Potpourri of Popery, Catholic Sundance Edition

Happy Ascension Thursday Sunday for those to whom it applies. The Pope travelled to Portugal last week, where his spokesman had promised us he would deliver an "intense message" at Fatima, which he did, so let's get to it.

Benedict made headlines before even disembarking from his plane with his in-flight comments. It is clear he considers the Fatima message and his preaching there an essential moment of grace and purification --the beginning of casting off the "filth" (as he called abusing priests and enabling bishops in 2005) of the 1970s generation of clergy. I am tempted to say the message of the entire pilgrimage was "Die, Boomers, Die," but of course that is not the way he put it. The overall message of the pilgrimage was cling to Christ, renew your faith and embrace penance as the only way some devils are cast out.  
In an interview with reporters, I liked his succinct formulation of Europe's mission:
I think that the precise task and mission of Europe in this situation is to create this dialogue, to integrate faith and modern rationality in a single anthropological vision which approaches the human being as a whole and thus also makes human cultures communicable. So I would say that the presence of secularism is something normal, but the separation and the opposition between secularism and a culture of faith is something anomalous and must be transcended. The great challenge of the present moment is for the two to come together, and in this way to discover their true identity. This, as I have said, is Europe’s mission and mankind’s need in our history.
Wonder what he would say America's mission is? But that's not what made headlines. This is what made headlines:
the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church. This too is something that we have always known, but today we are seeing it in a really terrifying way: that the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice. Forgiveness does not replace justice.
Stung by the just accusations that they'd gone way too far in their Holy Week feeding frenzy on the Pope, they eagerly embraced his absolution in worldwide headlines. Didn't see too much coverage of the remainder of the thought, however:
In a word, we need to relearn precisely this essential: conversion, prayer, penance and the theological virtues. This is our response, we are realists in expecting that evil always attacks, attacks from within and without, yet that the forces of good are also ever present and that, in the end, the Lord is more powerful than evil and Our Lady is for us the visible, motherly guarantee of God’s goodness, which is always the last word in history.
Blah-de-blah, don't bore us with that hope and salvation stuff. Despair! Despair!  Anyway...good stuff, too, on the Greek economic crisis, but at this rate we'll  never leave the plane.

The Pope did what he normally does on pilgrimages. He celebrated Mass with the faithful (beautiful homilies in Lisbon, Fatima, and Porto); he prayed with them (vespers with priests & religious, consecration of all priests to the Immaculate Heart, candlelight rosary); and he met with various groups. His meetings with the faithful are always both challenging and encouraging, and frequently quite beautiful too: the beauty that springs from a profound personal life of prayer. 

This visit was no exception, but I'm going to skip the general homilies and focus on the meetings with groups, where the pope can be, in a good way, quite tough. He is always gentle, but equally direct. The iron hand in the velvet glove as they say.

I sometimes get a kick out of Vaticanese. Where Americans would say, "Meeting with leaders of the arts and sciences," the Vatican has the Pope "meeting with the world of culture." At any rate, here's what he told 'em. It's lengthy but will repay careful attention.
Society continues to respect and appreciate [the Church's] service to the common good but distances itself from that “wisdom” which is part of her legacy. This “conflict” between tradition and the present finds expression in the crisis of truth, yet only truth can provide direction and trace the path of a fulfilled existence both for individuals and for a people. Indeed, a people no longer conscious of its own truth ends up by being lost in the maze of time and history, deprived of clearly defined values and lacking great and clearly formulated goals. Dear friends, much still needs to be learned about the form in which the Church takes her place in the world, helping society to understand that the proclamation of truth is a service which she offers to society, and opening new horizons for the future, horizons of grandeur and dignity. The Church, in effect, has “a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation. […] Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development. For this reason the Church searches for truth, proclaims it tirelessly and recognizes it wherever it is manifested. This mission of truth is something that the Church can never renounce” (Caritas in Veritate, 9). For a society made up mainly of Catholics, and whose culture has been profoundly marked by Christianity, the search for truth apart from Christ proves dramatic. For Christians, Truth is divine; it is the eternal “Logos” which found human expression in Jesus Christ, who could objectively state: “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6). The Church, in her adherence to the eternal character of truth, is in the process of learning how to live with respect for other “truths” and for the truth of others. Through this respect, open to dialogue, new doors can be opened to the transmission of truth.
He is not saying the Church is open to relativism, under whose tyranny we all currently labor. He is saying that the Church is at one and the same time both the guardian and teacher of Truth and herself learning how to present that truth to the current age. She does not, in other words, stand above the culture in judgment as if her members were not themselves part of their own culture, but seeks and is willing to be enriched by it. Love this line:
Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful. 
In other words, the Church is not afraid of what science and the arts have to offer that is true, good and beautiful, and he challenges artists and scientists not to be afraid of what the Church has to offer. Have a little courage, folks!
Ours is a time which calls for the best of our efforts, prophetic courage and a renewed capacity to “point out new worlds to the world”, to use the words of your national poet (Luís de Camões, Os Lusíades, II, 45). You who are representatives of culture in all its forms, forgers of thought and opinion, “thanks to your talent, have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. […] Do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty, to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite Beauty!”
He has just told a roomful of artists and scientists that they are not necessarily the open-minded ones in our time. Heh. 

Now, keeping that in mind, look at how he delivers that same message --courage in pursuit of the true, good and beautiful-- in his meeting with bishops.
the times in which we live demand a new missionary vigour on the part of Christians, who are called to form a mature laity, identified with the Church and sensitive to the complex transformations taking place in our world. Authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ are needed, above all in those human situations where the silence of the faith is most widely and deeply felt: among politicians, intellectuals, communications professionals who profess and who promote a monocultural ideal, with disdain for the religious and contemplative dimension of life. In such circles are found some believers who are ashamed of their beliefs and who even give a helping hand to this type of secularism, which builds barriers before Christian inspiration.
Courage is needed, and the bishops are to encourage the brave souls at work in all those fields --but fire and brimstone and anathemas are not what's called for:
The courageous and integral appeal to principles is essential and indispensable; yet simply proclaiming the message does not penetrate to the depths of people’s hearts, it does not touch their freedom, it does not change their lives. What attracts is, above all, the encounter with believing persons who, through their faith, draw others to the grace of Christ by bearing witness to him. The words of Pope John Paul II come to mind: “The Church needs above all great currents, movements and witnesses of holiness among the ‘Christifideles’ because it is from holiness that is born every authentic renewal of the Church, all intelligent enrichment of the faith and of the Christian life,
Simply going back to the way things once were, to some imagined golden age of Churchdom is insufficient --the Church has to find its way of touching men's hearts today. This made me laugh:
One could say, “the Church has need of these great currents, movements and witnesses of holiness…, but there are none!”
Oh yes there are, he says: new movements, and you bishops must walk the delicate path of truly being open to them and to learning from them, while at the same time correcting their defects and slapping down their excesses. 
we must feel responsibility for welcoming these impulses which are gifts for the Church and which give her new vitality, but, on the other hand, we must also help the movements to find the right way, making some corrections with understanding – with the spiritual and human understanding that is able to combine guidance, gratitude and a certain openness and a willingness to learn. 
This seems to signal the Holy Father's attitude about troublesome movements --don't be quick to shut them down, correct the problematic elements. Then he gets to priests and to their own ministry: begone, bishops-as-administrators model!
In this Year for Priests now drawing to a close, rediscover, dear brothers, the role of the Bishop as father, especially with regard to your priests. For all too long the responsibility of authority as a service aimed at the growth of others and in the first place of priests, has been given second place. 
He has already, at the start of the speech, told us what ought to have first place:
fearing nothing except the loss of eternal salvation for your people
He also asks for renewed attention to the poorest of the poor --again, thinking anew about the methods, not just doing the same old --the Church has to find its way:
I would like to ask you, in your role as leaders and ministers of charity in the Church, to rekindle, in yourselves as individuals and as a group, a sense of mercy and of compassion, in order to respond to grave social needs. New organizations must be established, and those already existing perfected, so that they can be capable of responding creatively to every form of poverty, including those experienced as a lack of the meaningfulness in life and the absence of hope [emphasis added].
B16's address to people working for charitable organizations is instructive both as to the nature and the limits of works of charity. I love this definition of charity:
You have heard Jesus say: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). He exhorts us to imitate the example of the Good Samaritan, which was just now proclaimed, when approaching situations which call for fraternal assistance. And what is this example? It is that of “a heart which sees.” “This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.”
He is there to praise and encourage their work, but adds some subtle cautions as well:
Conscious, as the Church, of not being able to provide practical solutions to each concrete problem, and lacking any kind of power, yet determined to serve the common good, you are ready to assist and to offer the means of salvation to all.
The Church doesn't think she has political solutions to offer, in other words, and is suspicious of efforts to do everything for everybody. Be sure you are acting out of love:
The pressure exerted by the prevailing culture, which constantly holds up a lifestyle based on the law of the stronger, on easy and attractive gain, ends up influencing our ways of thinking, our projects and the goals of our service, and risks emptying them of the motivation of faith and Christian hope which had originally inspired them. The many pressing requests which we receive for support and assistance from the poor and marginalized of society impel us to look for solutions which correspond to the logic of efficiency, quantifiable effects and publicity.
Never forget that the defense of genuine human liberty --including resisting abortion and defending marriage-- is indispensable to charity. (The Pope's repudiation of same-sex marriage was the only other headline to come out of Fatima --all the press got the vapors at the Pope being Catholic once again.)
The services you provide, and your educational and charitable activities, must all be crowned by projects of freedom whose goal is human promotion and universal fraternity. Here we can locate the urgent commitment of Christians in defence of human rights, with concern for the totality of the human person in its various dimensions.

And there you have it: Pope Benedict remakes the world in the image of Christ. This is so long I think we'll forgo the potpourri this time around.

Excellent pix of the whole pilgrimage here, and all the addresses are gathered here.
Photo credit