26 June 2011

Israeli ambassador gives into pressure

Yesterday I posted a story about the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See who emphasized the positive role played by the Holy See during World War II.  Now it seems he has given in to outside pressure and taken back his positive comments.

From the Associated Press' Nicole Winfield (whose previous articles on things Catholic have been quite inaccurate and often purposefully false), with my emphases and comments:
VATICAN CITY -- Israel's ambassador to the Vatican on Sunday backed off his praise of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope blamed by some Jews and historians for having failed to speak out enough against the Holocaust.

Ambassador Mordechai Lewy said in a statement that his personal judgment about the role of Pius, the Vatican and Catholic Church during the war had been "premature" since the issue is still being researched.

Lewy made headlines last week when he praised Pius and the Catholic Church in general for having given refuge to Roman Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Italian capital. The Vatican newspaper ran his speech on the front page, giving the brief but significant remarks high visibility.

But some Jewish groups balked, saying Lewy's comments were morally wrong, historically inaccurate and hurtful to Holocaust survivors [If you study the actual history involved - not the accusations leveled in a play that many (even historians) have come to accept as fact - you will the claims of these groups to be wrong, inaccurate and hurtful].

Pope Benedict XVI is keen to see Pius beatified, the first step to sainthood, and a concerted campaign is under way among Pius' supporters to correct what they say has been an unfair and incorrect judgment passed on Pius [If Winfield would look into the actual history she would find the judgments passed to indeed be unfair and incorrect].

As a result, Lewy's remarks in praise of Pius - unusual for a Jew much less an Israeli official - were significant in that they indicated a slight shift in the historic judgment of a man the Vatican considers worthy of one of the church's greatest honors but who many Jews consider a moral coward.

Pius was pope from 1939-1958. Before his election he served as the Vatican's No. 2 and before that papal nuncio to Germany. Given his deep involvement in the Vatican's diplomatic affairs with the Nazis, what Pius did or didn't do during the war has become the single most divisive issue in Vatican-Jewish relations.

The Vatican insists Pius used quiet diplomacy and that speaking out more publicly and critically against the Nazis would have resulted in more Jewish deaths [and documents clearly demonstrate this]. Critics argue he could have and should have said and done more [it should not be forgotten that Pope Pius XII was urged to be silent by the Allied forces].

And so eyebrows were raised when Lewy told a ceremony awarding a "Righteous of the Nations" medal in honor of Gaetano Piccini, an Italian priest who sheltered Jews, that Piccini wasn't alone in saving Jewish lives in Rome [he wasn't].

"It would be an error to declare that the Catholic Church, the Vatican or the pope himself opposed actions aimed at saving Jews," Lewy said June 23. "The contrary is actually true: they helped wherever they could."

He said the fact that the Vatican couldn't stop the deportation of Jews from Rome's ghetto on Oct. 16-18, 1943 "only increased the will, on the part of the Vatican, to offer its own sites as refuges for the Jews."

He said Jews were traumatized by the deportation and expected much more from the pope.

"Fine, we all know what happened, but we also must recognize that the train that left on Oct. 18, 1943 was the only one that the Nazis managed to organize from Rome to Auschwitz," he said.

On Sunday, Lewy said he wanted to make a clarification to his remarks, noting that his praise of Piccini's good deeds were embedded in a broader historical context [they were embedded in an accurate broader historical context which many today are content and happy to ignore].

"Given the fact that this context is still under the subject of ongoing and future research, passing my personal historical judgment on it was premature," the statement said [if this is the case, then it would be wrong to likewise pass judgment against the Church or the Pope Pius XII, but why pay attention to logic?].

Elan ( ELN - news - people ) Steinberg, vice president of the group American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said he appreciated Lewy's clarification.

"It takes courage to admit a mistake," said Steinberg, who had initially criticized Lewy for his comments.

Jewish leaders have asked that the Vatican not beatify Pius until the complete set of Vatican archives is opened to scholars, which is not expected for several more years. Pius' supporters argue that a good chunk of the documents are already available and that few scholars ever consult them [both are true, but why mention that?].

(This version corrects last name to Lewy instead of Levy [If the name was repeatedly inccorect, what else is incorrect?].)

Artistic Bombshells

The Crescat has started a new blog to display some of her artwork: Artistic Bombshells.  Of the images posted thus far, I am particularly fond of this one of the Annunciation:

This is the sort of modern art I enjoy.

Pope: Without the Eucharist the Church simply would not exist

Prior to praying the Angelus with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father Benedict XVI spoke on the nature of the Eucharist and the Church.

The text of his address follows, via Zenit, with my emphases and comments:
Dear brothers and sisters!

Today in Italy and other countries Corpus Domini is celebrated, the feast of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, which he instituted with the Last Supper and which is the Church's most precious treasure. The Eucharist is like the beating heart that gives life to the whole mystical body of the Church: a social organism entirely founded on the spiritual but concrete link with Christ. As the Apostle Paul states: "Because there is one bread, we, although many, are one body: all of us in fact participate in the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Without the Eucharist the Church simply would not exist. It is the Eucharist in fact that makes a human community a mystery of communion, able to bring God to the world and the world to God. The Holy Spirit, which transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, also transforms into members of the Body of Christ those who receive it with faith, so that the Church is truly the sacrament of the unity of men with God and of men with each other.

In a culture that is ever more individualistic -- like that in which Western societies are immersed and which is spreading throughout the world -- the Eucharist constitutes a kind of "antidote," which operates in the minds and hearts of believers and continually sows in them the logic of communion, of service, of sharing, in a word, the logic of the Gospel. The first Christians, in Jerusalem, were an evident sign of this new way of life because they lived in fraternity and held all of their goods in common so that no one should be indigent (cf. Acts 2:42-47). Where did all of this come from? From the Eucharist, that is, the risen Christ, really present with his disciples and working with the power of the Holy Spirit. And in the succeeding generations, through the centuries, the Church, despite human limits and errors, continued to be a force for communion in the world. We think especially of the most difficult periods, the periods of trial: What did it mean, for example, for countries that were under the heal of totalitarian regimes to have the possibility to gather for Sunday Mass! As the ancient martyrs of Abitene proclaimed: "Sine Dominico non possumus" – without the "Dominicum," that is, the Sunday Eucharist, we cannot live [This is not the first time he has referenced these martyrs.  Within these words is the key to rediscovering the beauty of the Lord's Day and living it accordingly]. But the void produced by false freedom can be dangerous, and so communion with the Body of Christ is a medicine of the intellect and will to rediscover taste for the truth and the common good.

Dear friends, let us call upon the Virgin Mary, whom my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II defined as a "Eucharistic woman" ("Ecclesia de Eucharistia," 53-58). In her school our life too becomes fully "Eucharistic," open to God and to others, able to transform evil into good by the power of love, which fosters unity, communion, fraternity.

Tolkien on the Eucharist

Many Catholics know J.R.R. Tolkien as the great literary giant, but far too few know him as the man of deep and Catholic faith.  Consider these words on the Holy Eucharist he wrote to his son:
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death. By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste -or foretaste- of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires.
The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.

Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children - from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn - open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand - after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.

The Eucharist is the source of happiness and contentment

I find my consolation in the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Saviour in the Holy Eucharist....  It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength necessary in this isolation of ours.  Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable.  But, having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content....  Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who seek to please Him.  His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures as to the greatest of them.  Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations, to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes.  Do so with confidence and with an open heart.

- Saint Damien of Moloka'i

25 June 2011

Archbishop Nichols: The Liturgy should not be a point of contention

On June 7th His Excellency the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishiop of Westminster, preached an excellent homily on the priesthood and the celebration of the Mass in which he reminded his priests that they are servants of the Liturgy and not its masters.

The text of his homily follows, via Zenit, with my emphases:
The Gospel of our Mass today takes us into the heart of the relationship of Father and Son. This is the wonder of our calling, the wonder of the mystery we minister: that we human beings are welcomed into the intimacy and love of Father and Son, which is the life of the Holy Spirit.

This mystery we enter most powerfully through our celebration of the Mass. Here all is the gift of the Father. Here all is to the glory of the Father and the Son. Here is our sharing in that glory, conscious that it is expressed in and through the self-sacrificing love of the cross.

In the light and depth of this great mystery I would like to reflect on our priestly part in the celebration of the Mass. I want to do so with a directness and immediacy for, when it comes to Liturgy, we are living in a sensitive and creative time. This is a time in which the Church is asking us to recover some of the richness and depth of our liturgical heritage and, at the same time, always to ensure that the Liturgy is the sign and good at that. Among us priests Liturgy easily becomes a point of contention. It should not be so.

Today we use the text of the new English translation. It symbolises so much. We are sharply aware of the newness of the words we are using. We need to concentrate on them. We need a fresh approach in contrast to long-formed habits and familiarity.

I would like to reflect on our part in all this and offer you my convictions. Thereby I hope I might help to shape your responses. I can but try.

There are four key points that shape my reflection, all in the context of the Gospel truth we have heard. They are, fundamentally, matters of the heart, of our disposition. As such they can shape what we do. We do well to examine what lies in our hearts.

1. My first conviction is this: Liturgy is never my own possession, or my creation. It is something we are given, from the Father. Therefore my own tastes, my own preferences, my own personality, my own view of ecclesiology, are marginal, of little importance, when it comes to the celebration of the Mass. We don vestments to minimise our personal preferences, not to express or emphasise them. Liturgy is not ours. It is never to be used as a form of self-expression. Indeed the opposite is the truth. Within the diocese, when the priests of a parish change there should be clear continuity in the manner in which Mass is celebrated. The Mass is the action of the Church. That’s what matters, not my opinion. I once heard that Blessed Pope John Paul never commented on a Mass he had celebrated. It’s the Mass. My task is to be faithful.

2. My second point flows from this: the Liturgy forms us, not us the Liturgy. The words of the Mass form our faith and our prayer. They are better than my spontaneous creativity. At Mass my place is very clear: I am an instrument in the hand of the Lord. I am not a conductor, still less a composer. Ordained into the person of Christ the Head, I am just an instrumental cause of this great mystery. This is so important. My celebration of the Mass each morning shapes my heart for the day ahead. At Mass I am the Lord’s instrument just as I hope to be in the day that follows. In all the events of the day, in the decisions I make, the words I speak, my greatest, safest hope is that the Lord will use me and that I, personally, will not get in His way. We are servants of the Liturgy through which God opens to us His saving life.

3. My third conviction is this: our part is to offer the Mass as a service to the people. In doing so we make choices and judgements about how aspects of the Mass are to be done. In doing this we must always have upper most in our minds that the heart of Liturgy is the people’s encounter with the Lord. Everything about the Liturgy is to serve this purpose. So in the choices we make, which give a particular tone to the Liturgy, our positive criterion should be: will this serve the encounter of the people with the Lord? Of course, things old and new can serve. Our choices though are shaped both by the instruction of the Church in its norms and guidance and by our duty to serve our people.

It seems to me that one thing above all is needed for this precious, transforming encounter with the Lord to take place in: space, space which allows for the movement of the heart to the Lord and of Him to us. At Mass we need space – spaces of silence, spaces for the quiet recollection of the people, both before and during Mass. So, the fashion of our celebration of the Mass should never be dominating or overpowering of those taking part. It should be well judged, respectful of its congregation, sensitive to their spiritual needs.

In my view one quality enhances this sense of divinely filled space in which we worship God: it is the beauty of the Liturgy and its reverence. A beautiful, cared for church is the best preparation we can provide. I was recently reminded of the words of Cardinal Hume: that our churches are not simply buildings in which we worship the Lord, but buildings with which we worship Him. I thank you for all your efforts in this important regard. The church as an arena of beauty for the Lord is, it seems to me, always a springboard of a vibrant parish.

4. My fourth and final point follows: whenever the Liturgy of the Church, the celebration of the Mass, truly enters our heart and soul, then the result is a vibrant sense of mission. When we meet the Lord in all His love for us, then we are ready to respond, especially in the care we give to the poorest and those most in need, those closest to the Heart of our Saviour. Our Diocesan ‘Conversation in Caritas’, about the social outreach of our parishes, has a Eucharistic centre. I thank you for your participation in it. A profound celebration of the Mass inexorably gives rise to a practical expression of compassion and willing service. It just is so.

My brothers, I am conscious of the length of these words and their strained character as a homily. But these are important matters, now, in the months ahead, in our hearts.

In the Mass all that we receive is a gift of the Father. It is never ours to use or shape as we please. In the Mass all is to the glory of the Son. In this we are no more than instruments, humble and delighted to play our part. In the Mass all is for the sake of our people: that they may encounter the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. In the Mass we who know Him also know that we are in this world to serve its humanity in His name, until He comes again. These are the hallmarks of our Liturgy, the measures against which we can test our hearts, our intentions and our actions.

Among us let there be a humble, joyful service of the Lord. Let us accept with joy the search for a renewal in our celebration of the Mass guided solely by the Church and let our own faith and prayer be tutored daily by what is asked of us. Amen.

Pope: There is nothing magic in Christianity, there are no shortcuts

While on Sunday the Dioceses of the United States will celebrate the Soleminty of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, many parts of the world, including the Diocese of Rome, celebrated Corpus Christi this past Thursday.

The text of the homily of Pope Benedict XVI, via Zenit, follows, with my emphases:
Dear brothers and sisters!

The feast of Corpus Domini is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of Caena Domini, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated. While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the bread broken and wine poured out, today, in celebration of Corpus Domini, this same mystery is proposed for the adoration and meditation of God's people, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of towns and villages, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us toward the kingdom of heaven. Today we openly manifest what Jesus has given us in the intimacy of the Last Supper, because the love of Christ is not confined to the few, but is intended for all. This year during the Mass of Our Lord's Last Supper on Holy Thursday, I pointed out that the Eucharist is the transformation of the gifts of this land -- the bread and wine -- intended to transform our lives and usher in the transformation of the world. Tonight I would like to return to this point of view.

Everything starts, you might say, from the heart of Christ, who at the Last Supper on the eve of his passion, thanked and praised God and, in doing so, with the power of his love transformed the meaning of death, which he was about to encounter. The fact that the sacrament of the altar has taken on the name "Eucharist," "thanksgiving," expresses this: that the change in the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the fruit of the gift that Christ made of himself, a gift of a love stronger than death, divine love that brought him to rise from the dead. That is why the Eucharist is the food of eternal life, the Bread of life. From the heart of Christ, from his "Eucharistic Prayer" on the eve of his passion, flows the dynamism that transforms reality in its cosmic, human and historical dimensions. All proceeds from God, from the omnipotence of his love One and Triune, incarnate in Jesus. The heart of Christ is immersed in this love; because of this he knows how to thank and praise God even in the face of betrayal and violence, and thus changes things, people and the world.

This transformation is possible thanks to a communion stronger than division, the communion of God himself. The word "communion," which we use to designate the Eucharist, sums up the vertical and horizontal dimension of the gift of Christ. The beautiful and eloquent expression "receive communion" refers to the act of eating the bread of the Eucharist. In fact, when we carry out this act, we enter into communion with the very life of Jesus, in the dynamism of this life that is given to us and for us. From God, through Jesus, to us: a unique communion is transmitted in the Holy Eucharist. We have heard as much, in the second reading, from the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ"(1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

St. Augustine helps us to understand the dynamics of holy Communion when referring to a kind of vision he had, in which Jesus said to him: "I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me"(Confessions, VII, 10, 18). Therefore, while the bodily food is assimilated by the body and contributes to sustain it, the Eucharist is a different bread: We do not assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ and members of his body, one with him. This is a decisive passage. Indeed, precisely because it is Christ who, in Eucharistic communion, transforms us into him, our individuality, in this encounter, is opened up, freed from its self-centeredness and placed in the Person of Jesus, who in turn is immersed in the Trinitarian communion. Thus, while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others making us members one of another: We are no longer divided, but one thing in him. Eucharistic communion unites me to the person next to me, and to the one with whom perhaps I might not even have a good relationship, but also to my brothers and sisters who are far away, in every corner of the world. Thus the deep sense of social presence of the Church is derived from the Eucharist, as evidenced by the great social saints, who have always been great Eucharistic souls. Those who recognize Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, recognize their brother who suffers, who is hungry and thirsty, who is a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and they are attentive to every person, committing themselves, in a concrete way, to those who are in need.

So from the gift of Christ's love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that communion, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus' act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the kingdom of heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is himself. There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: He involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with him and in him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God's plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail -- and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, "I am with you always, until the end of world "(Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. "Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living." Amen.

Grab your rosary and rally in prayer for priests

The Worldpriest Apostolate will sponsor the second Annual Global Rosary Relay for Priests beginning June 30th and continuning into July 1st.

The relay consists of the recitation of subsequent mysteries of the rosary in churches in 35 countries, with various shrines, as it were, passing on the baton at the conclusion of their recitation of the rosary to another shrine in a different country.

It is a clever and interesting idea and one that has caught the attention of the His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.  He has even composed a prayer to be used this year:
Lord Jesus Christ, eternal High Priest, you offered yourself to the Father on the altar of the Cross and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit gave your priestly people a share in your redeeming sacrifice.

"Hear our prayer for the sanctification of our priests. Grant that all who are ordained to the ministerial priesthood may be ever more conformed to you, the divine Master. May they preach the Gospel with pure heart and clear conscience.

"Let them be shepherds according to your own Heart, single-minded in service to you and to the Church and shining examples of a holy, simply and joyful life.

"Through the prayers of the blessed Virgin Mary, your Mother and ours, draw all priests and the flocks entrusted to their care to the fullness of eternal life where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
For more information, see this brief article from Zenit or visit the web site of the rosary rally.

Israeli ambassador: "One who denies that the Vatican, the Pope and Catholic institutions acted to save Jews is mistaken"

The Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, recently spoke on the relation of the Church and of the Servant of God Pope Pius XII with the Jewish people during World War II.  His words are well-worth reading, given so many falsehoods being bantered about.

From Zenit, with my emphases:
ROME, JUNE 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Claims that the Church and Pope Pius XII failed to help Jews during World War II are simply false, says the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy.

The envoy declared this today when he conferred the posthumous honor of Righteous Among the Nations on Father Gaetano Piccinini, a priest of the Sons of Divine Providence.

"It would be an error to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican or the Pope himself were opposed to activities to save Jews," Lewy said. "It is quite certain that it was the contrary: They always gave the help that they could."

The ambassador recalled that the Vatican was unable to prevent a train from taking Jews to the extermination camps after the Oct. 16-18 Nazi raid. This "can only have contributed to reinforcing the desire, on the part of the Vatican, to offer its own premises as a refuge for Jews," Lewy said.

"We must recognize that the train that left on 18 October 1943 was the only convoy that the Nazis managed to organize in Rome for Auschwitz," he added.

The ambassador noted how after the 1943 raid, "monasteries and orphanages run by religious orders opened their doors to Jews and we have reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest authorities of the Vatican who, therefore, were informed about these gestures."

Father Piccinini, in fact, was a protagonist in that effort. Using the network of houses run by his order, he was able to save many Jews, including members of the family who requested his recognition as Righteous Among the Nations.

Lewy said the Jews of Rome "saw in the person of the Pope a kind of protector and hoped that he would save them and avoid the worst."

Asked if this casts a different light on the figure of Pope Pius XII, often criticized for what is called his silence in the face of Nazi atrocities, Lewy said that "Judaism is not monolithic and there are different opinions at the historical level."

"What we know does not allow us to say that it was all white and black," he said, "but one who denies that the Vatican, the Pope and Catholic institutions acted to save Jews is mistaken."

Lewy spoke of the much-anticipated opening of the Vatican Archives for the years of Pius XII's pontificate. "But we cannot expect the complete truth," he opined, "because in such harsh times many things could not even be committed to writing. It is my personal opinion, that, in its totality, the truth of that tragic time is hidden and will remain so."

23 June 2011

Homily - 23 June 2011

The Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
At the Vigil

The birth of a child is among the most joyous events experienced in life and anyone who has been around the birth of a child knows this joy, a joy that is a deep and profound mystery. We can understand, then, why the angel of the Lord said to Zechariah, “And you will have joy and gladness” (Luke 1:14). But why did the angel also say, “and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:14)? Why did he not say that all people will rejoice at his birth? The answer lies in the mission of this newborn child.

Zechariah was told, “you shall name him John,” a name that means, “the Lord has favored” or “the Lord is gracious” (Luke 1:13) The news that Elizabeth was with child brought great joy to Mary because she knew her relatives were “advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). The name of this child, then, can be said to convey the graciousness of God to Zechariah and Elizabeth when the Lord heard their prayer (cf. Luke 1:13); John’s name can also be said to show the favor the Lord has given to this child. But what sort of favor, what kind of grace, is it that has only some people rejoicing at his birth?

The grace he is given by God is the very mission he received in his mother’s womb, to recognize and show to others the Messiah; his grace is to “go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah” and “to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Through his life, John the Baptist “testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the glories to follow them” (I Peter 1:11).

With the spirit and power of Elijah, Saint John stood against King Herod and called him to leave behind his adulterous life. Because of his defense of marriage, John lost his head; he gave his life in witness to the truth. In this, we see that the Lord “set [him] over nations and kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). Those looking for salvation rightly rejoiced at the birth of John the Baptist, for by him were planted the seeds of repentance and the way for the Savior was prepared into our hearts. In this, he proved himself to be a true leader and his example calls out to us.

Holy Mother Church gives us Solemnities such as this one to recognize the great joy he has planted in our hearts and she calls us today to “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” in the birth of Saint John (I Peter 1:8). By contemplating the life of the Baptist, she calls us to recognize that the Lord also desires us to prepare a people fit for the Lord and to stand for the truth with boldness and with love, regardless of what it may cost us; with this call the Lord has favored us.

Yet despite his favor we are often reluctant to stand for the truth and to call others to repentance. We say with the prophet Jeremiah, “I am too young,” but the Lord also answers us, “Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:8).

When we feel hesitant or afraid to speak the truth in love, we must remember that we are serving not ourselves but Christ and those to whom he sends us (cf. I Peter 1:12). Our concern must not be about us but must instead be about the salvation of those we meet, that we might all “attain the goal of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (I Peter 1:9).

This was the concern of Saint John the Baptist and because of it he has attained the goal of his faith and is “great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15). Let us then look to Saint John and learn from him to follow Christ Jesus. Let us ask the Lord to give us the words we should speak and to give us the wisdom to know that we must decrease and he must increase that we, with John, may be great in the sight of God. Amen.

Pope: In the Psalms everyone can recognize himself

Yesterday the Holy Father Benedict XVI continued his cateches on prayer with a reflection on the Book of Psalms as a precusor to forthcoming reflections on some of the individual Psalms.  The text of his address follows, with my emphases:
Dear brothers and sisters,

In the preceding catecheses, we paused to consider a number of Old Testament figures who are particularly significant for our reflection on prayer. I spoke about Abraham, who intercedes for the foreign cities; about Jacob, who in his nighttime combat receives a blessing; about Moses, who begs for forgiveness for his people; and about Elijah, who prays for the conversion of Israel. With today's catechesis, I would like to begin down a new path: Rather than commenting on particular accounts of persons at prayer, we will enter into the "prayerbook" par excellence, the Book of Psalms. In the upcoming catecheses we will read and meditate on a number of the most beautiful psalms which are also dearest to the Church's tradition of prayer. Today I would like to introduce them by speaking about the Book of Psalms as a whole.

The Psalter presents itself as a "formulary" of prayers, a collection of 150 psalms that the biblical tradition gives to the people of believers in order that they may become their -- our prayer -- our way of addressing God and of relating to Him. In this book, the whole of human experience with its many facets finds expression, along with the entire range of emotions that accompany man's existence. In the Psalms, joy and suffering, desire for God and the perception of one's own unworthiness, delight and the sense of abandonment, trust in God and painful solitude, fullness of life and fear of death are all interwoven and expressed. The believer's whole reality flows into these prayers, which first the people of Israel and then the Church took up as a privileged meditation on the relationship with the one God, and the fitting response to His self-revelation in history.

As prayer, the Psalms are manifestations of the soul and of faith, in which everyone can recognize himself and in which there is communicated that experience of special closeness to God, to which each man is called. And it is the whole complexity of human existence that converges in the complexity of the different literary forms of the various psalms: hymns, lamentations, individual and collective supplication, songs of thanksgiving, penitential psalms, and other genre that are found in these poetic compositions.

Despite this wide range of expression, two great areas can be identified that synthesize the prayer of the Psalter: petition, which is connected with lament, and praise -- two interconnected and almost inseparable dimensions. For petition is animated by the certainty that God will respond, and this opens up to praise and thanksgiving; and praise and thanksgiving flow from the experience of salvation received, which assumes the need for the help expressed by the petition.

In petition, the one who prays laments and describes his situation of distress, of danger, of desolation; or, as in the penitential psalms, he confesses guilt and sin, and asks to be forgiven. He lays bare his neediness before the Lord, in the confidence of being heard, and this implies an acknowledgement of God as good, as desirous of the good, and as the "lover of life" (cf. Wisdom 11:26) who is ready to help, save and forgive. Thus, for example, the Psalmist in Psalm 31 prays: "In thee, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame [ … ] take me out of the net which is hidden for me, for thou art my refuge (verses 2,5 [1,4]). Therefore, already in the lament something of praise may emerge, announcing itself in the hope of divine intervention, and becoming explicit once divine salvation has become a reality.

In an analogous way -- in the psalms of thanksgiving and of praise -- in remembering the gift received or in contemplating the greatness of God's mercy, one recognizes one's own littleness as well as one's need for salvation, which is at the foundation of petition. In this way, one confesses to God one's own condition as a creature, inevitably marked as it is by death, and yet the bearer of a radical desire for life. For this reason, in Psalm 86 the Psalmist exclaims: "I give thanks to thee, o Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify thy name forever. For great is thy steadfast love toward me; thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol" (verses 12, 13). In this way, in the prayer of the Psalms, petition and praise are interwoven and blend together into one unique song that celebrates the Lord's eternal grace that bends down to our frailty.

The book of the Psalter was given to Israel and to the Church precisely in order that the people of believers might be permitted to unite themselves to this song. The Psalms, in fact, teach us to pray. In them, the Word of God becomes the word of prayer -- and they are the Psalmists' inspired words -- which also become the word of the one who prays the Psalms. This is the beauty and the special nature of this biblical book: Unlike other prayers we find in sacred Scripture, the prayers contained [in the Book of Psalms] are not inserted into a narrative story which specifies either their meaning or their function. The Psalms are given to the believer precisely as a text of prayer, which has as its one end that of becoming the prayer of the one who takes them up and, with them, addresses himself to God. Since they are the Word of God, he who prays the Psalms speaks to God with the very words that God has given to us; he addresses Him with the words that He Himself gives us. Thus, in praying the Psalms we learn to pray. They are a school of prayer.

Something analogous happens when a child begins to talk; when he learns, that is, to express his feelings, emotions, and needs with words that do not belong to him naturally, but which he learns from his parents and from those who live around him. What the child wants to express is his own personal experience, but the means of expression belong to others; and little by little he appropriates them -- the words received from his parents become his words, and through those words he also learns a way of thinking and feeling; he enters into a whole world of concepts, and in this [world] he grows, relates with reality, with men and with God. At last, the language of his parents becomes his language; he speaks with the words received from others, which by now have become his words.

And so it is with the prayer of the Psalms. They are given to us so that we might learn to address ourselves to God, to communicate with Him, to talk to Him about ourselves with His words, to find language for an encounter with Him. And, through those words, it will also be possible to know and to receive the standards of his way of acting, to approach the mystery of his thoughts and of his ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9), so as to grow always more in faith and love. As our words are not only words, but also teach us about a real and conceptual world, so also these prayers teach us about the heart of God, for which reason are we able not only to speak with God, but also to learn who God is and -- in learning how to speak with Him -- we learn what is it to be man, to be ourselves.

In this regard, the title given to the Psaltery by the Jewish tradition appears significant. It is called Tehellim, an Hebraic term that means "songs of praise," [which comes] from the root word we find in the expression "Halleluiah" -- literally: "praise the Lord." Thus, even though this prayerbook is so multifaceted and complex -- with its various literary genre and with its connection between praise and petition – it is ultimately a book of praise, that teaches us to give thanks, to celebrate the greatness of the gift of God, to acknowledge the beauty of His words and to glorify His holy Name.

This is the most fitting response before God's self-revelation, and the experience of His goodness. By teaching us to pray, the Psalms teach us that, even in the midst of desolation, in suffering, God's presence remains and is the source of wonder and of consolation; we can cry, beg, intercede, lament, but [we do so] in the knowledge that we are walking toward the light, where praise can be definitive; "in thy light do we see light" (Psalm 36:10 [9]).

But beyond the book's general title, the Jewish tradition has also given specific titles to many of the psalms, attributing them in great part to King David. A figure of notable human and theological depth, David is a complex personality who passed through the most varied experiences fundamental to life. A young shepherd of his father's flock -- passing through the ups and downs and at times dramatic events of life -- he becomes king of Israel, the shepherd of God's people. Although a man of peace, he fought many wars; an untiring and tenacious seeker of God, yet he betrayed His love, and this is characteristic: He always remained a seeker of God, even though he sinned gravely many times; a humble penitent, he received divine forgiveness, even divine pity, and he accepted a fate marked by suffering. Thus, in all his weakness, David was a king "after God's own heart" (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14); that is, a passionate man of prayer, a man who knew what it meant to petition and to praise. The connection of the Psalms with this illustrious king of Israel is important, then, for he is a messianic figure, the Lord's Anointed, in whom the mystery of Christ is in some way foreshadowed.

Just as important and meaningful are the ways and frequency with which the words of the psalms are repeated in the New Testament, taking up and underscoring the prophetic value suggested by the Psalter's connection with the messianic figure of David. In the Lord Jesus, who during His earthly life prayed with the Psalms, they find their definitive fulfillment and reveal their fullest and most profound meaning. The prayers of the Psalter, with which we speak to God, speak to us of Him, they speak to us of the Son, the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), who fully reveals to us the Face of the Father. The Christian, therefore, in praying the Psalms, prays to the Father in Christ and with Christ, taking up those songs within a new perspective, which finds its ultimate interpretative key in the Paschal mystery. Thus do the horizons of the one who prays open up to unexpected realities -- each Psalm acquires a new light in Christ and the Psalter is able to shine in all its infinite richness.

Dearest brothers and sisters, let us take this holy book in hand; let us allow ourselves to be taught by God to address ourselves to Him; let us make the Psalter a guide that helps us and accompanies us daily along the way of prayer. And let us, like Jesus' disciples, also ask: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1), opening our hearts to receive the Teacher's prayer, in which all prayers attain their fulfillment. Thus, made sons in the Son, will we be able to speak to God calling Him "Our Father." Thank you.

It's about time!

In case you haven't yet seen this bit of good news, the titles and release dates of Peter Jackson's forthcoming films telling the story of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit have been announced:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be released 14 December, 2012, and
The Hobbit: There And Back Again will be released 13 December, 2013.

Start planning now for the midnight shows!

22 June 2011

A little fun for the day

Just a moment ago I discovered a fun Facebook application called, "How well do you know Bishop Paprocki?

I am happy to say that I answered all fifteen questions correctly.  How many answers do you know?

Congratulations, Bishop Paprocki!

Today marks not only the memorial of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, but also the first anniversary of the installation of the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki as the ninth Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.

[I would add a picture here, but Blogger's photo uploader seems not to be working.]

Congratulations, Bishop Paprocki!  Ad multos annos!

Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, pray for him!  Servant of God Augustus Tolton, pray for him!

One year later: Paprocki is active

Springfield's WICS has a story today looking back on Bishop Paprocki's first year as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.

21 June 2011

Pope to youth: Christ proposes to you his very self

When he spend the weekend in San Marino the Holy Father Benedict XVI addressed a gathering of young people.  The text of his address follows, via Zenit, with my emphases:
Dear Young People!

I am very happy to be among and with you today. I feel all the joy and enthusiasm that characterizes your age. I greet and thank your Bishop Luigi Negri for his cordial words of welcome, and to your friend who made himself the interpreter of the thoughts and sentiments of you all, and who has formulated some very serious and important questions. I hope that in the course of this exposition of mine you will also find elements to obtain answers to these questions. I greet affectionately the priests, the nuns, the animators who share with you the path of faith and friendship; and, of course, also your parents, who rejoice in seeing you grow strong in goodness.

Our meeting here in Pennabilli, before this cathedral, heart of the diocese, and in this square, takes us in thought to the numerous and diverse meetings of Jesus that the Gospels narrate to us. Today I would like to recall the famous episode in which the Lord was on his way and one -- a youth -- ran to meet him and, kneeling, posed this question: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). Perhaps we would not say it like that today, but the sense of the question is precisely: What must I do, how must I live to really live, to find life?

Thus, in this question we can see contained the wide and varied human experience, which opens in search of the meaning and of the profound sense of life: How to live? Why live? In fact, the "eternal life" to which that youth of the Gospel makes reference does not only indicate life after death, he does not want to know only how to reach heaven. He wants to know how he must live now so that he can have eternal life. Hence, with this question the young man shows his need to have meaning, plenitude and truth as a part of his daily existence.

Man cannot live without this search for the truth about himself -- who he is and why he should live -- truth that pushes to open the horizon and go beyond the material, not to flee from reality, but to live it in a more truthful way, richer in meaning and hope, and not just in superficiality. And I think that this -- and I have seen and heard it in the words of your friend -- is also your experience. The great questions we have within us are always there, they are always reborn: Who are we? Where do we come from? What are we living for?

And these questions are the highest sign of the transcendence of the human being and of our capacity not to stay on the surface of things. And it is precisely by looking at ourselves with truth, with sincerity and with courage that we intuit not only beauty, but also the precariousness of life, and we feel dissatisfaction, a restlessness that nothing concrete is able to assuage. In the end, all promises often show themselves to be insufficient.

Dear friends, I invite you to be aware of this healthy and positive restlessness, not to fear asking yourselves the fundamental questions about the meaning and value of life. Do not be content with partial, immediate answers, certainly easier at the moment and more comfortable, which can give a moment of happiness, of exaltation, of inebriation, but which do not give the true joy of living, the one born for the one who builds -- as Jesus says -- not on sand but on solid rock. Learn therefore to reflect, to read not superficially but in profundity your human experience: you will discover with surprise and joy, that your heart is a window open to the infinite!

This is man's grandeur and also his difficulty. One of the illusions produced in the course of history is that of thinking that technical-scientific progress, in an absolute way, can give answers and solutions to all of humanity's problems. And we see that it is not like this. In reality, even if it had been possible, nothing and no one would have been able to erase the most profound questions on the meaning of life and of death, on the meaning of suffering, of everything, because these questions are inscribed in the human soul, in our heart, and they surpass the sphere of necessities. Man, also in the era of scientific and technological progress -- which has given us so much -- continues to be a being who desires more, more than comfort and well-being, he continues to be a being open to the whole truth of existence, who cannot stay with material things, but who opens to a much wider horizon.

All this you experience continually every time you ask yourselves: But why? When you contemplate a sunset, or when music moves your heart and mind; when you experience what it means to really love; when you feel strongly the sense of justice and truth, and when you also feel the lack of justice, of truth and of happiness.

Dear young people, human experience is a reality that unites us all, but to the latter several levels of meaning can be given. And it is here where one decides in what way to orient one's life and one chooses to whom to entrust it, to whom one will entrust oneself. The risk is always to remain prisoners in the world of things, of the immediate, of the relative, of the useful, losing the sensibility for what concerns our spiritual dimension. It is not at all about being contemptuous of the use of reason or of rejecting scientific progress. On the contrary, it is, rather, to understand that each one of us is not made only of an "horizontal" dimension, but also includes a "vertical" dimension. Scientific data and technological instruments cannot replace the world of life, the horizons of meaning and of liberty, the richness of relationships of friendship and love.

Dear young people, it is precisely in openness to the whole truth of ourselves and of the world where we perceive God's initiative toward us. He comes to meet every man and makes him know the mystery of his love. In the Lord Jesus, who died for us and has given us the Holy Spirit, we have also been made participants in the very life of God; we belong to the family of God. In Him, in Christ, you can find the answers to the questions that accompany your path, not in a superficial, easy way but walking with Jesus, living with Jesus. The encounter with Christ is not resolved in adherence to a doctrine, to a philosophy, but what He proposes to you is to share his very life, and thus learn to live, to learn what man is, what I am. To that youth, who asked him what he had to do to enter eternal life, namely, to really live, Jesus responds, inviting him to separate himself from his goods and adds, "Come, follow me" (Mark 10:21).

The word of Christ shows that our life finds meaning in the mystery of God, who is Love: an exacting, profound Love that goes beyond superficiality. What would become of your life without that love? God looks after man from creation to the end of time, when he will bring his plan of salvation to fulfillment. In the Risen Lord we have the certainty of our hope. Christ himself, who descended to the depths of death and is resurrected, is hope in person, is the definitive Word pronounced on our history, He is a positive word.

Do not fear to address difficult situations, moments of crisis, the trials of life, because the Lord accompanies you, he is with you. I encourage you to grow in friendship with Him through frequent reading of the Gospel and of the whole of Sacred Scripture, faithful participation in the Eucharist as personal encounter with Christ, commitment within the ecclesial community, your path with a valid spiritual guide. Transformed by the Holy Spirit you will be able to experience genuine liberty, which is so when it is oriented to the good. In this way your life, animated by a continual search for the Lord's face and by the sincere will to give yourselves, will be for many of your contemporaries a sign, an eloquent call to make the desire for plenitude that is in all of us be finally realized in the encounter with the Lord Jesus. Let the mystery of Christ illumine your whole person!

Then you will be able to bring to different environments that novelty that can change relations, institutions, structures to build a more just and solidaristic world, animated by the quest for the common good. Do not yield to individualist and egoistic logics. May you be comforted by the testimony of so many young people who have attained the end of sanctity: think of Therese of the Child Jesus, Saint Dominic Savio, Saint Maria Goretti, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Albert Marvelli -- who is of this land -- and so many others, unknown to us, but who lived their time in the light and strength of the Gospel and who found the answer: how to live, what I must do to live.

As conclusion to this meeting, I wish to entrust each one of you to the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Like her, may you be able to pronounce and renew your "yes" and always proclaim the greatness of the Lord with your life, because He gives you words of eternal life. Therefore, I encourage you dear ones, in your path of faith and Christian life. I am also always close to you and accompany you with my Blessing. Thank you for your attention!

20 June 2011

Pope: Upon faith, a society can be built that is attentive to the true good of the human person

While in San Mario over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI met with governmetn authorities, elected officials and the diplomatic corps.  The text of his address follows, via Zenit, with my emphases:
Most Serene Captains Regent,

Illustrious Gentlemen and Ladies!

My heartfelt gratitude for your hospitality, in particular I express my gratitude to the captains regent, also for the courteous words they addressed to me. I greet the members of the government and of the Congress, as well as the diplomatic corps and all the other authorities gathered here. In addressing you, I embrace ideally the whole people of San Marino. From its birth, this republic has had friendly relations with the Apostolic See, and in recent times they have been intensified and consolidated; my presence here, in the heart of this ancient republic, expresses and confirms this friendship.

More than 17 centuries ago, a group of faithful, won over to the Gospel by the preaching of Deacon Marin and his witness of holiness, gathered around him to give life to a new community. Continuing with this valuable heritage, the people of San Marino remained always faithful to the values of the Christian faith, firmly anchoring to them their own peaceful coexistence, according to criteria of democracy and solidarity. Down through the centuries, your ancestors were aware of these Christian roots and were able to make fruitful the great moral and cultural patrimony they had received, giving life to an industrious and free people. Despite the exiguity of the territory, [San Marino] has not failed to offer the bordering populations of the Italian peninsula and to the whole world a particular contribution of civilization, marked by peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

Addressing you today, I rejoice to see your attachment to this patrimony of values and I exhort you to preserve and appreciate it, because it is at the foundation of your most profound identity, an identity that asks to be fully assumed by the people and institutions of San Marino. Thanks to it, a society can be built that is attentive to the true good of the human person, to dignity and liberty, and capable of safeguarding the right of all peoples to live in peace.

These are the foundations of a healthy laicism, within which civil institutions must act with a constant commitment to the defense of the common good. The Church, respectful of the legitimate autonomy that civil authority must enjoy, collaborates with it, at the service of humanity, in the defense of humanity's fundamental rights, of those ethical instances that are inscribed in his very nature. Because of this, the Church is committed to legislation that always promotes and protects human life from conception to its natural end.

Moreover, it requests due recognition and active support for the family. In fact, we know how the family institution is currently being called into question, as if in an attempt to ignore its inalienable value. Those who suffer the consequences [of these efforts] are the weakest social groups, especially the young generations, who are more vulnerable and thus easily exposed to disorientation, to situations of self-marginalization and to the slavery of addictions. Education institutions often seek to give young people adequate answers, and see the diminishing support of the family as an obstacle to normal integration into the social fabric. Because of this, it is importance to recognize that the family, just as God has constituted it, is the main institution that can foster harmonious growth and the maturity that makes individuals free and responsible, formed in deep and perennial values.

In the predicament of economic difficulties in the Italian and international context, which also affects the San Marino community, I wish my words to be of encouragement. We know that the years following the Second World War were a time of economic restrictions, which obliged thousands of your fellow citizens to emigrate. Then a period of prosperity arrived, in the wake of developing the industries of trade and tourism, especially in that type of summer enjoyed so close to the Adriatic coast.

During this phase of relative abundance there was a certain loss of the Christian sense of life and of fundamental values. However, the San Marino society manifests again a good vitality and conserves its best energies, proof of this are the many charitable and voluntary initiatives to which numerous fellow citizens of yours are dedicated. I would like to recall also the numerous San Marino missionaries, lay and religious, who in the last decades have left this land to take the Gospel of Christ to various parts of the world. Not lacking, hence, are the positive forces that enable your community to address and overcome the present situation of difficulty. To this end, I hope that the question of border workers, who see their own occupation endangered, will be able to be resolved taking into account the right to work and to the protection of families.

Also in the Republic of San Marino, the present crisis leads to a need to plan for the future, and it becomes a moment for discernment (cf. Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 21); in fact, it puts the entire social fabric before the impelling need to address the problems with courage and a sense of responsibility, with generosity and dedication, making reference to that love of liberty that distinguishes your people. In this regard, I would like to repeat the words addressed by Blessed John XIII to the Regents of the Republic of San Marino during an official visit to the Holy See: "The love of liberty," said my Predecessor, "boasts exquisitely among your Christian roots and your ancestors, picking up their true meaning, taught you not to ever separate their name from that of God, who is its irreplaceable foundation" (Addresses, Messages, Conversations of the Holy Father John XIII, I, 341-343: AAS 60 [1959], 423-424.

This warning maintains its everlasting value still today: the liberty that institutions are called to promote and defend at the social level is manifested more profoundly by the Spirit of God, whose life-giving presence in the human heart gives the ability to [individuals to] direct themselves toward and dedicate themselves to the good. As the Apostle Paul affirms: "for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). And St. Augustine, commenting this passage, stresses: "It is true that we are the ones who will when we will, but He is the one to make us will the good." It is God, he says, adding, "The steps of man will be directed by the Lord, and man will want to follow his way" (De gratia et libero arbitrio, 16, 32).

Hence to you, illustrious gentlemen and ladies, is the task to build the earthly city in the due autonomy and respect of those human and spiritual principles to which every individual citizen is called to adhere with all the responsibility of his own personal conscience and, at the same time, the duty to continue to operate actively to build a community founded on shared values.

Most serene captains regent illustrious authorities of the Republic of San Marino, I express from my heart that your whole community, in the shared civil values and with their specific cultural and religious peculiarities, will be able to write a new and noble page of history and become ever more a land in which solidarity and peace prosper. With these sentiments I entrust this beloved people to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Graces and I invoke from my heart on all and each one the apostolic blessing.

Pope: We can always be secure in God's goodness, which never leaves us

This past weekend the Holy Father Benedict XVI went on pilgrimage to San Marino.  The text of the homily he preached yesterday - via Zenit - follows, with my emphases:
Dear brothers and sisters,

It is my great joy to be able to break the bread of God's Word and the Eucharist with you, and to address to you, dear people of San Marino, my most cordial greeting. A special thought goes to the Captains Regent and to the other political and civil authorities present at this Eucharistic celebration. With affection, I greet your Bishop Luigi Negri, and thank him for the kind words he addressed to me; with him, I also greet all of the priests and faithful of the Diocese of San Marino-Montefeltro. I greet each one of you and I express to you my heartfelt gratitude for the kindness and affection with which you have welcomed me.

I have come to share with you in the joys and hopes, the efforts and commitments, the ideals and aspirations of this diocesan community. I know that, also here, difficulties, problems and concerns are not lacking. I want to assure everyone of my closeness and my remembrance of you in prayer, and I unite to this my encouragement to persevere in your witness to human and Christian values, which are so profoundly rooted in the faith and history of this land and its people, with their granite-like faith, of which His Excellency spoke.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the feast day of God -- of the center of our faith. When we think of the Trinity, the aspect of mystery most often comes to mind: they are Three and they are One, one only God in three Persons. In reality, God in His greatness cannot be other than a mystery for us, and yet He has revealed Himself: we can know Him in His Son, and so also know the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Today's liturgy instead draws our attention not so much to the mystery, as to the reality of love that is contained in this first and supreme mystery of our faith. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, because [they are] love, and love is the absolute life-giving force; the unity created by love is a greater unity than a merely physical one. The Father gives all to the Son, the Son receives all from the Father with gratitude; and the Holy Spirit is like the fruit of this reciprocal love of the Father and the Son.

The texts of today's Holy Mass speak of God and, therefore, speak of love. They dwell not so much upon the mystery of the three Persons, as they do upon the love which constitutes their substance and unity and trinity in the same moment.

The first passage we heard was taken from the Book of Exodus -- I looked at it in a recent Wednesday catechesis -- and it is surprising that the revelation of God's love occurs after the people have sinned gravely. The Covenant pact has just been concluded at Mount Sinai, and already the people fail in fidelity. Moses' absence lengthens, and the people say: "But where has this Moses gone, and where is his God?" And they ask Aaron to make them a god that is visible, accessible, manageable, within man's reach, instead of this invisible, distant, mysterious God. Aaron consents and fashions a golden calf. Coming down the mountain, Moses sees what has occurred and breaks the tables of the Covenant -- which is already broken, ruptured -- two stones on which were written the "Ten Words," the concrete content of their pact with God. All seems lost, the friendship, right from the beginning -- already broken.

And yet, in spite of the people's very grave sin, God -- through Moses' intercession -- decides to forgive and invites Moses to reascend the mountain to receive again His law, the Ten Commandments, and to renew the pact. Moses then asks God to reveal Himself, to let him see His face. But God does not show His face; rather, He reveals His being, filled with goodness, with these words: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:8). And this is the Face of God. God's definition of Himself manifests His merciful love: a love that conquers sin, covers it, eliminates it. And we can always be secure in this goodness, which never leaves us. There can be no clearer revelation. We have a God who abandons destroying the sinner and who wants to manifest His love in a still more profound and surprising way, precisely before the sinner, in order to offer [him] the possibility of conversion and forgiveness.

The Gospel completes the revelation that we hear about in the first reading, because it indicates to what point God has shown His mercy. The Evangelist John relates this expression of Jesus: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish by have eternal life" (John 3:16). In the world there is evil, there is egoism, there is malice, and God could come to judge this world, to destroy evil, to castigate those who work in darkness. Instead He reveals His love for the world, His love for man, despite his sin, and He sends what is most precious to Him: His only-begotten Son. And not only does He send Him, but He makes Him a gift to the world. Jesus is the Son of God who was born for us, who lived for us, who healed the sick, forgave sins, welcomed everyone. Responding to the love that comes from the Father, the Son gave His very life for us: on the Cross God's merciful love reaches its culmination. And it is on the Cross that the Son of God obtains for us a participation in eternal life, which is communicated to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, in the mystery of the Cross, the three divine Persons are present: the Father, who gives His only-begotten Son for the salvation of the world; the Son, who carries out the Father's plan to the very end; the Holy Spirit -- poured out by Jesus at the moment of death – who comes to make us sharers in the divine life, to transform our existence, so that it might be animated by divine love.

Dear brothers and sisters! Faith in the Trinitarian God has also characterized this Church of San Marino-Montefeltro throughout the course of its ancient and glorious history. The evangelization of this land is attributed to the stonecutting Saints Marino and Leone, who in the middle of the third century after Christ, arrived in Rimini from Dalmatia. For their holiness of life, they were consecrated -- the one a priest, the other a deacon -- by Bishop Gaudentius, and they were sent by him to the inland, one to Mount Feretro, which then took the name of San Leo, and the other to Mount Titano, which then took the name San Marino. Beyond the historical matters -- which is not our task to go into -- it is worth affirming how Marino and Leo brought new perspectives and values into the context of this local reality, with faith in the God who had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, establishing the birth of a culture and of a society centered on the human person -- the image of God, and therefore the bearer of rights that precede all human legislation. The variety of the different ethnicities -- Romans, Goths, and then Lombards -- that came in contact with them, at times in very conflicting ways, found in the common reference to the faith a potent element for ethical, cultural, social, and in some sense, political edification. It was evident to their eyes that a project for the building of civilization could not be considered complete until all of the elements constituting the people had become a living Christian community, well structured and well built upon faith in the Trinitarian God.

Rightly, therefore, can we say that the wealth of this people, your wealth, dear people of San Marino, was and is the faith, and that this faith created a truly unique society. In addition to this faith, it is also necessary to remember [San Marino's] absolute fidelity to the Bishop of Rome, to whom this Church has always looked with devotion and affection, as well as its attention to the great tradition of the Eastern Church, and its profound devotion to the Virgin Mary.

You are rightly proud and grateful for all the Holy Spirit has accomplished down the centuries in your Church. But you also know that the best way to appreciate an inheritance is by cultivating and enriching it. In reality, you are called to develop this precious deposit in one of the most decisive moments in history. Today, your mission is met by the necessity of confronting profound and rapid cultural, social, economic, and political changes that have determined new trends and modified mentalities, customs and sensibilities. Also here, in fact, as elsewhere, difficulties and obstacles are not wanting, due above all to hedonistic models that darken the mind and risk annihilating morality altogether. The temptation has crept in to hold that a man's wealth is not the faith, but his personal and social power, his intelligence, his culture and his ability to scientifically, technologically and socially manipulate reality. And so, also in these lands, some have begun to substitute the faith and Christian values with presumed riches that, in the end, reveal their emptiness and their inability to hold up to the great promise of the true, the good, the beautiful and the just which, for centuries, your ancestors identified with the experience of the faith.

We should not forget, then, the crisis of not a few families, which is aggravated by the widespread psychological and spiritual frailty of married couples, as well as the hardships experienced by many educators in obtaining formative continuity for the young who are conditioned by many uncertainties, first among them [the uncertainty of] their role in society and of the possibility of work.

Dear friends! I am well aware of the commitment of each element of this particular Church to promoting the Christian life in its various aspects. I exhort all of the faithful to be as leaven in the world, showing yourselves -- whether in Montefeltro or in San Marino -- as Christians who are present, resourceful and coherent. May priests, and men and women religious, always live in heartfelt and effective ecclesial communion by helping and listening to their diocesan pastor. The urgency of a renewal in vocations to the priesthood and to special consecration makes itself felt also among you: I make an appeal to families and to young people, to open their souls to a ready response to the Lord's call. You will never regret being generous with God!

To you laity, I urge you to actively commit yourselves within the community, so that, in addition to your particular civil, political, social and cultural tasks, you will be able to find time and availability for the life of faith, for the pastoral life. Dear people of San Marino! May you remain firmly faithful to the patrimony constructed down the centuries through the impetus of your great patrons, Marino and Leone. I invoke God's blessing upon your path today and your path tomorrow, and I entrust all of you "to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Corinthians 13:11). Amen!

A thought for the day

When we are set free from all attachment to this world and to the senses, from all attachment to our own self-love and our own free will and even from attachment to our delight in Christ and in his presence, when we have created a complete void within ourselves, the Holy Spirit will come into it and make us live with a divine life.

- Saint Louise de Marrilac

17 June 2011

A feminist atheist and a male priesthood

The National Catholic Register has an intriguing article written by Jennifer Fulwiler, one time a feminist atheist, who explains, perhaps curiously, "Why the Male Priesthood always made sense to me."

Her text follows, with my emphases:

When I got to the part in Catholicism for Dummies about the male priesthood, you’d think I would have recoiled. I had heard something about gender and the Catholic clergy in popular culture, but I didn’t know until I started researching it that the Catholic Church really doesn’t allow women to be priests. As a lifelong atheist and self-proclaimed feminist, it seems like I would have been outraged. Yet when I tried to work up some good righteous indignation, it wouldn’t come. In fact, something about this policy felt really right. Surprised at my own stance, I spent a long time pondering why I felt no urge to denounce this controversial stance as oppressive and unfair. Here’s what I came up with:

Men and women are different

At the time I had recently become a mother, and there’s nothing like pregnancy and childbirth to hit home the fact that men and women are really, really different. Even outside of the Catholic perspective, there’s no denying that whoever created us—whether you call it God or Nature or Allah or whatever—created men and women with complementary yet entirely separate capabilities. Women can carry new human life within their wombs, men can’t. Women can breastfeed, men can’t. Men are generally stronger; the strongest man in the world is always going to be the stronger than the strongest woman in the world. The list of the innate differences between the genders goes on and on. Assuming that the entire human race was not born into an inherently unfair situation, it would seem that our Creator does not believe that you need to be able to do all the same stuff in order to be equal.

What you do isn’t your worth

Along those same lines, I had begun to question this pervasive modern idea that what you do is your value. At social gatherings the first question we ask someone new is, “What do you do?” Schoolchildren are asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” One of the results of this idea is that we, as a society, decided that if women are not invited to do every single thing that men are invited to do, the only possible explanation could be that they are valued less—and being barred from doing certain activities means that their options for reaching complete fulfillment as human beings are limited. The more I considered it, the more this worldview struck me as sadly utilitarian. I started to think that it’s possible to believe that men don’t make good lactation consultants, women don’t make good guerrilla warfare combatants, etc. without it being a commentary about the inherent worth of one gender over another.

God became a man

As an outsider looking in on this religion, I didn’t see how anyone could believe that Christianity is true and simultaneously question the fact that God sees the two genders as having distinctly different roles. When God took on human flesh, he did so as a man. He could have come down as a woman, as a brother and sister team, or as a genderless being. But he didn’t. If you want to reject Christianity as untrue, that’s one thing; but if you accept Jesus Christ as God incarnate, it seems like you must also accept that God sees the male gender as having a special role to play in the world.

Jesus chose men to be his apostles

Peter, Andrew, James, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholomew, Thaddaeus, Simon and Judas: Those are the names of the 12 people whom Jesus personally called to be his apostles. They’re all men. The fact that God not only came down as a man, but then called only men to be his apostles (despite the fact that he was close to plenty of women), was further confirmation of the obvious fact that God has a special plan for the male gender.

God gave us Mary

So where does that leave women? Does God not see us as having a special role too? Did he forget about us? Honestly, I did have those thoughts when I was first researching Christianity, and it was kind of a bummer. The only branches of Christianity with which I had some passing experience were some of the southern Protestant denominations, and it struck me that this was a male-centric spirituality. Jesus was a man, his apostles were men, all the local preachers were men—where did women fit into the big picture of salvation history? It made me question the entire religion: Would a just God really leave an entire gender out in the cold?

Once I discovered Catholicism, one of the many things that rang true about its teachings was the emphasis on Mary. It made perfect sense that God would give a woman a critical role in his plan, someone who could serve as an example of perfect feminine holiness—and it made sense that his true Church would understand and celebrate this fact.

So when I came across the doctrine about the male priesthood, all of these ideas came together to make the Church’s official defense of its stance ring true. In fact, I might have been skeptical of Catholic doctrines if they hadn’t taught that it is a job for men, and only men, to carry on the role that God began when he himself became a man.

16 June 2011

Pope: The primary end of prayer is conversion

During his continuing catecheses on prayer, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI turned his attention yesterday to the figure of the Prophet Elijah to show that the primary end of prayer is conversion.

The text of his address follows, with my emphases:
Dear brothers and sisters,

In the religious history of ancient Israel, great importance was given to the prophets, to their teaching and their preaching. Among them, there emerges the figure of Elijah, who was raised up by God in order to lead the people to conversion. His name means "the Lord is my God," and it is in accord with this name that his life unfolds -- [a life] totally consecrated to bringing about in the people the acknowledgement of the Lord as the one God. Sirach says of Elijah: "Then the prophet Elijah arose like a fire, and his word burned like a torch" (Sirach 48:1). By this flame, Israel rediscovers its way to God.

In his ministry, Elijah prays: He asks the Lord to bring back to life the son of a widow who had given him lodging (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24); he cries out to God in weariness and distress as he flees for his life into the desert, pursued by queen Jezebel (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-4); but it is above all on Mount Carmel that he shows himself in all his power as intercessor when, before all of Israel, he begs the Lord to reveal Himself and to convert the people's hearts. It is this episode, recounted in Chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings, that we pause to consider today.

We are in the Northern Kingdom, in the 9th century B.C., at the time of King Ahab, in a moment when, in Israel, a situation of open syncretism had developed. In addition to the Lord, the people also adored Baal, the reassuring idol from which they believed came the gift of rain, and to whom they therefore attributed the power of giving fruitfulness to the fields and life to men and livestock alike. Although they claimed to follow the Lord, the invisible and mysterious God, the people also sought security in a comprehensible and predictable god, from which they thought they could obtain fecundity and prosperity in exchange for sacrifice. Israel was yielding to the seduction of idolatry -- a continual temptation for the believer -- by fooling itself into thinking it could "serve two masters" (cf. Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13) and ease the impenetrable ways of faith in the Almighty by also placing its trust in a powerless god fashioned by man.

It is precisely in order to unmask the deceptive foolishness of such an attitude that Elijah has the people of Israel gather on Mount Carmel and puts before them the necessity of making a choice: "If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). And the prophet, the bearer of God's love, does not leave his people alone before this choice, but helps them by pointing out [to them] the sign that will reveal the truth: Both he and the prophets of Baal will prepare a sacrifice and will pray, and the true God will reveal himself by responding with the fire that will consume the offering. Thus begins the confrontation between the Prophet Elijah and the followers of Baal, which in reality is between the Lord of Israel, the God of salvation and of life, and a mute and empty idol that can do nothing, neither good nor evil (cf. Jeremiah 10:5). There also begins the confrontation between two completely different ways of turning to God and ways of prayer.

The prophets of Baal in fact cry aloud, stir themselves up, dance limping about, and enter into a state of excitement that culminates in them cutting their own bodies "with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them" (1 Kings 18:28). They turn to themselves in order to approach their god, relying on their own abilities to bring about a response. The idol's deceptive reality is thus revealed: Man thinks of it as something that can be regulated, [something] that can be managed with one's own strength, that can be accessed on the basis of oneself and one's own vital forces. The adoration of an idol, instead of opening the human heart to the Other, and to a freeing relationship that allows one to leave egoism's narrow confines in order to enter the dimensions of love and reciprocal gift, closes the human person up within the exclusive and desperate circle of self seeking. And the deception is such that, in adoring the idol, man finds himself forced to resort to extreme acts in the illusory attempt to subject it to his own will. For this reason, the prophets of Baal reach the point of even doing themselves harm, of inflicting themselves with wounds, in a dramatically ironic gesture: In order to get a response, some sign of life from their god, they cover themselves in blood, thereby symbolically covering themselves in death.

Elijah's attitude to prayer is quite other. He asks the people to come near, thereby involving them in his action and in his petition. The goal of the challenge he posed to the prophets of Baal was to bring back to God the people who had gone astray by following idols; he therefore wants Israel to unite itself to him, and to thereby become a participant and protagonist in his prayer and in all that is happening. Then the prophet erects an altar, making use of -- as the text says -- "twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, 'Israel shall be your name'" (verse 31). These stones represent all Israel and are the tangible memorial of its history of election, of predilection and of salvation of which the people were the object.

Elijah's liturgical action has a decisive impact: The altar is the sacred place that indicates the Lord's presence, but the stones that form it represent the people, who now, through the prophet's mediation, are symbolically placed before God, becoming an "altar," the place of offering and of sacrifice.

But it is necessary that the symbol become a reality, that Israel acknowledge the true God and rediscover its own identity as the Lord's own people. For this reason, Elijah asks the Lord to reveal Himself, and the twelve stones intended to remind Israel of its own truth also serve to remind the Lord of His fidelity, which the prophet appeals to in prayer. The words of his invocation are dense in meaning and in faith: "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back" (verses 36-37; cf. Genesis 32:36-37).

Elijah turns to the Lord, calling Him God of the Fathers; he thus makes implicit reference to the divine promises and to the history of election and covenant that indissolubly united the Lord to His people. God's involvement in mankind's history is such that His Name is now inseparably connected with those of the Patriarchs, and the prophet pronounces that holy Name so that God might remember and reveal His fidelity; but he also does this in order that Israel might hear itself called by name and rediscover its own faithfulness. But Elijah's pronouncement of the divine title appears a bit surprising. Instead of using the usual formula, "God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob," he employs a less common appellative: "God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel." The substitution of the Name "Jacob" with "Israel" evokes Jacob's struggle at the ford of the Jabbok along with the name change to which the narrator makes explicit reference (cf. Genesis 32:21) and which I spoke about in one of the most recent catecheses. This substitution becomes pregnant with meaning within the context of Elijah's invocation. The prophet is praying for the people of the Northern Kingdom, which was called Israel, as distinct from Judah, which indicated the Southern Kingdom. And now, this people, who seem to have forgotten their own origins and their own privileged relationship with the Lord, hear themselves called by name, as the Name of God -- God of the Patriarch and God of the people -- is also pronounced: "Lord, God [ … ] of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel."

The people for whom Elijah prays is placed once again before its own truth, and the prophet asks that the Lord's truth also be revealed, and that He intervene in Israel's conversion by turning it away from the deception of idolatry, thus bringing it to salvation. His request is that the people finally know -- and know in fullness -- who truly is their God, and that they make the decisive choice to follow Him alone, the true God. For only in this way is God acknowledged as He truly is – Absolute and Transcendent -- without the possibility of putting him next to other gods, which would deny Him as the Absolute by relativizing Him. This is the faith that makes Israel God's people; it is the faith proclaimed in the well known text of the Shema'Israel: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). To God's absolute, the believer must respond with an absolute, total love that commits his entire life, his strength, his heart. And by his prayer, the prophet begs conversion precisely for his people's hearts: "that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back!" (1 Kings 18:37). By his intercession, Elijah asks of God what God himself desires to do -- reveal Himself in all His mercy, faithful to His own reality as the Lord of life who forgives, converts and transforms.

And so it happens: "Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God'" (verses 38-39). Fire, this element at the same time so necessary and so terrible, which is tied to the divine manifestations of the burning bush and of Sinai, now serves to signal the love of God that responds to prayer and reveals itself to His people. Baal, the mute and powerless god, failed to respond to his prophets' invocations. It was the Lord who responded, and in an unequivocal way, not only by burning the holocaust, but even by drying up all of the water that had been poured out around the altar. Israel can no longer doubt; divine mercy has come to meet them in their weakness, in their doubt, in their lack of faith. Now, Baal the vain idol is conquered, and the people, who seemed lost, rediscover the path of truth and rediscover themselves.

Dear brothers and sisters, what does this history of the past have to say to us? What is this history's present? What is in question here first and foremost is the priority of the first commandment: to adore God alone. Where God disappears, man falls into the slavery of idolatry, as the totalitarian regimes of our own time have demonstrated, along with the various forms of nihilism that make man dependent upon idols, upon idolatry -- they enslave him. Second: the primary end of prayer is conversion: the fire of God transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God, of living according to God and of living for the other. And the third point: The Fathers tell us that this history of a prophet is also prophetic, if -- they say -- it foreshadows the future, the future Christ, it is a step on the path to Christ. And they tell us that here we see the true fire of God: the love that leads the Lord all the way to the Cross, to the total gift of Himself. True adoration of God, then, is to give oneself to God and to men -- true adoration is love. And true adoration of God does not destroy, but renews. Certainly, the fire of God, the fire of love burns, transforms, purifies, but it is precisely in this way that it does not destroy but rather creates the truth of our being, recreates our hearts. And thus, truly alive by the grace of the fire of the Holy Spirit, of God's love, may we be adorers in spirit and in truth. Thank you.
Translation via Zenit.