I saw this at The Cafeteria is Closed website and it was so good I had to repost it for myself. I love our Holy Father and also think that, as erudite as he is, some of his best stuff is not his homilies or speeches but when he is speaking off the cuff directly with people. He manages to be profound and to communicate clearly the message of God’s love and the deepest truths of the faith with a directness and simplicity that is very accessible.
From a recent Q&A session with young people. (From Zenit)
2. Holy Father, my name is Anna. I am 19 years old, I am studying literature, and I belong to the Parish of St. Mary of Carmel.
One of the problems we are constantly facing is how to approach emotional issues. We frequently find it difficult to love. Yes, difficult: Because it is easy to confuse love with selfishness, especially today when most of the media almost imposes on us an individualistic, secularized vision of sexuality in which everything seems licit and everything is permitted in the name of freedom and individual conscience.
The family based on marriage now seems little more than a Church invention, not to speak of premarital relations, whose prohibition appears, even to many of us believers, difficult to understand or anachronistic.
Knowing well that so many of us are striving to live our emotional life responsibly, could you explain to us what the Word of God has to tell us about this? Thank you.
Benedict XVI: This is a vast question and it would certainly be impossible to answer it in a few minutes, but I will try to say something.
Anna herself has already given us some of the answers. She said that today love is often wrongly interpreted because it is presented as a selfish experience, whereas it is actually an abandonment of self, and thus becomes a self-discovery.
She also said that a consumer culture falsifies our life with a relativism that seems to grant us everything, but in fact completely drains us.
So let us listen to the word of God in this regard. Anna rightly wanted to know what the word of God says. For me it is a beautiful thing to observe that already in the first pages of sacred Scripture, subsequent to the story of man’s creation, we immediately find the definition of love and marriage.
The sacred author tells us: “A man will leave his father and mother and will cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” one life (cf. Genesis 2:24-25). We are at the beginning and we are already given a prophecy of what marriage is; and this definition also remains identical in the New Testament.
Marriage is this following of the other in love, thus becoming one existence, one flesh, therefore inseparable; a new life that is born from this communion of love that unites and thus also creates the future.
Medieval theologians, interpreting this affirmation which is found at the beginning of sacred Scripture, said that marriage is the first of the seven sacraments to have been instituted by God already at the moment of creation, in paradise, at the beginning of history and before any human history.
It is a sacrament of the Creator of the universe; hence, it is engraved in the human being himself, who is oriented to this journey on which man leaves his parents and is united to a woman in order to form only one flesh, so that the two may be a single existence.
Thus, the sacrament of marriage is not an invention of the Church; it is really “con-created” with man as such, as a fruit of the dynamism of love in which the man and the woman find themselves and thus also find the Creator who called them to love.
It is true that man fell and was expelled from paradise, or, in other words, more modern words, it is true that all cultures are polluted by the sin, the errors of human beings in their history, and that the initial plan engraved in our nature is thereby clouded. Indeed, in human cultures we find this clouding of God’s original plan.
At the same time, however, if we look at cultures, the whole cultural history of humanity, we note that man was never able to forget completely this plan that exists in the depths of his being. He has always known, in a certain sense, that other forms of relationships between a man and a woman do not truly correspond with the original design for his being.
And thus, in cultures, especially in the great cultures, we see again and again how they are oriented to this reality: monogamy, the man and the woman becoming one flesh.
This is how a new generation can grow in fidelity, how a cultural tradition can endure, renew itself in continuity and make authentic progress.
The Lord, who spoke of this in the language of the prophets of Israel, said referring to Moses, who tolerated divorce: Moses permitted you to divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts.” After sin, the heart became “hard,” but this was not what the Creator had intended, and the prophets, with increasing clarity, insisted on this original plan.
To renew man, the Lord—alluding to these prophetic voices which always guided Israel towards the clarity of monogamy—recognized with Ezekiel that, to live this vocation, we need a new heart; instead of a heart of stone—as Ezekiel said—we need a heart of flesh, a heart that is truly human.
And the Lord “implants” this new heart in us at baptism, through faith. It is not a physical transplant, but perhaps we can make this comparison. After a transplant, the organism needs treatment, requires the necessary medicines to be able to live with the new heart, so that it becomes “one’s own heart” and not the “heart of another.”
This is especially so in this “spiritual transplant” when the Lord implants within us a new heart, a heart open to the Creator, to God’s call. To be able to live with this new heart, adequate treatment is necessary; one must have recourse to the appropriate medicines so that it can really become “our heart.”
Thus, by living in communion with Christ, with his Church, the new heart truly becomes “our own heart” and makes marriage possible. The exclusive love between a man and a woman, their life as a couple planned by the Creator, becomes possible, even if the atmosphere of our world makes it difficult to the point that it appears impossible.
The Lord gives us a new heart and we must live with this new heart, using the appropriate therapies to ensure that it is really “our own.” In this way we live with all that the Creator has given us and this creates a truly happy life.
Indeed, we can also see it in this world, despite the numerous other models of life: There are so many Christian families who live with faithfulness and joy the life and love pointed out to us by the Creator, so that a new humanity develops.
And lastly, I would add: We all know that to reach a goal in a sport or in one’s profession, discipline and sacrifices are required; but then, by reaching a desired goal, it is all crowned with success.
Life itself is like this. In other words, becoming men and women according to Jesus’ plan demands sacrifices, but these are by no means negative; on the contrary, they are a help in living as people with new hearts, in living a truly human and happy life.
Since a consumer culture exists that wants to prevent us from living in accordance with the Creator’s plan, we must have the courage to create islands, oases, and then great stretches of land of Catholic culture where the Creator’s design is lived out.