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VINE VOICEon April 21, 2008
So says Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi (paragraph 31), his second encyclical, and the entire elegant and closely reasoned essay is an argument in defense of the claim. As is typical of papal encyclicals, references in Spe Salvi tend to focus on scripture, the patristic fathers, and a handful of medieval theologians. But it also strikes me that Benedict's reflections on hope are informed as well by the 20th century's greatest Roman Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, although Rahner is never explicitly referenced.

It's no accident, Benedict argues, that in early drawings Christ was often depicted as a philosopher. Philosophy in the early centuries of the Christian era wasn't an academic discipline so much as a search for the proper way to live. Early Christians saw Jesus as offering the best way, one that made sense of the present by looking to the future. The good news brought by Christ, writes Benedict, was thus not only informative. It was also performative: that is, it provided an incentive and purpose for a particular lifestyle.

Faith, argues Benedict, is a "reaching out towards things that are still absent," but it also "gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a 'proof' of the things that are still unseen" (paragraph 7). This is the basis of the hope offered by Christ: that the future, although it can't be known, is nonetheless laden with promise, and that the awareness of this affects the way in which we live in the present. Hope, then, based on faith, isn't merely a yearning for the future; it's a present mode of living that's informed by hope in a positive future (shades of Rahner here).

This hope needs something infinite to ground it, to make it genuinely worthy of hope, and that infinite something is, of course, God (again, this is reminiscent of Rahner). The hope, furthermore, must be both personal and collective: that is, hope, like faith must be that which sustains the individual and binds together the community. In showing how this double movement is possible, Benedict does an especially fine job of arguing against private models of hope (such as those endorsed by some evangelicals) on the one hand and collectivist models (such as those endorsed by secular utopians) on the other (paragraphs 13-23). In the process, he also shows that Christian hope is compatible with human freedom, which always makes the future contingent, and human suffering, which is always voluntarily shared by God (paragraphs 24-31, 35-39).

This is Benedict at his finest: holding contraries in a creative tension, rather than rejecting one for the sake of the other to achieve logical neatness at the expense of theological depth. The personal and the communal, the present and the future, uncertainty and hope: these, the antipodes of human existence, are also the compass points Benedict wisely uses to help us better understand the manner of living taught by Jesus the philosopher.
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VINE VOICEon April 3, 2008
People ask why would anyone want to read an encyclical? To me, Benedict XVI is an excellent author and has written a wonderful letter. While reading this I became excited about my faith and anxious to learn more, to understand and share the insights of this marvelous new spiritual leader. As with his previous encyclical, Benedict discusses spirituality in a fresh new way. His insights may clarify challenges some Christians have with Vatican II spirituality.

The Pope begins strongly in the Introduction by referring to Romans 8:24: "in hope we were saved", and follows by explaining that our redemption is not simply given, it is "offered" to us and must be accepted as we lead our lives. I found the entire encyclical spiritually uplifting, but will only focus upon a few of the Pope's teachings:

The performative nature of the gift;
Faith as substance;
Faith leading to our ultimate goal;
The community nature of hope;
Prayer as hope.

Hope does not so much provide information as demand performance. According to Benedict. "hope is life changing". Through the letter we learn that God loves us very much and that we await his eternal love. The Pope refers to Romans 8:38 saying that human beings need unconditional love. Nothing can separate us from God's love. Hope, through such intense love, must be passed to others. Hope in God's overwhelming love must be shared.

Faith with hope is "the substance of things hoped for", It accepts facts and promises that are unseen and not able to be proven by earthly means. Hope infects our soul and allows us to accept the unseen. With hope our "faith gives life a new basis". Our way of acting and living" is the only proof needed. The peace, serenity, and happiness of Christians is the best proof of the value of our faith.

Hope leads to a contradiction. Our hope through Faith leads us to ask if
we actually want eternal life. The Pope suggests we need to decide whether we really want the kingdom of Jesus, or earthly pleasure and success. This world's hope for me differs from my hope through God. Since hope leads us to revising our lives, living for others, and accepting God's eternal love, it clearly leads us to our ultimate goal of eternal life in heaven with our Savior and our God. Living with our hope is our choice.

Benedict says that hope is not individual. Our Christian hope is through community. Focusing upon myself is like a "prison" from which I must escape. We seek God as a community of believers instead of in a "selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others."

The Pope tells us that we are vessels of the Lord. As vessels our "hearts must be enlarged and then cleansed." We will work hard to attain such growth. We must develop our prayer lives to learn how to communicate with God. We must "learn what is worthy of God". We must ask not for worldly comforts and desires. We must purify our wants and needs.

Spe Salve presents a fresh approach to the teaching of ancient concepts. It is worth more than a quick glance. It needs to be studied and prayed over. I recommend this encyclical.
I also recommend Benedict's first encyclical God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est
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on April 8, 2008
Once again Pope Benedict has written a clear, insightful, inspiring document for Catholics and people of faith everywhere. "Hope" is a word bandied about these days and offered as a panacea to the world's ills. In this latest encyclical, the Holy Father shows us (through scripture reference) that hope is a freedom with responsibility. The message here, I believe, is that there is hope through worship of God. All things begin and end with Him, our Creator on whom this generation has turned its back.
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on March 23, 2008
This is a broadly written, short, and decidedly un-academic sermon to humanity on a central aspect of the Christian message. It is aimed as widely as possible and does not even pre-suppose a great deal of prior familiarity with Christianity on the part of the hearer. For all the talk of "the pastoral" in the Catholic post-Vatican 2 ambit, Benedict is the only pope of that era really using the papal encyclical as such a radically simple vehicle since John 23's Pacem in Terris. It is nonetheless an old tradition and mode, recalling the sermons of Gregory the Great.

This obviously isn't going to satisfy certain restless souls. But Pope Ratzinger, the academic pope, has churned out truckloads of the other sort of writing throughout his career, stuffed with footnotes and references aplenty for those so minded. There is little he hasn't written about in that vein and loads of it are still in print. Simply, in his discernment of his new role, he sees the encyclical as a different sort of opportunity and tool.

The sermon is aimed at the literate but somewhat tired and harried modern soul, nonetheless open to hearing the rudiment of the Christian message restated. It is fresh and does not give the feel of having been much vetted or run through several drafts. It will not convert Everybody; Christianity never worked that way anyway. But it is likely it will convert Somebody. You can read it in one sitting or between planes. It will give back what you give it. The 80 year old pope didn't feel like delivering a magnus opus this year and dashed this off on his vacation. Its aim was to refresh and it refreshed me to know that encyclicals could still be turned loose in this almost offhand manner. What it basically says is, all you Pharisees,take a holiday ... we'll call you in later ... today you look to be in Somebody's way, and today the shepherd is going for that Somebody.
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on March 30, 2008
I read this book as my late mother was undergoing emergency surgery. It was very comforting and helped me a great deal to get through that experience. Pope Benedict is a wonderful writer and probably the greatest theologian alive today.
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on March 28, 2008
This second encyclical, by Pope Benedict XVI, Saved in Hope, gives one a good explanation of the necessity of Hope and Faith in our lives in this 21st Century and always. "In hope we have been saved" To quote his own words.
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on March 22, 2008
This very short encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI should be mandatory reading for all Catholics, yea, everyone in the world. He is brilliant and this is a treatise on HOPE, something missing from most individuals today. Highly recommended.
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on December 15, 2015
First book I ever read cover to cover in one sitting...took me three hours, but I couldn't put it down. Plan to re-read it (a little slower this time). Wonderful information for anyone needing encouragement about anything!
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on July 9, 2015
Pope Benedict has a unique way of articulating the essentials of our Catholic faith in a clear and understandable way for the faithful, yet retains all the mystery and majesty of the Gospel. He is an intellectual like Saint Pope John Paul II, but eminently more readable.
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on January 3, 2014
I appreciate Benedict's simple and beautiful explanations of thorny theological problems. Highlights of this encyclical include a consideration of the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1 ("Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen"--NAB) and a scriptural exploration of purgatory. Although Benedict's literary and philosophical allusions may intimidate some readers, his meditations on the scriptures are lucid and accessible.
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