image of Christ from Upper South Gallery in Hagia Sophia
With the liturgical year at an end, let's check in on what His Holiness has been up to.
There's the new book, but we covered that yesterday.
Yesterday in a "surprise" consistory (it was announced in October and was a surprise then), he elevated 6 new cardinals, none of them Italian, which the press thinks should shock us. Scroll around at Whispers for coverage and gossip, but it doesn't seem that extraordinary to me.
Today, the Solemnity of Christ the King, he celebrated Mass with the new Cardinals. At the end of a lovely reflection on the nature of Christ's kingship (based on the power of Truth, not on anything man can create for himself), he admonishes them:
To you, dear and venerable Brother Cardinals – I think in particular of those created yesterday – is is entrusted this demanding responsibility: to bear witness to the kingdom of God, to the truth.... Become imitators of Jesus, who, before Pilate, in the humiliating scene described by the Gospel, manifested his glory: that of loving to the utmost, giving his own life for those whom he loves.But let's go back to the beginning of Autumn, after summer vacation.
Pilgrimage to Lebanon: On September 14, in the middle of the unpleasantness in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, the Pope flew to Lebanon. While the nightly news was filled with footage of rioting crowds, I couldn't help notice the larger and completely peaceful crowds gathered to see the Pope in this other Arab nation.
The original purpose of the trip was to consign the Post-Synodal Exhortation from the Synod on the Middle East, but thanks to current events it became a mission of peace and encouragement of Christians in the region.
On the plane ride over, he pooh-poohed the danger to his person, denounced fundamentalism as a distortion of religion, and talked about the obligation of Christians and Muslims to live side by side in peace. Asked about how the Church could help concretely, he spoke of the obligation to preach peace and tolerance, to help purify religion by reason, of material help offered to refugees -- and the real necessity of prayer.
I would like to say once again that visible signs of solidarity, days of public prayer, and other such gestures can catch the attention of public opinion and produce concrete results. We are convinced that prayer is effective. If it is carried out with great confidence and faith, it will leave its mark.
At Harissa, in the Basilica of St. Paul's, the Pope signed the Exhortation and summarized it in an address to gathered bishops and patriarchs, as well as diplomats and political figures. It happened to be the feast of the Exultation of the Cross, a feast that orginated in the East, and the Pope placed the current civil unrest in the context of the feast.
Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love!
He then encouraged Christians in the Middle East to persevere and thanked them for their witness:
In examining the present situation of the Church in the Middle East, the Synod Fathers reflected on the joys and struggles, the fears and hopes of Christ’s disciples in these lands. In this way, the entire Church was able to hear the troubled cry and see the desperate faces of many men and women who experience grave human and material difficulties, who live amid powerful tensions in fear and uncertainty, who desire to follow Christ – the One who gives meaning to their existence – yet often find themselves prevented from doing so. That is why I wanted the First Letter of Saint Peter to serve as the framework of the document. At the same time, the Church was able to admire all that is beautiful and noble in the Churches in these lands. How can we fail to thank God at every moment for all of you (cf. 1 Th 1:2; Part One of the Post-Synodal Exhortation), dear Christians of the Middle East! How can we fail to praise him for your courage and faith? How can we fail to thank him for the flame of his infinite love which you continue to keep alive and burning in these places which were the first to welcome his incarnate Son? How can we fail to praise and thank him for your efforts to build ecclesial and fraternal communion, and for the human solidarity which you constantly show to all God’s children?
To Christians he preached embrace of the Cross. In a later address to politicians he spoke about Reason --or at least about rational reasons for peace. We don't have to share the same faith to understand that a nation's greatest resource is its people, and that each human person has dignity as a child of God.
He also spoke of the pointlessness of trying to coerce belief and freedom being worth the "risk" of differences of opinion.The wealth of any country is found primarily in its inhabitants. The country’s future depends on them, individually and collectively, as does its capacity to work for peace. A commitment to peace is possible only in a unified society. Unity, on the other hand, is not the same as uniformity. Social cohesion requires unstinting respect for the dignity of each person and the responsible participation of all in contributing the best of their talents and abilities. The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity.
men and women can turn towards goodness only of their own free will, for “human dignity requires them to act out of a conscious and free choice, as moved in a personal way from within, and not by their own blind impulses or by exterior constraint” (Gaudium et Spes, 17). The goal of education is to guide and support the development of the freedom to make right decisions, which may run counter to widespread opinions, the fashions of the moment, or forms of political and religious ideology. This is the price of building a culture of peace! Evidently, verbal and physical violence must be rejected, for these are always an assault on human dignity, both of the perpetrator and the victim.Evil doesn't "just happen." No, we choose it, he says --and we have the power not to:
We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world.... Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death. But it is possible for us not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21). It is to this conversion of heart that we are called. Without it, all our coveted human “liberations” prove disappointing, for they are curtailed by our human narrowness, harshness, intolerance, favouritism and desire for revenge. A profound transformation of mind and heart is needed to recover a degree of clarity of vision and impartiality, and the profound meaning of the concepts of justice and the common good.
Then he takes a pragmatic turn which is lovely I think nonetheless:
In Lebanon, Christianity and Islam have lived side by side for centuries. It is not uncommon to see the two religions within the same family. If this is possible within the same family, why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?
Religious liberty is the key to peace:
It cannot be forgotten that religious freedom is the basic right on which many other rights depend. The freedom to profess and practise one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone. The loss or attenuation of this freedom deprives the person of his or her sacred right to a spiritually integrated life. What nowadays passes for tolerance does not eliminate cases of discrimination, and at times it even reinforces them. Without openness to transcendence, which makes it possible to find answers to their deepest questions about the meaning of life and morally upright conduct, men and women become incapable of acting justly and working for peace. Religious freedom has a social and political dimension which is indispensable for peace!
It's a wonderful address. I couldn't help thinking as I read it back in September how apt everything in it is for our own situation in the States.
He gave a challenging and encouraging address to young people, too (look how many of them!). I especially like what he said to the Muslim participants and to the kids there from Syria, and I thought it was interesting he begged the kids not to emigrate, but to stay and build Lebanon.
At Mass in Beirut (which more than 300,000 people attended) he asked the crowd to reflect on who Jesus is, and if they believe in him, to be willing to take up the cross.
Following Jesus means taking up one’s cross and walking in his footsteps, along a difficult path which leads not to earthly power or glory but, if necessary, to self-abandonment, to losing one’s life for Christ and the Gospel in order to save it. We are assured that this is the way to the resurrection, to true and definitive life with God. Choosing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who made himself the Servant of all, requires drawing ever closer to him, attentively listening to his word and drawing from it the inspiration for all that we do....Brothers and sisters, the path on which Jesus wishes to guide us is a path of hope for all. Jesus’ glory was revealed at the very time when, in his humanity, he seemed weakest, particularly through the incarnation and on the cross. This is how God shows his love; he becomes our servant and gives himself to us.
On October 4, the pope traveled to Loreto to entrust the Year of Faith and the Synod on the New Evangelization to Our Lady. Lovely homily there.
As we contemplate Mary, we must ask if we too wish to be open to the Lord, if we wish to offer our life as his dwelling place; or if we are afraid that the presence of God may somehow place limits on our freedom, if we wish to set aside a part of our life in such a way that it belongs only to us. Yet it is precisely God who liberates our liberty, he frees it from being closed in on itself, from the thirst for power, possessions, and domination; he opens it up to the dimension which completely fulfils it: the gift of self, of love, which in turn becomes service and sharing.October 7 he opened the Synod on the New Evangelization, the effort to re-kindle faith of fallen away Christendom. In his homily for the opening, he also declared St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen to be "Doctors of the Church." Here's his homily for that occasion, which stands as a good summary of his vision of Christian renewal.
Of special interest might be his linking of the new evangelization to the defense of marriage:
matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization.
Along those lines, if there can be no new evangelization without a recovery of marriage, it's pointless to speak of Church renewal if Christians themselves refuse to be disciples, keeping Christ's commandments. After speaking as he often does of the power of Christian witness (and citing the two new Doctors as examples), he says:
This summary of the ideal in Christian life, expressed in the call to holiness, draws us to look with humility at the fragility, even sin, of many Christians, as individuals and communities, which is a great obstacle to evangelization and to recognizing the force of God that, in faith, meets human weakness. Thus, we cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other (cf. 2 Cor 5:20). Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far.That is lovely, but my favorite papal homily from this Fall is for the closing of the Synod, in which, drawing on St. Augustine, he uses the healing of Bartimaeus as the image of what the New Evangelization is to accomplish. Bartimaeus was not blind from birth, but had lost his sight, and St. Augustine concludes from the fact that the Gospels tell us about his parentage that he'd come from a wealthy household and fallen not only into blindness, but into disgrace:
This interpretation, that Bartimaeus was a man who had fallen from a condition of “great prosperity”, causes us to think. It invites us to reflect on the fact that our lives contain precious riches that we can lose, and I am not speaking of material riches here. From this perspective, Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives. These people have therefore lost a precious treasure, they have “fallen” from a lofty dignity – not financially or in terms of earthly power, but in a Christian sense – their lives have lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence. They are the many in need of a new evangelization, that is, a new encounter with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1), who can open their eyes afresh and teach them the path. It is significant that the liturgy puts the Gospel of Bartimaeus before us today, as we conclude the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelization. This biblical passage has something particular to say to us as we grapple with the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smouldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.The whole thing is stirring!
On October 21 we got seven brand-spankin' new saints, including two Americans, both New Yorkers: Mother Marianne Cope and the Lily of the Mohawks, Kateri Tekakwitha.
Year of Faith: As announced October 2011 in the beautiful Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, this past October 11 the Pope launched the Year of Faith (read about the indulgence attached to its observance here). It's a year dedicated to Christian recovery of the "joy and enthusiasm" of a life with Christ.
Here's the homily for the opening, and Benedict has interrupted his series of Audiences on prayer in favor of a splendid series on the central truths of the faith, drawing on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism. Since the Holy Father wants the Church to re-discover the Council and the Catechism, and wants everyone engaged in the new evangelization it's a treat to learn directly from him what he's asking of us and how it's done. He's not mincing words. Here's how he introduces the series:
The Second Vatican Council Documents, to which we must return, freeing them from a mass of publications which instead of making them known have often concealed them, are a compass in our time too that permits the Barque of the Church to put out into the deep in the midst of storms or on calm and peaceful waves, to sail safely and to reach her destination.He's sharing his personal memories along the way, too. Here is the series thus far:
- October 10, 2012 On the significance of Vatican II
- October 17, 2012 On the creed and the historical import of the Catechism
- October 24 What is faith? Faith as a gift
- October 31 What is faith? Church and communion
- November 7, The desire for God
- November 14, Ways that lead to knowledge of God
Here's an elegant reflection on the role of science given to Pontifical Academy of Sciences earlier this month;
On November 12 he constituted a new Pontifical Academy for Latin;
and the next day he visited a retirement home and commiserated with the inmates. His remarks are so sweet, given as "an elderly man among his peers!"
I'm also kvelling because in his address to a conference of prison administrators, the Holy Father takes up my old hobby horse of prison reform and the problem of prisons making people worse than they were when they entered:
In order to "practice justice", it is not enough that those found guilty of crimes be simply punished: it is necessary that in punishing them, everything possible be done to correct and improve them. When this does not happen, justice is not done in an integral sense. In any event, it is important to avoid giving rise to a situation where imprisonment that fails in its re-educational role becomes counter-educational and paradoxically reinforces rather than overcomes the tendency to commit crime and the threat posed to society by the individual.That's all of note since the last P of P. Since this post is so daggone long, I'll dispense this time with the potpourri. Happy feast day!