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Archbishop Forte on Religion & Freedom: Part 1

"Searching For the Infinitely Loving Father-Mother"

LEEDS, England, DEC. 7, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the first part of the address given by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, a member of the International Theological Commission, to a Nov. 12 meeting of the bishops of England and Wales.

Parts 2 and 3 on Catholic Online next week.

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What really is important in life is not so much to provide answers, as to discern true questions. When true questions are found, they themselves open the heart to the mystery. Origen used to say: "Every true question is like the lance which pierces the side of Christ causing blood and water to flow forth."

In this light we understand why Christ is not first of all the answer: He is first the restlessness of the query, as we see by the fact that the Gospel opens with the word "metanoéite," change your heart and life. Only at this price is Jesus also the peace and the truth which enlightens. Therefore if we want to find true answers for our condition as pilgrims in history toward the homeland of God's promise, we must listen to the true questions which lie at the heart of history itself, since they will open us toward the enlightening darkness of the mystery.

Very often the mission of the Church fails because we answer questions no one is asking, or we pose questions which interest no one. The challenge is to discern the true questions, the questions that God writes on the tablet of our heart and of our time.

This is why my reflection on "religion and freedom" is developed in three parts, similar to the arches of a bridge joining thought to life. In the first arch -- which I call "Horizon" or "Searching For the Infinitely Loving Father-Mother" -- I listen to the questions posed by our heart and by the landscape of our times, so that the true question may enter our mind and open us to the horizons of mystery.

In the second arch of the bridge -- that I call "Principles" or "Religion and Freedom From Modern to Postmodern Time" -- I listen to the development of the ideas of freedom and religion in modern European history.

Lastly, in the third and final part -- the third arch of the bridge, which I call "Consequences" or "What to Do to Respect and to Promote a True Relationship Between Religion and Freedom in Church and Society today" -- I reflect on what emerges from the two previous parts to inspire practical choices in Church and society.

1. Horizon: Searching For the Infinitely Loving Father-Mother

a) What is the greatest question which lies at the heart of our heart? The question which makes us restless and thoughtful: "Fecisti cor nostrum ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te." "You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rest in you." It is Augustine who speaks at the beginning of his "Confessions." The burning question which each of us carries in the depths of his heart is in fact the question of suffering and death. If there were no death there would be no thought, everything would be a flat eternity: To live is also to learn to die, to live together with the silent, persistent, tenacious challenge of death.

It is pointless to search for evasion as we often do, or easy consolation like that of Epicurius who says: "When death comes I will not be, and as long as I am, death will not come." These words are in fact only a pun, an illusion, because death is not only the final destiny, the last act, it is something imminent which hangs over and weighs on each day of our fragile, perishable living.

To struggle with death means answering questions which suddenly spring up in the heart like piercing wounds: What is my destiny? What is the meaning of life? Where am I going with all my worries, consolations and joys? And when I have all that I desire what else will I long for except that final victory, the victory over death? It is death then which sets us thinking: This is the paradox of the human condition.

The thought of death as our destiny and challenge prompts a counterattack, like a need to defeat the apparent triumph of death: To think is to struggle against death! So, we are at the same time thrown toward death, as Heidegger says, and yet fashioned for life. Without this contrast we would accept the destiny of death as something obvious and certain, without worrying about it, without seeking to give a meaning to life.

The fact that death makes us think and that we feel the need to give significance to our acts and days is the sign that deep in our heart we, pilgrims on the way to death, are in fact called to life. Within us there is an indestructible longing for the face of Someone who will take away our suffering and tears, who will redeem the infinite pain of death.

When we are alone and sad, when no one seems to love us and we even have reason to despise or criticize ourselves, from the depths of the heart there arises a ...

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