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by Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, OP
With gratitude to God for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate, I would like to recall a few of his words that continue to resonate. Perhaps the most thematic: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (DEUS CARITAS EST, no. 1 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html ). Pope Benedict ceaselessly reminded us of the importance and the reality of meeting the person of Jesus Christ – in the Word of Sacred Scripture, in the Liturgy, the Sacraments, and of sharing that hope and truth that sets one free.
At his meeting with young people in Yonkers, New York in 2008 (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2008/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080419_st-joseph-seminary_en.html), he reminded us that the encounter with Christ is a “discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust.” To those who would fear that following Christ means a series of prohibitions or a limitation on freedom, the Holy Father called us to a courageous stance of hope and wonder: “authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.” Our discipleship must be marked by a sense of wonder: “We stand before the God we know and love as a friend, the vastness of his creation, and the beauty of our Christian faith.”
The following of Christ, Pope Benedict remarked at his first celebration of the Baptism of the Lord (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20060108_battesimo_en.html) does entail certain judgments: “A gift of friendship implies a ‘yes’ to the friend and a ‘no’ to all that is incompatible with this friendship, to all that is incompatible with the life of God’s family, with true life in Christ.” By saying Yes to Christ, the Christian disciple says no to the “pompa diabuli” – the works of the culture of death, “an ‘anticulture’ manifested, for example, in drugs, in the flight from reality to what is illusory, to a false happiness expressed in deceit, fraud, injustice and contempt for others, for solidarity, and for responsibility for the poor and the suffering; it is expressed in a sexuality that becomes sheer irresponsible enjoyment, that makes the human person into a ‘thing’, so to speak, no longer considered a person who deserves personal love which requires fidelity, but who becomes a commodity, a mere object.” The Nos a Christian recites at Baptism, allow one the freedom to say Yes to True Life: “It is a “yes” to the challenge of really living life, of saying “no” to the attack of death that presents itself under the guise of life; and it is a “yes” to the great gift of true life that became present on the Face of Christ, who gives himself to us.”
This “opting-in” of discipleship with Christ takes courage. Today we may fear that in following Him, we may be asked to give up something of our freedom, something that makes life beautiful or unique. However, as Pope Benedict XVI told young people in his inaugural homily: (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato_en.html), “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.” It is only in the friendship with Christ that true beauty and liberation is ours. Therefore, we can open the doors of our hearts to encounter the Person of Christ: “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.” May we all discover the reality of the Person of Christ, who makes each of our lives beautiful, true, free and great.