Early in the morning of 10 September 2006, I was on my way to Munich as chaplain with a bus full of young people to celebrate the Pope's Mass. Everyone was very excited about what would be in store for them there. The first surprise was that we were able to drive our bus to the designated car park without a long wait. 250,000 people had come to this Mass with Benedict XVI. The organizers had expected even more visitors.
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In his sermon, the Pope focused on the question of God.
The secularization process is accelerating: churches are shrinking, faith is dwindling.
The media had warned of severe physical strain and insufficient space. This may be the reason why some people stayed at home. Benedict XVI did not allow himself to be swayed by appearances. He delved deep with the topic of his homily. The pope spoke about the dwindling relevance of faith in God in Germany.
Pope John Paul II had visited Munich in 1980. The social situation had changed considerably since then. The reunification of Germany had greatly accelerated the process of secularization. The churches had shrunk. A faith in God impacting daily life was on the retreat - a development that has become even more dramatic in our times.
In the 1960s, over 70 percent of Munich's population was still Catholic. By 2006, it had become a city of fewer than 45 percent Catholics. Today, they comprise a mere 29 percent. Church attendance is in steady decline. Currently, just 10 percent of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising attend Sunday Mass.
This new religious indifference provides no orientation.
Many put this development in Western culture down to there being a new religious consciousness alongside atheistic and agnostic tendencies, albeit outside the churches. This vague manifestation of a very individual type of transcendental consciousness, however, is usually no longer a belief in a personal God who revealed Himself in history and became man. For disappointed and bewildered adherents of science and technology culture this oft esoterically loaded religiosity seems to be an ever-present anchor of hope. It can be utilized without belonging to a religious institution. However, the non-committal nature of such religiosity ultimately gives no hope of certainty and fulfilment in the long run.
Blue and white flags everywhere you looked.
God: The center of reality and of our own lives
During his pastoral visit to Bavaria, Pope Benedict XVI chose the question of God as his first topic for a homily. In doing so, he immediately addressed one of the most important problems for the Church in our society today. Based on the biblical texts of the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B (1st reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a, 2nd reading: James 2:1-5, Gospel: Mark 7:31-37), the Pope tried to communicate this topic to the worshipers in a purposefully simple way:
"All three readings speak of God as the center of reality and as the center of our own lives." When God takes his place in people's lives and permeates their daily lives, human life can then succeed fully and true charity can be exercised in freedom: "If everyone follows God in thought and deed, then we all become equal, and then we become free, and then true fraternity is born." The primacy of God in life at once brings order to everything and enables the charitable side of Christianity to be lived freely and inwardly.
It is not possible without evangelization
Based in particular on conversations with bishops from Africa, the Pope knows that in Germany, while the charitable side of Christianity is strongly emphasized, the proclamation of the faith appears to be of secondary importance: "And yet it is precisely the experience of these bishops that evangelization must come foremost; that the God of Jesus Christ must be known, believed in and loved, hearts must be converted, so that progress can be made on social issues; so that reconciliation may begin; so that, for example, AIDS may truly be combatted by realistically facing its root causes and the sick may be cared for with necessary devotion and love."
But how can the Church once again put faith in God at the center of its activity? In his address at the Freiburg Concert Hall on Sept. 25, 2011, Benedict XVI called upon the church to make itself less worldly. This is not a matter of being there less for others in the world, but rather of freeing itself from everything that contradicts or makes the Church's mission more difficult, namely of bringing the God of revelation closer to the people. It is worth bearing in mind that "the Christian faith has been - a scandal for people of all times - and not only in the present era".
On the periphery of the large Masses in Bavaria, very personal encounters repeatedly took place.
The world and every person needs God.
The manner of proclaiming the faith must not be done as a kind of proselytism, but rather in freedom, opening oneself to God and thus becoming free from being deaf to God. The world and every human being needs God. This God is not a God of violence and vengeance. He is the God of love and devotion.
"His `revenge' is the cross: a no to violence, a love to the end'. This is the God we need. We are not being disrespectful toward other religions and cultures, we are not compromising reverence for their faith, when we confess loudly and unequivocally the God who has opposed violence with his suffering; who, in the face of evil and its power, raises up his mercy as a barrier and as a way of overcoming it," Benedict XVI emphasized.
In this Mass, the fourth Eucharistic Prayer was chosen, introduced by the liturgical reform and emphasizing the salvific mission in the manner of the Eastern Church, according to Antiochene rite. Therefore, what Benedict XVI had preached about the nature of the God believed in by Christians was also celebrated Eucharistically and should always be reflected upon anew for a serious and realistic relationship with God: "When he (man, editor’s note) lost your friendship through disobedience and succumbed to the power of death, you nevertheless did not abandon him, but mercifully helped everyone to seek and find you."
The Pope Benedict XVI Institute.
Dr. Franz-Xaver Heibl is a research associate at the Pope Benedict XVI Institute in Regensburg.