Pope's teachings

World peace and the Christian's inner life

Pope Francis has worked throughout his pontificate for peace, always insisting on the common responsibility that unites everyone to achieve social justice.

Ramiro Pellitero-February 8, 2023-Reading time: 8 minutes

It would seem that peace, which concerns us so much, is only a "social question," of agreements and laws. True peace also has to do with the spirit and the heart of each one of us; hence the importance of cultivating what the Christian tradition calls the "spiritual life" or "interior life".

We highlight the Pope's teachings on two occasions in January: his address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, which focused on the great pillars of peace; and his Apostolic Letter Totum amoris eston the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the death of St. Francis de Sales. In this letter (signed on December 28) the Pope underlines the centrality of love in the spiritual or interior life of the Christian.

The pillars of peace

This year the Pope's address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See (9-I- 2023) was a continuation of his January 1 Message for the World Day of Peace: "No one can save himself alone. Starting again from Covid-19 to trace together paths of peace.".

Francis now wished to express "an invocation of peace in a world that sees growing divisions and warsThe "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:5), after the contemplation, during Christmas, of the Son of God, called in the Sacred Scriptures "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:5). 

It also marks the 60th anniversary of the encyclical Pacem in terrispublished a few months before his death and half a year after the so-called "Cuban Missile Crisis", which represented a nuclear threat and a step in the direction of the annihilation of humanity.

It is precisely the diplomatic task - the Pope observes - "... that is the most important one.is an exercise in humility because it requires sacrificing a little self-love to enter into a relationship with the other, to understand his reasons and points of view, thus contrasting with human pride and arrogance, the cause of all belligerent will.".

First of all, Francis reiterated that "possession of atomic weapons is immoral"in the line of St. John XXIII. He laments the stalemate of the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" (nuclear agreement with Iran) and the war in Ukraine, as peaks of an iceberg that he has been calling the third world war (in progress) "in pieces" in a globalized world. To these are added other active wars or armed conflicts in the world.

He calls for an end to the "logic" of armaments - the arms race - because peace is not possible where instruments of death proliferate.

In the wake of the Pacem in terrisThe following four fundamental goods or ".pillars that regulate both the relations between individual human beings and between political communities."They are truth and justice, solidarity and freedom. The four are intertwined, the Pope observes, in a fundamental premise: "tvery human being is a person". That is to say, I might add, in a correct anthropology as the foundation of a correct ethics, compatible with a Christian vision of life.

Peace in truth

First, "building peace in truth means above all respecting the human person, with his or her 'right to existence and physical integrity', who must be guaranteed 'freedom in the search for truth, in the expression of thought and in its dissemination'".as already pointed out in John XXIII's encyclical.

In this context, together with the recognition of women's rights, the Pope stresses the need to defend life against induced abortion and the discarding of other weak human beings: the sick, the disabled and the elderly. He insists, as on other occasions, on the inadmissibility of the death penalty and his desire that it disappear from the legislation of today's world.

He points out the need to promote the birth rate to protect the future of society. And it advocates a "integral vision of education"which implies "to integrate the paths of human, spiritual, intellectual and professional growth, allowing the individual to free himself from multiple forms of slavery and to establish himself in society in a free and responsible manner.".

It notes the real educational catastrophe that the pandemic has left behind, and calls for states to rethink "the shameful and asymmetrical relationship between public spending on education and funds earmarked for armaments".

He warns that peace requires universal recognition of religious freedom (limited in one third of the world) and denounces the fact that one in seven Christians in the world is persecuted. In addition, he defends that religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship but also includes the freedom for everyone to "be able to live in peace".to act according to their conscience also in public life and in the exercise of their profession".

Finally, in this first section, Francis points out two fundamental principles concerning peace in truth. First, that religions "they are not problems, but part of the solution for a more harmonious coexistence."(Speech at the Plenary Session of the Seventh Congress of World Religious Leaders, Astana, September 14, 2022). Second, that "the root of all conflict is the imbalance of the human heart" (Mk 7:21).

Peace, justice and solidarity

A second pillar of peace is justice. Just as the 1962 crisis was resolved thanks to trust in international law, so too now it is necessary to create spaces for dialogue among peoples to avoid polarization, totalitarianism and ideological colonization.

Third, peace requires solidarity. That is to say, "to know that we are responsible for the fragility of others in the search for a common destiny"."(Fratelli tutti, 115). In the wake of the pandemic, Francis wishes to point out three areas where greater solidarity is urgently needed: migration (there is an urgent need to develop a normative framework for welcoming, accompanying, promoting and integrating migrants, as well as assisting and caring for shipwrecked persons, not only in some countries where they land); the world of the economy and work (providing profits in relation to the service of the common good and combating exploitation); and care for the common home (with more incisive attention to climate change).

Peace and freedom

As far as freedom is concerned, the Pacem in terris pointed out that peace building requires that there be no place for "injury to the freedom, integrity and security of other nations, regardless of their territorial extent or defense capabilities" (n. 66).

The Bishop of Rome calls attention to the prevalence, in various parts of our world, of a culture of oppression, of aggression and of the weakening of democracy, and once again expresses the wish formulated by "the good Pope" (St. John XXIII): that among men and their respective peoples "...".not fear, but love, which tends to express itself in a loyal, multiform collaboration, bearing many goods." (Pacem in terris, 67).

Love, the key to the Christian's interior life

Pope Francis' apostolic letter, Totum amoris est (Everything belongs to loveOn the fourth centenary of the death of St. Francis de Sales (28-XII-2022), he places love as the origin, manifestation and goal of the Christian's spiritual life.

The content of the letter can be described schematically with nine words. Four to describe the context of the thought and doctrine of St. Francis de Sales; and five that point out his "decisions". The four words of the context can be: affectivity, incarnation, renewal and discernment. The five words in relation to his "decisions": freedom, holiness, joy, charity and Jesus Christ.

The context

1. Affectivity. "God is God of the human heart"(synthesis of his thought). Importance of integrating affectivity in the whole of man and therefore of the spiritual life. "It is in the heart and through the heart that that subtle and intense unitary process takes place by virtue of which man recognizes God and, at the same time, himself, his own origin and depth, his own realization in the call to love.".

"Faith is above all a disposition of the heart". Indeed. And in the Christian sense (already in its biblical root) the heart is understood not primarily as a feeling - faith is not something purely emotional - but also not primarily or merely an intellectual assent - which is also a dimension of faith - but the whole person, which therefore includes his or her affections.

2. Incarnation. The holy doctor rejected both voluntarism (which confuses holiness with justification through one's own strength and produces a self-indulgence deprived of true love) and quietism (a passive and affectless abandonment, which belittles the flesh and history). "At the school of the Incarnation, learn to read history and inhabit it with confidence.". One of his first lessons is that "love is what gives value to our works"; and maintains that "Everything in the Church is for love, in love, through love and from love."(Treatise on the love of God). John Paul II called him "Doctor of divine love".

3. Renewal. This saint lived between the 16th and 17th centuries. From the intellectual and cultural point of view, he gathered the best of the previous century to pass it on to the following century, "...".reconciling the heritage of humanism with the tendency towards the absolute characteristic of mystical currents". All this, together with a "remarkable theological dignity": putting the spiritual life (prayer) first and also assuming the dimension of ecclesial life (feeling in the Church and with the Church) in the theological task. And in this way he points out that the theological method does not go hand in hand with individualism.

4. Discernment. He discovered that in his time a new world was opening up, where there was also a "thirst for God", although in a different way than before. To this he had to respond "with old and new languages". He knew how to read the moods of that time. He said: "it is very important to look at the condition of the times". In this way he was able to elaborate a fruitful spiritual and pastoral synthesis, centered on personal relationships and charity. He also knew how to proclaim the Gospel in a flexible and effective way.

As a conclusion to the above, the Pope observes: "This is also what awaits us as an essential task for this change of era: a Church that is not self-referential, free from all worldliness, but capable of inhabiting the world, of sharing the life of the people, of walking together, of listening and welcoming.". This is what Francis de Sales did, reading his time with the help of grace. That is why this doctor of the Church invites us to "to get out of the excessive preoccupation with ourselves, with the structures, with the social image, and to ask ourselves what are the concrete needs and spiritual hopes of our people.".

The "decisions

1. "Repropose" freedom (in a Christian perspective), within the framework of the initiative of divine grace and the collaboration of our human action.

To reformulate the question of true "devotion": not as a simple set of more or less pious or ascetic practices, but rather as a manifestation of charity, something like what a flame does with respect to fire. And, therefore, going to the root of devotion, which is holiness, for all Christians in every state of life, also in the "secular city". 

3. To present the Christian life as "ecstasy of work and life", in the literal sense of the term ecstasy (going out). That is to say: the "joy of faith" that arises when we go out of ourselves towards God and others. And not as a set of obligations: "It is not living in us, but outside of us and above us.", in "a perpetual ecstasy of action and operation".

Pope Francis had already said it and now he takes it up again: "The great risk of today's world, with its multiple and overwhelming offer of consumption, is an individualistic sadness that springs from a comfortable and greedy heart, from the unhealthy search for superficial pleasures, from an isolated conscience. When the interior life is closed in on one's own interests, there is no more room for others, the poor no longer enter, the voice of God is no longer heard, the sweet joy of his love is no longer enjoyed, the enthusiasm for doing good no longer palpitates. Believers also run this risk, which is certain and permanent. Many fall into it and become resentful, complaining and lifeless beings." (Exhort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, 2)

4. Consider, as a criterion for discerning the truth of this lifestyle, charity towards one's neighbor: if there is no charity, the "ecstasies" of prayer can be illusory and even come from the devil.

5. To keep in mind the deep origin of Christian love which attracts the heart (for spiritual life cannot exist without affection): "the love (of God) manifested by the incarnate Son". That is, Jesus Christ, in his whole life and especially on the cross. This is why, says this holy doctor, "calvary is the mount of lovers".

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