Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Many of the Church's teachings don't require faith, only reason and honesty

A Conversation with Peter Kreeft

Many students consider themselves to be Catholics, but state that they have trouble reconciling the Church's teachings with their own "personal beliefs." What would you say to such a student?

Many of the Church's teachings don't require faith, only reason and honesty. For instance, the value of reason and honesty itself. I'd start by appealing to that. Use your reason. Think. And be fanatically honest with yourself. Don't play games with yourself. Lying to others is bad enough, but lying to yourself is like putting out your own eyes.

So if your "personal beliefs" are just your feelings, ask yourself why Hitler wasn't as good as you are, because he lived according to his "personal beliefs" and feelings too.

If, on the other hand, your "personal beliefs" are the result of your honest and rational search for truth, and you honestly believe you have good objective reasons for disbelieving some of the essential teachings of the Church, then you must follow your conscience and become a Protestant or a Muslim or a Buddhist or an agnostic or something else.

If your personal beliefs contradict the Church's definition of the Catholic faith, then you are not a Catholic, any more than I am a Buddhist if I believe in egotism and war, or a Marxist if I believe in the stock market.

That's not a personal insult, just a rational label. Honesty demands "truth in labeling."

What sort of changes have you noticed in your students over the years?

Everybody asks me that. The major answer is: nothing major at all. The human mind and heart doesn't change much. The media thrive on change, so they hype every little change.

Really, the two clearest changes I can think of are both little:

first, there aren't many sixties style hippies who think they can change the world and bring in the Age of Aquarius any more, they're too busy preparing for law school or med school;

and second, their English skills and knowledge of history have deteriorated and their math and computer skills have increased. The elves are leaving Middle-earth and we are approaching The Matrix.

If you had to point to the biggest obstacle in society today facing Orthodox Christianity, what would it be?

Our own sins. They always have social consequences. We construct society, for good or ill, far more than it constructs us. It has no free will; we do. It is merely what we make; we are not merely what it makes.

By "orthodox Christianity" I assume you mean the whole nine yards, the whole treatment.. That begins with faith, and truth, and teachings, but it ends with the works of love, with being saints. Only saints can save the world. And only our own sins can stop us from being saints.

There has been a lot of talk among students around campus lately about dissatisfaction with the current "hook-up" culture, in which students have replaced dating with what is described as random, no-strings-attached, inebriated sexual liaisons on weekends. What are your thoughts on this, and on how this can be overcome?

I believe in fear. When the ship is falling apart and sinking, it is better to feel fear than peace and self-esteem.

Perhaps a reading of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah might refresh our memories. At some point, a culture or an individual gets so bad that if they don't stop themselves, God does. No one knows where that point is until it's too late. And that's true for any evil: pride, hypocrisy, selfishness, injustice -- or "random, no-strings-attached, inebriated sexual liaisons," as you so charmingly put it.

I believe in fear. When the ship is falling apart and sinking, it is better to feel fear than peace and self-esteem. There was once an old book that people used to read, back in the Dark Ages. It was the book that taught us all about love and peace and hope and other upbeat stuff. That book also identified "the beginning of wisdom." It was fear: the fear of the Lord. I know psychologists sneer at that today, but I'd rather sneer at psychologists who sneer at God's psychology, than sneer at God's psychology.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Coming Secularist Storm

BY Father Alfonso Aguilar, LC

In the last few years, the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ has been celebrated as “winter holidays” with “holiday trees” and “season’s greetings.” December has become the month of the “Christmas wars”: In some schools and public squares, Nativity scenes and Christmas carols are forbidden or replaced by non-religious displays and songs.

By now, we are used to seeing movies, TV shows, novels, papers, magazines, websites, works of modern art and stage plays mock religion, especially Christian symbols and practices. The Catholic Church authorities are often portrayed as criminals involved in various kinds of malicious activities. Anti-Christian legislation isn’t rare. At some Catholic schools, what students learn is not inspired by the Gospel.

We live in a secularized world — and we are worried that, post-election, it will only get worse. The practice and public expression of our faith will be increasingly hindered. Our children will find it difficult to be authentically Christian.

“The secularizing process is the heartbeat of modernity,” said Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, archbishop of Toledo, Spain, at a 2007 conference on “Christianity and Secularization” held at the Legionaries of Christ-run European University of Rome.

“Silencing or abandoning God or confining him to the private sphere is undoubtedly the defining theme of our bleak times in the West. There is no other movement to be compared with it, not even the loss of the moral sense.”

Pope Benedict seems to agree. Secularization is a constant theme in his speeches and writings. “Secularization, which presents itself in cultures by imposing a world and humanity without reference to transcendence, is invading every aspect of daily life and developing a mentality in which God is effectively absent, wholly or partially, from human life and awareness,” the Holy Father said to the members of the Pontifical Council for Culture on March 8, 2008.

“This secularization is not only an external threat to believers, but has been manifest for some time in the heart of the Church herself. It profoundly distorts the Christian faith from within, and consequently, the lifestyle and daily behavior of believers.”

So, what is secularization and secularism? How is it possible that the Christian West has become the anti-God civilization?

Secularization, Secularity and Secularism

Let us begin by clarifying concepts — and by defining a few pairs of opposite terms.

“Sacred” is whatever is dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity, or is worthy of religious veneration. Churches and chalices, for instance, are sacred places and vessels.

“Secular” (from the Latin saeculum) refers to everything which is not sacred or concerned with religion and relates to what is worldly or temporal.

To “sanctify” is to consecrate — to set apart to a sacred purpose or to a religious use. By contrast, to “secularize” is to make a sacred reality become profane, not religious. The process to attain this end is called “secularization.”

From the moral and religious points of view, the words secular, secularize and secularization are neutral. Money, technology and family are secular realities. To secularize political power — to separate it from ecclesiastical authority — is most beneficial and in accordance to the Gospel, as we learned in the European Middle Ages.

Secularization is, therefore, a concept that has no negative connotations. In the West, secularization usually refers to the historical process, initiated around the 13th century, by which society has increasingly become autonomous from religious and ecclesiastical influence. It also refers to the results of that process.

Secularization had two outcomes in the West. The first one is called “secularity,” which consists of the right autonomy of earthly and human things — such as the state, culture, economy, politics, social customs, art and sciences — from the Church and her rules. A secular state, for instance, is religiously non-confessional. Dress codes and scientific endeavors are not regulated by religious authority.

The second outcome is called “secularism,” a term coined by British writer George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906). It consists in the rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations in all areas of the public square. The “Christmas war” is waged in the name of secularism.

From the moral point of view, secularity is intrinsically good, because it is in harmony with the will of the Creator. “All things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order,” the Second Vatican Council says (Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, No. 36). “Man must respect these as he isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or art.”

The autonomy of earthly affairs is right inasmuch as it is relative, depending on God and conformed to his will expressed in the natural moral law.

Secularism, instead, is intrinsically wrong — it intends to achieve an absolute independence of temporal affairs from God and his moral law. It pretends to replace God’s role with man’s.

Secularity affirms the autonomy of the earthly spheres from religion but not in opposition to it. Secularism intolerantly seeks the annihilation of religion.

Our concern is not about secularization in the abstract, but about secularism.

Secularism Today

Secularism suffuses all areas of society — namely politics, culture, social life, religious practice and the Catholic Church.

In the political arena, we face anti-Christian and anti-religious legislation that forbids, for instance, religious symbols and group prayer in public, or crushes the objection of conscience in Catholic hospitals.

A state with secularist trends is indifferent or even hostile to confessional schools and charities that objectively help society flourish. Secularism is implemented by anti-life and anti-family policies as well as by policies that promote “alternative” types of family, such as same-sex “marriages.”

The cultural milieu is constantly bombed by a secularist agenda. Take, for instance, the false opposition to faith and science promoted by scientists like Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger and Carl Sagan, or by organizations like AAI (Atheist Alliance International).

Anti-religious bioethics is fostered by thinkers like Peter Singer and by the inhuman practices of in vitro fertilization and experimentation with embryos. Psychology is often taught in college and practiced clinically with no reference to God and religion. Academic philosophy neglects or rationalizes man’s natural search for God, as in the case of Daniel Dennett, author of the 2006 book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

An easy way to provide a negative view of religion in general and of Christianity in particular is the manipulation of history. To prove it, see the books by Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, or watch movies like Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven and Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, whose first installment was brought to the big screen by the 2006 The Golden Compass movie, was explicitly written “to kill God.” For a long time now, religion has been ignored or attacked in pop music, literature and the entertainment industry.

Social life and customs have been increasingly secularized, too. Sunday and the liturgical feasts like Christmas and Easter have lost much of their sacred meaning.

Life, sex and death have been profaned by practices such as abortion, embryo selection, “free sex,” homosexuality, assisted suicide, the abandonment of the sick and the elderly, and secular funerals.

The most appalling expression of secularism might be found in the silent distancing of entire populations from religious practice and even from any reference to the faith. The Church today is confronted more by indifference and practical unbelief than by atheism.

The Second Vatican Council considered this spiritual drama as one of the most serious problems of our times (see Gaudium et Spes, No. 19). It is, in fact, less visible than militant atheism but more perilous, because it is subtly spread by the dominant culture in the subconscious of believers.

Secularism is also manifest “in the heart of the Church herself,” as Pope Benedict noted. “It profoundly distorts the Christian faith from within, and consequently, the lifestyle and daily behavior of believers.”

To be aware of the Pope’s point, think of the way the Church’s magisterium is opposed by theologians and believers, and of the loss of the supernatural sense in the liturgy, sacraments, priesthood, charity work and ascetic life.

Although secularism is ubiquitous, it doesn’t dominate over all society. Many forces oppose it. Yet, we need to understand its nature and realize how it suffuses various areas of our world.

Knowing the enemy is the first step to overcome it. Next week: Step two.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Benedict XVI: Escriva knew that we cannot make ourselves holy

Homily of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, at the thanksgiving Mass for the beatification of Josemaría Escrivá, In the Church of the Twelve Apostles, Rome, May 19, 1992

St John’s Apocalypse, which tells us of so many terrible events both past and future, also opens up Heaven upon the earth and shows us that God still holds the world in his hands. However great the power of evil, God’s victory is assured in the end. From the depths of the world’s misery there rises a song of praise. God’s throne is surrounded by an ever-growing choir of souls who have achieved salvation, who, forgetful of self, have made their lives into a movement of joy and glory. This choir does not sing only in the next world, but is being prepared in the midst of the history of this world, and is already present among us, though hidden. This is clearly shown by the voice that comes from the throne of God himself: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great” (Apoc 19:5). This is a call to our world, a call to commit ourselves to the one thing that matters and so form part of the eternal liturgy here and now. The beatification of Josemaría Escrivá tells us that this priest of our times now forms part of the choir that is praising God in Heaven, and that in him too the words of today’s reading are fulfilled: “Those whom he predestined (…) he also glorified” (Rm 8:30). This glorifying does not belong to the future but has already taken place, as beatifications remind us. “Praise our God (…) small and great”: Josemaría Escrivá heard this voice, and understood it as the vocation of his life, but he did not only apply it to himself and his own life. He considered it his mission to pass on the “voice which comes from the throne”, and make it heard in our times. He invited great and small to praise God, and by that very fact he glorified God.

Josemaría Escrivá realised very early on that God had a plan for him, that God wanted something of him. But he did not know what it was. How could he find the answer, where should he look for it? He started his search primarily by listening to the Word of God, Holy Scripture. He read the Bible not as a book of the past, nor as a book of problems to be argued about, but as a word for the present, that talks to us today: a word in which we are each the protagonist, and need to look for our place in it, so that we can find our way. In this search, he was especially moved by the story of the blind man Bartimaeus, who, sitting at the roadside on the way to Jericho, heard that Jesus was passing by and shouted out his appeal for mercy (cf. Mk 10:46-52). While the disciples tried to make the blind beggar keep quiet, Jesus turned towards him and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, “Lord, that I may see!” Josemaría recognised himself in Bartimaeus. “Lord, that I may see!” was his constant cry: “Lord, make me see your will!” People only begin to see truly when they learn to see God. And they begin to see God when they see his will and are ready to make it their own. The desire to see God’s will and to identify his will with God’s was always the basic motivation of Escrivá’s life. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This desire, this unceasing plea, prepared him to answer, in the moment of illumination, like Peter: “Lord, at your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5). His “yes” was no less audacious than the Apostle’s, on Lake Genesareth, after a long and unproductive night. Spain was convulsed with hatred for the Church, for Christ, and for God. People were trying to rip the Church out of the country at the time when Escrivá received the call to let down his nets for God. From that moment on, and throughout his life, as a fisher of God, he kept throwing out the divine nets tirelessly in the seas of our history, to bring great and small to the light, to return their sight to them.

The will of God. Saint Paul says of it to the Thessalonians: “This is the will of God: your sanctification” (I Thess 4:3). The will of God is, ultimately, very simple, and at its core it is always the same: holiness. And holiness means, as today’s reading tells us, becoming like Christ (cf. Rom 8:29). Josemaría Escrivá considered this call as addressed not to himself alone, but above all as a message to pass on to others: to encourage them to seek for holiness, and to gather a community of brothers and sisters for Christ.

The meaning of the word “holy” has undergone a dangerous narrowing in the course of time, and this certainly still influences it today. It makes us think of the saints whose statues and paintings we see at the altars, of miracles and heroic virtues, and it suggests that holiness is for a few chosen ones, among whom we cannot be included. Then we leave holiness to the few, the unknown number, and content ourselves with being just the way we are.

Amidst this spiritual apathy, Josemaría Escrivá issued a wake-up call, shouting: “No! Holiness is not something extra, it is what is normal for every baptised person. Holiness does not consist of the sort of heroism that is impossible to imitate, but has a thousand forms and can become a reality anywhere, in any job. It is normal, and it consists of directing one’s ordinary life towards God and filling it through with the spirit of faith.”

Conscious of this message, our new Blessed journeyed untiringly through different continents, speaking to everyone to encourage them to be saints, to live the adventure of being Christians wherever their lives took them. In that way he became a great man of action, who lived by God’s will and called others to it, without ever becoming a “moralizer”. He knew that we cannot make ourselves holy. Just as love presupposes the passive – being loved –, so too holiness always goes together with the passive: accepting the fact of being loved by God.

The Work he founded was called Opus Dei, not Opus nostrum: the Work of God, not a work of ours. He did not want to create his work, the work of Josemaría Escrivá: he wasn’t aiming to build a monument to himself. “My work is not mine,” he could and did say, in line with Christ’s words and in identification with Christ (cf. Jn 7:16): he did not want anything of his own, but to make room for God to do his Work. He was certainly also aware of what Jesus tells us in St John’s Gospel: “This is the work of God, that you believe” (Jn 6:29); in other words, to surrender ourselves to God so that he can act through us.

Thus we come to another point of identification with the word of Sacred Scripture. The words of St Peter in today’s Gospel were something Josemaría Escrivá also made his own: Homo peccator sum: I am a sinful man. When our new Blessed saw the abundant catch he had achieved with his life, he was appalled, like St Peter, on seeing his own wretchedness in comparison with what God wanted to do in and through him. He used to call himself a “founder without foundation” and “a clumsy instrument”. He knew and saw clearly that all of this was not done by himself, that he could not do it, but that it was God acting through an instrument which seemed totally disproportionate. And that is what “heroic virtue” ultimately means: making a reality of what God alone can do.

Josemaría Escrivá recognised his own wretchedness, but surrendered himself to God without worrying about himself, holding himself ready, instead, for whatever God wanted. He got rid of self, and of all self-interest. Again and again he would speak of his “madnesses”: the madness of beginning without any means, beginning in impossible circumstances. They seemed to be madnesses that he had to stake everything on, and he ran the risk. In this context, the words of his great compatriot Miguel de Unamuno come to mind: “Only madmen do what is reasonable: the wise can only do foolishness.” He dared to be something like a Don Quixote of God. After all, does it not seem quixotic to teach, in the middle of today’s world, about humility, obedience, chastity, detachment from material possessions, and forgetfulness of self? God’s will was what was really reasonable to him, and that showed that the most seemingly irrational things were really reasonable.

The will of God. God’s will has a specific place and a specific shape in this world: it has a body. The Body of Christ has remained in the Church. Hence, obedience to God’s will cannot be separated from obedience to the Church. Only if I include my mission in my obedience to the Church do I have the guarantee that my own ideals can be considered God’s will, the guarantee that I am really following his call. So for Josemaría Escrivá the basic measure of his mission was always obedience to and union with the hierarchical Church. This does not imply any kind of positivism or dictatorship. The Church is not a power-structure, nor is she an association for religious, social or moral purposes that has to work out methods of achieving her aims better, updating and replacing those methods as necessary. The Church is a Sacrament. That means that she does not belong to herself. She does not do her own work, but has to be ever available to do God’s. She is bound up with God’s will. The Sacraments structure her life, and the centre of the Sacraments is the Eucharist, in which we touch the real presence of Jesus Christ in the most direct way. And so, for our new Blessed, ecclesiality meant first and foremost living in the centre of the Church, which is the Eucharist. He loved and proclaimed the Eucharist in all its dimensions: as adoration of our Lord present among us in a hidden but real way; as a gift in which Jesus gives himself to us again and again; as a sacrifice, in accordance with the words of Scripture, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me” (Heb 10:5; cf. Ps 40:6-8). Only Christ can share himself out, because he has offered himself up in sacrifice, because he has surpassed himself out of love, because he has surrendered himself, and surrenders himself still. We will only manage to become like the Image of the Son if we enter into this movement of self-giving love, if we become sacrifice. Love is not possible without the passive aspect of the passio which transforms us, opening us up.

When Josemaría Escriva fell seriously ill at the age of two and was despaired of by the doctors, his mother decided to dedicate him to Mary. Despite huge difficulties, she took her son up the steep, rough path to the shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad, and there she offered him to the Mother of the Lord, asking her to be his mother. So all his life Josemaria knew that he was under the protection of our Lady, who was his Mother. In the room where he worked, opposite the door, there was a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe; whenever he went in, his first glance was for her. And his last glance of all was also for her. At the moment he died, he had just gone into that room and looked at the picture of his Mother, when he collapsed on the floor. As he died, the Angelus bells were ringing, announcing Mary’s “fiat” and the grace of the Incarnation of her Son, our Saviour. Under that sign, which had been there at the beginning of his life and had shown him his road, he returned to God.

Let us thank God our Lord for this witness of faith in our times, for this untiring herald of his will, and let us ask, “Lord, may I also see! May I recognise your will and do it!” Amen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Benedict XVI and contraceptive issue

Your Eminence, many Christians do not understand the Church's position on contraception. Do you understand that they don't understand it?

Yes, I can understand that quite well; the question is really complicated. In today's troubled world, where the number of children cannot be very high given living conditions and so many other factors, it's very easy to understand. In this matter, we ought to look less at the casuistry of individual cases and more at the major objectives that the Church has in mind.

I think that it's a question of three major basic options. The first and most fundamental is to insist on the value o£ the child in society. In this area, in fact, there has been a remarkable change. Whereas in the simple societies of the past up to the nineteenth century, the blessing of children was regarded as the blessing, today children are conceived of almost as a threat. People think that they rob us of a place for the future, they threaten our own space, and so forth. In this matter a primary objective is to recover the original, true view that the child, the new human being, is a blessing. That by giving life we also receive it ourselves and that going out of ourselves and accepting the blessing of creation are good for man.

The second is that today we find ourselves before a separation of sexuality from procreation such as was not known earlier, and this makes it all the more necessary not to lose sight of the inner connection between the two.

Meanwhile, even representatives of the sixties' generation, who tried it, are making some astonishing statements. Or perhaps that's just what we should expect. Rainer Langhans, for example, who once explored "orgasmic sexuality" in his communes, now proclaims that "the pill severed sexuality from the soul and led people into a blind alley." Langhans complains that now there "is no longer any giving, no longer any devoted dedication". "The highest" aspect of sexuality, he now professes, is `parenthood", which he calls "collaboration in God's plan".

It really is true that increasingly we have the development of two completely separated realities. In Huxley',s famous futuristic novel Brave New World, we see a vision of a coming world in which sexuality is something completely detached from procreation. He had good reason to expect this, and its human tragedy is fully explored. In this world, children are planned and produced in a laboratory in a regulated fashion. Now, that is clearly an intentional caricature, but, like all caricatures, it does bring something to the fore: that the child is going to be something that tends to be planned and made, that he lies completely under the control of reason, as it were. And that signals the self-destruction of man. Children become products in which we want to express ourselves; they are fully robbed in advance of their own life's projects. And sexuality once again becomes something replaceable. And, of course, in all this the relationship of man and woman is also lost. The developments are plain to see.

In the question of contraception, precisely such basic options are at stake. The Church wants to keep man human. For the third option in this context is that we cannot resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry, but must solve them morally, with a life-style. It is, I think — independently now of contraception — one of our great perils that we want to master even the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible of technological solutions but that demand a certain life-style and certain life decisions. I would say that in the question of contraception we ought to look more at these basic options in which the Church is leading a struggle for man. The point of the Church's objections is to underscore this battle. The way these objections are formulated is perhaps not always completely felicitous, but what is at stake are such major cardinal points of human existence.

The question remains whether you can reproach someone, say a couple who already have several children, for not having a positive attitude toward children.

No, of course not, and that shouldn't happen, either.

But must these people nevertheless have the idea that they are living in some sort of sin if they ...

I would say that those are questions that ought to be discussed with one's spiritual director, with one's priest, because they can't be projected into the abstract.

Source: CERC

Benedict XVI and contraception

by Nick Bagileo in Lifeissues.net
Human Life International e-Newsletter.

The overwhelming affection for Pope Benedict XVI during his recent visit to the U.S. surprised many people. The positive reaction to the Holy Father was a result of his unmistakable spiritual depth and humility. It is hoped this initial attraction leads many people to discover the Holy Father's beautiful vision of the moral life, which is, equally penetrating and genuine.

Benedict XVI's comprehensive pastoral approach to so-called hard issues like contraception and related topics might astound many people. As a teacher and apostle he is second to none in his ability to proclaim the truth in a holistic fashion. Despite spending the majority of his adult life as an academic and Vatican official, the Holy Father is a master of evangelization not only to intellectuals but to the common man as well.

In a 1996 interview with Peter Seewald, then Cardinal Ratzinger was asked about the issue of contraception. Seewald asked him if he understood why most people today do not understand the Church's teaching on contraception. Cardinal Ratzinger replied he did understand people not understanding the issue since it is complicated and that we "ought to look less at the casuistry of individual cases and more at the major objectives that the church has in mind."

Benedict's genius is to view an issue like contraception through these fundamental objectives with the mind of the Church, which allows us to see the totality of the problem and not just an isolated aspect of it. This way the relationship between contraception and the good and happiness of the human person is revealed. The major objectives are: First, children are a great blessing not a threat or burden. Secondly, once you separate sexual expression from procreation the action harms not only the male-female relationship but also the individuals. Finally, our age tries to solve moral problems through technology rather than realizing that moral flourishing rests upon pursuing an integral way of life reached through life decisions based on true freedom. Authentic freedom "is linked to a yardstick, the yardstick of reality - to truth." Christ proclaimed, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (Jn 14:6) What is true and what is good cannot be separated. As Benedict reminds us "truth and love are identical."

More recently the Holy Father was interviewed in preparation for his Papal trip to Bavaria. The reporter noted that while the Pope was in Valencia, Spain for the World Meeting of Families, the Holy Father never mentioned the words "homosexual marriage" nor did he speak about abortion or contraception. The reporter then asked Benedict XVI if "clearly your idea is to go around the world preaching the faith rather than as an 'apostle of morality'."

The Holy Father's response is a remarkable blueprint for parents, teachers and all who work in diocesan and parish apostolates. Benedict responded:

"obviously, yes. Actually, I should say I had only two opportunities to speak for 20 minutes. And when you have so little time you cannot immediately begin with 'no'. Firstly, you have to know what we really want, right? Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet."

One of Pope Benedict XVI's most interesting talks dealing with the problem of couples not having children came during an address to the Curia in December, 2006. In his remarks he said an astounding thing about his trip to Valencia, Spain for the Fifth World meeting on Families. He said, "The visit to Valencia became for me a quest for the meaning of the human being." How does the search for the meaning of the human being relate to married couples not wanting children? Answering this question will get to the root evil of contraception and related issues.

In this talk, Benedict pointed out that, in the West and Europe in particular, many married couples no longer want to have children. Couples are afraid to have children because becoming a parent seems too great a risk, and sometimes even a burden.

Benedict noted that children need loving attention, which requires parents give their children time, the time of our life. "The time we have available barely suffices for our own lives; how could we surrender it, give it to someone else? To have time and to give time - this is for us a very concrete way to learn to give oneself, to lose oneself in order to find oneself."

Benedict observed that another aspect of the fear of parenthood centers on the awesome questions involved in raising children, such as, how do we ensure our child follows the right path, how do we respect his or her freedom, what is the correct way to live? These questions arise because the modern spirit has lost it bearings, leading to insecurity about the future.

Benedict asks, "Why are things like this?" The Holy Father realizes that issues like contraception and same sex marriage are signs or symptoms of a much more fundamental problem. This larger problem is a theme Benedict XVI has lectured and written on since the Second Vatican Council. The Holy Father reminded the members of the Curia that "the great problem of the West is forgetfulness of God. This forgetfulness is spreading. In short, all the individual problems can be traced back to this question. I am sure of it."

Relativism is the philosophic view that there is no absolute truth or certitude and results when Man disregards God, ensuring the impossibility of establishing common moral and religious standards. The Pope's teaching has been so profound and clear that President Bush recently quoted the Holy Father's, now famous, "dictatorship of relativism", line at the White House welcoming ceremony.

As a true man of the Council, Benedict is applying the teaching of Gaudium et Spes to our time. "Once God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible." (#36) Benedict notes that forgetfulness of God leads to the dictatorship of relativism, "which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desire."

As noted above, Benedict XVI sees issues like contraception, cohabitation and same sex marriage as signs of a deeper problem. Once God is forgotten, Man and the institutions God created to fulfill and nourish his soul become meaningless. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the area of marriage and family life. Note how the primary relationship between man and woman - marriage - has been adversely affected the past half century. One of the great blessings of marriage, having children, is now viewed as a threat or burden, by a large sector of the population. Then, the institution itself was attacked further by the epidemic of cohabitation. Marriage itself is no longer viewed as a blessing to be cherished. Now, we have the absurd notion that there is something called same sex marriage. As St. Paul taught us, "...God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen." (Rom.1: 24-25)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Benedict XVI on Opus Dei

By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, October 6, 2002. An article by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, published on the occasion of the canonization of Josemaría Escrivá. This is one of the best and most concise explanations of Opus Dei.

I have always been struck by the interpretation which Josemaría Escrivá gave of the name Opus Dei—an interpretation which we could call biographical and which allows us to understand the founder in his spiritual dimension. Escrivá knew that he should found something, but he was always aware that whatever it was was not his work, that he had not invented anything, that the Lord had simply made use of him. Thus it was not his work, but Opus Dei [Latin for "work of God"]. He was only an instrument with which God had acted.

While I was pondering this fact, there came to mind the words of the Lord reported in the Gospel of John (5:17): “My Father is always working.” These are words spoken by Jesus in the course of a discussion with some religious specialists who did not want to recognize that God could act even on the Sabbath. This is a debate that is still going on, in a certain way, among people and even Christians of our own time. Some people think that after creation God “retired” and no longer has any interest in our everyday affairs. According to this manner of thinking, God could no longer enter into the fabric of our daily life. But the words of Jesus affirm the opposite. A man open to the presence of God discovers that God is always working and still works today: We should, then, let him enter and let him work. And so things are born which open to the future and renew mankind.

All this helps us to understand why Josemaría Escrivá did not consider himself “founder” of anything, but only a person who wants to fulfill the will of God, to second his action, the work, precisely, of God. In this sense, the theocentrism of Escrivá, in accordance with the words of Jesus, means this confidence in the fact that God has not retired from the world, that God is working now and we ought only to put ourselves at his disposal, to be ready, capable of reacting to his calling. This, for me, is a message of greatest importance. It is a message which leads to overcoming what could be considered the great temptation of our times: the pretense, that is, that after the "big bang" God retired from history. God’s action did not “stop” at the moment of the "big bang", but continues throughout time in the world of nature and the world of man.

The founder of Opus Dei said: I am not the one who invented anything; there is Another who acts, and I am only ready to serve as an instrument. So the name, and all the reality which we call Opus Dei, is deeply bound up with the interior life of the founder. He, while remaining very discreet on this point, makes us understand that he was in permanent dialogue, in real contact, with Him who created us and works through us and with us. The Book of Exodus (33:11) says of Moses that God spoke with him “face to face, as a friend speaks with a friend.” I think that, even if the veil of discretion hides many details from us, still from some small references we can very well apply to Josemaría Escrivá this “speaking as a friend speaks with a friend,” which opens the doors of the world so that God can become present, to work and transform everything.

In this light one can understand even better what holiness means, as well as the universal calling to holiness. Knowing a little about the history of saints, and understanding that in the causes of canonization there is inquiry into “heroic” virtue, we almost inevitably have a mistaken concept of holiness: “It is not for me,” we are led to think, “because I do not feel capable of attaining heroic virtue. It is too high a goal.” Holiness then becomes a thing reserved for some “greats” whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely different from us ordinary sinners. But this is a mistaken notion of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected—and this seems to me the central point—precisely by Josemaría Escrivá.

Heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of “gymnastics” of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God’s presence is revealed—something man could not do by himself and through himself. Perhaps in the final analysis we are rather dealing with a question of terminology, because the adjective “heroic” has been badly interpreted. Heroic virtue properly speaking does not mean that one has done great things by oneself, but rather that in one’s life there appear realities which the person has not done himself, because he has been transparent and ready for the work of God. Or, in other words, to be a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend. This is holiness.

To be holy does not mean being superior to others; the saint can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life. Holiness is this profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy. And if, then, Josemaría Escrivá speaks of the calling of all to be saints, I think that he is actually referring to this personal experience of his of not having done incredible things by himself, but of having let God work. And thus was born a renewal, a force for good in the world, even if all the weaknesses of mankind will remain ever present. Truly we are all capable, we are all called to open ourselves up to this friendship with God, to not leave the hands of God, to not neglect to turn and return to the Lord, speaking with him as if speaking with a friend, knowing well that the Lord really is a true friend of everyone, including those who cannot do great things by themselves.

From all this I have better understood the inner character of Opus Dei, this surprising union of absolute fidelity to the Church’s great tradition, to its faith, and unconditional openness to all the challenges of this world, whether in the academic world, in the field of work, or in matters of the economy, etc. The person who is bound to God, who has this uninterrupted conversation, can dare to respond to these challenges, and no longer has fear. For the person who stands in God’s hands always falls into God’s hands. And so fear vanishes, and in its place is born the courage to respond to today’s world.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I posted this in Wikipedia:

Religious scholars, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian, affirm the possibility of knowledge, even of metaphysical realities such as God and the soul,[11] because human intelligence ("intus", within and "legere", to read) has the power to reach the essence and existence of things since it has a non-material, spiritual element. They affirm that “not being able to see or hold some specific thing does not necessarily negate its existence,” as in the case of gravity, entropy, mental telepathy, or reason and thought.

According to these scholars, agnosticism is impossible in actual practice, since one either lives as if God did not exist (etsi Deus non daretur), or lives as if God did exist (etsi Deus daretur). These scholars believe that each day in a person’s life is an unavoidable step towards death, and thus not to decide for or against God, the all-encompassing foundation, purpose, meaning of life, is to decide in favor of atheism. Even if there were truly no evidence for God, Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal offered to agnostics what is known as Pascal’s Wager: the infinite expected value of acknowledging God is always greater than the expected value of not acknowledging his existence, and thus it is a safer “bet” to choose God.

These religious scholars argue that God has placed in his creation much evidence of his existence, and continues to personally speak to humans. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli write about a strong, cumulative case with their 20 rational arguments for God’s existence.[18] And, these scholars state, when agnostics demand from God that he proves his existence through laboratory testing, they are asking God, a superior being, to become man’s servant.

According to Joseph Ratzinger later elected as Pope Benedict XVI, agnosticism, more specifically strong agnosticism, is a self-limitation of reason that contradicts itself when it acclaims the power of science to know the truth. When reason imposes limits on itself on matters of religion and ethics, this leads to dangerous pathologies of religion and pathologies of science, such as destruction of humans and ecological disasters. "Agnosticism," said Benedict XVI, "is always the fruit of a refusal of that knowledge which is in fact offered to man… The knowledge of God has always existed." Agnosticism, stated Benedict XVI, is a choice of comfort, pride, dominion, and utility over truth, and is opposed by the following attitudes: the keenest self-criticism, humble listening to the whole of existence, the persistent patience and self-correction of the scientific method, and a readiness to be purified by the truth.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism#Religious_scholars

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sleeping in God

On the Feast of the Assumption, Pope Benedict XVI once again spoke about a favorite theme in his preachings, and which is the center of his considerations in Jesus of Nazareth:

Christ's life and thus a Christian's life is a life of prayer, communion with God, and that is also the life of Mary, and all the great things that happen to Christ, to Mary, and therefore to a Christian depend on this intimate communion with God.

All personal privileges and all evangelizing effectiveness lie in prayer.

To stress this in connection with the Assumption, the Pope pointed out "the last reference in the Bible to the earthly life of Mary."

He said that this is found "at the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which presents Mary as recollected in prayer with the disciples in the Cenacle, awaiting the Holy Spirit."

"Since then," the Pope says, "there is a double tradition, from Jerusalem to Ephesus, which attests to her "dormition" or "sleep." Or as the Oriental writers put it: her sleep in God. It was this event that preceded her movement from earth to heaven."

That's worth repeating: Sleeping in God preceded Mary's move to heaven.

Benedict does the same in Jesus of Nazareth and in his other less known work, The Pierced One. In both books, he stressed that the great events in the life of Jesus, those which had a powerful multiplier effect, were preceded by prayer: Jesus' Baptism when he is praised as the beloved Son and given a mission; the choice of the apostles, the building of his Church; his great miracles, whereby he showed his divine largesse; his Transfiguration, through which he strengthened the apostles by showing his divine light; the institution of the Eucharist, the sacrament which brings about love, charity, the heart of holiness; his Crucifixion and Death, our redemption.

Mary, our Queen, was assumed to heaven, because she was a person of deep prayer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI warms the hearts of 200,000 pilgrims

POPE Benedict XVI warmed the hearts of over 200,000 pilgrims camping under the stars at a chilly Randwick racecourse tonight.

Bendict XVI thanked God for the "great gift" of their faith.

Attending an evening vigil on the eve of his papal mass for an expected 500,000 people, Benedict XVI urged young people to hear the "concordant voice of humanity" through the dissonance and division of their world.

"From the forlorn child in a Darfur camp, or a troubled teenager, or an anxious parent in any suburb, or perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity," he said.

"Who satisfies that essential human yearning to be one, to be immersed in communion, to be built up, to be led to truth?

"The holy spirit," he told pilgrims who were given candles, water, snacks and waterproof ponchos as they swarmed around a huge stage whose massive TVs gave the occasion a rock concert atmosphere.

"Tonight, gathered under the beauty of the night sky, our hearts and minds are filled with gratitude to God for the great gift of our Trinitarian faith," he said.

The 81-year-old pontiff ended his address with a comment of special significance for the Sisters of St Joseph praying for Blessed Mary MacKillop to become Australia's first saint.

"I echo to you the words spoken by Blessed Mary MacKillop when she was just 26 years old," he said.

"'Believe in the whisperings of God to your heart.'"

The pilgrims were in high spirits but no doubt weary after the vast bulk of them - an estimated 180,000 - streamed across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a day-long procession to the site of tomorrow's World Youth Day (WYD) mass.

"It's touching, so many people of the same age praying together, when so many other people our age are into drugs, smoking or drinking," said Shane Govender, 16, from South Africa.

"With all these people here, we won't even notice how cold it gets," said Neil Philander, 18, also from South Africa.

"We're not here to sleep, we're here to worship. We won't be sleeping," said Loma Falekaono, 36, from Hawaii.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI knows best

Beautiful article from the Herald Sun, the highest daily circulating newspaper in Australia. How the Pope is transforming Sydney.

By Roger Franklin

July 18, 2008 12:00am

WHEN he stepped ashore yesterday at the spot Sydneysiders call Barangaroo, the man in the snow-white cassock seemed too small and far too old to tackle such a job of heavy lifting.

And tired, too.

Despite the ease with which Benedict XVI negotiated the boat's steep gangway, there was a weariness in the eyes behind the wire-rimmed glasses that he donned to read his speech of grace and greetings.

Here was an 81-year-old traveller who, just days earlier, had girdled half the world to celebrate the faith and future with 200,000 youthful members of his far-flung flock.

The decades, the residual jet lag and a hectic day's itinerary that began with Kevin Rudd and an official welcome at Kirribilli House were taking their toll.

You could deduce as much from the slow, deliberate way the visitor lowered himself into the oversize throne of native woods atop the red-draped dais on the dock.

Twice before he became Bishop of Rome, the man who would become Benedict XVI begged close friend John Paul II for permission to retire and to spend his final years as a simple, humble priest.

The canny Pole denied him that favour, even though the then-cardinal was well past the normal retirement age of 75.

There were greater things in store, which John Paul must have recognised.

Whatever the short and tubby white-haired man had yet to offer, it was to be much more than a grey life of memories in the company of his beloved cats.

Call it a higher fate, if you like. Or better still, call it the Sydney Miracle, which is what unfolded as Benedict XVI began his address.

His delivery was fast, perhaps too fast, and the Bavarian accent obscured the sense of some of his words.

But the message of moral fortitude - of revering timeless virtues and rejecting modern temptations - that message flew like an arrow into the very heart of the vast crowd.

As he spoke, a radiant joy glowed on every face.

It was a love that wafted through the crowd like the gentle breeze rustling the hem of the Pope's robes.

And that magic wasn't confined to the hearts of the faithful.

It radiated out, borne by sightseeing pilgrims to be shared with the host city's residents, who could not help but be lifted by the spirit of the moment.

Love was the flavour of the day, and it blessed the crowds that lined the route of Benedict's meandering motorcade through the CBD.

The spectators stood 10 deep in spots, many having lingered in the city after the working day was done to catch a glimpse of the man in the glass-walled box of the popemobile.

There was no pushing, no shoving, no catcalls or abusive shouts. Just joy to have seen the man and tasted the moment.

As the crowd drifted to trains, buses and the journey home, those smiles refused to fade.

Yes, there had been a few protesters handing out condoms or taping anti-Catholic signs to the odd lamppost, but those incidents worried no one - least of all the pilgrims, who were joyfully remaking Sydney in their own image.

Consider Randwick Racecourse, where Sunday's big mass will take place.

For the past week it has been renamed Southern Cross Precinct, with not a bookie or a punter's broken heart in sight.

By the Alamein Fountain in Kings Cross, a favourite rendezvous for rent boys and their clients, the usual trade was absent on Wednesday, replaced by an impromptu choir of Chinese youths belting out a hymn in Mandarin.

And in Goulbourn St in the CBD, another bizarre spectacle. Rolling out of Chinatown came a human train of African pilgrims chanting prayers as they advanced like a marching army.

Three abreast and a good 10 rows deep, their tramping column ploughed straight into another pilgrim posse, this crew from Spain.

Two more groups smashed into the knot of multicultural confusion before everyone resumed their separate ways with bows and laughter, apologies and hugs, blessings and high fives.

Around them, that display of confusion and infectious goodwill painted broad grins on the faces of man-in-the-street Sydneysiders, many of whom may not have been inside a church since Adam was a boy.

It is just such a mood that now holds Sydney in its spell, and the catalyst for the eruption of goodwill is the city's honoured visitor.

Yes, he is old, a little tubby and his English is far from perfect. But when it comes to the human heart, he can lift an entire city's worth with ease.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More than a crisis of faith, a crisis of reason

More than a crisis of faith, what we have is a crisis of reason, an Italian intellectual, Vittorio Messori, once said.

That is the same point Ratzinger stresses when he said: "beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the question of truth."

Of course, if we cannot know the truth, then we cannot know God: we can all become agnostics, and be comfortably righteous. We cannot know that God loves us: it would make no sense to preach Christianity. It won't make a dent!

Remember also that we should not even make an act of faith, if our reason tells us not to do so. It would be immoral to believe if our conscience, no matter how absurdly, tells us not to, said Thomas Aquinas.

Thus, Benedict XVI goes through lengths to disentangle the root of this crisis and show its pernicious effects on our lives. This he does with great analytical skill in his book Truth and Tolerance:

Any thinking that tries to look at reason in itself or to see it as preceding the present world, is contrary to the discipline of the scientific method and is therefore utterly rejected as being prescientific... Within the specific path followed by natural science, this limitation is necessary and right.

If, however, it is declared to be the absolute and unsurpassable form of human thought, then the basis of science itself becomes contradictory; for it is both proclaiming and denying the power of reason.

But above all, a self-limiting reason of that kind is an amputated reason. If man cannot use his reason to ask about the essential things in his life, where he comes from and where he is going... but has to leave these decisive questions to feelings, divorced from reason, then he is not elevating reason but dishonoring it.

The disintegration of man, thus brought about, results equally in a pathological form of religion and a pathological form of science. It is obvious today that with the detachment of religion from its responsibility to reason, pathological forms of religion are constantly increasing.

But when we think of scientific projects that set no real value on man, such as cloning... or ...produce ever more frightful means for the destruction of men and of the world, then it is obvious that there is such a thing as science that has taken a pathological form.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Unlikely centre of attraction

Pope Benedict XVI has a mysterious but very genuine appeal for Gen Y. A woman who is one of Australia's leading theologians explains why in MercatorNet

MercatorNet: I noticed that Benedict's first encyclical contained a joke – not a great joke, to my mind, but it must have been a Papal first. You get the sense that Benedict wants to present Christianity as a joyful way of life. How is he doing that?

Rowland: Yes, this is true. When he was a young priest he was astonished to run across so many people who thought of Christianity as a set of rules and regulations which had to be followed in order to avoid eternal damnation. The word he uses for this is ‘moralism’. He often reminds people that Christianity is not primarily an ethical system, it is participation in the life of the Trinity, and in particular, an encounter with the Person of Christ. It is meant to be enriching and joyful. He doesn’t deny the possibility that some people might end up in hell, but he thinks it is rather neurotic to think of Christianity as an insurance policy against eternal damnation. He regards the various prohibitions in Jewish and Christian teaching as merely the flipside of the actualisation of a great 'yes’.

He therefore tries to focus on the positives, on what an authentic Christian spirituality can be. He often appeals to beautiful works of art and music as epiphanies of God’s glory and illustrations of what can be created by those who have faith. He wants people to fall in love with the beauty and truth and goodness of Christian Revelation, rather than living in fear of it. It’s as though proponents of moralism have confused Aslan with the White Witch. His focus on the works of Christian art and the beauty of the lives of Christian saints is his antidote to the moralist mentality.

MercatorNet: "The dictatorship of relativism" is a phrase coined by Benedict which has been widely repeated. But if you unpack it, it's not that clear. Relativism sounds anarchic, not tyrannical. What does he mean?

Rowland: When people hear the word ‘relativism’ they often think that it is a synonym for tolerance. They think that there is no dominant paradigm of anything and that it is a good thing that people tend to disagree about the truth and believe many different things. Contemporary cultural diversity, and in particular the diversity of moral frameworks, is regarded as a post-modern virtue.

However Benedict tries to demonstrate that when Christianity is rejected, social practices and the cultures which they foster are not theologically neutral. They carry within them an atheistic logic. The more pervasive this logic becomes the more our social life resembles a jungle with its survival of the fittest principles. In such cultures the weak and the poor are systematically hurt. Adolf Hitler understood this. He described Christianity and Judaism as religions designed to protect the weak from the strong. He thought this was a bad thing. Benedict thinks it is a really great thing. He is interested in the relationships between truth and love and what happens when truth is replaced by ideology and love is reduced to emotional drives.

Pope Benedict XVI, Theologian of Joy

An Interview with Monsignor Joseph Murphy, author of Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI by Carl E. Olson

Ignatius Insight: What are some other essential qualities of Benedict's thought that are interrelated with joy?

Monsignor Murphy: Joy is of course a central Biblical theme, and so Christianity and joy must be closely associated. For example, in the intimacy of the Last Supper, Christ says to his disciples: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (Jn 15:11). Christianity is not about imposing heavy burdens on people, nor is it an oppressive system of do's and don'ts. Rather, it is the path to freedom and to true joy. Hence, the Holy Father's emphasis on joy is simply in keeping with his desire to communicate what is essential to Christianity, what it is really all about.

In this regard, there are some aspects of Pope Benedict's thought that readers may find new or at least thought-provoking. For example, many people, when they hear about the Church, automatically think of her institutional aspects, structures and personnel. However, the Pope places the emphasis elsewhere; for him, the Church is, among other things, what I referred to in the book as the servant, guardian and teacher of joy. He alludes to this idea, for example, in Introduction to Christianity, where he says: "Only someone who has experienced how, regardless of changes in her ministers and forms, the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope—the path to eternal life—only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now." (2nd ed., Ignatius Press, 2004, p. 344).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What are we in the Catholic Church for?

Or what does being in the Church mean?

Ratzinger: We are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if we were in some kind of association.

If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life, hence, real life, true life as such. Everything else is secondary.
-- Salt of the Earth

Friday, July 4, 2008

Why the face of the Shroud of Turin?

When we "seek the face of Christ," why should we emphasize the particular face of Christ in the Shroud of Turin, and not just an all-embracing way of seeking out Jesus' face-- his personality, his expressions, his look, Jesus' self shining out through his words?

The answer lies in the reply to the question on why three of the universal sacraments have a symbolic force limited to a specific region in the world, the Mediterranean region: olive oil, bread, wine.

Ratzinger answers the question in his book, Spirit of the Liturgy: God's incarnation binds us to the history of a particular place. It does not mean doing as we please, a typical tendency of those who want to invent a new liturgy, or new sacraments. No. "The elements become sacraments through connection with the unique history of God in relation to man in Jesus Christ."

And Ratzinger concludes:

It is with this particular face, with this particular human form, that Christ comes to us, and precisely thus does he make us brethren beyond all boundaries. Precisely thus do we recognize him: "It is the Lord" (Jn 21:7).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Benedict XVI - Renewal of the world depends to a great extent on rediscovering confession!

Benedict XVI said in Washington D.C. last May:

To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America and throughout the world depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.

Here is the paragraph:

Through the surpassing power of Christ's grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the Church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning. Let us trust in the Spirit's power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of Penance! The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God's merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America and throughout the world depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.

NOTE: "Reappropriated" means to make one's own once again

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What have we done with this gift?

Benedict XVI on Good Friday, 2008

Through the sorrowful way of the cross, the men of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by the blood of Christ, have become friends of God, sons of the heavenly Father. "Friend," is what Jesus calls Judas and he offers him the last and dramatic call to conversion. "Friend," he calls each of us, because he is the authentic friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for us. For him, there is no distinction of race or culture. Jesus Christ died to liberate the humanity of old of their ignorance of God, of the circle of hate and violence, of the slavery to sin. The cross makes us brothers and sisters.

But let us ask ourselves, in this moment, what have we done with this gift, what have we done with the revelation of the face of God in Christ, with the revelation of the love of God that conquers hate. Many, in our age as well, do not know God and cannot encounter him in Christ crucified. Many are in search of a love or a liberty that excludes God. Many believe they have no need of God.

Dear friends: After having lived together the passion of Jesus, let us this night allow his sacrifice on the cross to question us. Let us permit him to challenge our human certainties. Let us open our hearts. Jesus is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be afraid: upon dying, the Lord destroyed sin and saved sinners, that is, all of us. The Apostle Peter writes: "He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). This is the truth of Good Friday: On the cross, the Redeemer has made us adoptive sons of God who he created in his image and likeness. Let us remain, then, in adoration before the cross.

Agnosticism: Question of God is a question of that which is above us

I posted this at Wikipedia:

According to Ratzinger, if the question of the knowability of God is not addressed, then “agnosticisim would in fact be the only correct attitude for man,” an “honest and devout” acknowledgement of that which eludes our field of vision. Ratzinger (later elected as Pope Benedict XVI) also cautions against a premature objection to agnosticism, one that is merely based on affirming man's “thirst for the infinite.” He says that the best critique lies in the practical realm.

The true way to call agnosticism into question is to ask whether its program can be realized. Is it possible for us, as human beings, purely and simply to lay aside the question of our origin, of our final destiny, and of the measure of our existence? Can we be content to live under the hypothetical formula “as if God did not exist” while it is possible that he does in fact exist? (...) I am forced in practice to choose between two alternatives: either to live as if God did not exist or else to live as if God did exist and was the decisive reality of my existence. What is at stake [in agnosticism] is the praxis of one’s life.

Ratzinger thinks that human reason has the power to know reality, and attain the truth. For this, he alludes to the achievements of the natural sciences. He believes that agnosticism is a self-limitation of reason rooted in Kant: reason imposes limits on itself which can lead to dangerous pathologies of religion, such as terrorism and pathologies of science, such as ecological disasters. He thinks that this self-limitation dishonors reason and is contradictory to the modern acclamation of science, whose basis is the power of reason.

When people argue that God is unknowable because he cannot be experienced and tested scientifically, Ratzinger differentiates God from other knowable objects:

This question regards not that which is below us, but that which is above us. It regards, not something we could dominate, but that which exercises its lordship over us and over the whole of reality.

[To] impose our laboratory conditions upon God...implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the dimension of love... [To think thus] would make God our servant.

There are many things that we do not see but they exist and are essential...We do not see our intelligence and we have it: we do not see our soul and yet it exists and we see its effects, because we can speak, think and make decisions.

Ratzinger thinks that there is a natural knowledge of God "through the things he has made," and agrees with Paul of Tarsus that “agnosticism that is lived out as atheism” is not “an innocent position.”

Agnosticism is always the fruit of a refusal of that knowledge which is in fact offered to man… Man is not condemned to remain in uncertainty about God. He can “see” him, if he listens to the voice of God’s Being and to the voice of his creation and lets himself be guided by this. The history of religions is coextensive with the history of humanity. As far as we know, there has never been an epoch in which the question of the One who is totally other, the Divine, has been alien to man. The knowledge of God has always existed.

See Wikipedia on Agnosticism

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ratzinger on Truth

I have just posted this in Wikipedia:

Philosopher and theologian Joseph Ratzinger, before his election as Benedict XVI, explored the relationship of truth with tolerance, conscience, freedom, and religion. For him, "beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the question of truth."

In consonance with Aristotle and Aquinas, Ratzinger affirms that human reason has the power to know reality and arrive at the truth, and for this he alludes to the achievement of the natural sciences. He sees that "the modern self-limitation of reason" rooted in Kant which views itself incapable of knowing religion and the human sciences such as ethics leads to dangerous pathologies of religion (terrorism) and pathologies of science (ecological disasters and destruction of humans). He thinks that this self-limitation, which "amputates" the mind's capacity to answer fundamental questions such as man's origin and purpose, dishonors reason and is contradictory to the modern acclamation of science, whose basis is the power of reason.

While he states that relativism is acceptable in political options, he warned of a relativism without limits, a "dictatorship of relativism," and he traced the past century's violent ideologies to a totalitarianism which "absolutizes what is not absolute but relative," converting partial points of view into absolute guides.

For Ratzinger, truth and love are identical. And if well understood, according to him, this is "the surest guarantee of tolerance."

See: Wikipedia on Truth

Evangelical Leader Returns To Catholicism

Move Reflects Narrowing Gap Between Denominations

By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, May 12, 2007

The president of the Evangelical Theological Society, an association of 4,300 Protestant theologians, resigned this month because he has joined the Roman Catholic Church.

The May 5 announcement by Francis J. Beckwith, a tenured associate professor at Baptist-affiliated Baylor University in Waco, Tex., has left colleagues gasping for breath and commentators grasping for analogies.

One blogger likened it to Hulk Hogan's defection from the World Wrestling Federation to the rival World Championship Wrestling league.

"This is a sad day for all true sons and daughters of the Protestant Reformation, for all who lived and died for its truths," Douglas Groothuis, a professor at the evangelical Denver Seminary, said in a posting on Beckwith's own blog, adding sternly: " . . . you are embracing serious theological error."

Beckwith, 46, said in a telephone interview that he had expected some repercussions in academic circles but was stunned by the public response. He said strangers have called him at home to berate him, and that his Internet server was overwhelmed by 2,000 e-mails a day to his personal Web site, which in the past seldom generated more than 90 a day.

"It's beyond anything I've ever experienced," he said.

Beckwith is not the first, or even the most prominent, evangelical to switch to Catholicism in recent years. Others include Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), theologian Scott Hahn and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things. On the other side of the equation, the Catholic Church has been losing droves of ordinary worshipers to the Pentecostal form of evangelicalism, particularly in Latin America.

Beckwith said his decision reflects how dramatically the divisions between evangelicals and Catholics have narrowed in recent decades, as they have stood shoulder to shoulder on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and school vouchers.

The stormy reaction, however, is a reminder of the gaps that remain, particularly on such theological questions as whether to baptize infants and how human beings gain "justification," or righteousness in the eyes of God.

Beckwith said he was raised as a Catholic in Las Vegas and was "born again" as an evangelical during his teens, at the height of the countercultural "Jesus movement" in the 1970s. He earned a master's degree and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University, a Jesuit institution, but then taught at Protestant schools, including Trinity International University and Baylor.

He said that for many years he agreed with the criticisms of the Catholic Church made by Martin Luther and other leaders of the 16th-century Reformation, who emphasized the authority of the Bible alone -- rather than the pronouncements of church leaders -- and who argued that justification resulted from the grace of God, not from good deeds.

But his thinking began to change, he said, as he read more deeply into Catholic theology, including works by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. After studying Ratzinger's book "Truth and Tolerance" last year, he said, he called a prominent evangelical philosopher, read him a passage about whether theology is really knowledge, and asked him to guess the author.

"He reeled off the names of a bunch of evangelical theologians," Beckwith recalled. "I said, 'No, it's Ratzinger!' And he said, 'So he's one of us!' " Beckwith said he was also deeply affected by a joint declaration in 1999 by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church on the doctrine of justification, which he said went a long way toward eliminating this historical source of division.

"I do agree with Protestants that there is no good I can do, no work I can perform, that would justify me," Beckwith said. "But there are many places in scripture that say there's an obligation Christians have to take on the character of Christ, and that contributes to their justification. The Catholic solution is: I am required to take on the character of Christ, but it is not my power that does it, but God's grace."

Chuckling gently, Beckwith said that in discussions with fellow theologians over the past year, he suddenly found himself making "Catholic-type arguments" about natural law and truth, arguing that everything found in the Bible is true, but not everything that is true is found in the Bible.

"At the end of the day, the reason for the Reformation was the debate over justification. If that is no longer an issue, I have to be Catholic," Beckwith said. "It seems to me that if there is not a very strong reason to be Protestant, then the default position should be to belong to the historic church."

On his blog last week, he said he wrestled with whether to inform the Evangelical Theological Society immediately of his intention to return to Catholicism, or to wait until the end of his term in November. He said he and his wife prayed for guidance and received an answer when a 16-year-old nephew asked him to take part in his Catholic confirmation ceremony tomorrow. "I could not do that unless I was in full communion with the church," Beckwith said.

Because Baylor does not require its faculty to sign any statement of beliefs, a university spokeswoman said, Beckwith's change of heart will not affect his teaching post. And because he was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic in his youth, he did not have to undergo conversion -- he simply had to go to confession and receive Holy Communion. He did so in a quiet ceremony April 29 at a small church in Bellmead, Tex.


Excerpt From "Truth And Tolerance"

This is the excerpt from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's book, "Truth and Tolerance," that Francis J. Beckwith read to a prominent evangelical philosopher and asked him to guess who wrote it.

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life": this saying of Jesus from the Gospel of John (14:6) expresses the basic claim of the Christian faith. The missionary tendency of this faith is based on that claim: Only if the Christian faith is truth does it concern all men; if it is merely a cultural variant of the religious experience of mankind that is locked up in symbols and can never be deciphered, then it has to remain within its own culture and leave others in theirs. That, however, means that the question about the truth is the essential question of the Christian faith as such, and in that sense it inevitably has to do with philosophy. --Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions," trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 184.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Enlightenment Pope

By GIULIO MEOTTI in the Wall Street Journal

VATICAN CITY -- There's a popular joke here at the Holy See: The Swiss progressive theologian Hans Küng goes up to paradise to discuss his theories with Saint Peter. After the meeting, he comes out in tears: "How could I have been so wrong?" Heretical priest Leonardo Boff goes up next and also comes out crying: "How could I have been so wrong?" Then it's the turn of Joseph Ratzinger, the German who became Pope Benedict XVI. When his meeting's over, it's -- you've guessed it -- Saint Peter who comes out crying "How could I been so wrong?"

Joseph Ratzinger is the first "theologian pope" in a very long time. A Vatican writer once said that no other German since Martin Luther has had such a profound effect on the church. While Karol Wojtyla was a great prelate, Joseph Ratzinger is the author of academic textbooks used in seminaries and universities. At the same time, he's capable of teaching theology to simple people and children.

In his 25 years as chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine and Faith, formerly known as the Holy Inquisition, Cardinal Ratzinger was renowned for his firm and orthodox views. But two years into his papacy, and a few days after his 80th birthday, he has managed to astound those who feared "God's Rottweiler." Benedict XVI has written so far one encyclical, titled "Deus Caritas Est," or God Is Love -- not exactly the theme you would expect from a "Panzer Pope." It's one of the most inclusive documents in Catholic theology.

Not many believed that a Bavarian shepherd, the son of a German police officer, would become, in just two years, one of the most popular popes in history. Numbers don't lie. Twice as many people descend upon St. Peter's now than under the also hugely popular John Paul II. Mr. Küng, one of Roman Catholicism's most prominent dissenters, recognizes that "Benedict is open to new ideas." Both men taught at the University of Tübingen in the late 1960s, a sort of Mecca for Catholic progressives, and back then Mr. Küng loved to tease the German about his empty classrooms. Joseph Ratzinger wouldn't say what students in 1968 wanted to hear.

The former architect of John Paul's Kulturkampf calmly accepts the challenges of secularization. He has proven that he's not the "harsh inquisitor" people called him. In 1979, the Vatican revoked Mr. Küng's license to teach as a Catholic theologian for questioning the pope's infallibility. Pope John Paul II neither met nor talked with Mr. Küng for a quarter of a century. Pope Benedict XVI received him after only one year.

If Cardinal Ratzinger upheld faith, Pope Benedict must spread it. He knows he can't hope for mass conversions or the evangelization of entire populations. But what he can work for is "a proud and visible Christianity." Of course he will never be open to married or female priests, but he's not a conventional conservative pope. He is the pope of fresh openness to the dialogue with nonbelievers, the pontiff of rational persuasion.

He was after all a young peritus, or adviser, at the Second Vatican Council, which profoundly modernized the Catholic Church, allowed the use of vernacular language in liturgy, increased the participation of laity and reached out to Judaism, condemning anti-Semitism. Ratzinger now wants to open the church further to the world. His approach to the crisis of Christianity is not defensive, and his reflection on the marginalization of religion is often based on self-criticism.

The columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote that Benedict XVI is "immune from reasoned inquiry." He could not have been more wrong. Benedict XVI is best understood as an "Enlightenment Pope" in an era in which reason has few defenders. The Pope is acutely aware of the oppression brought about by irrationality: In his childhood, it was Nazism; until the collapse of the Soviet Union it was Communism; today it is, as he puts it, the "dictatorship of relativism," the rejection of absolute norms, and radical Islam.

His "lectio magistralis," held at Regensburg University last September, sparked a huge controversy as he explored his theories on the relationship between reason and faith. The one requires the other, the pontiff said, if mankind wants to avoid what he called the "pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason" -- in other words, politically and religiously inspired fanaticism. As pope, Joseph Ratzinger looks to Athens and Jerusalem, whose coming together, he proudly says, gave birth to "the West."

"The inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of history of religions, but also from that of world history....This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe." A "European Islam," in other words, would have to undergo a similar convergence process. Only an Islam tempered by logos, which means both "reason" and "word" in Greek, can possibly be part of any meaningful interfaith dialogue, the pope suggested.

"God acts with logos" -- and so does his representative on Earth. "This will be a pontificate of concepts and words," said Wojtyla spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope. The past century didn't know a pontiff with a language so sharp. Joseph Ratzinger is a tireless writer the way Karol Wojtyla was a strenuous actor and traveler. He loves words which he utters firmly, but always softly, as a gentle pastor, to his one billion and 27 million faithful. He doesn't shy from scandal, like when he gave a private audience to Oriana Fallaci, the beautiful provocateur and the scourge of Islamic fanaticism. He uses strong words against the nihilism of Islamic terror and in favor of the existence of Israel as a sovereign state and "sign of God's choice."

This shy scholar, who during his Tübingen days meditated on St. Augustine's dictum "in interiore homine habitat veritas," has never ceased to seek and fight for the truth.

Mr. Meotti is a journalist with Il Foglio. Elizabeth Galloni translated this article from the Italian.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why Benedict's first two encyclicals are on love and hope

The answer to this question is found in an earlier post: Benedict's main point in his book, Jesus of Nazareth.

"What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God... He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love."

The importance of "faith, hope and love" was already emphasized by then Cardinal Ratzinger in his book God and the World. There he quotes Sor Lucia on the only message that is important, the real message of Fatima. Sor Lucia told him to tell the world this: Don't take notice of the other things related to the Fatima story. The only message that is important is "faith, hope and love."