Human beings were created for eternal life, and Christians need to get over their timidity and bring this certainty to the modern world, the Pope’s preacher has told him.
“The force that this truth possesses answers to the deepest, but often repressed, desire of the human heart,” said Fr Raniero Cantalamessa in an address to Pope Benedict and his household.
He was speaking on the Christian response to secularism, which he described as “an ensemble of attitudes contrary to religion and to faith,” and “the reduction of what is real to the earthly dimension.”
The loss of the sense of eternal life, he said, “has the effect on Christian life of sand thrown on a flame: it suffocates it, extinguishes it.”
The preacher recalled that in the ancient world few pagans came to belief in an after-life. Rather, the conviction that true life ends with death persisted among the masses.
“One can understand with this background,” he said, “what impact the Christian proclamation must have had, the news of a life after death infinitely more full and joyful than the earthly.
“One can also understand why the idea and the symbols highlighting eternal life are so frequent in the Christian burial chambers of the catacombs.”
The Christian notion of resurrection, he said, prevailed over the pagan expectation of “darkness beyond death”, eventually permeating all aspects of life during the Middle Ages.
But from the 1800s on, influential figures like Hegel, Marx and Freud began once again to deny the existence of God and an after-life, settling instead for the notion that they would survive in the species or in the future society.
“Little by little, suspicion, forgetfulness and silence fell on the word ‘eternity’,” said Fr Raniero. “Materialism and consumerism did the rest, making it seem inconvenient to still speak of eternity among educated persons.”
As a result, “the faith of believers became, on this point, timid and reticent,” with even priests unwilling to preach about it, even at funerals.
But the desire for eternal life remains. The renowned Spanish writer, Miguel de Unamuno, for example, was criticised by a friend because of his hope in eternal life. Unamuno responded:
“I do not say that we merit a beyond, or that logic demonstrates it; I say that we have need of it, whether or not we merit it, and that’s all.
“I say that what passes does not satisfy me, that I have thirst of eternity, and that without it nothing matters to me. I have need of it! Without it there is no more joy in living and the joy of living no longer has anything to give me.
“It is too easy to say: ‘One must be content with life.’ What of those that are not content with it?”
Fr Raniero noted that, like all people since time began, people today still ask, “Who are we? From whence do we come? Where are we going?”
The Christian faith, he believed, may return to Europe for the same reason if was first welcomed: “as the only faith that has a sure answer to give to the great questions of earthly life.”
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