Saturday, August 30, 2008

Confirm Your Brothers

Address of His Holiness Pope John Paul I
to the Sacred College of Cardinals

Wednesday, 30 August 1978

* * * [The] unity [of the Church] transcends space, ignores racial difference and enriches us with the true values present in diverse cultures. Though peoples differ in geographical location, in language and mentality, through this one communion, they become a single great family. How could one but feel a wave of a brightening hope in face of the marvellous spectacle your presence offers to a reflective spirit? It projects one's mind in the direction of the five continents represented in so dramatic and worthy a fashion by you.

Your presence places before us an eloquent image of the Church of Christ. The Catholic unity of this Church so moved the great Augustine and led him to keep in focus the "small branches" of the single particular churches so that they would not detach themselves "from that great tree which is spread throughout the world through the extension of its branches" (Letter 185 to Boniface, n. 8, 32).

It is for this unity that we know we have been established both as a sign and as an instrument (cf. Lumen Gentium, 22:2, 23:1). It is our goal to dedicate our total energy to the defence of this unity and indeed its increase. We are encouraged in this by our awareness that we can trust in the enlightened and generous action of each of you as well. We do not intend to restate the great themes of our programme which are already known to you. We would only wish to reconfirm in this moment together with you all, the commitment of our total availability to the guidance of the Spirit for the good of the Church. It was this that each of you promised on the day of your elevation to the Cardinalate, to serve "even to the shedding of your blood."

Venerable Brothers, last Saturday we found ourselves faced with that momentous decision of saying "yes." We knew that this would place on our shoulders the formidable weight of the Apostolic ministry. One of you whispered in my ear encouraging words of trust and confidence. It is fitting then for us, having now been made the Vicar of the One who commanded Peter to "confirm your brothers" (Lk. 22:32), it is fitting for us to remind you that you are now to take up your respective ecclesiastical responsibilities with courage, with firm trust. Even in the difficulty of the present hour, we have the ever-present assistance of Christ. He repeats again to us today the words spoken when the darkness of the passion gathered over him, words spoken to that first group of believers, "Remember, I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33).

In the name of Christ and with the pledge of our paternal goodwill, we impart to you, to your collaborators, and to all the souls who come under your pastoral care, the first fruits of our propitious Apostolic Blessing.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Recollections of the Papal Conclave of August 1978

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger --
It’s true that some of us German-speaking cardinals sometimes met. . . . It was a small group. We absolutely didn’t want to decide anything, but only talk a little. I let myself be guided by Providence, listening to the names and seeing agreement was finally reached on the Patriarch of Venice.

I knew him personally. During the summer vacation of 1977, in August, I was staying in the diocesan seminary of Bressanone and Albino Luciani came to visit me. The Alto-Adige is a part of the ecclesiastical region of the Triveneto and he, who was a man of a exquisite courtesy, felt as Patriarch of Venice almost an obligation to go and look up his young confrere. I felt unworthy of such a visit. On that occasion I was struck by his great simplicity, and also by his wide culture. He told me he knew the area well, that he’d come there with his mother as a child on pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Pietralba, a monastery of Italian Servites lying at an altitude of a thousand meters, much visited by the faithful of the Veneto. Luciani had many fine memories of those places and not least for that he was pleased to be back in Bressanone. . . .

I was very happy about [his election]. To have as pastor of the universal Church a man of that goodness and with that luminous faith was the guarantee that things were going well. He himself was surprised and felt the weight of the great responsibility. You could see he was suffering the blow a bit. He hadn’t expected to be elected. He wasn’t a man who was after a career but thought of the posts he’s had as a service and also a suffering. . . .

Personally I’m altogether convinced he was a saint. Because of his great goodness, simplicity, humility. And for his great courage. Because he also had the courage to say things with great clarity, even going against current opinions. And also for his great culture of faith. He was not just a simple parish priest who had become patriarch by chance. He was a man of great theological culture and of great pastoral sense and experience. His writings on catechesis are precious. And his book Illustrissimi, which I read immediately after his election, is very fine. Yes, I’m convicted that he is a saint.

Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manilla --
During the conclave following [Pope Paul VI's] death, I was still the youngest among the cardinals and so I was the doorkeeper. I was the one who attended to the needs of some of the elderly and infirm cardinals. I remember helping out Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice one night. He was very simple, humble and meek. I liked his smile a lot. I took the palm of his hand pretending to know what the future holds for him. I joked that he will be the next pope. He was not happy about it and told me to go back to my room. The next day he was elected pope and history knew him as John Paul I, the smiling Pope.

Cardinal Jaime Sin --
I had different opportunities to assist Cardinal Luciani during the conclave that elected him as a Pope. He had a bad cough in the days of the conclave and I remember helping him especially during those nights when he seemed without peace and was unable to sleep. He was imprinted on me as a holy man, a bit delicate but very happy. I liked him because of his simplicity. He was so surprising. He was emerging rightly by virtue of his simplicity.

Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider, Archbishop Emeritus of Aparecida, Brazil --
Paul VI held Albino Luciani in great esteem: he had named him Patriarch of Venice, a most important See, and Luciani wrote pieces for Paul VI on the Concordat and on the right to life. . . . I believe that not only was the Patriarch of Venice the successor Paul VI hoped for but that of all of them he was the one who would have best followed and did follow the basic tendencies of his Magisterium. . . .

The fundamental point was that we wanted a pope who was first of all a good pastor. The idea was for an Italian, not a man of the Curia. The name of Albino Luciani came out during the Conclave.

After the first ballots it didn’t look as if it would be a brief conclave. Then, all of a sudden, agreement regarding the Patriarch of Venice came thick and fast. For me that outcome was the providential work of the Holy Spirit. But it is precisely that unanimity that shows that he was not a Pope meant to head a specific political project. With the election of Luciani the opposition between conservative and progressives broke up, precisely for those qualities mentioned earlier and for the distinctive characteristics of Luciani, who was focused on the essentials. . . .

His humble humanity was not a front. It was the artless humility that comes from the awareness of being poor sinners and from the experience of forgiveness.

Cardinal Silvio Oddi --
After the first votes, the name came out immediately. Luciani, why not?, so many people said. A good, intelligent and pious person. And the consensus was spread rapidly. We think on him as a new Pius X, also he is Patriarch of Venice, a good and holy Pope. And contemporary decided about the defence of the doctrine. That was necessary after the post-Council disorders.

Cardinal Raúl Francisco Primatesta, Archbishop Emeritus of Cordoba, Argentina --
Before the conclave I didn’t take part in informal meetings of cardinals. To tell the truth I don’t even remember whether there were any similar meetings; at any event I wasn’t informed. I was a bishop from far-away America. I just tried to pray a little. Holding in mind the things that could help judgment before God. . . .

It was a rapid conclave. But if you ask me how many times we voted, I don’t remember. However, I believe that the person of Luciani proposed itself. Once one enters the mentality of the conclave, it was immediately clear to many that the papacy should go to him. It was a spontaneous coming together. There was no need of particular assessments or compromises on his name. His recognized value was all in his personality. I think it was really the hand of God that put this person before us for so brief a time. Maybe in that way God wanted to show us the way, [the way] of simplicity and closeness to the people. . . .

The figure of Luciani was that of a saintly bishop, not of a naïve man. A man strong in the faith. Simple, close to simple people, but with confidence in faith and action. . . . Pope Luciani well knew what he had to do. But God only allowed us a glimpse of him, as if to give us a blast of light.

Pope John Paul I (as related by Msgr. John Magee) --
God wanted to give a true Father as the guide of the Church, for a short period of time, which . . . he knew well that his Pontificate would have been short but intense; a Father who has known how to collect around himself the sympathy of all men of good will; a Father who had intentions of taking the names of his immediate predecessors in order to emphasize his fidelity to the instruction of Council Vatican II and to the great traditions of the Church; a Father who wanted to add to the names that he had assumed "the First" adjective, because he said: "I am John Paul the First because the Second comes soon."
In fact, two evenings before his death, during supper, Pope Luciani, speaking about the Conclave that had elected to the Peter’s See, in his humility, said that there were many other Cardinals better than him who could be elected and added: "there was just in front of me who Pope Paul VI had already indicated. But he will come because I am leaving." I tried to change speech and so I did not ask who was who was seated in front of him.

Only four years after, when I have received the nomination as Master of the Papal Ceremonies by Pope Luciani’s sucessor, the current Pope, I was at the first meeting with all the Papal Ceremonial assistants. During the conversation with them I asked, between those who were within the Conclave, who was seated in front of Cardinal Luciani in the first Conclave and they have confirmed me it was Cardinal Wojtyla.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"The Gospel calls all of its children to place their full strength, indeed their life, at the service of mankind in the name of the charity of Christ"

Urbi et Orbi Message of Pope John Paul I
August 27, 1978

Dear Brothers!
My dear sons and daughters throughout the entire Catholic World!

Having been called by the mysterious and paternal goodness of God to this awesome responsibility of the Papacy, we extend to you our greetings. At the same time we greet everyone in the world, all who hear us. Following the teachings of the Gospel, we would wish to think of you as friends, as brothers and sisters. To all of you, we wish good health, peace, mercy and love: "May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."

We are still overwhelmed at the thought of this tremendous ministry for which we have been chosen: as Peter, we seem to have stepped out on treacherous waters. We are battered by a strong wind. So we turn towards Christ saying: "Lord, save me" (Mt 14:30). Again we hear his voice encouraging and at the same time lovingly reminding us: "Why do you doubt, oh you of little faith." If human forces alone cannot be adequate to the task before us, the help of Almighty God who has guided his Church throughout the centuries in the midst of great conflicts and opposition will certainly not desert us, this humble and most recent servant of the servants of God. Placing our hand in that of Christ, leaning on him, we have now been lifted up to steer that ship which is the Church; it is safe and secure, though in the midst of storms, because the comforting, dominant presence of the Son of God is with it. According to the words of St Augustine, an image dear to the ancient Fathers of the Church, the ship of the Church must not fear, because it is guided by Christ and by his Vicar: "Although the ship is tossed about, it is still a ship. It carries the disciples and it receives Christ. Yes, it is tossed on the sea but without it, one would immediately perish" (Sermon 75,3; PL 38, 475). Only in the Church is salvation: without it one perishes!

We proceed then in this faith. God's assistance will not be wanting to us, just as he has promised: "I am with you always even to the end of the world" (Mt 28:20). The common response and willing cooperation of all of you will make the weight of our daily burden lighter. We gird ourself for this awesome task, realizing the uniqueness of the Catholic Church. Its tremendous spiritual power is the guarantee of peace and order; as such it is present in the world; as such it is recognized in the world. The echo of its daily life gives witness that, despite all obstacles, it lives in the heart of men, even those who do not share its truth or accept its message. As the Second Vatican Council (to whose teachings we wish to commit our total ministry, as priest, as teacher, as pastor) has said: "Destined to extend to all regions of the earth, the Church enters into human history, though it transcends at once all time and all racial boundaries. Advancing through trials and tribulations, the Church is strengthened by God's grace, promised to her by the Lord so that she may not waver from perfect fidelity, but remain the worthy bride of the Lord, until, through the cross, she may attain to that light which knows no setting." (Lumen Gentium, 9). According to God's plan: "All those, who in faith look towards Jesus, the author of salvation and the principle of unity and peace, God has gathered together and established as the Church, that it may be for each and everyone the visible sacrament of this saving unity" (Ibid).

In that light, we place ourselves interiorly, putting all of our physical and spiritual strength at the service of the universal mission of the Church, that is to say, at the service of the world. In other words we will be at the service of truth, of justice, of peace, of harmony, of collaboration within nations as well as rapport among peoples. We call especially on the children of the Church to understand better their responsibility: "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world" (Mt 5:13). Overcoming internal tension which can arise here and there, overcoming the temptation of identifying ourselves with the ways of the world or the appeal of easily won applause, we are, rather, united in the unique bond of love which forms the inner life of the Church as also its external order. Thus, the faithful should be ready to give witness of their own faith to the world: "Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pt 3:15).

The Church, in this common effort to be responsible and so respond to the pressing problems of the day, is called to give to the world that "strengthening of the spirit" which is so needed and which alone can assure salvation. The world awaits this today: it knows well that the sublime perfection to which it has attained by research and technology has already reached a peak, beyond which yawns the abyss, blinding the eyes with darkness. It is the temptation of substituting for God one's own decisions, decisions that would prescind from moral laws. The danger for modern man is that he would reduce the earth to a desert, the person to an automaton, brotherly love to planned collectivization, often introducing death where God wishes life.

The Church, admiring yet lovingly protesting against such "achievements", intends, rather, to safeguard the world, which thirsts for a life of love, from dangers that would attack it. The Gospel calls all of its children to place their full strength, indeed their life, at the service of mankind in the name of the charity of Christ: "Greater love than this no man has than that he would lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). In this solemn moment, we intend to consecrate all that we are and all that we can achieve for this supreme goal. We will do so until our last breath, aware of the task insistently entrusted to us by Christ: "Confirm your brothers" (Lk 22:32).

He helps then by strengthening us in our difficult challenge. We remember the example of our Predecessors, whose lovable gentle ways bolstered by a relentless strength, provide both the example and programme for the papacy: we recall in particular the great lessons of pastoral guidance left by the most recent Popes, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII. With wisdom, dedication, goodness and love of the Church and the world, they have left an indelible mark on our time, a time that is both troubled and magnificent. Most of all the pontifical pastoral plan of Paul VI, our immediate Predecessor, has left a strong impression on our heart and in our memory. His sudden death was crushing to the entire world. In the manner of his prophetic style, which marked his unforgettable pontificate, he placed in clear light the extraordinary stature of a great yet humble man. He cast an extraordinary light upon the Church, even in the midst of controversy and hostility these past fifteen years. Undertaking immense labours, he worked indefatigably and without rest. He extended himself to carry into effect the Second Vatican Council and to seek world peace, the tranquility of order. * * *

To all then, our greeting:
— to the Cardinals of the Sacred College, with whom we have shared this decisive hour. We depend upon them now, as we will in the future. We are grateful to them for their wise counsel. We appreciate the strong support that they will continue to offer us, as an extension of their consent which, through God's will has brought us to the summit of the Apostolic Office;

— to all the Bishops of the Church of God, "each of whom represents his own Church, whereas all, together with the Pope, represent the entire Church in a bond of peace, love and unity" (Lumen Gentium, 23), and whose collegiality we strongly value. We value their efforts in the guidance of the universal Church both through the synodal structure and through the curial structure in which they share by right according to the norms established;

— to all of our co-workers called to a strict response to our will and thus to an honoured activity which brings holiness of life, called to a spirit of obedience, to the works of the apostolate and to a most exemplary love of the Church. We love each of them and we encourage them to stay close to us as they were to our Predecessors in proven faithfulness. We are certain to be able to rely on their highly esteemed labours, which will be for us a great joy; * * *

— We salute young people, the hope of tomorrow—a better, a healthier, a more constructive tomorrow—that they may know how to distinguish good from bad and, with the fresh energy that they possess, bring about the vitality of the Church and the development of the world.

We greet the families who are the "domestic sanctuary of the Church" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11), and indeed a true, actual "domestic Church" (Lumen Gentium, 11) in which religious vocations can flourish and holy decisions be made. It is there that one is prepared for the world of tomorrow. We exhort them to oppose pernicious ideologies of hedonism which undermine life, and instead to form strong souls endowed with generosity, balance, dedication to the common good.

— We extend a particular greeting to all who are now suffering, to the sick, to prisoners, to exiles, unemployed, or who have bad fortune in life; to all upon whom restraints are placed in their practice of the Catholic faith, which they cannot freely profess except at the cost of the basic human rights of freemen and of willing, loyal citizens. In a special way our thoughts turn to the tortured land of Lebanon, to the situation in the homeland of Jesus, to the area of Sahel, to India, a land that is so tried, indeed, to all those sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who undergo privations in their social and political life or as a result of natural disasters.

My brothers and sisters—all people of the world! We are all obliged to work to raise the world to a condition of greater justice, more stable peace, more sincere cooperation. Therefore we ask and beg all—from the humblest who are the connective fibres of nations to heads of state responsible for each nation—to work for a new order, one more just and honest.

A dawn of hope spreads over the earth, although it is sometimes touched by sinister merchants of hatred, bloodshed, and war with a darkness which sometimes threatens to obscure the dawn. This humble Vicar of Christ, who begins his mission in fear yet in complete trust, places himself at the disposal of the entire Church and all civil society. We make no distinction as to race or ideology but seek to secure for the world the dawn of a more serene and joyful day. Only Christ could cause this dawn of a light which will never set, because he is the "sun of justice" (cf. Mal 4:2). He will indeed oversee the work of all. He will not fail us

We ask all our sons and daughters for the help of their prayers, for we are counting on them; and we open ourselves with great trust to the assistance of the Lord, who, having called us to be his representative on earth, will not leave us without his all-powerful grace. Mary Most Holy, Queen of the Apostles, will be the shining star of our pontificate. St Peter, the foundation of the Church (St. Ambrose, Exp. Ev. sec. Lucam, IV, 70: CSEL 32,4, p. 175), will support us through his intercession and with his example of unconquerable faith and human generosity. St Paul will guide us in our apostolic efforts directed to all the people of the earth. Our holy patrons will assist us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we impart to the world our first, most loving Apostolic Benediction.

The Election of Albino Luciani as Pope John Paul the First

"I hope that you will help me with your prayers."

In his remarks prior to praying the Angelus for the first time as pope, John Paul the First gives us a little glimpse into the proceedings in the conclave, as well as the reasons for taking a double name (the first pope in history to do so). He also references an incident with Pope Paul VI, which some have suggested was a prophecy or otherwise an indication of Paul's preference for a successor.

Angelus Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul I
Sunday, August 27, 1978

Yesterday morning I went to the Sistine Chapel to vote tranquilly. Never could I have imagined what was about to happen. As soon as the danger for me had begun, the two colleagues who were beside me whispered words of encouragement. One said: "Courage! If the Lord gives a burden, he also gives the strength to carry it." The other colleague said: "Don't be afraid; there are so many people in the whole world who are praying for the new Pope." When the moment of decision came, I accepted.

Then there was the question of the name, for they also ask what name you wish to take, and I had thought little about it. My thoughts ran along these lines: Pope John had decided to consecrate me himself in St Peter's Basilica, then, however unworthy, I succeeded him in Venice on the Chair of St Mark, in that Venice which is still full of Pope John. He is remembered by the gondoliers, the Sisters, everyone.

Then Pope Paul not only made me a Cardinal, but some months earlier, on the wide footbridge in St Mark's Square, he made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!

Furthermore, during his fifteen years of pontificate this Pope has shown, not only to me but to the whole world, how to love, how to serve, how to labour and to suffer for the Church of Christ.

For that reason I said: "I shall be called John Paul." I have neither the "wisdom of the heart" of Pope John, nor the preparation and culture of Pope Paul, but I am in their place. I must seek to serve the Church. I hope that you will help me with your prayers.

Albino Cardinal Luciani and the August 1978 Conclave

(note - according to those closest to Pope John Paul I, although the incident involving Pope Paul placing the papal stole on Cardinal Luciani did occur, the incident involving Sister Lucia did not happen, but is merely some legend that began after his election.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Habemus Papam!
His Holiness Pope John Paul I

Thirty years ago, at 6:24 p.m. (Rome time) on Saturday, August 26, 1978, smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel appeared, following the fourth ballot in the Papal Conclave of August 1978.

Soon thereafter, Pericle Cardinal Felici, as the ranking Cardinal Deacon, stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and announced to the world, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam!" I announce to you a great joy. We have a Pope! He then announced that the Patriarch of Venice, Albino Cardinal Luciani had been selected as the Successor of Peter and that he was taking the name "John Paul the First" in honor of his immediate predecessors Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. The papacy was not an office that Cardinal Luciani had sought or wanted, but when asked immediately after his election, he humbly stated, "I accept."

Pope John Paul I was soon to be known as "Il Papa del Sorriso" (The Smiling Pope) and "Il Sorriso di Dio" (God's Smile). Not only was he the first pope to take two names, but he was to have an immediate impact in other respects as well. Consistent with his motto, "Humilitas," the new pope declined the use of the royal "we" in his speeches and writings, and he resisted the use of the sedia gestatoria, the portable chair or throne on which the pope was traditionally carried, as well as the papal tiara. Although Pope John Paul I eventually consented to use of the sedia gestatoria on occasion in order that the people might more easily see him, he declined to have a solemn coronation ceremony, preferring instead to have a Mass of Inauguration, as was used by his successors John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Remembering the Smiling Pope

Monday, August 25, 2008

Extra omnes!

Thirty years ago, on August 25, 1978, the Conclave of August 1978 was commenced to select a new Successor of Peter, following the death of Pope Paul VI.

Among the papabili (likely candidates to be pope), were Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa, Corrado Cardinal Ursi of Naples, Giovanni Cardinal Benelli of Florence, and Albino Cardinal Luciani of Venice. Going into the conclave, no one knew who would emerge as pope, but it was a near certainty that he would be an Italian -- no non-Italian had become pope since 1523.

There were 111 voting-eligible cardinals from five continents. Among the elector-cardinals were and Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków, and the newly-elevated Joseph Ratzinger, Archbishop of Munich and Freising. It was summertime, and the conditions in the locked Sistine Chapel and the cells of the cardinals has been reported to be stifling hot.

Cardinal Leon J. Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, reported, "My cell was a kind of sauna. It is difficult to describe what is to sleep within a oven; it is enough to make somebody very ill. The only window was sealed hermetically. The second day, using all my strength, I broke the seals. Finally oxygen! Soon, the great day arrived. The first ballot had provided an ample rank of names. In the second one, it had been reduced a little. In the third one, we began to see the light of the dawn."

No votes were held that first day because the cardinals had filed into the Sistine Chapel late in the afternoon, and it was near evening before everyone else was ordered out and the electors were actually placed under lock and key. Before each round of voting the following morning, the cardinals reflected and prayed that the Holy Spirit guide them in the right direction. After each vote, one name began to stand out more and more -- Albino Luciani. However, the morning ended without a pope being selected. The white smoke would have to wait.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

-- Coming Attractions --

Following our recent discussion of Humanae Vitae, and following the 30th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Pope Paul VI, in the coming weeks we will be noting the 30th anniversary of the election of Albino Cardinal Luciani as Pope John Paul the First (August 26), exploring the thought and teachings of the Holy Father known as "the Smiling Pope." Of course, his papacy was all too brief, lasting only 33 days before he died of a heart attack on September 28, 1978.

But as sad as his premature death was, it nevertheless opened the door to the election of one of the "great" popes, a man who was a steadfast rock in stormy times, Karol Józef Wojtyla, who took the name Pope John Paul the Second in honor of his beloved predecessor. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of his election on October 16, we will begin a discussion of his thought and writings, including his "Theology of the Body," which, among other things, expanded upon the work of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae.

The observant reader will have noticed that various elements of the Theology of the Body have already been discussed in these pages in the past in various contexts, albeit implicitly. In the coming months, we will engage in a more explict exploration of the Theology of the Body (although it is perhaps best considered not as being an isolated stand-alone teaching, much less a stand-alone teaching on human sexuality, but is best understood as being in the context of the greater questions regarding man and God, as well as the greater context of the Church's teachings as a whole, and thus, that is how it has heretofore been presented). The ideas and concepts of the Theology of the Body permeate much of John Paul II's teachings and, thus, if one has read his writings, he or she may already be familiar with his Theology of the Body without even realizing it. In addition to this magnum opus of John Paul the Great (santo subito), we will be reviewing some of his other monumental teachings.

On a historical note, it is of interest to learn that, although Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger both attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, they did not meet then, but actually met for the first time only much later, during the pre-conclave period in the vacancy of the Apostolic See, following the death of Pope Paul VI, 30 years ago.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Theology of the Body in the Assumption of Mary

His Holiness Pope John Paul II
General Audience of Wednesday, 9 July 1997

1. The Church’s constant and unanimous Tradition shows how Mary’s Assumption is part of the divine plan and is rooted in her unique sharing in the mission of her Son. In the first millennium sacred authors had already spoken in this way.

Testimonies, not yet fully developed, can be found in St Ambrose, St Epiphanius and Timothy of Jerusalem. St Germanus I of Constantinople (†730) puts these words on Jesus’ lips as he prepares to take his Mother to heaven: “You must be where I am, Mother inseparable from your Son...” (Hom. 3 in Dormitionem, PG 98, 360).

In addition, the same ecclesial Tradition sees the fundamental reason for the Assumption in the divine motherhood.

We find an interesting trace of this conviction in a fifth-century apocryphal account attributed to Pseudo-Melito. The author imagines Christ questioning Peter and the Apostles on the destiny Mary deserved, and this is the reply he received: “Lord, you chose this handmaid of yours to become an immaculate dwelling place for you.... Thus it seemed right to us, your servants, that just as you reign in glory after conquering death, so you should raise your Mother’s body and take her rejoicing with you to heaven” (Transitus Mariae, 16, PG 5, 1238). It can therefore be said that the divine motherhood, which made Mary’s body the immaculate dwelling place of the Lord, was the basis of her glorious destiny.

2. St Germanus maintains in a richly poetic text that it is Jesus’ affection for his Mother which requires Mary to be united with her divine Son in heaven: “Just as a child seeks and desires its mother’s presence and a mother delights in her child’s company, it was fitting that you, whose motherly love for your Son and God leaves no room for doubt, should return to him. And was it not right, in any case, that this God who had a truly filial love for you, should take you into his company?” (Hom. 1 in Dormitionem, PG 98, 347). In another text, the venerable author combines the private aspect of the relationship between Christ and Mary with the saving dimension of her motherhood, maintaining that “the mother of Life should share the dwelling place of Life” (ibid., PG 98, 348).

3. According to some of the Church Fathers, another argument for the privilege of the Assumption is taken from Mary’s sharing in the work of Redemption. St John Damascene underscores the relationship between her participation in the Passion and her glorious destiny: “It was right that she who had seen her Son on the Cross and received the sword of sorrow in the depths of her heart ... should behold this Son seated at the right hand of the Father” (Hom. 2, PG 96, 741). In the light of the paschal mystery, it appears particularly clear that the Mother should also be glorified with her Son after death.

The Second Vatican Council, recalling the mystery of the Assumption in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, draws attention to the privilege of the Immaculate Conception: precisely because she was “preserved free from all stain of original sin” (Lumen gentium, n. 59), Mary could not remain like other human beings in the state of death until the end of the world. The absence of original sin and her perfect holiness from the very first moment of her existence required the full glorification of the body and soul of the Mother of God. 

4. Looking at the mystery of the Blessed Virgin’s Assumption, we can understand the plan of divine Providence plan for humanity: after Christ, the Incarnate Word, Mary is the first human being to achieve the eschatological ideal, anticipating the fullness of happiness promised to the elect through the resurrection of the body.

In the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin we can also see the divine will to advance woman.

In a way analogous to what happened at the beginning of the human race and of salvation history, in God’s plan the eschatological ideal was not to be revealed in an individual, but in a couple. Thus in heavenly glory, beside the risen Christ there is a woman who has been raised up, Mary: the new Adam and the new Eve, the first-fruits of the general resurrection of the bodies of all humanity.

The eschatological conditions of Christ and Mary should not, of course, be put on the same level. Mary, the new Eve, received from Christ, the new Adam, the fullness of grace and heavenly glory, having been raised through the Holy Spirit by the sovereign power of the Son.

Despite their brevity, these notes enable us to show clearly that Mary’s Assumption reveals the nobility and dignity of the human body.

In the face of the profanation and debasement to which modern society frequently subjects the female body, the mystery of the Assumption proclaims the supernatural destiny and dignity of every human body, called by the Lord to become an instrument of holiness and to share in his glory.

Mary entered into glory because she welcomed the Son of God in her virginal womb and in her heart. By looking at her, the Christian learns to discover the value of his own body and to guard it as a temple of God, in expectation of the resurrection

The Assumption, a privilege granted to the Mother of God, thus has immense value for the life and destiny of humanity.

The Assumption -- Mary's Perfect Union with Jesus, Body as well as Soul

His Holiness Pope John Paul II
General Audience of Wednesday, 2 July 1997

* * * The dogma of the Assumption affirms that Mary's body was glorified after her death. In fact, while for other human beings the resurrection of the body will take place at the end of the world, for Mary the glorification of her body was anticipated by a special privilege. * * *

How can we not see that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin has always been part of the faith of the Christian people who, by affirming Mary’s entrance into heavenly glory, have meant to proclaim the glorification of her body? * * *

Although the New Testament does not explictly affirm Mary’s Assumption, it offers a basis for it because it strongly emphasized the Blessed Virgin's perfect union with Jesus’ destiny. This union, which is manifested, from the time of the Saviour's miraculous conception, in the Mother’s participation in her Son’s mission and especially in her association with his redemptive sacrifice, cannot fail to require a continuation after death. Perfectly united with the life and savingwork of Jesus, Mary shares his heavenly destiny in body and soul. * * *

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mary's Assumption Points the Way for All of Us

Angelus Message of Pope Benedict XVI
Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 2008

* * * From Paradise, our Lady continues to watch over her children - especially in difficult times of trial - as Jesus himself had entrusted to her before dying on the Cross.

How many testimonies of her maternal solicitude one sees visiting the shrines dedicated to her! I think at this moment specially of that singular world citadel of life and hope that Lourdes is, where, God willing, I will visit in a month to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions that happened there.

Mary assumed into heaven indicates to us the ultimate aim of our earthly pilgrimage. She reminds us that our entire being - spirit, soul and body - is destined for the fullness of life; that whoever lives and dies in the love of God and his neighbor will be transfigured to the image of the glorious body of the risen Christ; that the Lord humbles the proud and exalts the humble (cfr Lk 1,51-52).

This is what Our Lady proclaims eternally in the mystery of her Assumption. Praise be to you always, O Virgin Mary! Pray to the Lord for us. * * *

May Mary’s prayers and example guide you always and renew your hearts in faith and hope. May God grant you and your families abundant blessings of peace and joy!

Mary's Assumption is a Sign of Sure Hope and Comfort

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Parrocchia di San Tommaso da Villanova, Castel Gandolfo
August 15, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters,

Every year, in the heart of summer, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the oldest Marian feast, recurs. It is an occasion to rise with Mary to the heights of the spirit, where one breathes the pure air of supernatural life and contemplates the most authentic beauty, that of sanctity.

The climate of today's celebration is completely pervaded with Paschal joy. "Today," chants the antiphon of the Magnificat, "Mary has gone up to heaven: Rejoice! with Christ, she reigns for always. Alleluia." This announcement tells us of an event that was totally unique and extraordinary and destined to fill with hope and happiness the heart of every human being.

Mary is in fact the "first fruit" of new humanity, the creature in whom the mystery of Christ - incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven - has had its full effect, rescuing her from death and transferring her, body and soul, to the kingdom of immortal life. That is why Mary, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, constitutes a sign of sure hope and comfort (cfr Lumen gentium, 68).

Today's feast impels us to raise our eyes to heaven. Not a heaven made up of abstract ideas, nor an imaginary one created by art, but the heaven of true reality, God himself. God is heaven. He is our goal, the goal and eternal dwelling from which we came and to which we return.

St. German, Bishop of Constantinople in the eighth century, in a discourse given on the feast of the Assumption, expressed himself this way in addressing himself to the celestial Mother of God: "You are she who, through your immaculate flesh, rejoined the Christian people to Christ... Just as everyone who thirsts runs to the spring, so does every man aspire to live, to see the light which never sets, and so does every Christian aspire to enter into the light of the Most Holy Trinity, where you have already entered."

These are the same sentiments which animate us today as we contemplate Mary in the glory of God. When she went to sleep in this world to reawaken in heaven, in effect she simply followed her Son Jesus for the last time in his longest and most decisive journey, in his passage "from this world to the Father" (cfr Jn 13,1). Like him, together with him, she left this world to return "to the house of the Father" (cfr Jn 14,2). And all this is not remote from us, as it might seem at first glance, because we are all children of the Father, God. We are all brothers of Jesus, and so we too are all children of Mary, our Mother.

And we are all reaching out towards happiness. The happiness we are all reaching to is God. We are all on a journey towards this happiness which we call heaven, which is really God. Mary helps us, encourages us, so that every moment of our existence becomes a step in this exodus, in our journey toward God. And so she helps us to render present even the reality of heaven, the greatness of God, in the life of our world.

Is this not basically the Paschal dynamism of man, of every man, who wants to become heavenly, totally happy, in the power of Christ's Resurrection? And is this not, perhaps, the start and anticipation of the movement which concerns every human being and the entire cosmos?

She whose flesh God took on and whose soul was pierced by a sword on Calvary became associated first and foremost, and in singular manner - to the mystery of this transformation which we are all reaching for, often pierced as we are ourselves by the sword of suffering in this world. The new Eve followed the new Adam in suffering, in the Passion, and thus, too, towards definitive joy.

Christ is the "first fruit," but his resurrected flesh is inseparable from that of his earthly Mother, and in her, all mankind is involved in the Assumption to God; and with her, all creation, whose groans of suffering are, as St. Paul tells us, the labor pains of the new humanity. Thus are born the new heavens and the new earth, in which there will no longer be tears nor lamentations, because there will no longer be death (cfr Ap 21,1-4).

What a great mystery of love is presented to us again today for our contemplation! Christ conquered death with the omnipotence of his love. Only love is omnipotent. This love impelled Christ to die for us and thus to conquer death. Yes, only love can make us enter the kingdom of life. Mary entered it behind her Son, associated in his glory, after having been associated in his Passion. She entered with an uncontainable impetus, keeping open after her the way for all of us. Because of that, we invoke her today as "Gate of Heaven," "Queen of the Angels," and "Refuge of Sinners."

Certainly no reasoning will make us understand these most sublime facts - only simple, direct faith, and the silence of prayer which puts us into contact with the Mystery which will always surpass us infinitely. Prayer helps us to speak to God and to listen to how the Lord speaks to our heart.

Let us ask Mary to give us today this gift of his faith, the faith which enables us to live already in this dimension between the finite and the infinite, the faith that transforms even our sense of time and the course of our existence, that faith in which we feel intimately that our life is not sucked back by the past but drawn towards the future, towards God, where Christ has preceded us, and after him, Mary.

Contemplating Our Lady assumed into heaven, we can better understand that our life of every day, although it may be marked by trials and difficulties, runs like a river towards the divine ocean, towards the fullness of joy and peace. We can better understand that our dying is not the end, but entry into a life that does not know death. Our setting into the horizon of this world is a re-emergence into the dawn of a new world and of the eternal day

"Mary, as you accompany us in the effort our daily living and dying, keep us constantly oriented towards the true homeland of the Beatitudes. Help us to do as you did."

Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends who are taking part today in our festivities, let us make this prayer to Mary together. Before the sad spectacle of so much false joy and contemporaneously of so much anguished pain which is widespread in the world, we should learn from her to become signs of hope and comfort ourselves - we must announce with our lives the Resurrection of Christ.

"Help us, Mother, radiant Gate of Heaven, Mother of Mercy, the spring from which comes forth our new life and our joy, Jesus Christ." Amen.


Defining the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary

Munificentissimus Deus
Apostolic Consitution of His Holiness Pope Pius XII
November 1, 1950

* * * 3. God, who from all eternity regards Mary with a most favorable and unique affection, has "when the fullness of time came"(2) put the plan of his providence into effect in such a way that all the privileges and prerogatives he had granted to her in his sovereign generosity were to shine forth in her in a kind of perfect harmony. And, although the Church has always recognized this supreme generosity and the perfect harmony of graces and has daily studied them more and more throughout the course of the centuries, still it is in our own age that the privilege of the bodily Assumption into heaven of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, has certainly shone forth more clearly.

4. That privilege has shone forth in new radiance since our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the loving Mother of God's Immaculate Conception. These two privileges are most closely bound to one another. Christ overcame sin and death by his own death, and one who through Baptism has been born again in a supernatural way has conquered sin and death through the same Christ. Yet, according to the general rule, God does not will to grant to the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come. And so it is that the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death, and only on the last day will they be joined, each to its own glorious soul.

5. Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body. * * *

13. Various testimonies, indications and signs of this common belief of the Church are evident from remote times down through the course of the centuries; and this same belief becomes more clearly manifest from day to day.

14. * * * It was not difficult for [Christ's faithful] to admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life. But this in no way prevented them from believing and from professing openly that her sacred body had never been subject to the corruption of the tomb, and that the august tabernacle of the Divine Word had never been reduced to dust and ashes. Actually, enlightened by divine grace and moved by affection for her, God's Mother and our own dearest Mother, they have contemplated in an ever clearer light the wonderful harmony and order of those privileges which the most provident God has lavished upon this loving associate of our Redeemer, privileges which reach such an exalted plane that, except for her, nothing created by God other than the human nature of Jesus Christ has ever reached this level.

15. The innumerable temples which have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary assumed into heaven clearly attest this faith. So do those sacred images, exposed therein for the veneration of the faithful, which bring this unique triumph of the Blessed Virgin before the eyes of all men. Moreover, cities, dioceses, and individual regions have been placed under the special patronage and guardianship of the Virgin Mother of God assumed into heaven. In the same way, religious institutes, with the approval of the Church, have been founded and have taken their name from this privilege. Nor can we pass over in silence the fact that in the Rosary of Mary, the recitation of which this Apostolic See so urgently recommends, there is one mystery proposed for pious meditation which, as all know, deals with the Blessed Virgin's Assumption into heaven.

16. This belief of the sacred pastors and of Christ's faithful is universally manifested still more splendidly by the fact that, since ancient times, there have been both in the East and in the West solemn liturgical offices commemorating this privilege. * * *

39. We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been designated by the holy Fathers as the new Eve, who, although subject to the new Adam, is most intimately associated with him in that struggle against the infernal foe which, as foretold in the protoevangelium,(44) would finally result in that most complete victory over the sin and death which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles.(45) Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: "When this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory."(46)

40. Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination,(47) immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.(48)

41. Since the universal Church, within which dwells the Spirit of Truth who infallibly directs it toward an ever more perfect knowledge of the revealed truths, has expressed its own belief many times over the course of the centuries, and since the bishops of the entire world are almost unanimously petitioning that the truth of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven should be defined as a dogma of divine and Catholic faith--this truth which is based on the Sacred Writings, which is thoroughly rooted in the minds of the faithful, which has been approved in ecclesiastical worship from the most remote times, which is completely in harmony with the other revealed truths, and which has been expounded and explained magnificently in the work, the science, and the wisdom of the theologians - we believe that the moment appointed in the plan of divine providence for the solemn proclamation of this outstanding privilege of the Virgin Mary has already arrived. * * *

44. For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority,
we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith. * * *

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, in the year of the great Jubilee, 1950, on the first day of the month of November, on the Feast of All Saints, in the twelfth year of our pontificate.

Pius XII

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Why not admire the courage of a Pope who took risks?

Homily of Albino Cardinal Luciani
Mass offered for the late Pope Paul VI

St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, 9 August 1978

"How do you want to be called?" he had been asked fifteen years ago at the end of the Conclave. And he: "I shall take the name Paul." Those who knew him would have sworn that the choice of the name would be that. Montini had been from the start an admirer of the writings, the life, the dynamism of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. And lived his “Pauline” passion wholly and up to the end.

On 29 June last he spoke of the fifteen years of his pontificate; he adopted the words that Saint Paul, also nearing his end, had written to Timothy: "I have kept and defended the faith" (2 Tm 4:7).

The faith to keep and to defend was the first point in his program. In the speech at his coronation, on 30 June he had declared: "We shall defend Holy Church from the errors of doctrine and of behavior, that inside and outside its confines threaten its integrity and mask its beauty."

Saint Paul had written to the Galatians: "If an angel from heaven should preach to you a Gospel different from what we have preached to you, let it be anathema" (Gal 1:8).

Culture, modernity, keeping up to date, can be considered the angels of today, though all things for which Pope Paul cared greatly. But when they seemed to him contrary to the Gospel and to its doctrine, he said “no” inflexibly. It’s enough to point to Humanae Vitae, to his “Creed”, to the position he took on the Dutch catechism, to the clear affirmation of the existence of the devil.

Some have said that Humanae Vitae was suicide for Paul VI, the collapse of his popularity and the onset of fierce criticism. True in a certain sense, but he had foreseen it and, always with Saint Paul, told himself: "... Is it perhaps the favor of men that I mean to gain, or rather that of God?... If I still pleased men, I would no longer be servant of Christ" (Gal 1:10).

Saint Paul also said of himself: "I have been crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:20). Paul confided: "Perhaps the Lord has called me to this [pontifical] service not because I have any aptitude or may govern and save the Church from its present difficulties, but so that I may suffer something for the Church, and that it be clear He, not others, guides and saves it." He also said: "The Pope has tribulations, that come above all from his own human inadequacy, which at every instant he finds himself faced with and almost in collision with the enormous and immeasurable weight of his duties and responsibility." That sometimes reaches as far as agony.

The Corinthians made the following assessment of Paul: "Your letters are hard and strong, but your physical presence is weak and your speech subdued" (2 Cor 10:10). We have all seen Paul VI on television or in photos embracing Patriarch Athenagoras: he looked like a child disappearing into the arms and full beard of a giant.

When he spoke also, his voice was rather low-key; rarely did he bring out the conviction and the enthusiasm that boiled within him. But his thinking! But his writings! They were pellucid, penetrating, deep and sometimes chiselled.

"The people of hunger," he wrote, for example, "call today in dramatic manner upon the people of wealth. The Church starts awake in front of this cry of anguish and calls upon each of us to respond with love to his own brother." Development, yes – he said – but across-the-board, "of every person and of the whole person." "Every person" and not only the class of the fortunate; "the whole person": these, then, must be enabled to develop and progress not just in an economic dimension, but one that is also moral, spiritual and religious. "Do, know and have more so as to be more."

But Saint Paul was above all the apostle of the Gentiles, of those who were then considered against the Jews. He fought for them, despite the perplexity of the other apostles, he travelled and suffered a great deal. He wrote: "Five times have I received the thirty-nine strokes from the Jews; three times have I been beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times suffered shipwreck, I have spent a day and a night at the mercy of the waves. Countless journeys..." (2 Cor 11:24-26). In his image, Paul VI travelled 130,000 kilometers by plane: Palestine, India, the United Nations headquarters, Fatima, Turkey, Colombia, Africa, the Far East were the main stages in his travels. All those journeys won, perhaps, no conversions, but they made people feel the closeness of the Church to them and their problems.

Another closeness, or rather approach, that Paul sought for was that of contact with professedly atheistic governments. A delicate point this: the Pope was criticized by some people because of it. Undoubtedly risk there was. But limited and calculated. Limited, because he did not yield on principles, following the Gospel "iota unum aut unus apex non praeteribit a lege." Calculated, because, even sometimes with little hope, he sought the advantage of religion.

There was the problem of the great many Catholics who live under persecutory governments: of course the Pope needed to send them bishops or try to gain some crumb of religious freedom for them. The atheists themselves are a problem: they are so many, so many; can the Church shut itself away from them?

Saint Paul had written: "I made myself all things to all men, to save someone at any cost" (1 Cor 9:22). Why then not admire the courage of a Pope who took risks? When Pius VII was negotiating the concordat with Napoleon, he had against him open opponents even among the cardinals. "Bargaining with that criminal!" they said. "And sweeping out of the dioceses all the elderly bishops, quite a number of whom can be considered martyrs for the faith! And replacing them with bishops acceptable to the First Consul!" Pius VII, with his heart breaking, asked or required the old bishops to accept suffering not only for the Church, but also from the Church; he made to the First Consul all the concessions morally lawful so as to gain in exchange great advantages for religion. Naturally the happy outcome of the negotiations was not seen there and then, it took time. History has its runs and reruns. So does that of the Church. In the patriarchal archive there are letters exchanged between Patriarch Roncalli and Montini as substitute at the Secretariat of State. The Pope – Roncalli writes in one – wants such a priest in Rome; conceding him is a serious sacrifice for Venice, but I yield, because in the Church "one has to see wide and far." Thank you, Montini answers; thank you for the priest granted and for the "wide and far."

My brothers, no man is perfect; Paul VI also, whom we lament so much, will have perhaps done some things imperfectly. To me, however, it seems, that he, extremely cultivated as a man, exemplary as a priest, as Pope really did see wide and far."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lord, Remember Your Good and Faithful Servant Paul VI
September 26, 1897 -- August 6, 1978

We have been discussing 40 years of Humanae Vitae. Now, we pause for prayer and reflection on this 30th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI, who died on August 6, 1978. It was because of the heroic efforts of this misunderstood Pope that his successor, Pope John Paul "the Great" was able to revitalize the Church and institute the true goals of the Second Vatican Council. It was also Pope Paul, in great wisdom and surely under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who elevated to Cardinal a certain German theologian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger.

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Piazza Duomo, Brixen Angelus, 3 August 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

* * * The first Reading reminds us that the greatest things in this life of ours can neither be purchased nor paid for because the most important and elementary things in our life can only be given: the sun and its light, the air that we breathe, water, the earth's beauty, love, friendship, life itself. We cannot buy any of these essential and central goods but they are given to us.

The Second Reading then adds that this means they are also things that no one can take from us, of which no dictatorship, no destructive force can rob us. Being loved by God who knows and loves each one of us in Christ; no one can take this away and, while we have this, we are not poor but rich.

The Gospel adds a third consideration. If we receive such great gifts from God, we in turn must give them: in a spiritual context giving kindness, friendship and love, but also in a material context - the Gospel speaks of the multiplication of the loaves. These two things must penetrate our souls today: we must be people who give, because we are people who receive; we must pass on to others the gifts of goodness and love and friendship, but at the same time we must also give material gifts to all who have need of us, whom we can help, and thus seek to make the earth more human, that is, closer to God.

Now, dear friends, I ask you to join me in a devout and filial commemoration of the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, the 30th anniversary of whose death we shall be celebrating in a few days. Indeed, he gave up his spirit to God on the evening of 6 August 1978, the evening of the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, a mystery of divine light that always exercised a remarkable fascination upon his soul.

As Supreme Pastor of the Church, Paul VI guided the People of God to contemplation of the Face of Christ, the Redeemer of man and Lord of history. And it was precisely this loving orientation of his mind and heart toward Christ that served as a cornerstone of the Second Vatican Council, a fundamental attitude that my venerable Predecessor John Paul II inherited and relaunched during the great Jubilee of the Year 2000. At the centre of everything, always and only Christ: at the centre of the Sacred Scriptures and of Tradition, in the heart of the Church, of the world and of the entire universe.

Divine Providence summoned Giovanni Battista Montini from the See of Milan to that of Rome during the most sensitive moment of the Council - when there was a risk that Blessed John XXIII's intuition might not materialize. How can we fail to thank the Lord for his fruitful and courageous pastoral action? As our gaze on the past grows gradually broader and more aware, Paul VI's merit in presiding over the Council Sessions, in bringing it successfully to conclusion and in governing the eventful post-conciliar period appears ever greater, I should say almost superhuman. We can truly say, with the Apostle Paul, that the grace of God in him "was not in vain" (cf. 1 Cor 15: 10): it made the most of his outstanding gifts of intelligence and passionate love for the Church and for humankind. As we thank God for the gift of this great Pope, let us commit ourselves to treasure his teachings.

In the last period of the Council, Paul VI wanted to pay a special tribute to the Mother of God and solemnly proclaimed her "Mother of the Church". Let us now address the prayer of the Angelus to her, the Mother of Christ, the Mother of the Church, our Mother.

Sadly, as compared with our Internet Age, when Pope Benedict's remarks from the other side of the world can be posted and read almost immediately, Pope Paul was not very well known throughout the world during his papacy. Thinking back to the 1970s, it seemed that the only time that many people saw or heard from Pope Paul was for a few seconds on television, when the newscasts might show a grainy clip of him giving a blessing at Easter or Christmas time. So, for many American people (at least from the perspective of one particular school kid), Pope Paul was some stranger who lived in a far off country. He was the Pope, to be sure, but the personal touch that we later received from John Paul II was not there, at least, that is what many of us were led to believe. In the popular American media of the time, at least from my recollection, Pope Paul was, at best, a non-entity. Vatican reporter John Allen notes that

[Paul VI] began to be enveloped in neglect almost from the moment of his death. Consider that when John Paul II died, The New York Times devoted a special section to the pope, including an obituary of some 13,500 words; when Paul VI died, his passing merited a lone obit of scarcely more than 1,000 words, which began by characterizing Paul as "not naturally gregarious and innovative" and a "consummate bureaucrat." The past two weeks have provided fresh confirmation of the point. Last week's 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Paul's encyclical reiterating the church's ban on contraception, triggered a predictable flood of commentary (in which I participated, penning an Aug. 3 op/ed for the Times at the editors' request); the 30th anniversary of Paul's death this week has been met with a fairly deafening silence. In the popular mind, Paul's pontificate has essentially been reduced to its most controversial moment. Such summary dismissals are terribly unfair to a pope who was among the most consequential, and, in many ways, most admirable Catholic personalities of the 20th century. . . . In secular circles, Paul VI simply never caught on. Here's an anecdote that makes the point. During a CNN production meeting last April to plan our coverage of Benedict XVI's Mass at Yankee Stadium, I suggested that we roll footage of the first papal visit to the home of the Bronx Bombers -- Paul VI in 1965. Can't be done, I was told, because the run-down for the show was already full. Anyway, a young production assistant chimed in, probably fresh from a half-hour of research on Google, "Wasn't he that boring pope between the two interesting ones?"

--Remembering Paul VI, the superhuman pope, August 8, 2008

Yes, we have been terribly unfair to Pope Paul VI, both during his life on earth and continuing to his life in heaven. Nevertheless, I do remember that when Pope Paul died, even though he had seemed so distant, it was a sad time. Our papa was gone. So we might know a little more about this Pope who guided the Church through the Second Vatican Council, so as to better position the Church to announce and spread the faith, here is a short biography of him.

Vatican Biography of Pope Paul VI, 1963-1978 --

Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was born on September 26, 1897 at Concesio (Lombardy) of a wealthy family of the upper class. His father was a non-practicing lawyer turned editor and a courageous promoter of social action. Giovanni was a frail but intelligent child who received his early education from the Jesuits near his home in Brescia. Even after entering the seminary (1916) he was allowed to live at home because of his health. After his ordination in 1920 he was sent to Rome to study at the Gregorian University and the University of Rome, but in 1922 he transferred to the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici to study diplomacy continuing his canon law studies at the Gregorian. In 1923 he was sent to Warsaw as attache of the nunciature but was recalled to Rome (1924), because of the effect of the severe Polish winters on his health, and assigned to the office of the Secretariat of State where he remained for the next thirty years. Besides teaching at the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici he was named chaplain to the Federation of Italian Catholic University Students (FUCI), an assignment that was to have a decisive effect on his relations with the founders of the post-war Christian Democratic Party.

In 1937 he was named substitute for ordinary affairs under Cardinal Pacelli, the secretary of state, and he accompanied him to Budapest (1938) for the International Eucharistic Congress. On Pacelli's election as Pius XII in 1939, Montini was reconfirmed in his position under the new secretary of state, Cardinal Luigi Maglione. When the latter died in 1944, Montini continued to discharge his office directly under the pope. During World War II he was responsible for organizing the extensive relief work and the care of political refugees.

In the secret consistory of 1952 Pope Pius XII announced that he had intended to raise Montini and Domenico Tardini to the Sacred College but that they had both asked to be dispensed from accepting. Instead he conferred on both of them the title of prosecretary of state. The following year Montini was appointed Archbishop of Milan but still without the title of cardinal. He took possession of his new See on January 5, 1955 and soon made himself known as the "archbishop of the workers." He revitalized the entire diocese, preached the social message of the Gospel, worked to win back the laboring class, promoted Catholic education at every level, and supported the Catholic press. His impact upon the city at this time was so great that it attracted world-wide attention. At the conclave of 1958 his name was frequently mentioned, and at Pope John's first consistory in December of that year he was one of 23 prelates raised to the cardinalate with his name leading the list. His response to the call for a Council was immediate and even before it met he was identified as a strong advocate of the principle of collegiality. He was appointed to the Central Preparatory Commission for Vatican II and also to the Technical-Organizational Commission.

On the death of Pope John XXIII, Montini was elected June 21, 1963 to succeed him. In his first message to the world, he committed himself to a continuation of the work begun by John XXIII. Throughout his pontificate the tension between papal primacy and the collegiality of the episcopacy was a source of conflict. On September 14, 1965 he announced the establishment of the Synod of Bishops called for by the Council fathers, but some issues that seemed suitable for discussion by the synod were reserved to himself. Celibacy, removed from the debate of the fourth session of the Council, was made the subject of an encyclical, June 24, 1967; the regulation of birth was treated in Humanae Vitae, July 24, 1968, his last encyclical. The controversies over these two pronouncements tended to overshadow the last years of his pontificate.

Pope Paul had an unaccountably poor press and his public image suffered by comparison with his outgoing and jovial predecessor. Those who knew him best, however, describe him as a brilliant man, deeply spiritual, humble, reserved and gentle, a man of "infinite courtesy." He was one of the most traveled popes in history and the first to visit five continents.

His remarkable corpus of thought must be searched out in his many addresses and letters as well as in his major pronouncements. His successful conclusion of Vatican II has left its mark on the history of the Church, but history will also record his rigorous reform of the Roman curia, his well-received address to the UN in 1965, his encyclical Populorum progressio (1967), his second great social letter Octogesima adveniens (1971)—the first to show an awareness of many problems that have only recently been brought to light—and his apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, his last major pronouncement which also touched on the central question of the just conception of liberation and salvation.

Pope Paul Vl, the pilgrim pope, died on August 6, 1978, the feast of the Transfiguration. He asked that his funeral be simple with no catafalque and no monument over his grave.

What I did not know until this moment was that, as with John Paul II, there was an assassination attempt on Pope Paul.


Monday, August 04, 2008

We Must Love as God Loves

He who would be first will be last. If love is all about you, making you happy, then it is destined to fail. Love must be selflessly turned outward, and not selfishly focused inward, to succeed and bear fruit. True happiness in love is paradoxical because it is obtained, not by seeking happiness for yourself first, but by denying yourself, by not concerning yourself with what you may or may not receive in return. Unhappiness and insecurity are destroyed by deciding to keep loving no matter what, even if and when the other is unfaithful and rejects you. Because of love, even suffering and pain can be transformed to joy. Because of love, even death can be overcome.

Furthermore, we can see that, by consciously willing and seeking what is best for the other, love does not seek to use or exploit the other for our pleasure, but instead 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 an end.

Love affirms the truth and value of the other as a “person.” Love considers, treats, and chooses to respect the other as a “person” and not merely as a thing or object to be utilized for our amusement, as an end in and of his or herself, not merely as a means to an end, and as a moral equal, not as inferior, subordinate or subservient. One who treats another as merely the means to an end, such as personal pleasure, does violence to the very essence of the other as a person. We must love as God loves, and God will not use a person as a means to an end, even if that end is good. God does not even redeem man against his will.

The more that you are disposed to love, the better you are able to love and find love in male-female and other interpersonal relationships. The more that you have a loving inner disposition, the more potential mates you will encounter. With true love in the heart, the universe of possible mates grows. The more you are disposed to love, the more you will be able to see the good qualities in others. These others become more physically attractive, more intelligent, more humorous, more enjoyable. However, the more you are turned inward, seeking to satisfy yourself, complaining that there are no good men or women out there, the more trouble you will have finding them. A perfect Christian, embracing love perfectly, should be able to be united to anyone and be attracted to them, and desire them, and want to be with them, because they have love, and they see in the other the image of Christ.

We must learn to see and embrace other truths. We must recognize the truth that our passions and urges are extremely powerful, and that if we do not learn to control our passions and urges, and to subordinate them to our will, then they are going to control us.

In addition to seeing and recognizing the truth that the other is a “person,” we must see and recognize the truth of what kind of person he or she is. We must learn about the real other – the other as he or she actually is -- not an imagined other or an other as we want them to be. We must also recognize the truth of who we are, namely, a person as well, and we must love ourselves, so that we do not exploit ourselves or join in our own exploitation and objectification by another. If someone wants you merely as a means, then he does not really want you at all because, if not you, then someone else will suffice.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Positive Good News of Humanae Vitae and the Church's Other Teachings on Human Sexuality and Life Issues

It is a common perception in the outside world that, when it comes to moral matters, the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) is harsh, negative, and oppressive, obsessed with sin and controlling people’s lives, imposing its will, and maintaining its power with a bunch of rules and prohibitions. But all of these things are totally false.

Catholic theology -- including moral theology of human sexuality and life issues -- is not a collection of mere opinions. It is not the fruit of a bunch of old men dictating on-high what they think is or ought to be. And it is not a set of arbitrary negative rules dictated or revealed to us by an arbitrary God. It is not a restriction on authentic freedom. Notwithstanding the many “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, including “thou shalt not kill,” and the teachings of the Church against things like extra-marital sex, contraception, and abortion, Catholic moral theology is positive, not negative, and it is "good news" that is grounded, first and foremost, in Truth and Love. It is grounded in reason. And it is all of these things even if you never actually use the words "Christ" or "God" or "sin," such that it is applicable to believers and non-believers alike.

All of Catholic moral teaching, including the teachings on human sexuality and life issues, is reducible to the supremely positive commandments which were discussed between the Jesus and the Pharisee – “You shall love the Lord thy God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And, again, as Jesus said to the Apostles, "love one another. As I have loved you, so too should you love one another." Those are the teachings of Christ and His Church in a nutshell. This is our general vocation - to love God and one another in truth. Christ does not present us with a set of prohibitions and restrictions - He give us joyous Good News, He gives us truth and thereby sets us free. Notwithstanding the way it may have been presented or understood at times, Catholic moral teaching, properly understood, is intensely positive, not negative.

So what does that mean in practical terms? Well, God being the "I am" and Logos, is reality itself; He is Truth itself. So to love God means, among other things, to love Truth. And we come to know and understand truth and Truth by both divine revelation and right reason. God is also Love - caritas - eternally a communion of love in the relation of persons in the Trinity. So, we should follow truth and take love into our heart. God's love is the highest love, the most perfect love, and it is that kind of true love that we are called to practice.

To love perfectly and truly, we must love as God loves. Such a love is more than an emotional feeling, more than an attraction or desire for personal happiness, much less a base desire for physical pleasure. Such true and total love is turned outward, not inward, it 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.

Again, to love perfectly and truly, we must love as Christ loves us. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus presents us with His Body, which has been given up for us. Such a love as we are called to demonstrate is not concerned with pleasing oneself and seeking to solely benefit oneself, but is instead a gift of self, totally and completely.

In practical terms, to "love one another" means that we should affirm and respect the truth of the inherent dignity of every human person from the very beginning of their creation, from the instant of existence, as children of God made in His image, no matter how seemingly insignificant, undesirable, or useless. We should treat others as subjects, not objects; as ends in and of themselves, not as a means to be exploited by us; and as persons, not things to be used up and then tossed aside or thrown away as if they are trash. We all have intrinsic value, every one of us.

All Catholic moral teaching is grounded in and must comply with these two pillars of Love and Truth. It is not a matter of opinion, it is not a matter of the Pope having the power to impose his own personal preferences. When Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae, or Pope John Paul II taught the Theology of the Body, they were not expressing what they subjectively and arbitrarily thought what should be, they were not engaged in a raw assertion of power. The Pope and the Church are bound in their teachings by Love and Truth.

And one purpose of such teachings is to assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. In doing so, 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 accessible by reason.

Far from thinking that sex is bad and dirty, the Church teaches that human sexuality is a moral good; indeed, it is very good, it is one of the highest goods. Being created by God, it is necessarily a great good. But sex, like any other activity, is a good only insofar as it is consistent with Truth and with Love, that is, when it is consistent with a total gift of self, recognizing both the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality. In other words, in the context of marriage and without the barrier of contraception or even a contraceptive mentality. When it is less than consistent with Truth and Love, then it begins to be something less than good, even if the people involved subjectively believe and insist that they are acting out of love.

As with all things, in the context of our sexuality, we must love as Christ loves. Now, in His love for us and for His Bride, the Church, Jesus gave us the totality of His Body. Jesus is also the Word, the Logos, which means not only Reason or Truth, but a creative power as well, because it is through Him, the Logos, that all things were made. That means that our union with another must be a true love that is free, total, spousal, faithful, and fruitful. Jesus also loves in a Trinity of relations, such that our sexual activity must similarly take place between a husband and wife, one flesh, in union with God if it is to be consistent with authentic love and the truth of who we are as human persons, male and female. We cannot simply put God in the closet or otherwise bar Him from the bedroom and still have our sexual relations be acts of love in truth.

Whether it is sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, embryonic/fetal experimentation, euthanasia, or suicide, the teaching is the same. All of these things are contrary to the Truth. If you eliminate truth, reason, and love from the equation, then all you are left with is a utilitarianism and existentialism that practically demands that one take "charge of the process" as if he were a god himself. It is the philosophy of utilitarianism, the idea that the morality of all things must be determined, not from objective truth (or Truth), but from their usefulness, with one's happiness or pleasure being the ultimate measure of usefulness -- to the extent of allowing, if not compelling, the use of human persons as means to an end, as disposable things -- it is this corrosive philosophy, together with the related idea of existentialism, that we must create our own meaning of existence, which has brought us to where we are today, in a hyper-sexualized materialistic and hedonistic society awash in the blood of millions slain by abortion, the sick and elderly at risk of being medically euthanized daily, and all too many individuals despairing of life and committing suicide.

Thus, to use another person (or ourselves) as merely an object for our sexual pleasure, as if he or she were a toy, and/or to allow ourselves to be controlled by our passions, rather than we controlling them, is contrary to the truth that we are persons and subjects, not objects or things. To deny the humanity of the unborn child and kill him or her by abortion is contrary to the truth that the entity in the womb is a living human being. And to assert that one has the power or right to determine his or her own concept of right and wrong, his or her own morality, as if he or she were a god, and decree that the child in the womb is merely a thing that can be eliminated by abortion would likewise be contrary to the truth that we are not gods or equal to or greater than the one God, who is Love and Truth.

Rather, we should love and respect one another as subjects, not as objects or playthings to be exploited for our own pleasure and used up. Babies, be they born or unborn, are not things to be thrown away like garbage. And the old and sick and poor are not useless eaters, taking up needed resources, such that we can eliminate them by euthanasia. There is no such thing as life unworthy of life.

These teachings are not harsh prohibitions or restrictions on our freedoms, they are not a denial of “freedom of choice,” but instead are truths that lead us to authentic freedom. 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.

However, we should be clear in understanding that the teachings of the Church on matters of morality are not a bunch of harsh prohibitions, merely a list of don’t do this, and don’t do that, but are instead a positive exhortation to do this and do that – do love, do live in truth, do live in the light of love and truth in authentic freedom. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI explains it this way:
Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So, firstly, it is important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we do not want some things. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it is not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it is part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: "You shall not kill!". We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.
--Interview of the Holy Father in Preparation to his Apostolic Journey to Bavaria
August 5, 2006