Thursday, October 25, 2007

Let us pray --

Lord Jesus Christ, appearing to your disciples after your resurrection, you said to them: “Go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I have commanded you to do. I will be with you to the end of your days, to the end of the world.” (Mt 29, 19).

Because you want all men to reach salvation, you also want all men to know the truth which alone can lead us to salvation (cfr 1 Tim 2,6). You are the Truth. Through you, the truth has become for us the way to follow and which will lead us to life. Without you, we find ourselves in the dark regarding the essential demands of our life. Without you, we are like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6, 34).

But you, in ascending up to Heaven, have not left us orphans (cfr Jn 14, 18). To your disciples, you did not only give the task of teaching to all men the right way to live. You promised them, for all time, the Holy Spirit who, from generation to generation, will guide them to the truth (cfr Jn, 16, 13).

Sustained by the Holy Spirit, the community of your disciples -– the Church -– will carry your words across time. In the Church, your word lives; in the Church, your word is always present and reveals the future, because truth is always young and never grows old.

Help us so that, through the word announced by the Church, we may learn to follow all that you have commanded.

Help us to take up with joy the “sweet yoke” of truth (Mt 11, 30), which does not oppress, but which makes us become, through you, the children of God, and which therefore makes us free.

Help us to find you in the word of faith, to learn to know you and to love you.

Help us to become friends of the truth, friends of yours, friends of God.

Help your Church to carry out your mission peaceably without being discouraged amid the disturbances of our time.

Help us to announce your message with frankness, without betraying its genuineness.

Guide us through the Holy Spirit and introduce him into the broad spaces of the truth.

Lord, make us grateful for your word, grateful for the message of the Catechism, in which your word comes forth to us, so that we can learn to say with the psalmist: “How I love your law, my Lord!” (Sl 119, 97). Yes, “A lamp unto my steps is your word, a light along my way.” (Sl 119, 105). Amen

-- Pope Benedict XVI (2005)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Persevere in prayer so that together you may face every day the good battle of the Gospel

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, Pastoral Visit to Naples

October 21, 2007

Meditating on the Biblical readings of this Sunday and reflecting on the realities of Naples, I am struck by the fact that the Word of God today has prayer as its principal theme, "the need to pray always without tiring," as the Gospel says (Lk 18,1).

At first glance, this may seem like a message that is not very pertinent, hardly incisive with respect to a social reality with as many problems as yours. But, reflecting on it, we understand that this Word contains a message that is certainly against the current but destined nevertheless to illuminate profoundly the conscience of your Church and your city.

I would summarize it this way: the power, which in silence and without great clamor, changes the world and transforms it to the Kingdom of God, is faith -- and prayer is the expression of faith. When faith is filled with the love of God, whom we recognize as our good and just Father, prayer becomes persevering and insistent, it becomes a plaint of the spirit, a cry from the soul which penetrates the heart of God.

Thus, prayer becomes the greatest force for transforming the world. In the face of difficult and complex social realities, as yours is certainly, we must strengthen hope, which is founded on faith and is expressed in tireless prayer.

It is prayer which keeps the flame of faith alight. Jesus asks: "When the son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18,8). What shall be our reply to this disquieting question?

Today, let us be together in repeating with humble courage: Lord, may your coming to us in this Sunday celebration find us united with the lamp of faith alight. We believe and trust in you! Make our faith grow!

The Biblical readings we heard present us with some models to inspire us in our profession of faith. They are the figures of the widow whom we meet in the Gospel parable, and that of Moses as recounted in Exodus.

The widow of the Gospel (Lk 18,1-8) makes us think of the "little people," the least, but also of so many simple and honest persons who suffer from oppression, who feel helpless in the face of persistent social ills and are prey to discouragement. To them, Jesus says: Look at this poor widow, the tenacity with which she insists and finally gets a hearing from a dishonest judge! How can you think that your heavenly Father, who is good and faithful, who wants only what is good for is children, will not do you justice in his time?

Faith assures us that God hears our prayers and will answer us at the right time, even if our daily experience may seem to belie this certainty. Indeed, before certain facts of daily news, or even all the daily discomforts of life which are not reported in the newspapers, the cry of the ancient prophet comes spontaneously to mind: "How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene" (Hab 1,2).

There is only one answer to this heartfelt cry: God cannot change things without our own conversion, and our conversion begins with the cry of the soul, which asks for forgiveness and salvation.

Christian prayer is not the expression of fatalism and inertia. Rather, it is everything but an escape from reality or a comforting intimacy. It is the force of hope, maximum expression of faith in the power of God who is Love and will not abandon us.

The prayer which Jesus taught us, culminating in Gethsemane, has the character of agony, that is, of struggle, because we align ourselves decisively beside the Lord to combat injustice and conquer evil with good. It is the weapon of the little people and the poor in spirit who repudiate every type of violence. Instead, they answer violence with evangelical non-violence, testifying thereby to the truth that Love is stronger than hate and death.

This also emerges in the first Reading -- the famous story of the battle between the Israelites an the Amalekites (Ex 17,8-13a). Decisive for the outcome of that hard battle was prayer addressed with faith to the true God. While Joshua and his men faced the enemy on the battlefield, Moses was on the mountaintop with his hands raised, in the position of one in prayer. The raised hands of the great leader would guarantee the victory of Israel.

God was with His people, He wanted their victory, but He conditioned His intervention on the fact of Moses raising his hands. It seems incredible, but so it was: God needs the raised hands of his servants.

The raised hands of Moses make us think of Jesus's arms on the Cross -- arms open wide, hands nailed down, with which the Redeemer won the decisive battle against the infernal enemy.

His struggle -- the hands raised to the Father and open wide to the world -- demands other arms, other hearts, who will continue to offer themselves with the same love he had, to the end of the world

I address myself particularly to you, dear pastors of the Church in Naples, taking on the words that St. Paul addressed to Timothy: "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4,2). And like Moses on the mountain, persevere in prayer for and with the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, so that together you may face every day the good battle of the Gospel.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Biomedical Science Must Respect the Dignity of Human Life and Not Treat a Human Being as a Mere Instrument for Experimentation

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
to the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea
October 11, 2007

* * * no cost is too great for persevering in fidelity to the truth. Regrettably, in our contemporary pluralist world some people question or even deny the importance of truth. Yet objective truth remains the only sure basis for social cohesion. Truth is not dependent upon consensus but precedes it and makes it possible, generating authentic human solidarity. The Church—always mindful of the truth’s power to unite people, and ever attentive to mankind’s irrepressible desire for peaceful coexistence—eagerly strives to strengthen concord and social harmony both in ecclesial life and civic life, proclaiming the truth about the human person as known by natural reason and fully manifested through divine revelation. * * *

Discoveries in the field [of biotechnology] invite man to a deeper awareness of the weighty responsibilities involved in their application. The use society hopes to make of biomedical science must constantly be measured against robust and firm ethical standards (cf. Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 6 November 2006). Foremost among these is the dignity of human life, for under no circumstances may a human being be manipulated or treated as a mere instrument for experimentation. The destruction of human embryos, whether to acquire stem cells or for any other purpose, contradicts the purported intent of researchers, legislators and public health officials to promote human welfare. The Church does not hesitate to approve and encourage somatic stem-cell research—not only because of the favourable results obtained through these alternative methods, but more importantly because they harmonize with the aforementioned intent by respecting the life of the human being at every stage of his or her existence (cf. Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life Symposium, 16 September 2006).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Natural Law is the True Guarantee Offered to Every Person so He can Live Free and be Respected in His Dignity

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Address to the International Theological Commission
October 5, 2007

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the central content of the doctrine on natural law, stressing that it "indicates the primary and essential norms which regulate moral life. Its pivot is the aspiration towards God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of every good, as well as our sense of other persons as equal to ourselves." In its principal precepts, natural law is expressed in the Decalogue. This law is called natural not in relation to irrational beings, but because the reason that promulgates it is part of human nature. (n. 1955).

This doctrine allows us to reach two essential objectives. On the one hand, we understand that the ethical content of Christian faith does not constitute an externally dictated imposition on the conscience of man, but it has its basis in human nature itself. On the other hand, starting with natural law which is itself accessible to every rational creature, we have a basis for entering into dialog with all men of good will, and more generally, with civilian and secular society.

But precisely because of the influence of ideological and cultural factors, civilian and secular society today is in a situation of disorientation and confusion -- it has lost the original evidence of the foundations for the human being and his ethical behavior, and the doctrine of natural moral law is opposed by concepts which are a direct negation of it. All this has enormous and serious consequences for the civilian and social order.

Among not a few thinkers today, it is the positivist concept of right which prevails. According to them, humanity, or society, or even, the majority of citizens, is the ultimate source of civil law. Therefore, the problem they pose is not the quest for good, but for power, or rather of a balance of power.

At the root of this tendency is ethical relativism, which some see as one of the principal conditions of democracy, because relativism would guarantee tolerance and reciprocal personal respect. But if that were so, then the majority at any given time would become the ultimate source of right. History shows with great clarity that the majority can be wrong.

True rationality is not guaranteed by the consensus of a great number of persons, but only by the transparency of human reason to Creative Reason, and a common attentiveness to this source of our own rationality. When the fundamental demands of human dignity, of the family as an institution, of equity in the social order, that is, the fundamental rights of man, when these are in play, then no law made by man can subvert the norms inscribed by the Creator himself in the hearts of man. Otherwise, society itself would be struck dramatically in what constitutes its irrenunciable base.

Thus, natural law becomes the true guarantee offered to every person so he can live free and respected in his dignity, protected from every ideological manipulation and from every whim and abuse by stronger persons. No one can exempt himself from this claim. If, through a tragic blackout of collective consciousness, skepticism and relativism should end up nullifying the fundamental principles of natural moral law, then that very democratic order itself would be mortally wounded in its foundations.

Against this blacking out, which is a crisis of human civilization even before it is one of Christianity, it is necessary to mobilize the conscience of all men of good will, laymen and even religious persons belonging to all of mankind's various religions, so that together, and proactively, they may commit themselves to creating -- in our culture, and in political and civilian society -- the conditions necessary for a full awareness of the inalienable value of natural moral law.

Indeed, the advancement of individuals and society along the way of authentic progress in conformity with right reason -- which is participation in God's eternal Reason -- depends on respect for natural moral law.

The Lord is always knocking at the doors of the human heart.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, Feast of the Archangels
September 29, 2007

Gabriel is the messenger of the Incarnation of God. He knocks at Mary's door, and through him, God himself asks Mary for her Yes to the proposal to become the Mother of the Redeemer, to give her human flesh to the eternal Word of God, to the Son of God.

The Lord is always knocking at the doors of the human heart. In the Apocalypse, He tells the "angel" of the Church of Laodicea, and through Him, to men of all time: "Behold, I am knocking at the door. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will come to him, I will sup with him and he with me" (3,20).

The Lord is at the door -- at the door of the world and at the door of every single heart. He knocks to be allowed to enter: the Incarnation of God, His becoming flesh, should continue to the end of time. Everyone should be reunited in Christ in a single body: that is what we are told by the great hymns to Christ in the Letter to the Ephesians and that to the Colossians.

Christ is knocking. Even today, He needs persons who, so to speak, place their own flesh at His disposal, who give Him the substance of the world and of their life, serving this way the unification of God and the world, the reconciliation of the Universe.

Dear friends, it is your task to knock in the name of Christ at the hearts of men. By entering yourself into union with Christ, you too will take on the function of Gabriel: to bring the call of God to man.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Review -- the Birth of the Church and the Sacrament of Confirmation

The Church is considered to have had her “birth” at Pentecost. This was when the Holy Spirit descended on the faithful, just as it descends in the Sacrament of Confirmation. In receiving this “sacrament of Christian initiation,” we complete what began in Baptism. That is, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. The Greek word “Christ” means “anointed one,” and in Confirmation, we too are anointed, so that we are made fully “Christian” ourselves. We receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, including the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we become adults in the Faith. Confirmation does not mark the end of the process of religious education; Confirmation instead radically changes us, such that it is the beginning of a new life in the Faith.

OK, so what does that mean??

The concept of Confirmation might be difficult to grasp at first; we might not understand its importance or how it might change us. Thus, as an example, it might be helpful to consider in context how it changed the faithful at Pentecost. Before then, the Apostles and disciples had abandoned Jesus – they ran away when Jesus was arrested, and they hid in fear when Jesus was tried and crucified. Even after the resurrection, they were afraid to go out in public. But after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, after their “confirmation,” they were given the grace and strength and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. With these graces of the Holy Sprit, especially the gift of fortitude, they were able to do what they otherwise could not do on their own. It is by such graces of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles and others were able to endure sufferings, tortures, and martyrdom (the word “martyr” is Greek, and it means “witness”).

So, too, your Confirmation will strengthen you, and you will be made soldiers of Christ in order to fulfill your duty of witnessing to and defending the Faith. If you accept in your heart and cooperate with the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit that are imparted by the Sacrament, you will also be affected in a particular practical way, that is, by working with the gifts given to you, you will more easily bear certain “fruits” of the Holy Spirit. By embracing the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, we are more able to experience the fruits of love (charity), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. Likewise, these gifts help a person attain sanctification and bring to perfection virtues -- both the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) and the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance).

Now, it may also appear after receiving the Sacrament that nothing has happened, that you are the same as before. If no one breaks out speaking in tongues, you may be tempted to conclude that you have not received any graces. But do not be misled by such superficial appearances. By the Sacrament, your very being is altered in a fundamental way. As with the Eucharist, you may look the same, but you are radically transformed by the fire of the Holy Spirit; an indelible spiritual mark or seal is left. This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ. We may not notice because sin and the contemporary world have so corrupted us that we cannot always immediately recognize God’s presence within us. But He is present nonetheless. If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you, and, like the Apostles, disciples, martyrs, and saints, you will be able to do that which is impossible to do on your own.

But a gift, any gift, is not completed and is completely useless unless it is accepted by the recipient. If a gift is simply put in a closet, unopened, it is as if it was never received. Thus, it is necessary that you accept those graces and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Although Confirmation alters our very nature by leaving an indelible spiritual mark upon us, grace from God presupposes nature, it does not replace it. God does not simply override our will and wipe out our humanity in offering us His grace. He does not impose Himself upon us against our will and treat us as puppets. Rather, grace builds on and works within our nature to heal it, to perfect, elevate, and transform it. We must allow the Holy Spirit and gift of grace to come into our hearts, and not simply set that grace aside and ignore it. If we resist and ignore those graces, if we shut ourselves off from the Truth and Love which are the Holy Spirit, then life becomes much harder and unsatisfactory. If we turn away from the Light, it is much more difficult to find our way through life in the darkness.

As St. Ambrose wrote, “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.”

Meanwhile, St. Thomas Aquinas explained the Sacrament of Confirmation this way --

Summa Theologica III, q. 72
art. 1 * * * Christ instituted this sacrament not by bestowing, but by promising it, according to Jn. 16:7: "If I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you, but if I go, I will send Him to you." And this was because in this sacrament the fullness of the Holy Ghost is bestowed, which was not to be given before Christ's Resurrection and Ascension; according to Jn. 7:39: "As yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." * * *

Those who receive Confirmation, which is the sacrament of the fullness of grace, are conformed to Christ, inasmuch as from the very first instant of His conception He was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). This fullness was made known at His Baptism, when "the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape . . . upon Him" (Luke 3:22).

art. 5 * * * just as Baptism is a spiritual regeneration unto Christian life, so also is Confirmation a certain spiritual growth bringing man to perfect spiritual age. But it is evident, from a comparison with the life of the body, that the action which is proper to man immediately after birth, is different from the action which is proper to him when he has come to perfect age. And therefore, by the sacrament of Confirmation man is given a spiritual power in respect of sacred actions other than those in respect of which he receives power in Baptism. For in Baptism he receives power to do those things which pertain to his own salvation, forasmuch as he lives to himself: whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith. This is evident from the example of the apostles, who, before they received the fullness of the Holy Ghost, were in the "upper room . . . persevering . . . in prayer" (Acts 1:13-14); whereas afterwards they went out and feared not to confess their faith in public, even in the face of the enemies of the Christian Faith. And therefore it is evident that a character is imprinted in the sacrament of Confirmation.

art. 6. The character of Confirmation, of necessity supposes the baptismal character: so that, in effect, if one who is not baptized were to be confirmed, he would receive nothing, but would have to be confirmed again after receiving Baptism. The reason of this is that, Confirmation is to Baptism as growth to birth, as is evident from what has been said above. Now it is clear that no one can be brought to perfect age unless he be first born: and in like manner, unless a man be first baptized, he cannot receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

The Divine power is not confined to the sacraments. Hence man can receive spiritual strength to confess the Faith of Christ publicly, without receiving the sacrament of Confirmation: just as he can also receive remission of sins without Baptism. Yet, just as none receive the effect of Baptism without the desire of Baptism; so none receive the effect of Confirmation, without the desire of Confirmation.

art. 7. In this sacrament, as stated above (1 and 4), the Holy Ghost is given to the baptized for strength: just as He was given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2; and just as He was given to the baptized by the imposition of the apostles' hands, as related in Acts 8:17. * * * the Holy Ghost is not sent or given except with sanctifying grace. Consequently it is evident that sanctifying grace is bestowed in this sacrament.

Sanctifying grace does indeed take away sin; but it has other effects also, because it suffices to carry man through every step as far as eternal life. * * * Therefore sanctifying grace is given not only for the remission of sin, but also for growth and stability in righteousness.

Further, as appears from its very name, this sacrament is given in order "to confirm" what it finds already there. And consequently it should not be given to those who are not in a state of grace. For this reason, just as it is not given to the unbaptized, so neither should it be given to the adult sinners, except they be restored by Penance.