Sunday, August 21, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI Tells It Like It Is In Cologne

Pope Benedict XVI (who will, no doubt, soon be known as Pope Ben) came home to Germany and proved that he can speak from his heart as well as his head.

Perhaps as many as 1,000,000 young people from around the world have gathered for spiritual renewal and the opportunity to see the new Pope in person and hear what he had to say to them.

Whereas his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, frequently wrapped his Christian message in the larger context of world events, Pope Ben seems to prefer to wrap world events into the larger context of the Christian faith!

According to the (London) TimesOnLine,

The main theme (of his visit).....was the assertion that Christianity was not a faith that could be adopted à la carte. Addressing himself particularly to his European audience, the Pope said religion was not a consumer product, whose difficult rules could be disregarded at will. And he chided the materialist mentality that found it "inconvenient" to attend Sunday Mass regularly.
As a Presbyterian pastor I could not have said it any better (except, perhaps, for changing the word "Mass" to "worship and communion.")

To be a Christian is to enter into a package deal that requires the embrace of each part as being essential. No picking or choosing allowed!

--One body? Check.
--One Spirit? Check
--One Lord? Check.
--One Faith? Check.
--On Baptism? Check.
--One God and Father of us all? Check.
--Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life? Check.
--No way to come to the Father except through Jesus? Check.
--To follow him means to become like him? Check.
--To call him "Lord" means to be obedient to him in all things? Check.
--To call him "Savior" means that there is no other name under heaven by which you must be saved? Check.
--If a person does not love others in the same way that Christ loved us then God is not in them, because God is love? Check.

That's just the beginning of a long list of essentials for the Christian believer.

The role of scripture, the Church, the sacraments, the resurrection, and the central concepts of righteousness and justice, sin, forgiveness, reconciliation and the sharing of the Good News in word (evangelism) and deed (missions) are also imperative for anyone who would consider calling themselves a Christian, regardless of the branch or denomination upon which they find themselves to have been grafted.

The Christian faith stands or falls as a whole. Each part, while good and true in and of itself, is true only in relation to the other truths of the faith. Truth is truth. The tablecloth is clean or it is stained, not thread by thread, but taken as a whole. To separate the warp and woof of the Gospel is to rend what was designed to be a seamless garment.

Pope Ben has got this very right, indeed. He was, at least publicly, also refreshingly silent concerning the veneration of Mary and other matters that might have otherwise separated a non-Roman Catholic from a Protestant or Orthodox believer.

As a former unenthusiastic conscript into the Nazi Youth program, the Pope was especially eager to meet with German Jews in their rebuilt synagogue in Cologne. There, in only the second visit to a synagogue by a modern Pope (one must assume that St. Peter ventured into one now and again as well!), he expressed the contrition and remorse which he, and all Christians, must feel for the "unimaginable crime" of the Holocaust.

At another location, Pope Ben met withrepresentativestives of the Muslim community in Germany. According to the Times report,

The Pope acknowledged the bloodstained history of atrocities committed in the name of religion. But this did not prevent him from speaking out unambiguously on the need for Muslims to combat the "cruel fanaticism" of terrorism that poisoned ties between their faiths. He told Muslim leaders that there was no room for apathy and disengagement, even less for partiality and sectarianism. But he balanced this harsh message with an insistence that Christians should not yield to prejudice and negative pressures. All religions had to treat each other with mutual respect.
According to other reports, the Muslim leaders, while appreciative of the Pope's meeting with them, did express some distaste for the implication that they were somehow responsible for curbing the "cruel fanaticism" that none of them supported in the first place! The question was also raised as to why this Pope met with Jewish leaders in a synagogue but did not meet with them in a mosque? After all, Pope John Paul II had visited a mosque during his tenure? (UPDATE: LGF has a link that possibly explains why the Pope skipped a visit to a mosque in Cologne.)

All this seems to show that Pope Ben, while perhaps more bold and blunt than his predecessor, is still eager to reach out and extend the hand of the Christian Church to those of other faiths....not as a sign of solidarity, of course, but as a sign of humility and respect.

Every Roman Catholic is, whether they admit to it or not, is a "Pope watcher." Whatever the Pope says or the Pope does becomes the model of behavior for every other member of the RC Church.

These seemingly small gestures will empower Roman Catholic priests and laity alike to follow his example in establishing better relationships with the leaders and members of other religions in their neighborhoods.

Those who persist in defying and ignoring the Pope's example will soon become marginalized. I have no doubt that this Pope will keep the people guessing as to what he will say or do next. Jesus said that the (Holy) Spirit blows wherever he chooses. I sense a fresh blowing of the Spirit through this first, major international sojourn by this new Pope.

I also appreciate his independence in asserting himself as a different and distinct personality from Pope John Paul II.

A small departure from one of John Paul's personal habits was noted during Pope Ben's arrival and disembarkment from his plane at the Cologne airport. Where JP II had always tried (when physically able to do so) to kiss the tarmac upon arrival in a new country, Ben XVI simply smiled, greeted Herr Schroeder, and went on his merry way.

John Paul had, of course, a wonderful smile and a friendly, gregarious natural disposition to go with it. Ben, on the other hand, is a quiet, private man not generally attracted to large crowds or the "spotlight."

Even so, John Paul always carried a tangible intensity in his demeanor, even in the lightest of moments. Pope Ben, on the other hand, has eyes that "twinkle," as though betraying some hidden mischief. His smile is genuine and warm. He is no longer the "man behind the curtain." Having been pushed forward into center stage by the hand of God and the voice of his Church, he has revealed himself to be more than capable of thoroughly enjoying playing the role of the Chief Servant among servants in God's household of faith on earth.

When blessed with a loving Master, a good servant will always submit to his will in all things. When the Master is the Lord, such submission will always bring peace. And, indeed, there is a peace within this man.

Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I believe that I will be a "Pope watcher," too. I expect that the view will be entertaining, enlightening, inspiring and even, on occasion, pleasantly surprising. Just like what we have seen on his trip to Cologne!