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"Even a traditionally Catholic people can feel negatively or assimilate almost unconsciously the repercussions of a culture that ends by insinuating a mentality in which the Gospel message is openly rejected or subtly hindered."
Words such as these could only be voiced by a person of great intellect, faith and courage, such as Pope Benedict XVI, as he soldiers onward in the footsteps of his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II – Johannes Paulus Magnus. Like John Paul, Benedict lived in a country whose profound, centuries-old culture, veritably linked with late antiquity, had been savagely trampled by the forces of evil.
That the citizens of any country could allow it to drift nonchalantly into a toxic stream leading to nowhere defies reason. Yet history records that it has happened.
"Stream" is an especially suitable metaphor here, since Benedict voiced his warning in the magnificent Tri-Venetian region, that "blessed land’’ distinguished by the banks of the Lagoon, the Canal of Cannaregio and the fabled Grand Canal, leading to the "River of Light," and, of course, the incomparable St. Mark’s Basilica.
The ultimate "River of Light," we know, in faith, illumines the Way to Christ, who must always be our final goal. Any idea or movement that deviates from or constitutes a barrier to his embrace cannot be labeled "progress." On the contrary, it can only amount to retardation and, when all else has been tried, self-destruction. We are all made for God, as Saint Augustine wrote on the first page of his immortal Confessions, and we shall never rest until we rest in him.
Thus, argued Pope Benedict during his pilgrimage to the Diocese of Triveneto (the "Three Venices"), for man today to surrender his soul to hedonistic, materialistic and/or relativistic goals is self-defeating, because it is dehumanizing. The meaning of each and every human being is reflected in Christ, the Son of God incarnate. There is no "humanism" worthy of the name without reference to God. Was it not Dostoevsky who, in typical philosophical fashion, stated that to assess the human being without reference to God is like sitting on a tree limb while sawing it off? Isn’t it bound to crash?
The great Jewish existentialist Martin Buber convincingly argued that since God is the indispensable basis for every authentic "I-Thou" relationship, as contradistinguished from an "I-It" relationship, every "Thou" offers a glimpse through to the Eternal "Thou," namely, God. Moreover, God is the absolute guarantor of every true interpersonal meeting.