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Archive for June, 2009

What Does Courage Require?


In a homily bringing the Pauline Year to a close, Pope Benedict encouraged everyone to have the mature faith and courage of St. Paul. Contrary to the shifting ‘winds and currents of the age’, it takes true courage to be faithful to the teachings of the Church.

In his Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle says that “with Christ we must reach adulthood, mature humanity”. Paul wants Christians to have ‘responsible’ faith, ‘adult’ faith. The phrase ‘adult faith’ has become a common slogan over recent decades. It is often understood as the attitude of those who no longer listen to the Church and her pastors, but autonomously choose what they wish to believe and not to believe: a sort of ‘do-it- yourself’ faith. This is also presented as the ‘courage’ to go against the Magisterium of the Church. The truth, however, is that it requires no courage because one is always certain of garnering public sympathy.

What does require courage is to adhere to the faith of the Church even if this contradicts the blueprint of the modern world. It is the ‘non-conformity’ of faith that Paul calls ‘adult faith’. What he considers childlike is to charge after all the winds and currents of the age.

Part of adult faith, for example, is commitment to the inviolability of human life from the very first moment, thus radically opposing the principle of violence by defending the most helpless human creatures. Part of adult faith is recognizing lifelong marriage between a man and a woman, as ordained by God and re-established by Christ. Adult faith does not allow itself to be blown here and there by the slightest breeze.

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Bishop Tobin Batting .500

Bishop Tobin of the Diocese of Providence writes a weekly column in the Rhode Island Catholic entitled Without a Doubt. It is always well done, thought provoking and pastoral but this past week made me cheer at one point and feel utterly frustrated at another. In his most recent submission, Bishop Tobin briefly addressed several issues, including the Fr. Cutie scandal in Miami, the murder of Dr. Tiller, President Obama’s reception of an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame, President Obama’s declaration of the month of June as Lesbian,Gay, Bi-sexual Transgendered pride month, and a couple of other random wanderings. First the ‘home run’ then the ‘swing and a miss’.

On the “gay agenda” he wrote:

I see that President Obama has declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) month. The President has called on all Americans to “turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.” In other words, if you’re opposed to the homosexual sub-culture and behavior, you’re now a presidential bigot. “If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit,” the President said. In that spirit, I can’t wait for the President’s declaration of a month dedicated to pro-life Americans. After all, our Nation was founded on the principle of life – along with liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Speaking of the gay agenda, the left-leaning columnist of the “Providence Journal” Bob Kerr, who frequently sounds the trumpet on behalf of the gay lobby, has asked why some people feel the need to defend traditional marriage. “What are they protecting it from?” he pleads.

The answer, Bob, is identity theft. From the very beginning of recorded history, marriage has had a very specific identity – the union of one man and one woman, joined together for the dual purpose of mutual love and the creation of new life. Because of its essential contributions, marriage has been afforded special rights and privileges in every culture. Now, in just the last few years, some individuals involved in other forms of immoral sexual liaisons have appeared on the scene to say, “Hey, we want to be married too. We hereby claim your identity, your rights and privileges, for ourselves.” So that’s the answer, Bob. We’re protecting the fundamental institution of marriage from identity theft.

Identity theft…I like that. Now on to the strikeout. On President Obama at Notre Dame:

I didn’t offer any public comments about President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame last month for several reasons: Lots of other bishops made excellent public statements that covered everything I would have said; I have no jurisdiction over Notre Dame and my voice would have meant little; and along with Notre Dame, there’s lots of other Catholic colleges and universities across the country that could be challenged for similar situations.

Nonetheless, to say that I was disappointed by the decision of Father Jenkins to invite the President and award him an honorary degree is a huge understatement. The invitation seriously compromised the Catholic identity and integrity of Notre Dame and gave plenty of encouragement to the pro-abortion folks around the country who love to see the Church divided over this issue. Accordingly, even if asked, I won’t be writing any letters of recommendation for anyone applying for Notre Dame any time soon. Or Georgetown either, for that matter.

These last two paragraphs are contradictory. The latter is a very strong statement which articulates the heart of the issue and the gravity of the scandal. Merriam-Webster defines scandal as “discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person; conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in another; loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety : disgrace.” This is exactly the detrimental outcome Bishop Tobin observes, and it is the very reason it necessitated a public statement.

To make a public statement when ‘lots of other bishops’ are doing the same is not “piling on”, but an important sign of solidarity. Silence is affirmation and it spoke more loudly and added to the fervor of controversy because it was perceived as tacit support. Even though Bishop Tobin has no canonical jurisdiction in South Bend, the effects of the scandal reached the faithful he is charged with shepherding–in his jurisdiction. And lastly, the fact that many other Catholic institutions could be challenged for similar incidents is a sad commentary on the state of Catholic higher education, and no excuse for ignoring the most public display of Roman Catholic Identity crisis.

The Church in the United States is at the bottom of the ninth inning and we’re on our feet. We just need our shepherds to step up to the plate.


Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth)

Today on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict signed his long-awaited encyclical on economic justice. Generally published shortly after the Pope signs the official document, it is reported that it will be available just before the G8 Summit which begins on July 8th. The content will offer ways to make globalization more attentive to meeting the needs of the poor amid the worldwide financial crisis and outline the goals and values that the faithful must defend to ensure solidarity among all peoples.

At todays audience Pope Benedict said:

“Pray for this new contribution that the Church offers to humanity in its mission to create a sustainable future, in full respect of human dignity and the right demands of all.”


Scientific analysis done on St. Paul’s bones


Last evening Pope Benedict celebrated First Vespers for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, winding down the Pauline Year. Excavations begun in 2002 to make the sarcophagus of St. Paul “accessible” (pictured above) to pilgrims have produced some interesting scientific discoveries.

“An authentic scientific analysis” conducted on the sarcophagus conserved in the basilica, the Holy Father said, “seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul.”

“A tiny hole was drilled into the sarcophagus — which over many centuries had never been opened — in order to insert a special probe, which revealed traces of costly purple colored linen fabric, laminated with pure gold and a blue fabric with linen filaments,” Benedict XVI explained.

“Grains of red incense and protein and chalk substances were also discovered,” he continued. “There were also tiny bone fragments, which were sent for carbon-14 testing by experts who were unaware of their origin. These were discovered to belong to a person who had lived between the first and second centuries.”
Reported here and here.

Also announced the previous day was the following: on the 19th it was reported that Vatican archaeologists using laser technology have discovered what they believe is the oldest image in existence of St Paul the Apostle, dating from the late 4th century, on the walls of the catacomb of St. Tecla, near the basilica.


Contradiction at Conception

Published for Fathers Day last Sunday, Parade magazine asked President Obama to write a reflection on what fatherhood means to him. It is quite good, though it contains a disturbing contradiction. After sharing his personal experience of being raised without a father and coming to know the importance of a father’s role by its absence, he states the following:

That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.

Did he just say what I think he said? If the life of that child and with it the responsibility of the father begins at conception, how does that fit in with his abortion rights advocacy? Exactly when does life begin? Above his pay grade? Seems like the President made a practical judgment here.


YEAR FOR PRIESTS: COMPLETE IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST

Once again Pope Benedict focuses on the Year for Priests, demonstrating the great importance he is placing on the desired fruit of this year: the sanctification of priests. Hopefully those dioceses and priests that have yet to join the Holy Father in this endeavor will be moved to do so and dedicate themselves to a continued renewal of self conformed to Christ.

From Vatican Information Service:

VATICAN CITY, 24 JUN 2009 (VIS) – During today’s general audience, held in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope focused his remarks on the Year for Priests which he inaugurated last Friday, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and day of prayer for the sanctification of the clergy, and which is intended to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney.

“Why a Year for Priests?” the Pope asked. “And why should it recall the holy ‘Cure of Ars’ who apparently did nothing out of the ordinary?”

The Holy Father went on to explain how “Divine Providence ordained that the figure [of St. John May Vianney] should be associated with that of St. Paul” because, “although the two saints followed very different life paths, … these exists nonetheless a fundamental factor that unites them: their total identification with their ministry, their communion with Christ”.

“The aim of this Year for Priests”, he went on, “is to support each priest’s struggle towards spiritual perfection, ‘upon which the effectiveness of his ministry particularly depends’, and to help priests, and with them the entire People of God, to rediscover and revive an awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of Grace which the ordained ministry represents, for the person who receives it, for the entire Church, and for the world which would be lost without the real presence of Christ”.

“Although the historical and social conditions in which the ‘Cure of Ars’ worked have changed, it is right to ask how priests can imitate him by identifying themselves with their ministry in modern globalised societies”, said the Pope.

“In a world in which the common view of life leaves ever less space for the sacred, in place of which ‘functionality’ becomes the only decisive category, the Catholic concept of priesthood could risk losing its due regard, sometimes even in the ecclesial conscience”.

The Holy Father identified two conceptions of the priesthood, “which do not in fact contradict one another”. On the one hand “a social-functional conception which identifies the essence of priesthood with the concept of ‘service’. … On the other hand there is a sacramental-ontological conception” which sees priestly ministry “as determined by a gift called Sacrament, granted by the Lord through the mediation of the Church”.

“What”, the Pope asked, “does it mean for priests to evangelise? In what does the primacy of announcement exist? … Announcement coincides with the person of Christ”, he said, “a priest cannot consider himself as ‘master’ of the Word, but as its servant”.

“Only participation in Christ’s sacrifice, in His ‘chenosi’, … and docile obedience to the Church … makes announcement authentic. … Priests are Christ’s servants, in the sense that their existence, ontologically configured to Him, have an essentially relational character. The priest is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ at the service of humankind. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of man”.

Benedict XVI concluded by expressing the hope that “the Year for Priests may lead all the clergy to identify themselves completely with Christ Who died and rose again, so that, imitating St. John the Baptist, they may be ready ‘to diminish’ that He may grow; and that, following the example of the ‘Cure of Ars’, they may be constantly and profoundly aware of their mission, which is both sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God”.


Birth of St. John the Baptist

Besides Christmas and the Nativity of the Blessed Mother, there is only one saint whose birthday is celebrated in the Liturgy of the Church, St. John the Baptist. Usually a saint is remembered on the day of his death–or birth into eternal life–but the Blessed Mother and St. John the baptist share a common dignity of being born free from original sin, thereby meriting the celebration of their actual birthday. (Mary was conceived and born free of the stain of original sin and John the Baptist was cleansed at the Annunciation when, in the presence of Christ, he leapt for joy in the womb of his mother.) This should come as no surprise for it was Jesus who said, “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John”.

Taken from the Office of Reading of today’s solemnity:

A sermon of St Augustine

The voice of one crying in the wilderness

The Church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred; and you will not find any other of the great men of old whose birth we celebrate officially. (The feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin had not yet been introduced.) We celebrate John’s, as we celebrate Christ’s. This point cannot be passed over in silence, and if I may not perhaps be able to explain it in the way that such an important matter deserves, it is still worth thinking about it a little more deeply and fruitfully than usual.

John is born of an old woman who is barren; Christ is born of a young woman who is a virgin. That John will be born is not believed, and his father is struck dumb; that Christ will be born is believed, and he is conceived by faith.

I have proposed some matters for inquiry, and listed in advance some things that need to be discussed. I have introduced these points even if we are not up to examining all the twists and turns of such a great mystery, either for lack of capacity or for lack of time. You will be taught much better by the one who speaks in you even when I am not here; the one about whom you think loving thoughts, the one whom you have taken into your hearts and whose temple you have become.

John, it seems, has been inserted as a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. That he is somehow or other a boundary is something that the Lord himself indicates when he says, The Law and the prophets were until John. So he represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb. You will remember that, before he was born, at Mary’s arrival he leapt in his mother’s womb. Already he had been marked out there, designated before he was born; it was already shown whose forerunner he would be, even before he saw him. These are divine matters, and exceed the measure of human frailty. Finally, he is born, he receives a name, and his father’s tongue is loosed.

Zachary is struck dumb and loses his voice, until John, the Lord’s forerunner, is born and releases his voice for him. What does Zachary’s silence mean, but that prophecy was obscure and, before the proclamation of Christ, somehow concealed and shut up? It is released and opened up by his arrival, it becomes clear when the one who was being prophesied is about to come. The releasing of Zachary’s voice at the birth of John has the same significance as the tearing of the veil of the Temple at the crucifixion of Christ. If John were meant to proclaim himself, he would not be opening Zachary’s mouth. The tongue is released because a voice is being born – for when John was already heralding the Lord, he was asked, Who are you and he replied I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

John is the voice, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word. John is a voice for a time, but Christ is the eternal Word from the beginning.