Nowadays, although the dominant culture of relativism all around us has given up on the search for truth, even if it is the highest aspiration of the human spirit, we need to speak with courage and humility of the universal significance of Christ as the Saviour of humanity and the source of hope for our lives. He who took upon himself our afflictions, is well acquainted with the mystery of human suffering and manifests his loving presence in those who suffer. They in their turn, united to the passion of Christ, share closely in his work of redemption. Furthermore, our disinterested attention towards the sick and the forgotten will always be a humble and warm testimony of God’s compassionate regard.
Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.
Homily, WYD Vigil Service,
August 20, 2011
Reflection – The challenge of relativism – the idea that either there is no universal truth that binds our lives together, or that such truth is utterly unknowable and hence irrelevant to our lives – is a central theme in the life and works of Joseph Ratzinger, and thus has been a central theme on this blog devoted to his writings.The direction he takes here, though, is an interesting one. He doesn’t tell the young people of the world to go and get doctorates in philosophy and theology, to sharpen their rhetorical skills and train as Catholic super-apologists so at to better crush the arguments of the relativists.
No – while all that may have greater or lesser value, he tells us here to bear witness to the saving power of Christ, not by learned arguments and syllogisms, but by taking care of the sick and the forgotten. I would extend that category of ‘the sick and forgotten’ to include almost everyone. Anyone can be ‘forgotten’ in some regard; we’re all sick in some dimension of our humanity. Everyone needs to be loved, everyone needs to be listened to, everyone needs to be healed, and the deepest healing is to know that you are loved and listened to by someone who really cares about you.
And this is the deep answer to relativism. How is that? Well, where does it come from, this relativistic passion of our times? Because it is a passion – the fervor of its most aggressive proponents is almost religious in force. Do not tell anyone what to do! This is the relativist creed (although it is self-contradictory, actually, since in promulgating it they are… well, telling us what to do).
But where does that come from? I think it comes from a deep fear, a deep sadness, a deep tragic sense of life where each of us in alone, trapped in our individual egos, with no heaven above us and no good earth under our feet. Floating in a hostile and meaningless cosmos, the only way to secure a little bit of life for oneself is to force one’s own ego, one’s own devices and desires, onto whatever little bit of the cosmos is within reach.
And so to love, to bend down and wash the feet of the other, to look someone in the eyes and truly listen to them, to receive, to welcome, to serve, to weep with the weeping and rejoice with the joyful—all of this addresses relativism, not in its intellectual formulation, but in the underlying spiritual malaise that drives it.
And the Holy Father goes on to exhort his young listeners to not be afraid of this task. This is so crucial—as he puts it, to not be afraid of the world, the future, or our own weakness. That the Lord has put us here, now, in the year 2011, in the place and with the people He has designed for us. We must not become paralyzed by the difficulties of life, and to not be thus paralyzed requires a living faith and communion with God in prayer.
But from that living faith, we are to look around us, see what is going on around us right now, ponder and pray about what we see, and then… do something. Something loving, something caring, something that serves in whatever way, big or small. And this is how the world is healed.