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
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)