Benedict XVI on the Signs of the Times

Excerpt From Book-Interview “Light of the World”

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ROME, NOV. 22, 2010 ( Here is an excerpt from German journalist Peter Seewald’s book-interview with Benedict XVI titled “Light of the World,” which is scheduled to be released Tuesday by Ignatius Press. The excerpt comes from Chapter 6, titled “Time for Conversion.”

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Seewald: At the beginning of the third millennium the peoples of the earth are experiencing an upheaval of hitherto unimaginable proportions, economically, ecologically, socially. Scientists regard the next decade as decisive for the continued existence of the planet. Holy Father, you yourself in January 2009 used dramatic words in addressing diplomats in Rome: “Our future is at stake, as well as the fate of our planet.” Unless we manage soon to introduce conversion on a broader basis, you said in another passage, the helplessness and the scenario of chaos would be intensified enormously. In Fatima your homily had an almost apocalyptic tone: “Mankind has succeeded in unleashing a cycle of death and terror, but failed in bringing it to an end. . ..”

Do you see in the signs of the time signals of a world-altering caesura?

Benedict XVI: There are of course signs that frighten us, that worry us. But there are also other signs with which we can connect and which give us hope. We have indeed spoken at length already about the scenario of terror and danger. I would add here one more thing from the visits by the bishops that burns inside of me.

Many, many bishops, above all from Latin America, tell me that wherever the road of drug production and trafficking passes — and that includes large sectors of these countries — it is as if an evil monster had its hand on the country and had corrupted the people. I believe we do not always have an adequate idea of the power of this serpent of drug trafficking and consumption that spans the globe. It destroys youth, it destroys families, it leads to violence and endangers the future of entire nations.

This, too, is one of the terrible responsibilities of the West: that it uses drugs and that it thereby creates countries that have to supply it, which in the end exhausts and destroys them. A craving for happiness has developed that cannot content itself with things as they are. And that then flees into the devil’s paradise, if you will, and destroys people all around.

And then there is a further problem. The destruction that sex tourism wreaks on our young people, the bishops say, is something we cannot even begin to imagine. The destructive processes at work in that are extraordinary and are born from the arrogance and the boredom and the false freedom of the Western world.

You see, man strives for eternal joy; he would like pleasure in the extreme, would like what is eternal. But when there is no God, it is not granted to him and it cannot be. Then he himself must now create something that is fictitious, a false eternity.

This is a sign of the times that should be an urgent challenge to us, especially as Christians. We have to show — and also live this accordingly — that the eternity man needs can come only from God. That God is the first thing necessary in order to be able to withstand the afflictions of this time. That we must mobilize, so to speak, all the powers of the soul and of the good so that a genuine coin can stand up against the false coin — and in this way the cycle of evil can be broken and stopped.

Seewald: Looking at the end of natural resources, the end of an old epoch, the end of a particular way of life, we become aware again in a fundamental way of the finiteness of things — and also of the end of life in general. Many people see already in the signs of this time the portent of an end time. Maybe the world is not going under, they say, but it is going in a new direction. A society that has become sick, in which psychological problems especially are on the increase, longs for healing and redemption and is actually begging for it.

Shouldn’t we reflect also on whether this new direction might possibly be connected with Christ’s Second Coming?

Benedict XVI: The important thing, as you say, is that a need for healing exists, that man can understand again somehow what redemption means. Man recognizes that if God is not there, existence becomes sick and man cannot survive like that. That he needs an answer that he himself cannot give. In that respect this time is a time of Advent that also offers much that is good. The great communication, for example, that we have today can lead, on the one hand, to complete depersonalization. Then one is just swimming in a sea of communication and no longer encounters persons at all. But, on the other hand, it can also be an opportunity. For instance, to become aware of one another, to encounter one another, to help each other, to go out of ourselves.

So it seems to me important not to see only the negative side. While we must be very keenly aware of it, we must also see all the opportunities for good that are there; the hopes, the new possibilities for being human that exist. So as then, finally, to proclaim the need for change, which cannot happen without an interior conversion.

Seewald: What does that mean concretely?

Benedict XVI: Part of this conversion is putting God in first place again. That changes everything else. And inquiring about God’s words, so as to allow them as realities to shine into one’s own life. We must, so to speak, dare again the experiment with God — so as to allow him to work within our society.

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