Potpourri of Popery, Blizzard of 2010 Edition

Nothing like a snowbound week to help a gal catch up on her popery, and we must catch up before Lent begins next week.

Since his January 17th visit to the synagogue of Rome (which was the last major address I covered), the Pope has given several major addresses and homilies.

For the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, which he celebrated at a vespers service at St. Paul's Outside the Walls, Benedict emphasized Christian unity, since the feast coincided with the conclusion of a week dedicated to that theme. It was an ecumenical service, and the Pope knit the two themes together by first recalling the source of Paul's missionary zeal --his personal encounter with Christ-- and linking it to renewed missionary activity:
In a world marked by religious indifference, and even by a growing aversion to the Christian faith, it is necessary to discover a new, intense method of evangelization, not only among the peoples who have never known the Gospel but also among those where Christianity has spread and is part of their history.....Each one of us is called to make his or her contribution towards the completion of those steps that lead to full communion among the disciples of Christ, without ever forgetting that this unity is above all a gift from God to be constantly invoked. In fact, the force that supports both unity and the mission flows from the fruitful encounter with the Risen One, just as was the case for St Paul on the road to Damascus....
Then there was another vespers service on the feast of the Presentation, which is also World Day of Consecrated Life. The Pope began with a reflection on what the Presentation is --God's presentation of his Son to us-- and finished with an eloquent bit of encouragement for the representatives of all the various orders in Rome gathered for the service.

Here's a lovely little address. It's nothing, really --just some spontaneous remarks made on the occasion of his being made an honorary citizen of the town where he went to seminary. But as it includes personal memories of what it was like right after the war, I like it best.
We knew that Christ was stronger than the tyranny, than the power of the Nazi ideology and its mechanisms of oppression. We knew that time and the future belong to Christ and we knew that he had called us and that he needed us, that there was a need for us.
Perhaps the most important address he's given so far this year was this to the Roman Rota, in which he essentially told them not to be an annulment mill. His argument rests on his refusal to allow charity and justice to be considered in opposition to one another. It's a mistake to allow "pastoral concerns" (or misguided charity) to twist the truth, he argues.  Moreover, it takes some guts to be a justice.
Over and above this dimension of justice that may be termed "objective", there is another inseparable dimension which concerns those who "implement the law", namely, those who make justice possible. I wish to underscore that they must be characterized by the high practice of human and Christian virtues, particularly prudence and justice, but also fortitude. This last virtue becomes more relevant the more injustice appears to be the easiest approach to take, insofar as it implies accommodating the desires and expectations of the parties or even the conditioning of the social context.
Which doesn't mean the judge is just a hard nose, either.
Love for God and for neighbour should inform every activity, even if it appears to be the most technical and bureaucratic. The perspective and the measure of charity will help focus attention on the fact that the judge is always dealing with people, beset by problems and difficulties. The principle that "charity goes beyond justice" applies equally to the specific sphere of those engaged in the administration of justice. Consequently, the approach towards people, while admittedly observing a specific modality linked to the process, must seek, with sensitivity and concern for the individuals involved, to facilitate contact with the competent tribunal by the parties to the case. At the same time, it is important to take definite steps, every time one glimpses hope for a favourable outcome, to induce the spouses if possible to convalidate their marriage and restore conjugal living (cf. CIC, can. 1676). Moreover, one should try to establish between the parties a climate of human and Christian openness that is based on the search for the truth .
I think that's interesting because, although the annulment process is possibly the most ridiculed and least understood aspect of Catholic teaching, I now know several people who report having found the process to be profoundly healing. But of course such healing can only take place where there is an honest search for truth and not a rubber stamp process.

He has some choice words for lawyers, too!

Here's his address to the Pontifical Academies from the close of last month. Not the greatest translation, I think, but we get the gist: let your work be worthy and let it truly engage culture.

If I can backtrack a little bit, I never covered the Holy Father's Christmas meeting with the Curia, and don't want to pass over it. I love what he has to say about his time in Africa, especially this about the ebullient liturgies:
there was a great shared joy which was also expressed bodily, but in a disciplined manner, directed to the presence of the living God. With this, the second element already became apparent: the sense of sacredness, of the mystery of the living God's presence, fashioned, as it were, each individual action. The Lord is present the Creator, the One to whom all things belong, from whom we come and towards whom we make our pilgrim way. I spontaneously thought of Saint Cyprian's words; in his commentary on the "Our Father" he wrote: "Let us remember we are in God's sight. We must be pleasing in God's eyes, both in the attitude of our bodies and in the use of our voices". Yes, we had this awareness that we were standing before God. The result was neither fear nor inhibition, nor external obedience to rubrics nor much less the need of some to show off to others or to shout out in an undisciplined manner. Rather, there was what the Fathers called "sobria ebrietas": a sense of joyfulness that in any case remains sober and orderly, uniting people from within, leading them to a communal praise of God, a praise which at the same time inspires love of neighbour and mutual responsibility. 
Unlike some liturgists, the Pope is not prissy!
In his comments on the African synod, the Pope draws on Caritatis in Veritate, and confirms me in my intuition that he had Africa largely in mind in the drafting of that encyclical. When he gets to his discussion of reconciliation on the continent, he has this absolutely marvelous passage on forgiveness, absolution and penance. A great preface for Lent:
God, knowing that we were unreconciled and seeing that we have something against him, rose up and came to meet us, even though he alone was in the right. He came to meet us even to the Cross, in order to reconcile us. This is what it means to give freely: a willingness to take the first step; to be the first to reach out to the other, to offer reconciliation, to accept the suffering entailed in giving up being in the right. To persevere in the desire for reconciliation: God gave us an example, and this is the way for us to become like him; it is an attitude constantly needed in our world. Today we must learn once more how to acknowledge guilt, we must shake off the illusion of being innocent. We must learn how to do penance, to let ourselves be transformed; to reach out to the other and to let God give us the courage and strength for this renewal. Today, in this world of ours, we need to rediscover the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The fact that it has largely disappeared from the daily life and habits of Christians is a symptom of a loss of truthfulness with regard both to ourselves and to God; a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace.
That would be strong enough, but then he brings Bonaventure into it:
Saint Bonaventure was of the opinion that the Sacrament of Penance was a sacrament of humanity as such, a sacrament that God had instituted in its essence immediately after original sin through the penance he imposed on Adam, even though it could only take on its full shape in Christ, who is the reconciling power of God in person and who took our penance upon himself. In fact, the unity of sin, repentance and forgiveness is one of the fundamental conditions for being truly human: these conditions find complete expression in the sacrament, yet in their deepest roots they are part of the experience of being human persons as such. 
I think I'll be meditating on that for awhile. But his point was not primarily theological, it was that what he here calls reconciliation is pre-political --it must take place before politics is possible (or perhaps in our own case in order to prevent the fragmentation of the polity) because there is no notion of the common good without it.

Towards the end of his address, recalling his trip to the Czech Republic, he notes how well the Czechs treated him in spite of the country being largely agnostic:
we, as believers, must have at heart even those people who consider themselves agnostics or atheists. When we speak of a new evangelization these people are perhaps taken aback. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission or to give up their freedom of thought and will. Yet the question of God remains present even for them, even if they cannot believe in the concrete nature of his concern for us.
I've been pondering recently Benedict's ability to say the hardest things in the gentlest manner. I think it is because he never speaks as the holy man who knows everything, but always takes the sinner's or the unbeliever's part. He makes his own their arguments, their point of view, and having identified with it, only then points the way forward. It's winsome. So here he is agreeing with agnostics about possibly obnoxious Christians, and then he makes an association with driving of the money lenders from the temple:
I think naturally of the words which Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, namely that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (cf. Is 56: 7; Mk 11: 17). Jesus was thinking of the so-called "Court of the Gentiles" which he cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved. A place of prayer for all the peoples by this he was thinking of people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are dissatisfied with their own gods, rites and myths; who desire the Pure and the Great, even if God remains for them the "unknown God" (cf. Acts 17: 23). They had to pray to the unknown God, yet in this way they were somehow in touch with the true God, albeit amid all kinds of obscurity. I think that today too the Church should open a sort of "Court of the Gentiles" in which people might in some way latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery, at whose service the inner life of the Church stands. Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.
See what I mean about the Pope not being prissy?

We've already covered the message to the bishops of England and Wales . He also spoke to the Scots,  a humdinger of an address for them too.

And all along he's been continuing his series of audiences on figures of the early Church: most recently Francis and Dominic. Oh, plus he encouraged priests to blog. (Sort of.) And advanced JP II and Pius XII along their canonization paths.

And finally: not esp. Catholic, but a superbowl joke. The Saints won, so let's pretend. And Frankincense cures cancer?

Image credit