Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Last Things and Ascension Thursday
Salvation . . . or Not (CCC 988-1065)

Catechism Class Twelve (last in a series)

In Love and in Truth, God created us. The meaning of life, the purpose for which we were made and the reason we exist, is to live in and for truth and love. In God, who is Love and Truth, all things are possible. Love and Truth can even defeat death and, so, part of our purpose for being is to live with and in God’s love for all time. Thus, we proclaim our faith and hope in “life everlasting.”

Our life on this earth is not the “be all and end all,” but is a preparation for eternal life with God. The eternal life can even begin now if we definitively choose to respond to God and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that many of us do accept God, but not definitively, and we then go on to be unfaithful to Him. But, we must return to Him while there is still time. Indeed, the time for making a definitive choice to accept the grace of salvation is during this life -- it ends upon death, which, as Jesus reminds us, could come at any moment. At the moment of death, each person is subject to a “particular judgment,” whereby if you die in mortal sin and unrepentant, having failed or refused to seek and accept God’s mercy and forgiveness, then you will have necessarily not chosen eternal life, but eternal death instead.

Hell exists as an actual state of being, although precisely what Hell is like is a mystery. Given that we are bodily creatures who experience things by our senses and understand things in a physical manner, scripture describes Hell in various physical terms, such as physical pain from fire or coldness and darkness. Whatever else Hell may be like, the worst aspect of it is eternal separation from God. And it is not God who sends us to Hell, we necessarily send ourselves there.

Why would anyone choose Hell? Well, by rejecting God, by saying “I don't want God, I never want God,” by dying in mortal sin, which separates us from Him, one necessarily chooses to be separate from God. And since true love is never imposed upon someone, God being Love, He does not impose Himself on anyone against their will. He does not save them against their will. He does not force them to spend eternity with Him against their will.

One need not actively hate God or directly reject Him; by choosing to remain in mortal sin, by choosing not to be restored to a state of grace, one necessarily chooses to be apart from God, and that is what Hell really is in its essential aspect, that is what damnation is -- eternal separation from God -- God who is Love and God who is Truth -- eternal separation from love and truth. But God does not cause that separation, God does not cause that damnation out of a petulant fit of pique, He does not use His divine boot to crush, like ants, those that tick Him off. That is not who or what God is.

God is Love, and He remains Love whether you are a saint or a sinner, whether you love Him in return or whether you hate Him. God does not return hate for hate, or anger for rejection. He will always remain faithful to you and offer love in return for your infidelity, but He will not make you take His love. If you are willing to accept His love, including seeking and receiving the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession, such that, upon death you are not in a state of mortal sin, God will always extend to you mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and the joyous gift of eternal life with Him in Heaven.

However, in order to be able to enter the perfection of Heaven, we must ourselves be in perfect grace, or made perfect. If we are not already totally pure, we must be purified. If you die in the grace of the Lord, but with the stain of some “venial” sin, if you sincerely seek to conform yourself to God’s will, yet die without full healing and repentance from sin, then the fire of the Holy Spirit must purge that imperfection from you. However, purgatory is not a “second chance” to choose to be saved after death. The time for choosing is here and now.

Although we must choose God to be saved, we must be clear that our mere choice is not the cause of salvation. We are not our own saviors (that is the error of the fruit of the Tree), we cannot earn salvation, and we cannot justly demand salvation as a right. Nothing we do, think, or believe, merits forgiveness and salvation. Only Christ is our Savior, and redemption is a completely gratuitous gift.

But salvation, like love and forgiveness, is not a unilateral action. It is a transaction. The graces of salvation and forgiveness are something that is offered and given, but to be complete, they must be accepted. We must choose to accept and then actively accept forgiveness and the salvation of being with God eternally. If someone is disposed to reject what is offered, and not make that choice of being with God, then they have necessarily chosen to be apart from God. And He will respect and grant that choice.

Following Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, which we observe this day, we can see where God wants us to be, we can see what He wants us to choose. Christ has pointed the way for us all; we must be crucified with Him, so that we can be resurrected and ascend to heaven with Him. God wants His children to come home. Let us walk with the Lord now, so that we can walk with Him after we too have shuffled off this mortal coil.
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The Light of Christ, Hope for Every Person!

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Address at the Wednesday Audience

April 30, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters,

Although several days have elapsed since my return, I wish to dedicate today's catechesis, as is usual, to the apostolic voyage that I made to the United Nations Organization and the United States of America on April 15-21.

First of all, I renew my most heartfelt acknowledgment to the United States Catholic bishops conference and to President Bush for having invited me and for the warm welcome that I was accorded. My "thank you" extends to all those who, in Washington and New York, came to greet me and to show their love for the Pope, or who accompanied and sustained me with prayer and offering their sacrifices.

As you know, the occasion for the visit was the bicentennnial of the elevation to a metropolitan see of the country's first diocese, Baltimore, and the foundation of the dioceses of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville. On such an ecclesial occasion, I had the joy of coming, for the first time as the Successor of Peter, to visit the beloved people of the United States of America, to confirm Catholics in their faith, to renew and increase fraternity with all Christians, and to announce to all the message of "Christ our Hope," which was the theme of the visit.

In the meeting with the President at his residence, I paid tribute to that great nation which, from its beginnings, was founded on the basis of a happy conjunction between religious, ethical and political principles, and which still constitutes a valid example of healthy secularity, where the religious dimension, in the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but valued as the "spirit" of the nation and the fundamental guarantee of human rights and responsibilities.

In such context, the Church can develop with freedom and commitment its mission of evangelization and human promotion, and even of being a "critical conscience," contributing to the construction of a society worthy of the human being, and at the same time, stimulating a nation like the United States - which everyone looks to as one of the principal actors on the international scene - towards global solidarity, which is ever more necessry and urgent, and towards the patient exercise of dialog in international relations.

Naturally, the mission and the role of the church community were at the center of my encounter with the bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. In the liturgical context of Vespers, we praised the Lord for the path taken by the People of God in the United States, for the zeal of its pastors, and the fervor and generosity of its faithful, manifested in their high and open regard for the faith, and in innumerable charitable and humanitarian initiatives within the country and abroad.

At the same time, I sustained my brother bishops in their not-easy task of sowing the Gospel in a society marked by not a few contradictions which threatens the coherence of Catholics and even the clergy themselves. I encouraged them to make their voices heard on actual moral and social questions and to form faithful lay persons in such a way that they may be good "yeast" for the civilian community, starting with the fundamental cell of society which is the family.

In this sense, I exhorted them to re-propose the sacrmament of Matrimony as a gift and an indissoluble commitment between a man and a woman, the natural environment for nurturing and educating children. The Church and the family, together with schools - especially those of Christian inspiration - should cooperate to offer young people a solid moral education. But in this task, those who work in communications and entertainment also have a great responsibility.

Thinking of the sorrowful events of sexual abuses committes by ordained ministers against minors, I wished to express to the bishops my closeness, encouraging them in the committment to bind up the wounds and to strengthen their relationship with their priests.

Responding to some questions posed by the bishops, I was able to underline some important aspects: the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and "natural law"; a sane concept of freedom with includes love and is realized in love; the ecclesial dimension of the Christian experience; the exigency of announcing in a new way, especially to young people, "salvation" as the fullness of living, and to educate them in prayer, from which generous responses to the call of the Lord may germinate.

In the great festive Eucharistic celebration at the Nationals Park Stadium of Washington, we invoked the Holy Spirit on the entire Church in the United States of America, so that, firmly rooted in the faith transmitted by their fathers, profoundly united and renewed, it may face present and future challenges with courage and hope - that hope which "does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rm 5,5).

One such challenge is certainly that of education, and therefore, at the Catholic University of America, I met the rectors of Catholic universities and colleges, the diocesan officials responsible for teaching, professors and student rerpresenatives. The educational task is an integral part of the mission of the Church, and the ecclesial community in the United States has always been very engaged in it, rendering at the same time a great social and cultural service to the entire nation. It is important that this goes on.

It is equally important to look after the quality of Catholic institutions, so that they may truly be able to form students according to "the full stature" of Christ (cfr Eph 4,13), uniting faith and reason, freedom and truth. It was with joy that I confirmed the educators in this, their precious task of intellectual charity.

In a multicultural country like the United States of America, my meetings with the representatives of other religions were especially important: in Washington at the John Paul II Cultural Center, with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains; in New York, the visit to a synagogue. These were very heartfelt moments, especially the latter, which confirmed a common commitment to dialog and to the promotion of peace and spiritual and moral values.

In that nation which may be called the homeland of religious freedom, I wished to underscore that this must always be defended with united efforts to avoid any form of discrimination or prejudice. And I pointed to the great responsibility of religious leaders, both in teaching respect and non-violence as well as in keeping alive the most profound questions of the human mind.

The ecumenical celebration in the parish church of St. Joseph was likewise characterized by great cordiality. Together we prayed to the Lord so that he may increase in Christians the capacity to give reason - especially with increasing unity - for the great hope that is in us (cfr 1 Pt 3,15) through our common faith in Jesus Christ.

Another principal objective for my trip was the visit to the central headquarters of the Untied Nations Organization - the fourth by a Pope, after that of Paul VI in 1965 and John Paul II's two visits in 1979 and in 1995. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Providence gave me the opportunity to confirm, in the widest and most authoritative [forum for] universal consensus, the value of that declaration, recalling its universal basis, namely, the dignity of the human being, created by God in his image and likeness, in order to cooperate on earth with his great design of life and peace.

Like peace, even respect for human rights is rooted in "justice" - that is to say, an ethical order that is valid for all times and for all peoples, that can be summarized in the famous maxim, "Do not do to others what you do not wish done to you", or expressed positively in the words of Jesus: "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you." (Mt 7,12). On this basis, which constitutes the typical contribution of the Holy See to the United Nations, I renewed - and even today, I renew - the concrete commitment of the Catholic Church to contribute to the strengthening of international relations that are imprinted with the principles of responsibility and solidarity.

Also firmly impressed in my spirit are other moments of my stay in New York.

At St. Patrick's Cathedral, in the heart of Manhattan - truly a "house of prayer for all people" - I celebrated the Holy Mass for priests and consecrated persons who came from every part of the country. I will never forget the warmth with which they wished me well on the third anniversary of my election to Peter's Chair. It was a moving moment, during which I directly experienced - in sensory form - the support of the entire Church for my ministry.

I can say the same for my meeting with the young people and seminarians which took place in the diocesan seminary, preceded by a very significant visit among handicapped children and youths, along with their families. To the young people, by nature thirsting for truth and love, I proposed the example of some men and women who testified in exemplary manner on Amerian soil to the Gospel of truth which gives us freedom to love and to serve in a life spent for others. Facing the shadows which threaten their lives today, the youth may find in the saints the light which disperses these shadows: the light of Christ, hope for every person!

This hope, stronger than sin or death, also inspired the emotion-charged moments which I spent in silence at the vortex of Ground Zero, where I lit a candle and prayed for all the victims of that terrible tragedy.

Finally, my visit culminated in the Eucharistic celebration at New York's Yankee Stadium. I still carry in my heart that feast of faith and fraternity with which we celebrated the bicentennials of North America's oldest dioceses. The small flock from those beginnnings has developed enormously, enriching itself in faith and with the traditions of successive immigrant waves. To that Church, which is facing the challenges of today, I had the joy of announcing once more "Christ our Hope" -yesterday, today and always.

Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to join me in giving thanks for the comforting success of this apostolic voyage and in asking God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that it may produce abundant fruits for the Church in America and in all parts of the world.

In English, he said:

My recent Apostolic Journey to the United Nations and the United States of America was inspired by the theme, "Christ our Hope." I am most grateful to all who helped in any way to make the Journey a success.

My visit was meant to encourage the Catholic community in America, especially our young people, to bear consistent witness to the faith, and to carry on the Church’s mission, especially with regard to education and concern for the poor.

American society traditionally values religious freedom and the need for faith to play its part in building a sound civic life. In my meetings with President Bush, and with Christian leaders and representatives of other religions, I reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to cooperation in the service of understanding, peace and spiritual values.

My address to the United Nations stressed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grounds respect for human dignity in a universally valid ethical order.

In a particular way, my visit to Ground Zero, charged with sober silence and prayer, was a moving testimony to the hope which is stronger than evil and death.

I ask all of you to join me in praying that this Visit will bear abundant spiritual fruit for the growth of the faith in America and for the unity and peace of the whole human family.

I offer a warm welcome to the participants in the third Christian-Buddhist Symposium, meeting in Castel Gandolfo during these days. Upon all of you and upon the English-speaking pilgrims from England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Malta, South Africa, Korea, Thailand, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Christ.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Moral Truth (CCC 1691-2051)

Catechism Class Eleven

Jesus calls us to universal holiness. He calls us all to be perfect, just as His Father in heaven is perfect. Thus, in addition to helping to form our faith, another function of the Magisterium is to teach us and assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. That is, moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil. Whereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case.

In helping us to properly form our moral consciences, the Church does not really teach anything new, anything that was not previously revealed by God or is not already written as the natural law on men’s hearts and therefore discoverable and knowable by reason. Under the natural law, the concepts of truth, justice, good and evil, and values of right and wrong are deemed fundamental, absolute, and transcendent. As a component of transcendent truth, morality is objective, not subjective, relative, or situational.

And what are those teachings? Very simply they are this – (1) Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and (2) Love one another, as Jesus loves us, so too should we love one another. Those are the teachings of the Lord and His Church in a nutshell. This is our general vocation.

So what does that mean in practical terms?

(1) Love God. God is Truth, God is Transcendent, God is Reason, and God is Love, and we ourselves are not gods. So we should be humble; admit and know that there are things greater than ourselves. We should follow Truth; take love into our heart; take Christ and the Holy Spirit into our very being, spiritually and bodily, through the sacraments. We should remain in communication with God, pray to Him in thanks for what we have and ask Him for what we need.

God does not force Himself on us; He does not save us against our will or without our consent. Thus, when we do wrong, we should be contrite and formally ask his forgiveness, generally and in the Sacrament of Confession. The only unforgiveable sin is the refusal to ask for or accept forgiveness, and thereby “blaspheme” the Holy Spirit. God will not force forgiveness on us and, thus, it is not He who sends us to Hell, which is separation from God; rather, we choose it by our own will.

(2) Love one another. We should love – truly love – as God loves, for His is the most perfect and complete kind of love. The Latin word for the kind of love that God is is caritas, from which we get the word “charity.” Such a love is more than an emotional feeling, more than an attraction or desire for personal happiness. Such true and total love is a conscious act of the will to subordinate oneself and unconditionally and selflessly seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of self for the other’s benefit, whether that love is returned or not and whether or not the other “deserves” to be loved.

The command that we should love “one another” means that we should acknowledge that we are not alone in the world -- there are other people, brothers, sisters, neighbors. Instead of being selfishly focused inward, our love must be selflessly turned outward. And because they too are children of God, we are all equal. We should respect the inherent dignity of all human persons, no matter how seemingly insignificant, undesirable, or useless. We should show mercy to others, and forgive them when they injure us.

In all things, we should do good and avoid evil. This is part of the natural law that is written on men’s hearts. We should endeavor to live a life of virtue, rather than vice. Embracing virtues like the theological virtues of faith, hope, charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, while rejecting vices and capital sins like undue pride, covetousness, lust, vengeful anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

In charity, we should give of ourselves to others, not take from them, help others, not hinder them. We should be willing to show compassion toward others, that is, to suffer with them, and not abandon them. We should affirm and respect the dignity of every human person from the very beginning of their creation, from the instant of existence. Love seeks the good of the other, including the good which is truth, namely, the truth of the other as a “person,” and not as a thing to be used for our amusement, a subject and not an object, an end in his or herself, and not merely a means to be exploited by us or used up and then tossed aside or thrown away as if they are trash. We all have intrinsic meaning, every one of us.

These are not harsh prohibitions or restrictions on our freedoms, but instead are truths that lead us to authentic freedom. Freedom necessarily is dependent and contingent upon truth. Thus, it is necessarily limited by truth, including moral truth. That is, authentic freedom is the ability to do what is right, and not the ability to do as one pleases. This is because one ought to do good, and what is good and right is that which is consistent with truth. And to do that which is inconsistent with truth is not freedom, but is instead being confined and controlled by error. Error causes disorder and leads to more error. The consequence of sin is that, by embracing a false and counterfeit “freedom,” we necessarily become a slave to error, even if we erroneously continue to insist that we are still free.

These truths are already written on our hearts, but because our ability to reason and discover these truths ourselves has been corrupted by sin and the temptations of the world, in order to help, the Holy Spirit guides the Church in teaching us and explaining these truths. And to help individuals overcome that temptation to sin, the Holy Spirit provide us grace -- if we seek it and accept it. At times, it may be very difficult to love or forgive, it may seem to be impossible, but whatever may be lacking in our own will or power, God will give by grace to those who ask.

Now, a gift -- any gift -- is not completed and is totally useless unless it is accepted by the recipient. If a gift is returned to sender, or is simply put in a closet, unopened, it is as if it was never received. Thus, it is necessary that you accept the gifts that are the graces of God.

Grace presupposes nature, it does not replace it. In conferring grace, God does not simply wipe out our humanity; He does not impose Himself upon us against our will and treat us as puppets. Rather, grace builds on our nature and works within it to heal, perfect, elevate, and transform that nature. 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. And we must allow the fruits of that grace to grow within us. 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. And if we resist too long, we will find ourselves in the darkness forever.
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Beyond Faith and Revelation
Salvation History Part Three

Catechism Class Ten

Now, faith and the scriptures are not enough for some people today. They say that God does not exist or that Jesus is merely a fictional character. They demand hard proof. They demand “evidence.” Well, in a trial, we generally prove things by witnesses. And in the case of God, we not only have the proof of the world’s existence, we have the hard proof of witnesses from the earliest days of the Church.

These witnesses, at first the original apostles and disciples who knew Jesus personally, went out and preached the Good News and established churches throughout the region. Today, we call such local churches “dioceses.” We have not only written accounts from Christians during that time, but written accounts from non-Christian sources, as well as written Christian graffiti in stone and Christian artworks.

Although Jesus and His first followers were all Jews themselves, and the Church sprung out of Judaism, the Church was first persecuted by Jews, or, more specifically, the Jewish authorities and their supporters, including Saul of Tarsus, who became St. Paul. Then the Romans engaged in periodic persecutions for hundreds of years, resulting in the slaughter of untold numbers.

St. Peter, the first pope, was martyred in Nero's circus on the Vatican hill in Rome, crucified upside down, and buried there. The Greek word “martyr” means witness, and these martyrs are called the “seeds of the Church.” Peter was only the first of many martyred popes. Today, we have the relics of saints and the martyrs; the very bones of Christians who were killed for the Faith, including Peter himself. If they were not certain that Jesus existed, and that He was the Christ, why would they submit to tortures and death?

There were also theological disputes within the Christian world. Various heresies arose, and councils of bishops were held by the Church to definitively resolve these questions, including the the Council of Jerusalem, the Council of Nicea, the Council of Constantinope, and the Council of Ephesus. At these councils, the bishops did not merely impose the opinions of a majority of bishops, but were instead guided by the Holy Spirit to resolve important theological questions, including questions regarding the person and nature of Jesus.

Also around this time, at the Council of Rome in A.D. 382, a few hundred years after the birth of the Church, the canon of the Bible was formalized. Originally, the Gospel -- the Good News of Jesus Christ -- was not reduced to written form. Instead, the Gospel was spread orally for many, many years; a written "New Testament" did not initially exist. The decision on the canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church. For many years, before the canon was fixed, many different documents of varying authenticity were circulated. Some documents were true and divinely inspired, but some spurious “gospels” and claimed "apostolic" writings contained heresies and led many people into error. Thus, the need arose for the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to definitively declare the canon. Known as the Vulgate, this canon was reaffirmed in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) as the sole, authorized Latin text of the Bible.

After Christianity was legalized in Rome under the Edict of Milan by Constantine in A.D. 313, the Church flourished throughout the Mediterranean and much of Europe. However, beginning in the Seventh Century, the Church had to again suffer as it confronted the challenge of militant Islam. Mohammed was a military leader, and after death in A.D. 632, his Muslim followers continued their military conquests, seizing former Christian Middle East lands within a few years and sweeping across Christian North Africa, before crossing over into Europe. The Muslim armies attacked and moved half-way into France before being turned back in A.D. 732.

In the midst of these struggles against the armies of Islam, various disputes caused a split, or schism, between Eastern Christians and the Roman Catholic Church in A.D. 1054. Nevertheless, the Western Church went to the aid of the East in A.D. 1095 when Constantinople and other Christian-Byzantine lands were threatened and attacked by Muslim armies.

Five hundred years later, disputes again resulted in a split in the Church. Some people protested and rejected the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church, as well as many of the sacraments. These people, later called “Protestants,” denied Tradition and the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, even though it is grounded in scriptural authority that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide and protect the Church, so that She, acting through the pope and bishops, would be infallible in matters of faith and morals.
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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Faith and Divine Revelation (CCC 74-184)

Catechism Class Nine

Previously, we highlighted the major events of Salvation History -- how, after the creation and subsequent fall of man, God put into action His plan for reconciling fallen man back to Himself. Starting with a series of revelations and covenants, God progressively prepared mankind for the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the culmination of salvation history. By Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Logos entered into time and human history, consubstantial with the "I am," and the way, the truth, and the life, man is able to obtain salvation and, once again, be fully united to God. It is Jesus, the Christ, who has established the Church -- one, holy, catholic, and apostolic -- as His bride, and it is He who has given us the sacraments.

We know these things by faith, revelation assisted by right reason. Now, some in the world insist that faith and reason are incompatible. But properly understood, faith helps reason to discover itself and its openness to transcendence. As Pope Benedict points out, faith and reason are not contraries; they both belong to the desire for truth, and it is precisely because of this common root that they are compatible and need one another. The search for truth never starts from zero, but always presupposes a trust in knowledge, ideas and data which we cannot always control by ourselves. Faith implies reason and perfects it, and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and of spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing when it is open to the contents of revealed faith.

The existence of God is knowable by reason, but for most of us, our reason is defective and impaired by the influences of the world and by sin. Most cannot hear God because they are too busy listening to the world, and they allow this cacophony of sound to drown out the Lord’s voice. Most cannot see God on their own because they have blinders on and because they try to see God with the eyes of their head, demanding scientific proof before they will believe. (And most of us wouldn't recognize or appreciate scientific evidence of God even if it smacked us right between the eyes, especially since we do not know who it is we are looking for.)

But God is seen with the eyes of the heart, not the head. Usually when you insist upon understanding and agreement before you will consider believing, you will never find it. That is, if put yourself before the truth, then you will never find it -- the truth will always be behind you. But if you are open to truth and to Truth, as with St. Augustine, you will find that belief leads to understanding, which in turn, leads to greater belief.

Since the Fall, it has been harder and harder for mankind to perceive and know God. Thus, to make things easy for us, to help us to come to know Him, God has revealed Himself to us, as well as His will of Love and Truth. He has also revealed to us the truth of who and what we are as human persons.

Of course, the most complete revelation of God is the person of Jesus Christ – God Himself. Other personal revelations include speaking to Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus appearing to Saul on the road to Damascus.

Most times, however, when we refer to “Divine Revelation,” we mean “the word of God.” This includes not only the written Sacred Scriptures that make up the Bible, but the Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium, which are all closely united with each other. Each in its own way contributes to the salvation of souls under the action of the Holy Spirit.

In this usage, Tradition means the living transmission of the word of God with and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, including preaching, witnessing, worship, and institutions. This oral tradition of spreading the Good News existed prior to the New Testament being reduced to writing, and throughout history, the word has been transmitted orally.

Indeed, it was by an act of Tradition that the canon of the Bible was determined. The scriptures themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised to send. During Jesus' ministry, the Apostles often failed to fully grasp or understand what Jesus was teaching them. After Pentecost, however, the action of the Holy Spirit allowed the Apostles to recall with fidelity and understanding the events and teachings of the Gospel. They and the rest of the scriptures therefore teach without error those truths which are necessary for salvation.
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Friday, April 25, 2008

Christ and His Church – Salvation History Part Two
(CCC 85-87; 748-962; 1113-1134; 2030-2051)

Catechism Class Eight

Before our dear Papa came to visit, we were discussing the question of Jesus Christ, whom faith informs us is consubstantial with God the Father, and who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Now, Jesus not only taught, He established the sacraments, assuring that He would be with us to the end of time. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus provides us graces, both sanctifying and actual. It is Christ who acts in the sacraments and communicates the sanctifying grace they signify. The efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness, or lack thereof, of the minister. However, the fruits of the sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one who receives them.

By Baptism, which initiates us into the Church, the Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus, and the stain of original sin is wiped away. In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit descends upon us, completing and bringing an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. Just as when the Spirit descended upon the faithful at Pentecost, we too are given the strength and grace and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. 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. The water and chrism oil of these sacraments are sanctified by Jesus and the Cross. The very being of recipient is radically altered as he or she is anointed and joined with the Christ, which means “anointed one.”

By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, instituted by Jesus calling His apostles, the Church is passed on to the generations throughout time, while, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus is present to unite not only husband and wife, two into one, but to unite that one in marriage with God.

And by the Crucifixion, through the Sacrament of Penance, our sins are forgiven, and grace is given, if we accept it, to avoid further sin. Meanwhile, the Anointing of the Sick prepares us for the final journey in order to join Christ in heaven.

In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is His Real Presence, Body and Blood. Through the one Mass, according to his Word, Jesus is with us, not merely theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily, as well as spiritually. (The word communion means “in union with.”) In a profoundly intimate way, we take His body into our bodies.

Jesus also said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one could come to the Father except through Him. (Jn. 11:25-26; 14:6) Accordingly, He established the Church as His Bride, two become one, and He gave the sacraments to the Church so that we could be with Him. Accordingly, we see that Christ and the Church are absolutely necessary for salvation.

In establishing the Church -- an “ecclesia,” an assembly set apart -- Jesus called certain men as apostles, who later appointed successors, whom we know as bishops, and assistants, such as priests, who have the power of administering the sacraments in persona Christi, as well as religious sisters who dedicate themselves to the Lord, like Mary and Martha. He told his apostles and disciples to spread the Good News and convert all nations, and He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide and protect this apostolic Church always, so that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against Her -- One Holy Church that exists universally, that is, "catholic" -- not only horizontally, throughout time and across nations, but vertically, a communion of the faithful in this world with God and interceding saints in heaven above. The Church is also Mater et Magister (Mother and Teacher), where the successors of Peter (the pope) and the apostles (bishops) are guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Faith is protected from error.

The Church, as Bride of Christ, who abides with us always, is protected by the Holy Spirit and is necessarily perfect, just as Her Spouse, Jesus, is perfect. And like Jesus, the Church does not hate; She has only love for all, including sinners. Members may and do sin, and in doing so, they may cause scandal, leading others to question the Faith or the Church, or to fall away from the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, we must be very careful in our words and actions, so that we do not reflect poorly on the Church and cause scandal.

Because She was founded by Christ, we are not free to change the Church as we wish. Not even the pope is free to change the Church to suit his own tastes. Faith and Truth are not arbitrary, and they are not matters of opinion to be decided by majority vote. She is the One Universal Church of Christ, not the “Church of do your own thing.”

Jesus conveyed authority upon the Apostles and their successors, and He commanded them to go and preach the Good News, while promising that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide and protect His Bride, the Church, from error. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church. The teachings of the Magisterium, be they on matters of faith or morals, are not the personal opinions of the pope, and they are not the “policy positions” of the Church, although they are often erroneously described as such in the media. Because God is Love and Truth, the pope and the Church are bound in their teachings by love and truth. The Magisterium provides the authoritative interpretation of Divine Revelation by use of right reason, i.e. truth, as guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, so as to remain consistent with Love and Truth, on either a point of dogma or as applied to a given moral situation. That is, the Magisterium assures the truth of the faith.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Helping the Coming of the Kingdom of God

Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Celebration of the Holy Mass

New York Yankee Stadium
April 20, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus tells his Apostles to put their faith in him, for he is “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Christ is the way that leads to the Father, the truth which gives meaning to human existence, and the source of that life which is eternal joy with all the saints in his heavenly Kingdom. Let us take the Lord at his word! Let us renew our faith in him and put all our hope in his promises!

With this encouragement to persevere in the faith of Peter (cf. Lk 22:32; Mt 16:17), I greet all of you with great affection. I thank Cardinal Egan for his cordial words of welcome in your name. At this Mass, the Church in the United States celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville from the mother See of Baltimore. The presence around this altar of the Successor of Peter, his brother bishops and priests, and deacons, men and women religious, and lay faithful from throughout the fifty states of the Union, eloquently manifests our communion in the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles.

Our celebration today is also a sign of the impressive growth which God has given to the Church in your country in the past two hundred years. From a small flock like that described in the first reading, the Church in America has been built up in fidelity to the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. In this land of freedom and opportunity, the Church has united a widely diverse flock in the profession of the faith and, through her many educational, charitable and social works, has also contributed significantly to the growth of American society as a whole.

This great accomplishment was not without its challenges. Today’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of linguistic and cultural tensions already present within the earliest Church community. At the same time, it shows the power of the word of God, authoritatively proclaimed by the Apostles and received in faith, to create a unity which transcends the divisions arising from human limitations and weakness. Here we are reminded of a fundamental truth: that the Church’s unity has no other basis than the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. All external signs of identity, all structures, associations and programs, valuable or even essential as they may be, ultimately exist only to support and foster the deeper unity which, in Christ, is God’s indefectible gift to his Church.

The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church’s unity is “apostolic”. It is a visible unity, grounded in the Apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; cf. Acts 6:7).

“Authority” … “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. “In his will is our peace”.

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on “the mind of Christ” (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the “apostolate” of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God’s saving plan.

This magnificent vision of a world being transformed by the liberating truth of the Gospel is reflected in the description of the Church found in today’s second reading. The Apostle tells us that Christ, risen from the dead, is the keystone of a great temple which is even now rising in the Spirit. And we, the members of his body, through Baptism have become “living stones” in that temple, sharing in the life of God by grace, blessed with the freedom of the sons of God, and empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to him (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). And what is this offering which we are called to make, if not to direct our every thought, word and action to the truth of the Gospel and to harness all our energies in the service of God’s Kingdom? Only in this way can we build with God, on the one foundation which is Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:11). Only in this way can we build something that will truly endure. Only in this way can our lives find ultimate meaning and bear lasting fruit.

Today we recall the bicentennial of a watershed in the history of the Church in the United States: its first great chapter of growth. In these two hundred years, the face of the Catholic community in your country has changed greatly. We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the Church in America. We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the Church in this land. We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious, who not only taught generations of children how to read and write, but also inspired in them a lifelong desire to know God, to love him and to serve him. How many “spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God” have been offered up in these two centuries! In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to proclaim his glorious works” (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity which is ours by God’s grace; they also challenge us to an ever greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance which we have received in Christ (cf. Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (cf. Rom 5:5) born of faith in God’s word, and trust in his promises.

Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: “Thy Kingdom come”. This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new “settings of hope” (cf. Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.

Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, “there is no human activity – even in secular affairs – which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion” (Lumen Gentium, 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.

And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”, follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!

Yesterday, not far from here, I was moved by the joy, the hope and the generous love of Christ which I saw on the faces of the many young people assembled in Dunwoodie. They are the Church’s future, and they deserve all the prayer and support that you can give them. And so I wish to close by adding a special word of encouragement to them. My dear young friends, like the seven men, “filled with the Spirit and wisdom” whom the Apostles charged with care for the young Church, may you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, “the same, yesterday, and today and for ever” and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10; Heb 13:8).

These are the truths that set us free! They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world – including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb. In a world where, as Pope John Paul II, speaking in this very place, reminded us, Lazarus continues to stand at our door (Homily at Yankee Stadium, October 2, 1979, No. 7), let your faith and love bear rich fruit in outreach to the poor, the needy and those without a voice. Young men and women of America, I urge you: open your hearts to the Lord’s call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life. Can there be any greater mark of love than this: to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was willing to lay down his life for his friends (cf. Jn 15:13)?

In today’s Gospel, the Lord promises his disciples that they will perform works even greater than his (cf. Jn 14:12). Dear friends, only God in his providence knows what works his grace has yet to bring forth in your lives and in the life of the Church in the United States. Yet Christ’s promise fills us with sure hope. Let us now join our prayers to his, as living stones in that spiritual temple which is his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Let us lift our eyes to him, for even now he is preparing for us a place in his Father’s house. And empowered by his Holy Spirit, let us work with renewed zeal for the spread of his Kingdom.

“Happy are you who believe!” (cf. 1 Pet 2:7). Let us turn to Jesus! He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world. Amen.
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Review of Apostolic Journey to the United States

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Path Which Brings True Fulfillment and Lasting Happiness

Meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with Young People and Seminarians
St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York
April 19, 2008




Your Eminence,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Young Friends,

“Proclaim the Lord Christ … and always have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Pet 3:15). With these words from the First Letter of Peter I greet each of you with heartfelt affection. I thank Cardinal Egan for his kind words of welcome and I also thank the representatives chosen from among you for their gestures of welcome. To Bishop Walsh, Rector of Saint Joseph Seminary, staff and seminarians, I offer my special greetings and gratitude.

Young friends, I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak with you. Please pass on my warm greetings to your family members and relatives, and to the teachers and staff of the various schools, colleges and universities you attend. I know that many people have worked hard to ensure that our gathering could take place. I am most grateful to them all. Also, I wish to acknowledge your singing to me Happy Birthday! Thank you for this moving gesture; I give you all an “A plus” for your German pronunciation! This evening I wish to share with you some thoughts about being disciples of Jesus Christ ─ walking in the Lord’s footsteps, our own lives become a journey of hope.

In front of you are the images of six ordinary men and women who grew up to lead extraordinary lives. The Church honors them as Venerable, Blessed, or Saint: each responded to the Lord’s call to a life of charity and each served him here, in the alleys, streets and suburbs of New York. I am struck by what a remarkably diverse group they are: poor and rich, lay men and women - one a wealthy wife and mother - priests and sisters, immigrants from afar, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior father and Algonquin mother, another a Haitian slave, and a Cuban intellectual.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Saint John Neumann, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, and Padre Felix Varela: any one of us could be among them, for there is no stereotype to this group, no single mold. Yet a closer look reveals that there are common elements. Inflamed with the love of Jesus, their lives became remarkable journeys of hope. For some, that meant leaving home and embarking on a pilgrim journey of thousands of miles. For each there was an act of abandonment to God, in the confidence that he is the final destination of every pilgrim. And all offered an outstretched hand of hope to those they encountered along the way, often awakening in them a life of faith. Through orphanages, schools and hospitals, by befriending the poor, the sick and the marginalized, and through the compelling witness that comes from walking humbly in the footsteps of Jesus, these six people laid open the way of faith, hope and charity to countless individuals, including perhaps your own ancestors.

And what of today? Who bears witness to the Good News of Jesus on the streets of New York, in the troubled neighborhoods of large cities, in the places where the young gather, seeking someone in whom they can trust? God is our origin and our destination, and Jesus the way. The path of that journey twists and turns ─ just as it did for our saints ─ through the joys and the trials of ordinary, everyday life: within your families, at school or college, during your recreation activities, and in your parish communities. All these places are marked by the culture in which you are growing up. As young Americans you are offered many opportunities for personal development, and you are brought up with a sense of generosity, service and fairness. Yet you do not need me to tell you that there are also difficulties: activities and mindsets which stifle hope, pathways which seem to lead to happiness and fulfillment but in fact end only in confusion and fear.

My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers; its influence grew – infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion – before it was fully recognized for the monster it was. It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good. Many of your grandparents and great-grandparents will have recounted the horror of the destruction that ensued. Indeed, some of them came to America precisely to escape such terror.

Let us thank God that today many people of your generation are able to enjoy the liberties which have arisen through the extension of democracy and respect for human rights. Let us thank God for all those who strive to ensure that you can grow up in an environment that nurtures what is beautiful, good, and true: your parents and grandparents, your teachers and priests, those civic leaders who seek what is right and just.

The power to destroy does, however, remain. To pretend otherwise would be to fool ourselves. Yet, it never triumphs; it is defeated. This is the essence of the hope that defines us as Christians; and the Church recalls this most dramatically during the Easter Triduum and celebrates it with great joy in the season of Easter! The One who shows us the way beyond death is the One who shows us how to overcome destruction and fear: thus it is Jesus who is the true teacher of life (cf. Spe Salvi, 6). His death and resurrection mean that we can say to the Father “you have restored us to life!” (Prayer after Communion, Good Friday). And so, just a few weeks ago, during the beautiful Easter Vigil liturgy, it was not from despair or fear that we cried out to God for our world, but with hope-filled confidence: dispel the darkness of our heart! dispel the darkness of our minds! (cf. Prayer at the Lighting of the Easter Candle).

What might that darkness be? What happens when people, especially the most vulnerable, encounter a clenched fist of repression or manipulation rather than a hand of hope? A first group of examples pertains to the heart. Here, the dreams and longings that young people pursue can so easily be shattered or destroyed. I am thinking of those affected by drug and substance abuse, homelessness and poverty, racism, violence, and degradation – especially of girls and women. While the causes of these problems are complex, all have in common a poisoned attitude of mind which results in people being treated as mere objects ─ a callousness of heart takes hold which first ignores, then ridicules, the God-given dignity of every human being. Such tragedies also point to what might have been and what could be, were there other hands – your hands – reaching out. I encourage you to invite others, especially the vulnerable and the innocent, to join you along the way of goodness and hope.

The second area of darkness – that which affects the mind – often goes unnoticed, and for this reason is particularly sinister. The manipulation of truth distorts our perception of reality, and tarnishes our imagination and aspirations. I have already mentioned the many liberties which you are fortunate enough to enjoy. The fundamental importance of freedom must be rigorously safeguarded. It is no surprise then that numerous individuals and groups vociferously claim their freedom in the public forum. Yet freedom is a delicate value. It can be misunderstood or misused so as to lead not to the happiness which we all expect it to yield, but to a dark arena of manipulation in which our understanding of self and the world becomes confused, or even distorted by those who have an ulterior agenda.

Have you noticed how often the call for freedom is made without ever referring to the truth of the human person? Some today argue that respect for freedom of the individual makes it wrong to seek truth, including the truth about what is good. In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth’s place – or better said its absence – an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism. But what purpose has a “freedom” which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong? How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life? Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others (cf. Spe Salvi, 28).

How then can we as believers help others to walk the path of freedom which brings fulfillment and lasting happiness? Let us again turn to the saints. How did their witness truly free others from the darkness of heart and mind? The answer is found in the kernel of their faith; the kernel of our faith. The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, tells us that God does indeed find a place among us. Though the inn is full, he enters through the stable, and there are people who see his light. They recognize Herod’s dark closed world for what it is, and instead follow the bright guiding star of the night sky. And what shines forth? Here you might recall the prayer uttered on the most holy night of Easter: “Father we share in the light of your glory through your Son the light of the world … inflame us with your hope!” (Blessing of the Fire). And so, in solemn procession with our lighted candles we pass the light of Christ among us. It is “the light which dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride” (Exsultet). This is Christ’s light at work. This is the way of the saints. It is a magnificent vision of hope – Christ’s light beckons you to be guiding stars for others, walking Christ’s way of forgiveness, reconciliation, humility, joy and peace.

At times, however, we are tempted to close in on ourselves, to doubt the strength of Christ’s radiance, to limit the horizon of hope. Take courage! Fix your gaze on our saints. The diversity of their experience of God’s presence prompts us to discover anew the breadth and depth of Christianity. Let your imaginations soar freely along the limitless expanse of the horizons of Christian discipleship. Sometimes we are looked upon as people who speak only of prohibitions. Nothing could be further from the truth! Authentic Christian discipleship is marked by a sense of wonder. We stand before the God we know and love as a friend, the vastness of his creation, and the beauty of our Christian faith.

Dear friends, the example of the saints invites us, then, to consider four essential aspects of the treasure of our faith: personal prayer and silence, liturgical prayer, charity in action, and vocations.

What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer. God by his very nature speaks, hears, and replies. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us: we can and should “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). Far from turning in on ourselves or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, by praying we turn towards God and through him to each other, including the marginalized and those following ways other than God’s path (cf. Spe Salvi, 33). As the saints teach us so vividly, prayer becomes hope in action. Christ was their constant companion, with whom they conversed at every step of their journey for others.

There is another aspect of prayer which we need to remember: silent contemplation. Saint John, for example, tells us that to embrace God’s revelation we must first listen, then respond by proclaiming what we have heard and seen (cf. 1 Jn 1:2-3; Dei Verbum, 1). Have we perhaps lost something of the art of listening? Do you leave space to hear God’s whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Friends, do not be afraid of silence or stillness, listen to God, adore him in the Eucharist. Let his word shape your journey as an unfolding of holiness.

In the liturgy we find the whole Church at prayer. The word liturgy means the participation of God’s people in “the work of Christ the Priest and of His Body which is the Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). What is that work? First of all it refers to Christ’s Passion, his Death and Resurrection, and his Ascension – what we call the Paschal Mystery. It also refers to the celebration of the liturgy itself. The two meanings are in fact inseparably linked because this “work of Jesus” is the real content of the liturgy. Through the liturgy, the “work of Jesus” is continually brought into contact with history; with our lives in order to shape them. Here we catch another glimpse of the grandeur of our Christian faith. Whenever you gather for Mass, when you go to Confession, whenever you celebrate any of the sacraments, Jesus is at work. Through the Holy Spirit, he draws you to himself, into his sacrificial love of the Father which becomes love for all. We see then that the Church’s liturgy is a ministry of hope for humanity. Your faithful participation, is an active hope which helps to keep the world – saints and sinners alike – open to God; this is the truly human hope we offer everyone (cf. Spe Salvi, 34).

Your personal prayer, your times of silent contemplation, and your participation in the Church’s liturgy, bring you closer to God and also prepare you to serve others. The saints accompanying us this evening show us that the life of faith and hope is also a life of charity. Contemplating Jesus on the Cross we see love in its most radical form. We can begin to imagine the path of love along which we must move (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 12). The opportunities to make this journey are abundant. Look about you with Christ’s eyes, listen with his ears, feel and think with his heart and mind. Are you ready to give all as he did for truth and justice? Many of the examples of the suffering which our saints responded to with compassion are still found here in this city and beyond. And new injustices have arisen: some are complex and stem from the exploitation of the heart and manipulation of the mind; even our common habitat, the earth itself, groans under the weight of consumerist greed and irresponsible exploitation. We must listen deeply. We must respond with a renewed social action that stems from the universal love that knows no bounds. In this way, we ensure that our works of mercy and justice become hope in action for others.

Dear young people, finally I wish to share a word about vocations. First of all my thoughts go to your parents, grandparents and godparents. They have been your primary educators in the faith. By presenting you for baptism, they made it possible for you to receive the greatest gift of your life. On that day you entered into the holiness of God himself. You became adoptive sons and daughters of the Father. You were incorporated into Christ. You were made a dwelling place of his Spirit. Let us pray for mothers and fathers throughout the world, particularly those who may be struggling in any way – socially, materially, spiritually. Let us honor the vocation of matrimony and the dignity of family life. Let us always appreciate that it is in families that vocations are given life.

Gathered here at Saint Joseph Seminary, I greet the seminarians present and indeed encourage all seminarians throughout America. I am glad to know that your numbers are increasing! The People of God look to you to be holy priests, on a daily journey of conversion, inspiring in others the desire to enter more deeply into the ecclesial life of believers. I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Talk heart to heart with him. Reject any temptation to ostentation, careerism, or conceit. Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility, in imitation of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, of whom you are to become living icons (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 33). Dear seminarians, I pray for you daily. Remember that what counts before the Lord is to dwell in his love and to make his love shine forth for others.

Religious Sisters, Brothers and Priests contribute greatly to the mission of the Church. Their prophetic witness is marked by a profound conviction of the primacy with which the Gospel shapes Christian life and transforms society. Today, I wish to draw your attention to the positive spiritual renewal which Congregations are undertaking in relation to their charism. The word charism means a gift freely and graciously given. Charisms are bestowed by the Holy Spirit, who inspires founders and foundresses, and shapes Congregations with a subsequent spiritual heritage. The wondrous array of charisms proper to each Religious Institute is an extraordinary spiritual treasury. Indeed, the history of the Church is perhaps most beautifully portrayed through the history of her schools of spirituality, most of which stem from the saintly lives of founders and foundresses. Through the discovery of charisms, which yield such a breadth of spiritual wisdom, I am sure that some of you young people will be drawn to a life of apostolic or contemplative service. Do not be shy to speak with Religious Brothers, Sisters or Priests about the charism and spirituality of their Congregation. No perfect community exists, but it is fidelity to a founding charism, not to particular individuals, that the Lord calls you to discern. Have courage! You too can make your life a gift of self for the love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family (cf. Vita Consecrata, 3).

Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free. With these sentiments of great hope in you I bid you farewell, until we meet again in Sydney this July for World Youth Day! And as a pledge of my love for you and your families, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.
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God’s Unconditional Love Points to a Meaning and Purpose for All Human Life

Meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with Young People Having Disabilities
St. Joseph Seminary Yonkers, New York
April 19, 2008

video


I am very happy to have this opportunity to spend a brief moment with you. I thank Cardinal Egan for his welcome and especially thank your representatives for their kind words and for the gift of the drawing. Know that it is a special joy for me to be with you. Please give my greetings to your parents and family members, and your teachers and caregivers.

God has blessed you with life, and with differing talents and gifts. Through these you are able to serve him and society in various ways. While some people’s contributions seem great and others’ more modest, the witness value of our efforts is always a sign of hope for everyone.

Sometimes it is challenging to find a reason for what appears only as a difficulty to be overcome or even pain to be endured. Yet our faith helps us to break open the horizon beyond our own selves in order to see life as God does. God’s unconditional love, which bathes every human individual, points to a meaning and purpose for all human life. Through his Cross, Jesus in fact draws us into his saving love (cf. Jn 12:32) and in so doing shows us the way ahead - the way of hope which transfigures us all, so that we too, become bearers of that hope and charity for others.

Dear friends, I encourage you all to pray every day for our world. There are so many intentions and people you can pray for, including those who have yet to come to know Jesus. And please do continue to pray for me. As you know I have just had another birthday. Time passes!

Thank you all again, including the Cathedral of Saint Patrick Young Singers and the members of the Archdiocesan Deaf Choir. As a sign of strength and peace and with great affection in our Lord, I impart to you and your families, teachers and caregivers my Apostolic Blessing.
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Building up the Church

Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Votive Mass for the Universal Church with Priests, Men and Women Religious

St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York
April 19, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you, who represent the Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women in consecrated life, and the seminarians of the United States. I thank Cardinal Egan for his warm welcome and the good wishes which he has expressed in your name as I begin the fourth year of my papal ministry. I am happy to celebrate this Mass with you, who have been chosen by the Lord, who have answered his call, and who devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness, the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church in faith, hope and love.

Gathered as we are in this historic cathedral, how can we not think of the countless men and women who have gone before us, who labored for the growth of the Church in the United States, and left us a lasting legacy of faith and good works? In today’s first reading we saw how, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth from the Upper Room to proclaim God’s mighty works to people of every nation and tongue. In this country, the Church’s mission has always involved drawing people “from every nation under heaven” (cf. Acts 2:5) into spiritual unity, and enriching the Body of Christ by the variety of their gifts. As we give thanks for these precious past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!

In this morning’s second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that spiritual unity – the unity which reconciles and enriches diversity – has its origin and supreme model in the life of the triune God. As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as “a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit” (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4), is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. Here in this cathedral, our thoughts turn naturally to the heroic witness to the Gospel of life borne by the late Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor. The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life – our salvation – can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift.

This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: “Choose life!” (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and “institutional” to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.

I am particularly happy that we have gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as “a house of prayer for all peoples” (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. Archbishop John Hughes, who – as Cardinal Egan has reminded us – was responsible for building this venerable edifice, wished it to rise in pure Gothic style. He wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building up of Christ’s body in this land. I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.

This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, “from the outside”: a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to “enter into” the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. “O Lord, my God,” the Psalmist sings, “when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: “where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace” (Adv. Haer. III, 24, 1).

This leads me to a further reflection about the architecture of this church. Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God’s creation. Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly “geometer”, compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose. Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God’s eternal plan? This requires, as we know, constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring “a fresh, spiritual way of thinking” (cf. Eph 4:23). It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life. Is not this ongoing “intellectual” conversion as necessary as “moral” conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church’s life and mission?

For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family. We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ! In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear “what the Spirit is saying” to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7). In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.

Was not this unity of vision and purpose – rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice – the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country? We need but think of the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Venerable Michael McGivney, whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus, or of the legacy of the generations of religious and priests who quietly devoted their lives to serving the People of God in countless schools, hospitals and parishes.

Here, within the context of our need for the perspective given by faith, and for unity and cooperation in the work of building up the Church, I would like say a word about the sexual abuse that has caused so much suffering. I have already had occasion to speak of this, and of the resulting damage to the community of the faithful. Here I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents. I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular Church and religious community, and a time for healing. And I also encourage you to cooperate with your Bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant the Church in America a renewed sense of unity and purpose, as all – Bishops, clergy, religious and laity – move forward in hope, in love for the truth and for one another.

Dear friends, these considerations lead me to a final observation about this great cathedral in which we find ourselves. The unity of a Gothic cathedral, we know, is not the static unity of a classical temple, but a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven. Here too, we can see a symbol of the Church’s unity, which is the unity – as Saint Paul has told us – of a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose. Here too we see our need to acknowledge and reverence the gifts of each and every member of the body as “manifestations of the Spirit given for the good of all” (1 Cor 12:7). Certainly within the Church’s divinely-willed structure there is a distinction to be made between hierarchical and charismatic gifts (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). Yet the very variety and richness of the graces bestowed by the Spirit invite us constantly to discern how these gifts are to be rightly ordered in the service of the Church’s mission.

You, dear priests, by sacramental ordination have been configured to Christ, the Head of the Body. You, dear deacons, have been ordained for the service of that Body. You, dear men and women religious, both contemplative and apostolic, have devoted your lives to following the divine Master in generous love and complete devotion to his Gospel. All of you, who fill this cathedral today, as wells as your retired, elderly and infirm brothers and sisters, who unite their prayers and sacrifices to your labors, are called to be forces of unity within Christ’s Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning’s Gospel, into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

So let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world. If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!

Dear brothers and sisters, in the finest traditions of the Church in this country, may you also be the first friend of the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the sick and all who suffer. Act as beacons of hope, casting the light of Christ upon the world, and encouraging young people to discover the beauty of a life given completely to the Lord and his Church. I make this plea in a particular way to the many seminarians and young religious present. All of you have a special place in my heart. Never forget that you are called to carry on, with all the enthusiasm and joy that the Spirit has given you, a work that others have begun, a legacy that one day you too will have to pass on to a new generation. Work generously and joyfully, for he whom you serve is the Lord!

The spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God. As we celebrate this Eucharist, let us thank the Lord for allowing us to know him in the communion of the Church, to cooperate in building up his Mystical Body, and in bringing his saving word as good news to the men and women of our time. And when we leave this great church, let us go forth as heralds of hope in the midst of this city, and all those places where God’s grace has placed us. In this way, the Church in America will know a new springtime in the Spirit, and point the way to that other, greater city, the new Jerusalem, whose light is the Lamb (Rev 21:23). For there God is even now preparing for all people a banquet of unending joy and life. Amen.

Words spoken spontaneously by the Holy Father at the conclusion of the Holy Mass:

At this moment I can only thank you for your love of the Church and Our Lord, and for the love which you show to the poor Successor of Saint Peter. I will try to do all that is possible to be a worthy successor of the great Apostle, who also was a man with faults and sins, but remained in the end the rock for the Church. And so I too, with all my spiritual poverty, can be for this time, in virtue of the Lord’s grace, the Successor of Peter.

It is also your prayers and your love which give me the certainty that the Lord will help me in this my ministry. I am therefore deeply grateful for your love and for your prayers. And my answer in this moment to all what you have given to me in this moment and this visit is my blessing at the end of the Holy Mass.
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