present (Spe Salvi, n. 10).

In answering the question, Pope Benedict XVI begins by examining the initial dialogue between the priest administering the Sacrament of Baptism and the parents who were presenting their child for Baptism, according to the Rite of Baptism before the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The questions were asked of the child for whom the godparents speak. After asking the child’s name, the priest asked what the child was seeking. The godparents responded: "Faith." The priest then asked them what faith gives to the child. The response was: "Eternal life" (Salvi Spe, n. 10).

As the dialogue expressed, parents bring their child to the Church for the Sacrament of Baptism because they desire for the child the gift of the faith, which includes the whole richness of our life of the Church and, ultimately, eternal life in Heaven. The Catholic faith is indeed the "substance" of all the hopes which parents have for their children. Parents have many hopes for their children: health, education, happiness in their vocation in life and various other forms of success. But, most of all and above all, they hope that their child will attain eternal happiness with God in Heaven.

The desire of eternal life

The Holy Father then asks: "(D)o we really want this — to live eternally?" He wonders whether many people today reject the faith precisely because they desire "this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment." In a worldly way of thinking, we certainly do not want to die, but, on the other hand, the thought of living as we now do without any end to it would seem to be "monotonous and ultimately unbearable." To illustrate his point, Pope Benedict XVI quotes the homily which St. Ambrose gave at the funeral of his brother Satyrus:

"Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; He prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin ... began to experience the burden of wretchedness in unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited.

Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing" (Spe Salvi, n. 10).

St. Ambrose’s words point to the paradox of our attitude regarding living and dying. How are to understand the truth about our desire to live?

We understand that what we truly desire is happiness without end. We know that simply living without enjoying the blessing of happiness is not really living for us, and yet we do not see fully what in our happiness is to consist. We pray for happiness, as St. Augustine of Hippo wrote in a letter on prayer, not knowing clearly what it is but knowing clearly that we are made for it and desire it in our deepest being. The Holy Father concludes: "This unknown ‘thing’ is the true ‘hope’ which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity" (Spe Salvi, n. 12).

Eternal life itself

The name we give to the unknown "thing" that is the object of our hope is "eternal life." But what is eternal life?

Clearly, by its very nature, it eludes our ability to define precisely and completely. We rightly and properly, however, attempt to describe it. In attempting to describe eternal life, we must begin by understanding that it is not simply the endless continuation of life as we now know it.

While our present life may give us some glimpses of what eternal life is, it necessarily is something far beyond what we experience in the here and now. Pope Benedict XVI observes:

"‘Eternal,’" in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; ‘life’ makes us think of the life we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it" (Spe Salvi, n. 12).

It is the nature of the life hereafter which makes its eternity not something to be dreaded but rather something infinitely and inexhaustibly attractive.

The Holy Father provides us with a most helpful description of eternal life: "To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt." Pope Benedict XVI writes that eternal life is "like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists." In these various attempts to describe eternal life, we understand that it is the fullness of joy and peace.

In His farewell discourse to the Apostles, our Lord described eternal life in these words: "So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (John 16:22).

Referring to article 1025 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI concludes: "We must think along these lines if we want to understand the object of Christian hope, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect" (Spe Salvi, n. 12).

Conclusion

As we continue our reading of the Holy Father’s second encyclical letter, "On Christian Hope," let us reflect upon the way in which hope of eternal life gives shape to our daily living. In a particular way, let us consider our desire of eternal life and what we understand by eternal life.

In reflecting upon the meaning of eternal life and how it gives hope to our daily living, let us consider especially how it will be the fullness of communion with Christ, which we now enjoy partially. Our Lord assures us that He will see us again and that, when we are with Him finally, our joy will be complete, and no one will be able to steal our joy from us. When we understand eternal life in terms of our personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, then we understand why it is our great desire and what we most desire for those whom we love.

Syndicate content