Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Catholic Underground Special #5
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
"At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel."
The Pope's solution to this problem of Catholics who fail to act as a saving sign of contradiction to the world and wind up contradicting their own mission echoes the work of the Parousians.
The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith. But they also call for cultivating a mindset, an intellectual “culture”, which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the urgent issues which affect the future of American society.
In order to be the spiritual leaven we are meant to be in the world, we must move past the polarization and division of secular and materialist ideologies that have infiltrated our ways of thinking by creating a genuinely Catholic intellectual culture.
There are still some dissenters in the Catholic Church who are hard pressed to agree with the Magisterium on anything. Why they have remained Catholic is anybody's guess. Most American dissenters are characterized as cafeteria Catholics, those who generally accept the tenets of the faith, but reject others because they do not line up with some outside divisive ideology, and competing divisive ideologies that do not conform to the fullness of faith are at the root of the disunion and distrust among American Catholics. The Holy Father has always been insistent that Catholicism minus a few troubling teachings plus a few incompatible trendy ideas is not Catholicism. As more than a few commentators noted on the elevation of Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy, the cafeteria is closed.
The need to create a genuinely Catholic intellectual culture has been realized before this papacy. The novelist Walker Percy defended a consistent life ethic in his 1981 essay, "A View of Abortion, With Something to Offend Everybody."
Percy begins his essay noting the late twentieth century desensitized response to dying masses before offering his nagging diagnosis to the culture:
True legalized abortion - a million and a half fetuses flushed down the Disposall every year in this country - is yet another banal atrocity in a century where atrocities have become commonplace.
Percy realized this line of argument has already been made and immediately distances himself from the hypocrisy attributed to the pro-life movement.
The statement will probably offend one side in this already superheated debate, so I hasten in the interest of fairness and truth to offend the other side. What else can you do when some of your allies give you as big a pain as your opponents? I notice this about many so-called pro-lifers. They seem pro-life only on this one perfervid and politicized issue. The Reagan administration, for example, professes to be anti-abortion but has just recently decided in the interests of business that it is proper for infant-formula manufacturers to continue their hard sell in the Third World despite thousands of deaths from bottle feeding. And Senator Jesse Helms and the Moral Majority, who profess a reverence for unborn life, don't seem to care much about born life: poor women who don't get abortions have babies and can't feed them.
Percy then goes on with uncommon boldness in speaking the truth about abortion.
What I am writing this for is the egregious doublespeak that the abortionists - "pro-choicers," that is - seem to have hit on in the current rhetorical war.
Percy dismisses the disingenuous argument that opposition to abortion is a religious issue.
But I do submit that religion, philosophy, and private opinion have nothing to do with this issue. I further submit that it is commonplace of modern biology, known to every high-school student and no doubt to you the reader as well, that the life of every individual organism, human or not, begins with the chromosomes of the sperm fuse with the chromosomes of the ovum to form a new DNA complex that henceforth directs the ontogenesis of the organism.
Percy imagines the whole debate as a "Galileo trial in reverse," with the Supreme Court telling a high-school biology teacher that his position on scientific fact is only private belief which he must refrain from teaching, and the teacher submits while murmuring, "But it's still alive!"
Percy closes the essay with a prophetic warning, one that the pro-life movement has not quite fulfilled.
To pro-abortionists: According to opinion polls, it looks as if you may get your way. But you're not going to have it both ways. You're going to be told what you're doing.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Benedict XVI reminds us that our faith is a continuity of the community that precedes us. We owe a debt of appreciation to those men and women from whose labor we have reaped the fruit. In turn, we have the task to continue the work of faith that has been entrusted to us. At liturgy and in life we are always invited to participate in a reality that transcends time and yet requires our participation as a unique and necessary expression in this time and this space.
"Gathered as we are in this historic cathedral, how can we not think of the countless men and women who have gone before us, who labored for the growth of the Church in the United States, and left us a lasting legacy of faith and good works? In today’s first reading we saw how, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth from the Upper Room to proclaim God’s mighty works to people of every nation and tongue. In this country, the Church’s mission has always involved drawing people “from every nation under heaven” (cf. Acts 2:5) into spiritual unity, and enriching the Body of Christ by the variety of their gifts."
The work of God is always the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes us one in faith and love. We must remember that the strength of the Church lies in our bearing the image of God. The unity and diversity embodied in the very inner-life of the Trinity manifests in the diversity and unity of the faith community. Our individuality and solitude opens us up to God and calls us to make an authentic gift of self to others. The summit of this union occurs during the Divine Liturgy and more particularly during Communion when we eat the very flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. God calls us to break out of the dark prison of the self and into the light of Love.
"This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: “Choose life!” (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and “institutional” to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love."
Too often people look at God’s commands as a foreign power that comes to negate our freedom and stunt our personal growth. To the contrary, God’s will is life, for God is the source of life, and all life finds its meaning in God. The reason for God’s commands is to set us free from the snares of sin so that we may fully bear the image of God through choosing life and become fully alive. Sin does not represent life but death, not growth but decay. All saints will the same thing: “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As long as we see God’s will as some imposing immutable far-off force trying to control us, we will neglect the truth that God only wants to set us free so we may respond freely to the call to love inscribed in the nature of our being. This love is not passive but combats all that separates us from God, and God’s truth is like a sword that prunes us so that we may flourish.
All physical reality has a spiritual dimension. In his homily Benedict XVI turns to the concrete example of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to reflect on the theological meaning of this house of prayer. This cathedral is a symbol of hope in as much as it symbolizes the Church and God’s presence in the world. Furthermore, the elaborate Gothic style architecture represents a spiritual tradition more ancient than the land of America where this Cathedral resides. The purpose of Church architecture and art is to portray mystical realities and theological truths that occur all around us. Church art at its finest always expresses a sacramental vision that lifts the soul to the contemplation of truth. Because Benedict XVI provides succinct and beautiful reflection, I have included all the text pertaining to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
"I am particularly happy that we have gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as “a house of prayer for all peoples” (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. Archbishop John Hughes, who – as Cardinal Egan has reminded us – was responsible for building this venerable edifice, wished it to rise in pure Gothic style. He wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building up of Christ’s body in this land. I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.
The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.
This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, “from the outside”: a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to “enter into” the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).
Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. “O Lord, my God,” the Psalmist sings, “when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: “where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace” (Adv. Haer. III, 24, 1).
This leads me to a further reflection about the architecture of this church. Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God’s creation. Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly “geometer”, compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose. Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God’s eternal plan? This requires, as we know, constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring “a fresh, spiritual way of thinking” (cf. Eph 4:23). It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life. Is not this ongoing “intellectual” conversion as necessary as “moral” conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church’s life and mission?"
This last paragraph speaks of the importance of faith and reason working together. Great cathedrals represent works of art that unite the content of faith to the novelty of human intelligence and ingenuity from the complex processes of designing to constructing. The questions above (italics mine) remind us of the need to integrate reason into the faith perspective because God has ordered the cosmos according to a Divine plan has given us the capacity to know. Rather than being opposed to each other, faith and reason represent mutual perspectives that help form a cohesive and holistic worldview. The combination of faith and reason in the Cathedral and in the Church represents the upward movement of the soul to discover truth and seek God’s will.
"Dear friends, these considerations lead me to a final observation about this great cathedral in which we find ourselves. The unity of a Gothic cathedral, we know, is not the static unity of a classical temple, but a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven. Here too, we can see a symbol of the Church’s unity, which is the unity – as Saint Paul has told us – of a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose. Here too we see our need to acknowledge and reverence the gifts of each and every member of the body as “manifestations of the Spirit given for the good of all” (1 Cor 12:7). Certainly within the Church’s divinely-willed structure there is a distinction to be made between hierarchical and charismatic gifts (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). Yet the very variety and richness of the graces bestowed by the Spirit invite us constantly to discern how these gifts are to be rightly ordered in the service of the Church’s mission. You, dear priests, by sacramental ordination have been configured to Christ, the Head of the Body. You, dear deacons, have been ordained for the service of that Body. You, dear men and women religious, both contemplative and apostolic, have devoted your lives to following the divine Master in generous love and complete devotion to his Gospel. All of you, who fill this cathedral today, as well as your retired, elderly and infirm brothers and sisters, who unite their prayers and sacrifices to your labors, are called to be forces of unity within Christ’s Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning’s Gospel, into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13)."
We must prepare the way of the Lord! As the Cathedral provides a sacred space for God to dwell in the world, we must likewise allow God to work through us. Benedict XVI encourages us to gaze upwards with humility and confidence for we are the living stones of the temple that God is raising up in the world.
At the conclusion of Mass, the Holy Father added the following:
"At this moment I can only thank you for your love of the Church and Our Lord, and for the love which you show to the poor Successor of Saint Peter. I will try to do all that is possible to be a worthy successor of the great Apostle, who also was a man with faults and sins, but remained in the end the rock for the Church. And so I too, with all my spiritual poverty, can be for this time, in virtue of the Lord’s grace, the Successor of Peter.
It is also your prayers and your love which give me the certainty that the Lord will help me in this my ministry. I am therefore deeply grateful for your love and for your prayers. My response now for all that you have given to me during this visit is my blessing, which I impart to you at the conclusion of this beautiful Celebration."
Thursday, April 10, 2008
"I am especially grateful to all who have been praying for the success of the visit, since prayer is the most important element of all. Dear friends, I say this because I am convinced that without the power of prayer, without that intimate union with the Lord, our human endeavors would achieve very little. Indeed this is what our faith teaches us. It is God who saves us, he saves the world, and all of history. He is the shepherd of his people. I am coming, sent by Jesus Christ, to bring you his word of life."
Too often we forget that our good works are only as effective as the prayer that supports them. With prayer, even the simplest acts of love plant seeds that in time bear great fruit. Without prayer, even the most extravagant good deeds "achieve very little."
God doesn't ask us to save the world - He is the Savior of the world, and we are only His instruments. If we wish to participate in His saving work, then we must remain intimately united to Him in prayer.
Let us especially pray for our Holy Father as he travels next week, and for one another as we continue to study, to seek the Truth, and to bring the "word of life" to our teachers and classmates.