Pope's New Year Message for 2012 underlines the right use of freedom

Pope's New Year Message for 2012 underlines the right use of freedom

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI chose the theme "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace" for the celebration of the 45th World Day of Peace on 1 January 2012. The following are extracts from his New Year Message.

We are living in a world where families, and life itself, are constantly threatened and not infrequently fragmented. Working conditions, often incompatible with family responsibilities, worries about the future, the frenetic pace of life, the need to move frequently to ensure an adequate livelihood, to say nothing of mere survival all make it hard to ensure that children receive one of the most precious of treasures: the presence of their parents.

This presence makes it possible to share more deeply in the journey of life and thus to pass on experiences and convictions gained with the passing of the years, experiences and convictions which can only be communicated by spending time together. I would urge parents not to grow disheartened. May they encourage children by the example of their lives to put their hope before all else in God, the one source of authentic justice and peace.

Authentic freedom

Every educational setting can be a place of openness to the transcendent and to others, a place of dialogue, cohesiveness and attentive listening, where young people feel appreciated for their personal abilities and inner riches, and can learn to esteem their brothers and sisters. May young people be taught to savour the joy which comes from the daily exercise of charity and compassion towards others and from taking an active part in the building of a more humane and fraternal society.

It is the task of education to form people in authentic freedom. This is not the absence of constraint or the supremacy of free will, it is not the absolutism of the self. When man believes himself to be absolute, to depend on nothing and no one, to be able to do anything he wants, he ends up contradicting the truth of his own being and forfeiting his freedom.

On the contrary, man is a relational being, who lives in relationship with others and especially with God. Authentic freedom can never be attained independently of God. Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one which can be misunderstood and misused. Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognising nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own self.

In order to exercise freedom, then, man must move beyond the relativistic horizon and come to know the truth about himself and the truth about good and evil. Deep within his conscience, man discovers a law that he did not lay upon himself, but which he must obey. Its voice calls him to love and to do what is good, to avoid evil and to take responsibility for the good he does and the evil he commits.

Thus, the exercise of freedom is intimately linked to the natural moral law, which is universal in character, expresses the dignity of every person and forms the basis of fundamental human rights and duties: consequently, in the final analysis, it forms the basis for just and peaceful coexistence.

The right use of freedom, then, is central to the promotion of justice and peace, which require respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one's own. This attitude engenders the elements without which peace and justice remain merely words without content: mutual trust, the capacity to hold constructive dialogue, the possibility of forgiveness, which one constantly wishes to receive but finds hard to bestow, mutual charity, compassion towards the weakest, as well as readiness to make sacrifices.

In this world of ours, in which, despite the profession of good intentions, the value of the person, of human dignity and human rights, is seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to have recourse exclusively to the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions, it is important not to detach the concept of justice from its transcendent roots. Justice, indeed, is not simply a human convention, since what is just is ultimately determined not by positive law, but by the profound identity of the human being.

God's love

We cannot ignore the fact that some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity: "The 'earthly city' is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God's love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world"(Vatican II: Declaration on Religious Freedom).

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Mt 5:6). They shall be satisfied because they hunger and thirst for right relations with God, with themselves, with their brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation.

It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true: an unconditional return to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?

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