Pope: Christianity isn’t rules; it’s encounter with love

pope    Far from being just a moral or ethical code, Christianity is “an experience of love; it’s welcoming the person of Jesus,” Pope Benedict XVI said.
    “Many people today have a limited concept of what the Christian faith is because they identify it with a mere system of beliefs and values and not with the truth of a God revealing himself in history, eager to communicate with humanity one-on-one in a relationship of love,” he said.
    Faith “isn’t an illusion, escapism, a comfortable safe haven or sentimentalism,” rather it is something that engages one’s whole life and it proclaims the Gospel with courage, the pope said Nov. 14 during his weekly general audience.
    United with God, people of faith are “not afraid of showing their beliefs in everyday life,” and they are open to dialogue “that expresses deep friendship for the journey of every person,” the pope told some 8,000 pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. In addition, he said, people of faith know how to bring a sense of hope to people’s quest for “redemption, happiness and a future.”
    The pope dedicated his general audience talk to the different ways people can encounter and come to know God.
    Criticism of religion has intensified over the centuries, resulting in forms of atheism that have led to totalitarianism, relativism, a loss of values and ethical norms, and a skewed sense of freedom that ends up chaining people to idols, he said.
    The most dangerous form of atheism is a “practical” atheism that doesn’t deny God or the truth of faith, but brushes it all off as being insignificant, useless or irrelevant, the pope said.
    Such dismissal “ends up being even more destructive because it leads to indifference to the faith and questions about God,” he said.
    The Christian faith is always being put to the test, but today, people of faith are increasingly expected to give good reasons for their beliefs, he said.
    So what are people of faith to do? How are they called to “gently and respectfully” respond to today’s atheism, skepticism and indifference toward the transcendent, the pope asked.
    He said there are three pathways that can lead people to God: reflecting on the beauty of the world, the human hunger for meaning and the transformative power of faith.
    “We have to recover and help today’s men and women recover the ability to contemplate creation – its beauty and structure,” he said.
    The world isn’t some shapeless blob but shows signs of “an intelligent creator.” The laws of nature show “wonderful mechanisms,” patterns or designs, that, according to Albert Einstein, reveal a form of reason superior to mankind’s, the pope said.
    The other pathway to God is trying to understand oneself and one’s deepest yearnings, he said.
    Today’s busy, noisy world makes it hard, but people need to learn to “stop and look deeply inside ourselves and interpret this thirst for the infinite that we carry inside of us, that pushes us to go beyond ourselves and refer to that someone who can quench it.”
    The last pathway to God is a proper understanding of faith, he said.
    A person who believes is united to God, he said, which makes that person’s life become a “witness not of himself but of the risen Christ.”
    “Faith, in fact, is an encounter with God who speaks and acts in history and which converts our daily life, transforming our mentality, system of values, choices and actions.”
    The living witness of a person of faith can lead people to God, the pope said, however that means “each one of us must render our witness of faith more transparent, purifying our life to conform it to Christ” more closely.

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