On May 7, 2005, in his homily in St. John Lateran Basilica – Rome's Cathedral - as he was officially taking possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI explained his task as Successor of Peter: he is not there to proclaim his own ideas, but to obey God's Word, and not water it down:
This is the task of all Peter's Successors: to be the guide in the profession of faith in Christ, Son of the living God. The Chair of Rome is above all the seat of this belief... The One who sits on the Chair of Peter must remember the Lord's words to Simon Peter at the Last Supper: "...You turn must strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22: 32).
The Bishop of Rome sits upon the Chair to bear witness to Christ. Thus, the Chair is the symbol of the power to teach that is an essential part of the mandate of binding and loosing which the Lord conferred on Peter, and after him, on the Twelve. In the Church, Sacred Scripture, the understanding of which increases under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of its authentic interpretation that was conferred upon the Apostles, are indissolubly bound. Whenever Sacred Scripture is separated from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to disputes among experts.
Of course, all they have to tell us is important and invaluable; the work of scholars is a considerable help in understanding the living process in which the Scriptures developed, hence, also in grasping their historical richness. Yet science alone cannot provide us with a definitive and binding interpretation; it is unable to offer us, in its interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and for which we can even die. A greater mandate is necessary for this, which cannot derive from human abilities alone. The voice of the living Church is essential for this, of the Church entrusted until the end of time to Peter and to the College of the Apostles.
This power of teaching frightens many people in and outside the Church. They wonder whether freedom of conscience is threatened or whether it is a presumption opposed to freedom of thought. It is not like this. The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.
Pope John Paul II did this when, in front of all attempts, apparently benevolent to the human person, and in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he unequivocally stressed the inviolability of the human being and of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery.
The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church's pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.
The Chair is – let us say it again - a symbol of the power of teaching, which is a power of obedience and service, so that the Word of God - the truth! - may shine out among us and show us the way of life.
On May 29, in his homily at the Mass for the closing of the Italian National Eucharistic Congress in Bari, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the importance of attending Sunday Mass, and receiving Holy Communion, if one wants to have the life of Christ within us:
The chosen theme of this Eucharistic Congress — "Without Sunday we cannot live" – takes us back to the year 304, when the Emperor Diocletian forbade Christians, on pain of death, from possessing the Scriptures, from gathering on Sundays to celebrate the Eucharist and from building places in which to hold their assemblies. In Abitene, a small village in present-day Tunisia, 49 Christians were taken by surprise one Sunday while they were cele. brating the Eucharist, gathered in the house of Octavius Felix, thereby defying the imperial prohibitions. They were arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the Proconsul Anulinus.
Significant among other things is the answer a certain Emeritus gave to the Proconsul who asked him why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor's severe orders. He replied: "We cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb." After atrocious tortures, these 49 martyrs of Abitene were killed. Thus, they confirmed their faith with bloodshed. They died, but they were victorious: today we remember them in the glory of the Risen Christ.
The experience of the martyrs of Abitene is also one on which we 21st-century Christians should reflect. It is not easy for us either to live as Christians, even if we are spared such prohibitions from the emperor. From a spiritual point of view, the world in which we find ourselves, often marked by unbridled consumerism, religious indifference and a secularism closed to transcendence, can appear a desert just as "vast and terrible" (Dt 8: 15) as the one we heard about in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. God came to the aid of the Jewish people in difficulty in this desert with his gift of manna, to make them understand that "not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8: 3).
In today's Gospel, Jesus has explained to us, through the gift of manna, for what bread God wanted to prepare the people of the New Covenant. Alluding to the Eucharist he said: "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and died nonetheless, the man who feeds on this bread shall live forever" (Jn 6: 58). In taking flesh, the Son of God could become Bread and thus be the nourishment of his people, of us, journeying on in this world towards the promised land of Heaven.
We need this Bread to face the fatigue and weariness of our journey. Sunday, the Lord's Day, is a favourable opportunity to draw strength from him, the Lord of life. The Sunday precept is not, therefore, an externally imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, taking part in the Celebration, being nourished by the Eucharistic Bread and experiencing the communion of their brothers and sisters in Christ is a need for Christians, it is a joy; Christians can thus replenish the energy they need to continue on the journey we must make every week. (...)
Christ is truly present among us in the Eucharist. His presence is not static. It is a dynamic presence that grasps us, to make us his own, to make us assimilate him. Christ draws us to him, he makes us come out of ourselves to make us all one with him. In this way he also integrates us in the communities of brothers and sisters, and communion with the Lord is always also communion with our brothers and sisters. And we see the beauty of this communion that the Blessed Eucharist gives us.
On June 6, 2005, in an address given at the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome in St John Lateran Basilica, the Holy Father explained the meaning of marriage and the family in God's plan:
Today, the various forms of the erosion of marriage, such as free unions and "trial marriage", and even pseudo-marriages between people of the same sex, are instead an expression of anarchic freedom that are wrongly made to pass as true human liberation. This pseudo-freedom is based on a trivialization of the body, which inevitably entails the trivialization of the person. Its premise is that the human being can do to himself or herself whatever he or she likes: thus, the body becomes a secondary thing that can be manipulated, from the human point of view, and used as one likes. Licentiousness, which passes for the discovery of the body and its value, is actually a dualism that makes the body despicable, placing it, so to speak, outside the person's authentic being and dignity.
The truth about marriage and the family, deeply rooted in the truth about the human being, has been actuated in the history of salvation, at whose heart lie the words: "God loves his people". The biblical revelation, in fact, is first and foremost the expression of a history of love, the history of God's Covenant with humankind. (...)
Even in the begetting of children marriage reflects its divine model, God's love for man. In man and woman, fatherhood and motherhood, like the body and like love, cannot be limited to the biological: life is entirely given only when, by birth, love and meaning are also given, which make it possible to say yes to this life. From this point it becomes clear how contrary to human love, to the profound vocation of the man and the woman, are the systematic closure of a union to the gift of life and even more, the suppression or manipulation of newborn life.
No man and no woman, however, alone and single-handed, can adequately transmit to children love and the meaning of life. Indeed, to be able to say to someone "your life is good, even though I may not know your future", requires an authority and credibility superior to what individuals can assume on their own. Christians know that this authority is conferred upon that larger family which God, through his Son Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, created in the story of humanity, that is, upon the Church. Here they recognize the work of that eternal, indestructible love which guarantees permanent meaning to the life of each one of us, even if the future remains unknown.
For this reason, the edification of each individual Christian family fits into the context of the larger family of the Church, which supports it and carries it with her and guarantees that it has, and will also have in the future, the meaningful "yes" of the Creator. And the Church is reciprocally built up by the family, a "small domestic church", as the Second Vatican Council called it
There is an obvious consequence to all this: the family and the Church - in practice, parishes and other forms of Ecclesial Community - are called to collaborate more closely in the fundamental task that consists, inseparably, in the formation of the person and the transmission of the faith.
On June 28, 2005, the Vatican presented the new "Compendium of the Catholic Church", a summary, in question and answer form, of the 700-page Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992. In 2003, Pope John Paul II charged a commission, led by former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), to make a more concise version of the Catechism, to be even more accessible. The final version consists of 205 pages containing 598 questions and answers, 15 images, an appendix (of the main Christian prayers and certain formulae of Catholic doctrine) and an alphabetical index.
Pope Benedict XVI handed a copy in Italian to various guests (a translation in English and other languages will be available in a few weeks), explaining that there was "an ever greater and insistent need for a catechism in synthesis, brief, which presents all and only the essential elements of the Catholic faith and Catholic morality, formulated in a simple manner, accessible to all, clear and synthetic." About the question-and-answer formula of the Compendium, the Pontiff added: "This genre of dialogue, moreover, helps to abbreviate the text notably, reducing it to the essential. This might favor the assimilation and possible memorization of the contents."
Here is a translation of a few questions and answers from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
3. How is it possible to know God only with the light of reason?
Starting from creation, that is, from the world and the human person, man, with reason alone, can know with certainty a God as origin and end of the universe and as the highest good, truth and infinite beauty.
171. What is the meaning of the affirmation: "There is no salvation outside the Church"?
It means that all salvation comes from Christ-Head through the Church, which is his Body. Therefore, those cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, do not enter it and do not persevere. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those can attain eternal salvation who, without fault, do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church, but seek God sincerely and, under the influence of grace, try to do his will known through the dictates of their conscience.
471. Why must society protect every embryo?
The inalienable right to life of every human individual, from his conception, is a constitutive element of civil society and of its legislation. When the State does not put its force at the service of the rights of all, and, in particular, of the weak, among whom are the unborn conceived, the very foundations of the State of law are undermined.
482. What is required for peace in the world?
It requires the just distribution and protection of the goods of people, free communications between human beings, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, [and] the assiduous practice of justice and fraternity.
502. What are the offenses to the dignity of marriage?
They are: adultery, divorce, polygamy, incest, free unions (living together, concubinage), the sexual act before or outside of marriage.
533. What is man's greatest desire?
Man's greatest desire is to see God. This is the cry of his whole being: "I want to see God!" Man attains his authentic and full happiness in the vision and the blessedness of the One who created him out of love and attracts him to Himself by his infinite love.