Pope John Paul II did a lot to bring Catholics and Protestants together, and deservedly holds a special place in the heart of American protestants. He was culturally and socially conservative, which provided the bridge across which our intellectuals crossed, creating a conversational dialogue on issues fundamental to the faith.
Pope Benedict XVI has largely followed in his footsteps, at least doctrinally. Culturally, there has been a bit of hostility because of certain statements, but on the issues, he is following the path John Paul’s laid. As Cardinal Ratzinger, under John Paul, Benedict was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job is to “promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.” This organization used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition, so you can imagine that they take Catholic teaching pretty seriously.
This past weekend, Benedict opened “worldwide meeting of bishops on the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics:”
“Today, nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture,” said Benedict, who has been pushing for religion to be given more room in society.
A document prepared for the meeting rejects a fundamentalist approach to the Bible and said a key challenge was to clarify for the faithful the relationship of scripture to science.
Benedict is spot on. It seems that the more material wealth a society has, the less spiritual they are. Mother Teresa noted the same thing:
There are different kinds of poverty. In India some people live and die in hunger.
But in the West you have another kind of poverty, spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God, do not pray. People do not care for each other. You have the poverty of people who are dissatisfied with what they have, who do not know how to suffer, who give in to despair. This poverty of heart is often more difficult to relieve and to defeat.
Last week, I read 1 and 2 Kings, and the same principal was noted there. David lived most of life in extremely difficult circumstances – a hard life on the run from Saul. David’s son, Solomon, reigned over a period of peace and unparalled prosperity. David was far closer to God than Solomon, who fell away and built places of worship for all of his non-Jewish wives. David, whose constant companion was suffering, felt the need and closeness of God. Solomon, who lived in comfort, filled all of his material needs and found no need for God.
Christians all around the world, but especially in the developed, wealthy West ought to pay special attention that we don’t allow material wealth to crowd out God – because the material only provides temporary satisfaction at best, and often not even that.