The quest for truth and meaning

September 2011

Pope Benedict XVI had a few surprises when he spoke to Germany’s parliament last week. One was an apparent reference to the Green Party to illustrate the human quest for truth and meaning.

During the grandfatherly discussion on law and politics, Pope Benedict XVI said that “the emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s . . . was and continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside, just because too much of it is seen to be irrational. Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives. In saying this, I am clearly not promoting any particular political party—nothing could be further from my mind. If something is wrong in our relationship with reality, then we must all reflect seriously on the whole situation and we are all prompted to question the very foundations of our culture.”

In praising as noteworthy the views of a political party that may otherwise not be enamored with the church’s teachings on abortion, same-sex marriage and the like, the Holy Father made a number of points. Two require examination.

First, Pope Benedict XVI is and always was certain that dialogue among peoples is central to being human, and thus to evangelizing. We find this in his early seminary studies, in his doctoral work and in his many writings. It does little good for one to demonize those who do not agree with you on every point; in doing so one merely closes doors and isolates human from human, which is antithetical to the incarnational, sacramental nature of Christ’s church.

As he made clear in his third major letter to the church, charity and truth must be intimately united.

Beyond that, Pope Benedict XVI finds evidence in places like the Green Party of a nascent yearning for truth, order and justice. This does not surprise the Holy Father, who knows that one can not genuinely seek what is good without stumbling into Christianity. Again, we find in this discourse those key elements of relation, dialogue, truth and charity that undergirds Pope Benedict XVI’s (and Blessed John Paul II’s) New Evangelization.

We see this as the Holy Father continued his discourse with an explanation about how discussing ecology is ultimately a discussion about what it means to be human.

“The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.”

Certainly, as the pontiff makes clear, he has not joined the Green Party. But in dialoguing with it, he can offer its members and their sympathizers a better direction to eternal truths—and thus assist in the salvation of souls. This is typical of Pope Benedict XVI, who truly is a missionary of Christ in the world of ideas.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.