Pope Benedict XVI told the bishops of Italy today that personal holiness is an indispensable first step to reconverting their country and the Western world to Christianity.
"The fundamental condition in order to be able to speak about God is to speak with God, increasingly to become men of God, nourished by an intense life of prayer and molded by his grace,” the Pope said on May 24.
He encouraged his fellow bishops to allow themselves “to be found and seized by God, so as to help the people we meet be touched by the Truth.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks to the participants of the 64th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, which is being held May 21-25.
The Italian bishops gathered in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, where they heard the Pope lament how, for many people in the West, God has “become the great Unknown, and Jesus is simply an important figure of the past.”
The Pope said that this is resulting in people no longer understanding the “profound value" of the “spiritual and moral patrimony” that the West’s roots are in and that “is its lifeblood.”
What was once “fertile land,” he said, is now at risk of “becoming a barren desert, and the good seed (is in danger) of being suffocated, trampled on and lost.”
Even many baptized people in the West “have lost their identity” and “do not know the essential contents of the faith, or they believe they can cultivate faith without ecclesial mediation,” he warned the bishops.
The practical impact of this, Pope Benedict said, is that while many baptized “look doubtfully at Church teaching,” others have reduced “the Kingdom of God to certain broad values, which are certainly related to the Gospel but which do not touch the central nucleus of Christian faith.”
But the Pope did not finish his remarks without offering a solution to the Italian bishops. He pointed them to the New Evangelization, which has its roots in the prophetic words of Pope John XXIII.
At the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, John XXIII said that the Council would help “transmit pure and integral doctrine, without any attenuation or misrepresentation,” but in a new way, “according to what is required by our times.”
This, explained Pope Benedict, is the key or “hermeneutic” of “continuity and reform” required to properly understand the Council today.
He repeated, though, that any New Evangelization will not be achieved simply by “new methods of announcing the Gospel” or by “pastoral activity,” but only through personal conversion.
“We must begin again from God, celebrated, professed and witnessed,” said the Pope. “Our primary task, our true and only task, remains that of dedicating our lives to the one thing that is truly dependable, necessary and ultimate.”
Before concluding with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict assured the bishops that the Catholic faith preached by word and example still has the power to draw all people to Christ: “Where space is given to the Gospel, and therefore to friendship with Christ, man realizes he is the object of a love which purifies, warms, renews and makes us capable of serving mankind with divine love.”