[h/t: New Advent] Speaking to the US bishops on April 16, Pope Benedict XVI made the arresting comment that an “almost complete eclipse of an eschatological sense” marks “many of our traditionally Christian societies.” America, he didn’t need to add, is one of them, but the very warmth of the welcome the Holy Father received in the US and the intensity of attention during his visit suggested a growing exhaustion with the eclipse of religion under secularism and a hunger for God’s revelation of man’s ultimate purpose.
Burdened by the yoke of an ideology that treats God as irrelevant to the ordering of society—an ideology which has at once destabilized public life, eroded the foundations of culture, and corrupted US Catholicism—Americans were ready for the Holy Father’s theme of “Christ Our Hope,” open to his arguments about the harmony of reason and revelation, and moved by his humility and piety.
Media pundits, stunned by this reaction, speculated on the papacy’s enduring significance. They offered various superficial reasons for it without arriving at the real one: it remains Christ’s way of staying present throughout history.
Into the darkness of godless voids—whether comforting the victims of priestly abuse near the beginning of the trip or kneeling in prayer at the pit of Ground Zero near the end of it—Christ’s vicar brought forth his light. In a false age, Pope Benedict offers truth; to the weary and enslaved, he represents grace. As the eye naturally turns to light, so people of good will turn toward holiness.
Often dismissed as a mere academic, the Holy Father showed characteristic honesty and courage in confronting pastorally the concrete effects of the crises he addressed intellectually. He delivered a talk one day to the bishops on the importance of fidelity to the doctrines and discipline of the Church, then the next day comforted those victims who suffered at the hands of a dissenting and lax clerical culture. He gave a speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations on the dangers of amoral power ideology, then two days later visited the “Ground Zero” site of its most extreme manifestation.