By Sarah Delaney
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI warned that when people forget God they risk falling under the influence of modern forms of idolatry, such as totalitarianism or nihilism.
The pope used the Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah to draw attention to the perils of idolatry or misplaced beliefs of all sorts in contemporary times.
Pope Benedict has been using biblical stories to underscore the importance of prayer in his catecheses during the weekly general audiences.
In his talk at the June 15 audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope explained the story of how Elijah, alarmed at the spread of idol worship and syncretism in the Israel of the ninth century B.C., told his people they had to choose between God and the idol Baal.
In response, God sent down a consuming fire to reveal his presence and saving power, the pope said.
Diverging from his prepared text, Pope Benedict said that the story provided a valid lens for examining the 20th century.
“When God disappears, man falls into the slavery of idolatry, as we saw in our own time with totalitarian regimes” as well as various forms of nihilism “which make man dependent on the idolatry which enslaves him,” he said.
In the story of Elijah, the pope said, God sends down fire which appears destructive but is rather “the fire of love which burns, transforms, purifies.”
The pope said that when man substitutes God with a form of idolatry, which for contemporary society could be an ideology or modern ways of life that do not include God, he is at risk of losing himself and all hope of receiving grace.
The adoration of an idol, he said, does not open the human heart but rather “closes the person in his exclusive and desperate search for himself.” A person in this condition, the pope said, “could be forced to extreme actions.”
The primary purpose of prayer is conversion, the pope said. The story of Elijah illustrates “the fire of God that transforms our hearts and allows us to see God, so we can live according to God and for others,” the pope said.
Pope Benedict delighted pilgrims when he donned a red, wide-brimmed straw hat designed to shield him from the sun as the popemobile approached the altar on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
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Editor’s Note: The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is posted online at: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110615_en.html.
The text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish is posted online at: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110615_sp.html.
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