At his first general audience during the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI initiated a new, year-long cycle of teachings aimed at healing the division between what Christians say they profess, what they actually believe, and how they live their lives.
“Christians often do not even know the core of their Catholic faith, the Creed, thus leaving room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, without clarity on the truths to be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity,” the Pope told the pilgrims packed into a sunlit St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 17.
Unless Christians understand their faith and live it fully, he warned, they leave themselves prone to the forces operating in a “profoundly changed society” scarred by “many forms of barbarism.” The Pope pointed to the influences of secularism, relativism, the use other people as objects “for pure selfishness” and a “widespread nihilistic mentality” as some of the forces that can exert a “crucial impact on the general mentality.”
The result is that “life is often lived lightly, without clear ideals or sound hopes, in transient and provisional social and family ties,” he said.
“Above all the younger generations are not educated in the search for truth or the deeper meaning of existence that goes beyond the contingent, to a stability of affection, trust.”
Christians must guard themselves against these errors, the Pope told the crowd, adding that if “individualism and relativism seem to dominate the mind of many of our contemporaries, we cannot say that believers remain totally immune from these dangers … .”
In response, the Pope urged sound instruction in the Creed and the teachings of the Church for all Catholics.
“The risk is not far off today of people building a so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ religion,” he said.
“Instead, we should return to God, the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel, to bring it into more deeply into our minds and our daily lives.”
The Pope cited cautionary findings from a survey conducted among bishops worldwide in preparation for the Oct. 7-28 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. Bishops reported such trends among the faithful as “a living faith that is passive and private, rejection of faith formation, and a rupture between faith and life.”
The Year of Faith, which was launched on Oct. 11, will promote the transformative power of that deep faith so radically different from the “life lived lightly,” Pope Benedict said.
“With faith everything really changes everything in us and for us, and our future destiny is clearly revealed, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of life, the joy of being a pilgrim towards the heavenly Kingdom,” he proclaimed.
Pope Benedict finished his remarks by telling the assembled pilgrims about his plans for the year-long series of reflections.
“In the catechesis of this Year of Faith I would like to offer some help in making this journey, to take up once again and deepen the central truths of the faith of God, man, the Church, of all the social and cosmic realities, meditating and reflecting on the statements of the Creed. And I would like to clarify that such content or truths of the faith are directly connected to our lives; they require conversion of existence, which gives life to a new way of believing in God.”