Heaven, hell, death, and judgment.
Q: With these essential parts of the creed missing, doesn't it seem to you that the redemption of Christ falls apart?
A: You have spoken, rightly, of fundamental themes that unfortunately appear rarely in our preaching. In the encyclical "Spe Salvi," I wanted in part to speak precisely of the last, universal judgment, and in this context also of purgatory, hell, and paradise. I think that we are all still affected by the objection of the Marxists, according to which Christians spoke only of the beyond, and overlooked the earth. So we want to show that we are truly concerned about earthly things, and are not people who speak of faraway realities, who do not help the world.
Now, although it is right to demonstrate that Christians work on behalf of the world – and we are all clearly called to work so that this world that may truly be a city for God and of God – we must not forget the other dimension. Without keeping this in mind, we do not work well on behalf of the world.
Demonstrating this was one of my fundamental aims in writing the encyclical. When one is not aware of the judgment of God, when one does not recognize the possibility of hell, of the radical and definitive failure of life, then one does not recognize the possibility and necessity for purification. Then man does not work well on behalf of the world, because in the end he loses his bearings, he no longer knows himself, not knowing God, and destroys the world. All of the great ideologies have promised: We will take things in hand, we will no longer overlook the world, we will create the new, just, correct, fraternal world. Instead, they destroyed the world. We see this with Nazism, and we also see it with communism, which promised to build the world the way it was supposed to have been, and instead destroyed the world.
In the "ad limina" visits of the bishops from formerly communist countries, I see always anew how in those lands it is not only the planet, the ecology that has been destroyed, but above all and more seriously, souls. To rediscover truly human understanding, illuminated by the presence of God, is the first work for the rebuilding of the world. This is the common experience in these countries. The rebuilding of the world, respecting the planet's cry of suffering, can be realized only by rediscovering God in the soul, with one's eyes open to God.
And so you are right: we must speak of all of this precisely out of responsibility toward the earth, toward the men living today. We must speak specifically of sin as the possibility of destroying oneself, and thus also other parts of the earth.
In the encyclical, I tried to demonstrate that it is precisely the last judgment of God that guarantees justice. We all want a just world. But we cannot repair all of the destruction of the past, all of the people unjustly tortured and killed. Only God himself can create justice, who wants to be justice for all, even for the dead. And as the great Marxist Adorno says, only the resurrection of the body, which he believes to be untrue, could create justice. We believe in this resurrection of the body, in which not all will be the same.
Today we are used to thinking: what is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count, in the end God will be good toward all. It's a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame. Those who have destroyed man and the earth cannot sit immediately at the table of God, together with their victims.
God creates justice. We must keep this in mind. For this reason, it also seemed important to me to write about purgatory in the encyclical, which for me is such an obvious truth, so evident and also so necessary and comforting, that it cannot be omitted.
I tried to say: perhaps there are not so many who have destroyed themselves so completely, who are irreparable forever, who no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, who no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves. This would be hell.
On the other hand, they are certainly few – or at least not very many – who are so pure that they can immediately enter into communion with God.
Very many of us hope that there might be something salvageable within us, a final willingness to serve God and to serve men, to live according to God. But there are so many, many wounds, so much filth. We need to be prepared, to be purified. This is our hope: even with so much filth in our soul, in the end the Lord gives us the possibility, He washes us finally with his goodness that comes from his cross. He thus makes us capable of living for Him forever.
And thus heaven is hope, it is justice finally realized. And it also gives us the criteria for living, so that this time might be in some way heaven, a first ray of heaven. When men live according to these criteria, a little bit of heaven appears in the world, and this is visible.
It also seems to me to be a demonstration of the truth of the faith, of the necessity of following the path of the commandments, about which we should speak more often. These are truly signs along the road, and show how to live well, how to choose life. For this reason, we should also speak about sin and about the sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation. A sincere man knows that he is guilty, they must start over, that he must be purified. And this is the marvellous reality that the Lord offers to us: there is a possibility for renewal, for being made new. The Lord starts over again with us, and thus we can also begin again with the others in our lives.
This aspect of renewal, of the restoration of our being after so many mistakes, after so many sins, is the great promise, the great gift that the Church offers. And that, for example, psychotherapy cannot offer. Psychotherapy is very widespread today, and is also necessary, in the face of so many shattered or gravely wounded minds. But the possibilities of psychotherapy are very limited: it can only seek to bring back a bit of balance to a troubled soul. But it cannot bring a true renewal, an overcoming of these grave sicknesses of the soul. And so it always remains provisory, and never definitive.
The sacrament of penance gives us the opportunity to renew ourselves thoroughly with the power of God – "ego te absolvo" – which is possible because Christ took upon himself these sins, these faults. It seems to me that there is a great need for this today. We can be healed. Souls that are wounded and sick, as is the experience of all, need not only advice, but also a true renewal, which can come only from the power of God, from the power of crucified Love. It seems to me that this is the great nexus of mysteries that in the end truly impact our lives. We ourselves must meditate on them again, and so bring them again to our people.
And on the liturgy:
Q: How do you reconcile the treasure of the liturgy in all of its solemnity with the sentiment, feeling, and emotionality of the masses of young people who are called to participate in it?
A: The problem of liturgies at which masses of people participate is a serious one I recall that in 1960, during the great international Eucharistic congress in Munich, there was an attempt to give a new physiognomy to the Eucharistic congresses, which until then had been solely acts of adoration. The intention was to put the celebration of the Eucharist at the center as the act of the presence of the mystery celebrated.
But the question immediately arose of how this could be done. Adoration, it was said, can also be done from a distance; but in order to celebrate there must be a delimited community that can interact with the mystery, and therefore a community that must be an assembly around the celebration of the mystery.
Many were against the idea of celebrating the Eucharist outdoors with a hundred thousand people. They said that it was not possible because of the very structure of the Eucharist, which requires community for communion. And there were also prominent personalities, very respectable, who were against this solution.
But then professor Jungmann, a great liturgist and one of the leading architects of the liturgical reform, created the concept of "statio orbis," returning to the "statio Romae" in which during the Lenten season the faithful would gather in a place, the "statio," like soldiers for Christ, and then would go to the Eucharist together. If that, he said, had been the "statio" of the city of Rome, the place where the city of Rome gathered, that this would be the "statio orbis," the place where the world gathers.
It was from that moment that we had Eucharistic celebrations with mass participation. For me, I must say, it remains a problem, because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental, and therefore I do not believe that the definitive answer has truly been found. Again at the last synod [of bishops] I raised this question again, but the answer was not found.
I posed another question, about mass concelebration: because if, for example, a thousand priests concelebrate, it is not clear whether the structure intended by the Lord is still present. These are questions. And so you encountered, in Loreto, the difficulty of participating in a mass celebration during which it is not possible that all be equally involved. A certain style must therefore be chosen to preserve the dignity that is always necessary for the Eucharist; the community is not uniform, and the experience of participation at the event is different; for some, it is certainly insufficient. But in Loreto, this matter did not depend upon me, but rather upon those occupied with the preparation.
We must therefore reflect well on what to do in these situations [...]. The fundamental problem remains, but it seems to me that, knowing what the Eucharist is, even if one does not have the possibility of the kind of exterior activity desired to feel oneself as a participant, one may enter with the heart, as the ancient imperative of the Church says, which may have been created precisely for those who were in the back of the basilica: "Let us lift up our hearts! Now let us all come out from ourselves, so that we may be with the Lord and be together." I do not deny the problem, but if we truly follow these words, "let us lift up our hearts," we will all find, even in difficult and sometimes questionable situations, true active participation.