What Pope Benedict really said at World Youth Day
What did the Pope actually say at World Youth Day? That may sound like a stupid question, but if you followed the events in Sydney through the secular news media you might have found yourself asking it through gritted teeth. Hostile broadcasters such as the BBC and Australia's ABC studiously ignored what Benedict XVI said during his visit, unless it could be presented as an "apology" or an "attack".
So what did the Pope actually say? He gave three major addresses that all Catholics — young or old — who wish to deepen their spiritual lives should read. Benedict had clearly weighed every word, for not one of the speeches contained a wasted sentence. Each address was a miniature masterpiece: exquisitely crafted, intellectually challenging and deeply rewarding.
His first speech. on the shores of Sydney Harbour, offered a tour d'horizon of the contemporary secular world. He began with the natural environment, which he said was scarred by our greedy dash for resources, He then moved on to the "scars" in our social environment, such as drug abuse. violence and sexual exploitation. These scars were turned into open wounds by relativism, which had led to "intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair".
Having diagnosed the disease, he presented the cure (needless to say, that didn't get much coverage). The cure is Christ: His existence means that life is not a mere succession of events, but is directed towards unity with God himself. We take a first, decisive step towards God in baptism, when we become a "new creation".
In his second major speech, Pope Benedict focused on the Holy Spirit, "the neglected Person of the Blessed Trinity". All the baptised must bear witness to God in order to restore the harmony of creation. To do this, we must understand who the Spirit is and how He assists us. According to the Pope, the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, leads us "into the very heart of God". He is the great unifier, who brings about the communion of believers in Christ. He is love at work in the world. He is a divine gift. But this gift is never forced on us; we must receive it of our own free will. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit we are able "to build up the Church in order to serve the world-.
In his third address. at Randwick Racecourse. the Pope deepened his reflection on the Holy Spirit still further. The Holy Spirit confers power on us. This is nothing less than "the power of God's life". Jesus proclaimed the start of a new age in which the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon humanity. We are living in this new age and must pose some daunting questions to ourselves. "What will you leave to the next generation?" Benedict XVI asked. "Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure? Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or even rejects him in the name of a falsely conceived freedom? ... What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make?" But the Pope assured his listeners that if they cooperate with the Holy Spirit they can overcome their weaknesses and become "prophets" of the new age heralded by Jesus.
We can learn three lessons from Benedict's magisterial speeches. First, we must always communicate the Good News in clear language, free of that species of jargon known as Churchspeak. Even when he was exploring difficult subjects, such as the Trinity, the Pope never slipped into abstruse theological language.
Second, our limitations must not prevent us from preaching the Gospel. The Pope was aware that, as a shy 81-year-old professor, he didn't have the typical profile of an inspirational youth speaker. But he allowed the Holy Spirit to work through him and use his strengths.
Third, we must set our sights high. Pope Benedict didn't talk down to the young people; he treated them as his intellectual equals. He believed that they could grasp Christian doctrine that others have more or less given up teaching. And he did so with great tenderness. He was paternal, but not paternalistic, caring but challenging, full of learning but also of love.