Again turning to Light of the World, the conversation book with the Holy Father, I'd like to highlight the chapter entitled, "The Global Catastrophe," which addresses the growing problems on the global scale...as in, our physical globe, the earth (climate change, holes in the ozone, natural disasters). I was especially grateful for the Pope's insights, as a few teens had recently asked me questions about the Church's thought on this subject.
Pope Benedict begins his statements by addressing progress, knowledge and power. He says:
"Surely we are doing something wrong. I think that the problematic nature of the concept of progress has some bearing on it. The modern era has tried to find its way according to the fundamental concepts of progress and freedom. But what is progress? Today we see that progress can also be destructive. In this regard we should reflect on what criteria we must find so that progress really is progress...Knowledge is power. That means: if I know, then I can also control. Knowledge brought power, but in such a way that with our own power we can now also destroy the world that we think we have figured out intellectually" (43).
The understanding here is simple, and one that many would probably agree with. Consumption of knowledge for the purpose of gaining power/control/progress doesn't mean we're actually progressing in the right direction, for the right reasons, and with beneficial consequences. The Pope goes on to explain that the neglected questions have become, "What is good? Where should knowledge lead power?" (43). Where is our progress leading humanity? Is this a good direction for the future, or simply satisfying the desires of the moment?
Obviously, one could write on and on in dealing with a topic like this one. I won't do that here. But, I will make one final point based upon the Pope's words. This point also echoes one of the conversations I had with a teen in our program. His question was, "What does all of this have to do with me?" How does a global issue translate to my life and yours?
In answering, Benedict's first point is that society as a whole needs to make "a major examination of conscience." It seems that this process has already begun in some socio-political arenas, but the process in these arenas will not succeed. The Pope goes on:
"It becomes clear that the political will ultimately cannot become effective unless there is in all mankind - especially on the part of the chief supporters of development and progress - a new, deeper moral awareness, a willingness to do without, which is concrete and which for the individual also becomes and acknowledged value for his life. The question is therefore: How can the great moral will, which everybody affirms and everyone invokes, become a personal decision? For unless that happens, politics remains impotent."
And so, it comes down to a moral decision for each of us, one that hearkens back to the original point on knowledge, power and progress. How do we stand in front of Being itself? Do I stand in front of God as one who has created himself, who has made his own progress and gained power through knowledge achieved? Or, do I stand in recognition of my life as gift from God, and therefore, everything around me begins to be seen as gift. Here, the groping for power, pleasure, material, can begin to relinquish its hold on our lives and we can recognize where we can go without and why we would want to.