Speaking without a prepared text, the Holy Father said that in modern times we have seen theorized an idea of man according to which human being would be, “free, autonomous, and nothing else.”
This supposed freedom from everything, including freedom from the duty of obedience to God, “Is a lie,” said Pope Benedict, a falsehood regarding the basic structure of human being – about the way women and men are made to be, “because,” he continued, “human being does not exist on its own, nor does it exist for itself.”
I think it was Chesterton who said that all arguments are ultimately theological arguments. If everything comes from God and returns to God (exitus et reditus), a worldview that denies God is going to make errors in its anthropology. How many young people do you know who think life is nothing but a never ending search for more stuff? Who think all their problems will disappear if they can only marry the right person? Or who think maleness and femaleness are irrelevant social constructs?
The Pope said it is a political and practical falsehood, as well, because cooperation and sharing of freedoms is a necessary part of social life – and if God does not exist – if He is not a point of reference really accessible to human being, then only prevailing opinion remains and it becomes the final arbiter of all things.
Chesterton also said that the Catholic Church is the only thing that can save a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his time. I fell in love with the Church because it is always simultaneously behind and ahead of the times because it is timeless. In contrast, if the Church were to wed itself to the spirit of the times, it would always be five minutes behind, huffing and puffing to catch up. What the people want is Christ. If we tell them that religion is a jolly fine thing and no spoilsport, and everyone is perfectly fine just the way they are with no need for repentance or conversion... well, they can get all of that outside the Church and get it better.
The Holy Father also stressed that for Christians, true obedience to God depends on our truly knowing Him, and he warned against the danger of using “obedience to God” as a pretext for following our own desires.
This touches on Colin's entry below about the nature of obedience. If you only follow the directives of your superior because you agree with them or because you like your superior personally, then you are not practicing true obedience. Once again, Jesus is the model here: He asked the Father to take that cup from him, but also said, "Thy will be done." Can you still hear the voice of God in your superior when he asks you to do something you'd rather not do?
“We have,” he said, “a certain fear of speaking about eternal life.”
“We talk of things that are useful to the world,” continued Pope Benedict, “we show that Christianity can help make the world a better place, but we do not dare say that the end of the world and the goal of Christianity is eternal life – and that the criteria of life in this world come from the goal – this we dare not say.”
I think people mean well when they talk about all of the material good Christianity has done throughout history. It's perfectly true that we essentially created hospitals and the modern university system. It's true that the Catholic Church does more charitable work than any other institution today. It's true that all Catholics have a moral obligation to work for social justice in ways suitable to their state in life, whether it's going on the Walk for Life or donating time and money to the relief of earthquake victims in Haiti or China. But if we concentrate on those things alone to the exclusion of our final goal, we're missing the point. The Church was founded for the salvation of souls. In the end, you and I will be in either Heaven or Hell, forever. How often do we meditate on the Four Last Things anymore? How often do we hear about the need to repent, confess, and do penance anymore? In my prayer life, I always ask God to grant me a burning charity for Him and for my neighbor, and an ardent zeal for souls. If it's not about eternal life - if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead - then our faith is in vain and priests are overworked bureaucrats who can't get married.
I recently finished The Cure D'Ars Today, which I highly recommend. Everyone is familiar with what St. John Vianney said to a child on his way to the parish in which he would spend most of his life, and I think it is a good encapsulation of what the priest is and he is supposed to do: "You have shown me the way to Ars, and now I will show you the way to Heaven."