On Friday morning in the Clementine Hall, the Holy Father held his traditional meeting with cardinals, archbishops, bishops and members of the Roman Curia, for the exchange of Christmas greetings.
At the beginning of his address to them, the Pope affirmed how "the year that is coming to an end," leaves us "with the profound impression of the war that took place near the Holy Land and, more generally, of the danger of a clash between cultures and religions, a danger still threateningly present at this moment in history. The question of the roads to peace has thus become a challenge of vital importance."
Recalling his apostolic trip to Poland in May, Benedict XVI described his "debt of gratitude" for everything that John Paul II gave, "both to me personally and, above all, to the Church and the world. His greatest gift to all of us was his unshakeable faith and the radicalism of his devotion. … He held nothing back, but allowed himself to be entirely consumed by the flame of faith."
Marriage and the family was the theme of the Holy Father's trip to Valencia, Spain, in July. He recalled the testimonies of families who had passed through moments of crisis and who, with great efforts, had managed to overcome them and rediscover their happiness. "Before these families and their children," he said, "before these families in which the generations hold each other by the hand, and the future is present, the problem of Europe, which seems almost no longer to want children, penetrated my soul."
"Why, is this the case? That is the great question. The answers are certainly extremely complex. But before seeking responses we must thank all those married couples who, even in our Europe today, say 'yes' to children and accept the labors they bring." Alongside the need to give them so much of our time, is the problem of "what norms must we teach our children in order for them to follow the right path, and, in doing so, to what extent must we respect their freedom?"
"Men and women today," said the Holy Father, "are unsure about the future." This fact, "alongside the desire to have all of life to themselves, is perhaps the most profound reason for which the risk of having children appears to many as almost unbearable. … If we do not relearn the basic foundations of life – if we do not rediscover the certainty of faith – it will also be ever more difficult for us to give others the gift of life and the challenges of an unknown future." Another aspect of this question, he went on, "is the problem of definitive decisions. Can man bind himself for ever? Can he say a 'yes' that lasts a lifetime? Yes, he can. He was created for this end. Thus man achieves his freedom and thus the sacred bond of marriage is created, which broadens to become a family and build the future.
"At this point," he added, "I cannot fail to mention my concern over 'de facto' couples. When new legislation is created that relativizes marriage, the rejection of the definitive bond gains, so to speak, juridical endorsement." Moreover, "relativizing the difference between the sexes tacitly confirms those bleak theories which seek to remove all relevance from a human being's masculinity or femininity, as if this were a purely biological matter."
"Herein is a contempt for corporeality whence it follows that man, in seeking to emancipate himself from his body (from the 'biological sphere'), ends up by destroying himself." Against those who say that "the Church should not involve herself in these matters, we can only respond: does man not concern us too?" The church and believers "must raise their voices to defend man, the creature who, in the inseparable unity of body and spirit, is the image of God."
Going on to mention his September visit to his homeland, Bavaria (Munich, Altotting, Regensburg and Freising), the Holy Father recalled how the main intention of his apostolic trip "was to highlight the question of God," because "the great problem in the West is forgetfulness of God."
"The question of God," the Pope went on, "is associated with two themes that characterized my visit: that of priesthood and that of dialogue." And he recalled how according to the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi (of priests) was landless.
"The true foundation of a priest's life, the land of his existence, is God Himself," said the Holy Father. "This theocentrism of priestly existence is vital in our modern world where everything is entirely functional and based on calculable and verifiable exchanges. The priest must know God from within in order to bring Him to mankind, this is the priority service of which humanity today has need."
Benedict XVI then went on to consider priestly celibacy which, he said, "can only be definitively understood and experienced on the basis of this basic standpoint," because "purely pragmatic reasons, reference to greater availability are not sufficient." It may also be thought that the nature of celibacy involves "a kind of selfishness, that avoids the sacrifices and trials required in the mutual acceptance and tolerance of marriage."
However, "the true foundation of celibacy can be encapsulated only in the phrase 'Dominus pars – You are my land.' It cannot mean being without love, but must mean letting oneself be seized by passion for God. Celibacy must be a testimony of faith."
The Holy Father then turned to introduce the question of dialogue, recalling his meeting some years ago with the philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who informed the then Cardinal Ratzinger of the need "for thinkers capable of translating the beliefs encoded in the Christian faith into the language of the secularized world, in order to render them effective once again.
"In fact," Pope Benedict added, "it is becoming ever more clear how urgently the world has need of dialogue between faith and reason," especially when "the cognitive capacities of human beings, their control over the material world through the power of thought, has made such unimaginable progress. But man's power, which has grown thanks to science, is becoming an ever greater danger, threatening both humankind and the world."
"Science must welcome faith in the God Who personifies the creative Reason of the universe as a challenge and an opportunity. In the same way, this faith must recognize its own intrinsic immensity and reasonableness. Reason needs the Logos which lies at the origin of our light. For its part, faith needs to dialogue with modern reason, in order to become aware of its own greatness and meet is own responsibilities."
On the subject of inter-religious dialogue the Pope insisted that "secularized reason is not capable of entering into a true dialogue with religions. If reason remains closed to the question of God, this will lead it to the clash of cultures. Religions must come together in the shared task of serving truth, and hence serving man."
Another important part of the Pope's address to the Roman Curia was dedicated to his recent apostolic trip to Turkey which, he said, "gave me the chance to express publicly my respect for Islam. … The Muslim world today," the Pope observed, "is facing a task very similar to that imposed upon Christians from the time of the Enlightenment, and which Vatican Council II, as the result of a long and arduous journey, brought to fruition with concrete solutions for the Catholic Church."
"On the one hand, it is important to avoid a dictatorship of positivist reason that excludes God from community life and public legislation. On the other hand, it is necessary to welcome the true achievements of the Enlightenment: human rights and especially the freedom of faith and of its expression. The Muslim world, with its own traditions, is facing the great task of finding appropriate solutions to these questions. Dialogue between Christians and Muslims must, at this time, be that of coming together in this mission, in order to find the right solutions."
The Pope then mentioned his meeting in Istanbul with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. "We experienced," he said, "a profound unity in faith and will pray to God ever more insistently that He may grant us full unity in the shared breaking of bread. We hope and pray that religious freedom — which is part of the intimate nature of the faith and is recognized in the principles of the Turkish constitution — finds a growing practical implementation in appropriate juridical norms and in the daily life of the patriarchate and of the other Christian communities."
Benedict XVI dedicated the final paragraphs of his address to the question of peace. "We must learn that peace cannot be achieved only from the outside, and that the attempt to establish peace through violence leads only to fresh violence. We must learn that peace can only exist if hatred and selfishness are overcome from within. In our lives, we must attain that which Baptism sacramentally brought us: the death of the old man and the re-emergence of the new. May the reason of peace overcome the unreasonableness of violence!"