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Faith and Reason: Pope's Call 'To Seek God and to Let Oneself Be Found by Him'

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 30th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting.

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - Yesterday, I covered the launch of Pope benedict XVI's outreach called "The Court of the Gentiles" intended to encourage a dialogue with non-believers. The effort debuted in Paris over the weekend. It already has appointments in Tirana, Albania, Stockholm, Sweden, numerous locations in the United Sates, Canada and Asia. This effort is the inspiration of Pope Benedict XVI, the Missionary Pope, and is being led by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi who heads the Vatican's culture office.

The Fathers of the last great ecumenical Council, the Second Vatican Council, in their decree on Missionary Activity, wrote "The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father". Clearly, Pope Benedict XVI has taken this vision into the very heart of his pontificate. He is the Pope of the new Missionary Age of the Church.

This approach of dialogue, without fear, is rooted in a deep conviction that in every single human heart, in words attributed to Blaise Pascal, there is a "God shaped vacuum".  Or, in the words of the great Western Bishop of Hippo, Augustine, taken from his Confession, "You have made us for yourself Oh Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." It is rooted in a deep confidence that faith and reason are never at odds.

Rather, in the words of the late John Paul II in the introduction to an encyclical letter he wrote entitled "Faith and Reason",  "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves." (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).

To understand the love of God, compassion of Christ and confidence in the Holy Spirit which inspires Pope Benedict XVI and informs this latest initiative, it is necessary to consider his thought. Two years after his extraordinary overture at Regensburg where he invited the thinkers of the Muslim world to a dialogue on faith and reason, he gave an adress at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris. The complete text can be read here on the wonderful web site of Mount Angel Abbey, a community of Benedictine Monks founded in 1882 from the Abbey of Engelberg in Switzerland and located in St Benedict, Oregon.  Here is an excerpt:

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Pope Benedict XVI: To seek God and to let oneself be found by Him
 
"....The classic formulation of the Christian faith's intrinsic need to make itself communicable to others, is a phrase from the First Letter of Peter, which in medieval theology was regarded as the biblical basis for the work of theologians: "Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason (the logos) for the hope that you all have" (Logos must become Apo-logia, word must become answer - 3:15).

In fact, Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting.

The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation-indeed, the obligation-to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.

The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation "outwards" - towards searching and questioning mankind - is seen in Saint Paul's address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: "he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" (Acts 17:18).

To this, Paul responds: "I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: 'to an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know - the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable.

The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason - not blind chance, but freedom. Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him.

The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He - personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation consists in one fact: he has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind fact, but one that is itself Logos - the presence in our flesh of eternal reason. "Verbum caro factum est" (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos, Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man's humility, which responds to God's humility.

Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him.

"Quaerere Deum" - to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe's culture its foundation - the search for God and the readiness to listen to him - remains today the basis of any genuine culture."

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Those who read my writing know that I am convinced that we are living in a new missionary age. Further, that this Pope, standing on the shoulders of his predessors and living in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world, is leading us all into it. We are fortunate to have him in the Chair of Peter. We are called to learn from his wonderful teaching, inform our own participation in the one mission of the Church and enter into this task no matter what our state in life or vocation.

Like those early Christians we know that the God in whom we believe is  "the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting."

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