Last week while on staff retreat, I read through Pope Benedict XVI’s short book What It Means to Be a Christian, which consists of three sermons he preached back in the day as Joseph Ratzinger in Advent 1964. I’d like to share some of what he has to say here. Having read this book so recently and feeling the demand for reflection upon it, I hope to see in what ways Benedict and Henri Nouwen might converse with one another as I follow my tradition of reading through Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership over this week of Annual Conference in Houston. Benedict is wrestling with the meaning of living of Christian faith in light of the challenges we face, while Nouwen is reflecting on the meaning and living of Christian leadership in light of the challenges he senses in the present and on the horizon in the future. So, look for some of both in the coming week or two.
The first sermon of Benedict’s is titled, “Are We Saved? or, Job Talks with God.” It is divided into four sections. I’ll share just a little from each section to try and convey the basic thrust.
The first section in this first sermon is titled, “Christianity as Advent.” These sermons were preached during Advent 1964, so the occasion in the Christian Year invited reflection. Benedict says…
That it reminds us, and the Church of the time during which mankind, as yet unredeemed, was waiting for redemption. That it reminds us of the darkness of history that was still not yet redeemed, in which the lamps of hope were only gradually being lit, until finally Christ, the Light of the World, came and freed the world from its unredeemed darkness. (p. 15)
Then, having shared some instances of the acute darkness of the twentieth century–war in particular, Benedict suggests that people of faith are confronted with a “particular risk: that of not wanting to see these things” (p. 19)
We live with shades down over our windows, so to speak, because we are afraid that our faith could not stand the full, glaring light of the facts. So we shield ourselves against this and push these facts our of our consciousness, so as to avoid falling on our face. But a faith that will not account for half of the facts or even more is actually, in essence, a kind of refusal of faith, or, at least, a very profound form of skepticism that fears faith will not be big enough to cope with reality. (p. 19)