In a recent Catechesis, Pope Benedict XVI focused on “how to speak about God in our times”. While his talk emphasized the importance of prayer and direct contact with Jesus, among other elements, towards the end he mentioned the importance of listening to the signs of the times. The care for creation was 1 among 4 elements mentioned, and the most specific of them all. These are his words:
And in this we must take care to perceive the signs of the times in our epoch, namely, to identify the potentials, aspirations and obstacles we encounter in today’s culture and in particular the wish for authenticity, the yearning for transcendence, and concern to safeguard Creation and to communicate fearlessly the response that faith in God offers.
The term “signs of the times” is of great importance for the Church, and has been used widely in her tradition. It can be found in official documents, theology manuals and Papal addresses. It explains the idea that while the Church’s message is always the same, the person of Jesus Christ, the way it is expressed responds to different realities expressed in different historical times. To understand the signs of the times is to know how to communicate Jesus to the world. Gaudium et spes explains this well. Below one quote from Pope John XXIII (a) and an important reference from Gaudium et spes (b) from Vatican II which use the term:
a) Today more than ever … we are called to serve man as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere the rights of the human person, and not merely those of the Catholic Church. Today’s world, the needs made plain in the last fifty years and a deeper understanding of doctrine have brought us to a new situation … It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we have begun to understand it better. Those who have lived as long as I have …were enabled to compare different cultures and traditions, and know that the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead.
b) 4. To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. Some of the main features of the modern world can be sketched as follows…
The fact that Pope Benedict XVI speaks of “concern to safeguard creation” as a sign of the times in this magisterial fashion, then, has a great significance. It confirms, with Papal endorsement, the point made throughout this blog. The environment is important for evangelization today!
And in this same catechesis, Pope Benedict XVI mentions creation as important in another sense: it speaks to the style of Jesus = REALISM. This is a wonderful point that the Pope is emphasizing for evangelization in our times. We must speak with realism, with our feet firm on the ground, from our daily experience and existence. The parables of nature serve to bring this realism into our spiritual lives, that God is close to us and speaks our language, and that his kingdom can be understood by looking at phenomena in nature: birds, seeds, sheep, vines for example . The point is that “proclamation and life are interwoven”, to live in Jesus is to preach; much like matter and spirit are interwoven. This is the style of Jesus, divine words drenched in realism. And this takes us full circle to the sign of the times… with this incarnate realism, imbibed with Christ, we must be aware of the signs of the times, and share the Word with others. Below the text:
At this point we should ask ourselves: how did Jesus communicate? Jesus, in his oneness, speaks of his Father — Abba — and of the Kingdom of God, his gaze full of compassion for the hardships and difficulties of human life. He speaks with great realism and, I would say, that the essential feature of Jesus’ proclamation is that it makes clear that our life and the world are worthy of God. Jesus shows that in the world and in Creation God’s face shines out and he shows us that God is present in the daily events of our life. Both in the parables on nature, the mustard seed and the field with various seeds, and in our own life — let us think of the parable of the Prodigal Son, of Lazarus and of other parables of Jesus. From the Gospels we see that Jesus takes an interest in every human situation that he encounters, he immerses himself in the reality of the men and women of his time, with complete trust in the Father’s help. And that in this history, although hidden, God is really present and if we are attentive we can encounter him. And the disciples, who live with Jesus, the crowds who meet him, see his reaction to the most disparate problems, they see how he speaks, how he behaves; in him they see the action of the Holy Spirit, the action of God. In him proclamation and life are interwoven: Jesus acts and teaches, always starting from a close relationship with God the Father. This style becomes an essential indication for us as Christians: our way of living in faith and charity becomes a way of speaking of God today, because it shows, through a life lived in Christ, the credibility and realism of what we say with words, which are not solely words but reveal the reality, the true reality. And in this we must take care to perceive the signs of the times in our epoch, namely, to identify the potentials, aspirations and obstacles we encounter in today’s culture and in particular the wish for authenticity, the yearning for transcendence, and concern to safeguard Creation and to communicate fearlessly the response that faith in God offers.