By Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap.
Among Pope Benedict’s many concerns during his papacy have been two that joined together – faith and evangelization. We are presently in the Year of Faith. The renewal of faith within the Catholic Church is not only to strengthen the faith of her members, but also to prepare Catholics to participate in the “New Evangelization.” One of the ways that Pope Benedict has promoted the renewal of faith and the new evangelization has been through his Wednesday audiences.
When he became pope, Benedict dedicated his Wednesday audiences to the early Fathers of the Church. Each week he treated a different Father – for example, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyon, Basil the Great, Athanasius of Alexandria, and Augustine of Hippo. Pope Benedict noted that each of these was a man of faith who was instrumental in spreading the Gospel. St. Ignatius was eaten by beasts in the Coliseum in Rome in 107 AD and so bore witness to the faith. St. Athanasius defended the full divinity of Jesus and in so doing ensured the truth of the Incarnation for future generations. St. Augustine, through his many books, for example, his Confessions, his treatise On the Trinity, and his City of God, influences Catholic theology to this day. Pope Benedict realized that all of the Fathers of the Church preached the Gospel and so fostered Christian culture.
Having treated the early Fathers of the Church, Benedict later treated the men and women Saints of the Middle Ages. For example, St. Clare of Assisi, even though she lived in a cloistered convent, was beloved by the people because of her poverty and love for the Eucharist. St. Catherine of Sienna worked for the renewal of the Church, especially the Papacy, and in so doing fostered the vibrancy of the Church in her day.
Benedict, through the lives of the great saintly men and women of the past, has wanted to demonstrate that they are still significant for us today. Their faith is our faith and the Gospel that they preached is the Gospel that we preach today.
Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap. is Executive Director for the Secretariat of Doctrine.