Pope Benedict XVI today spoke of the importance of the Church to do penance, particularly now when the she is “under the attacks of the world.” He also warned of subtle forms of dictatorship which can lead to subtle and not-so-subtle aggression towards the Church.

In a veiled reference to the clerical abuse scandal, the Pope told the Pontifical Biblical Commission meeting in Rome: “Now, under the attacks of the world, which speak to us of our sins, we see that to be able to do penance is a grace – and we see how necessary it is to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our lives: to recognize one’s sin, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare for pardon, to allow oneself to be transformed.”

He added: “The pain of penance, the pain of purification and transformation – this pain is grace, because it is renewal, it is the work of the Divine Mercy.”

Speaking without notes to members of the commission at a Mass in the Vatican, his homily centred on the relationship of truth and freedom in the context of God’s relationship to human being and human society, according to a report by Vatican Radio.

He said that in modern times, man is considered to be “free, autonomous, and nothing else.” But he stressed that freedom from everything, including from the duty of obedience to God “is a lie” because the human being “does not exist on his own, nor does he exist for himself.” 

The Pope said it is also a political and practical falsehood because cooperation and sharing of freedoms is a necessary part of social life. If God does not exist and not a point of reference really accessible to human being, he added, then only prevailing opinion remains and it becomes the final arbiter of all things.

Vatican Radio reported that the Pope cited the Nazi and Communist regimes of the 20th century as examples, stressing that such dictatorships can never accept the notion of a God who is above ideological power. And he also underlined today’s subtle forms of dictatorship, such as a radical conformism which can lead to subtle and not-so subtle aggression toward the Church.

The Holy Father said that for Christians, true obedience to God depends on our truly knowing Him, and he warned against the danger of using “obedience to God” as a pretext for following our own desires. “We have a certain fear of speaking about eternal life,” he said. “We talk of things that are useful to the world, we show that Christianity can help make the world a better place, but we do not dare say that the end of the world,  that the goal of Christianity is eternal life, and that the criteria of life in this world come from the goal – this we dare not say.”

He said that we must rather have the courage, the joy, the great hope that there is eternal life, that eternal life is real life, and that from this real life comes the light that illuminates this world as well.
Pope Benedict concluded his homily with a prayer that our lives might become true life, eternal life, love and truth.

The Pontifical Biblical Commission is holding its plenary meeting until the end of the week on the theme: “Inspiration and Truth in the Bible.”