2007-12-20 ITALY

Spe salvi

The second encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI is entitled Spe Salvi. It bears the date November 30, feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle. The first copy of the encyclical was sent to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. The Patriarch?s expression of gratitude was immediate; a token of his appreciation for the Pope?s striking mark of courtesy. November 30, as noted above, is the feast of Saint Andrew, leading patron of the Orthodox Church. The Pope?s gesture constitutes a follow-up to another act made on the part of the Catholic Church: the act of returning the relics of the same Saint Andrew to the Patriarch of Constantinople. For his part, Patriarch Bartholomew remarked that the encyclical on hope is an important sign of hope for the ecumenical dialogue.

The Patriarch?s gratitude ought to awaken our gratitude. In fact, by means of his encyclical, Spe Salvi, the Pope may be, as it were, giving back to us the virtue of hope in all its wonder. Often enough, the virtue of hope may be a little-practiced virtue, practically extinct. Yet without hope we may have difficulty to articulate our faith.

The Pope?s reflections on the virtue of hope are a most valuable gift, helping us to link life and faith. Benedict XVI has ably demonstrated the importance and necessity of hope, as well as its beauty and grandeur. He has demonstrated the ability to awaken within us the desire to possess the virtue of hope, to live it, to open up a space for hope in our lives once again. The Pope?s style is limpid, lucid and impassioned, a style that enlightens the mind and warms the heart.

What makes the reading of the encyclical both stimulating and useful is this: the reader feels in close contact with a man of high intelligence and wide culture, one who is at home with those who have influenced the course of human thought. Withal, the writer of the encyclical is a man of deep faith, open to human reason, as much at home with the saints of modest external appearance (like Saint Bakhita), as with the Fathers of the Church. When we are in Benedict XVI?s company, we feel constantly enlightened by his faith and by his solid thinking. As he addresses our deepest religious-spiritual experiences, he also speaks to our intelligence as it looks out upon the world, its problems, its dark side, its luminous spots, this world with which we desire to be fully engaged.

The Pope casts light upon the challenges which are presented to him, as to us, by science, technology, philosophical thought, ideologies. The Pope?s reflections are such as to invigorate our vocation as disciples of the Lord, while at the same time permitting ourselves the privilege of being a part of the world?s history, its unfolding reality. The light cast by the Pope?s writing illumines not only the world of the monastery, light-filled as it may be. Rather his beacon is thrown upon the world, a beacon such as to challenge the world of thought. The Pope places before us a profession of faith which is intelligible and at home in the public square. Such faith is an invitation to move out from a faith lived in the private realm alone; it is an invitation to profess faith publicly.

The encyclical, Spe Salvi, invites two readings. First it should be read through quickly, allowing for constant surprises while grasping the progression of the writer?s thought. Then a second reading should be made: more slowly, biting off, as it were, small mouthfuls, in an atmosphere of meditative prayer.

We ought to find a way to say thank you to Benedict XVI for the great challenge he has set before us, i.e., to be people of hope. We could express our thanks to him by becoming familiar with the content of the encyclical Spe Salvi, by praying the text, and by remembering the Pope in our prayers.

Bro. Giovanni Maria Bigotto

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