Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Coming of the King

Homily of Pope Benedict
First Vespers, November 28, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters:

With this Vespers celebration, we enter the liturgical season of Advent. In the Biblical reading that we just heard, taken from the first Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul invites us to prepare for "the coming of the Lord, our Jesus Christ" (5,23), who preserves us blameless, with the grace of God.

Paul uses the word 'coming' - in Latin, adventus, whence the term Advent. Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of this word, which can be translated as 'presence', 'arrival', 'coming'.

In the language of the ancient world, it was a technical term used to indicate the arrival of a functionary, the visit of the king or emperor to a province. But it could also mean the arrival of divinity, who emerges from hiding to manifest itself with power, or whose presence is celebrated in worship.

Christians adopted the word Advent to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Christ is the King, who has entered this poor 'province' called earth to make a visit to everyone. In the feast of His coming, all participate who believe in Him, all who believe in His presence in the liturgical assembly.

The word adventus was substantially intended to say: God is here, he has not retired from the world, he has not left us alone. Even if we cannot see and touch Him as we can with sensible realities, He is here and comes to visit us in multiple ways.

The significance of the word Advent thus also comprehends that of visitatio, which means a visit pure and simple. In this case, it is a visit by God: He enters my life and addresses himself to me. Yet we all experience in daily life that we have little time for the Lord, and little time even for ourselves. We end up being absorbed by 'doing'.

Is it not perhaps true that often it is this activity that possesses us, that it is society with its multiple interests that monopolizes our attention? Is it not perhaps true that we devote too much time to diversions and amusements of various kinds? Sometimes, things 'overwhelm' us.

Advent, this important liturgical time that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the single events of the day are signs that God addresses to us, signs of the attention that he has for each of us.

How often God makes us perceive something of his love! To keep an interior diary, so to speak, of this love would be a beautiful and healthy task in our life.

Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord who is present. Should not the certainty of his presence help us to see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to consider all of our existence as a 'visit', as a way in which He can come to us and be near to us in every situation?

Another fundamental element of Advent is waiting - which is at the same time, hope. Advent impels us to understand the sense of time and history as kairos, as a favorable occasion for our salvation.

Jesus has illustrated this mysterious reality in many parables: in the story of the servants asked to await the return of the master; in the parable of the virgins awaiting the spouse; or in that about sowing and harvesting.

In life, man is in a constant state of waiting: As a child, he wants to grow; as an adult, he aims for realization and success; as he advances in age, he aspires for a deserved rest. But the time comes when he discovers that he has hoped too little, if beyond professional or social position, he has nothing more to hope for.

Hope marks the path of humanity, but for Christians, it is inspired by a certainty: The Lord is present in the course of our life, he accompanies us and one day he will dry our tears. One day, not far, everything will find its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.

But there are different ways of waiting.

If the time is not filled with a present that has sense, waiting risks becoming insupportable. If one expects something, but for now, there is nothing - that is, if the present remains empty - then every moment that passes appears exaggeratedly long, and waiting is transformed into a very grave weight, since the future remains completely uncertain.

But when time is endowed with sense, and in every instant. we perceive something specific and valid, then the joy of waiting makes the present more precious.

Dear brothers and sisters, let is live the present intensely, in which already the gifts of the Lord are at hand. Let us live the present projected towards the future, a future full of hope.

Christian Advent becomes in this way an occasion to re-establish in us the true sense of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ. The Messiah who had been awaited for many centuries was born in poverty in Bethlehem.

In coming into our midst, he brought us and continues to offer us the gift of his love and his salvation. Present among us, he speaks to us in many ways: in Sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily life, in all of Creation which changes its aspect depending on whether Christ is behind it all or is obscured by a fog of uncertain origin and uncertain future.

In turn, we can address ourselves to him, present him with the sufferings that afflict us, the impatience, the questions which gush forth from our heart. We can be sure that he always listens to us!

And if Jesus is present, there is no time that is empty or devoid of sense. If He is present, we can continue to hope even if others can no longer assure of us of any support, even when the present becomes arduous.

Dear friends, Advent is the time of the presence of the eternal as we wait for it. For this very reason, it is in a special way a time of joy, of an internalized joy that no suffering can annul - it is joy at the fact that God made himself a Baby.

This joy, invisibly present in us, encourages us to walk on confidently. The model and support for such intimate joy is the Virgin Mary, through whom the Baby Jesus was given to us.

May she, faithful disciple of her Son, obtain for us the grace to live this liturgical time vigilant and industrious in our waiting. Amen!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Conscience and Human Life

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Ad Limina Visit of the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Brazil (SUL I Region)

November 14, 2009

. . . To merit the title of community, a human group must correspond, in its organization and objectives, to the fundamental aspiration of the human being. That is why it is not exaggerated to affirm that an authentic social life begins in each one's conscience. Given that a well formed conscience leads to fulfilling the true good of man, the Church, specifying what this good is, enlightens man and, throughout the whole of Christian life, tries to educate his conscience. The teaching of the Church -- due to its origin (God), to its content (the truth), and to its point of support (the conscience) -- finds a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of each person, whether or not a believer.

"the question of life and of its defense and promotion is not only the prerogative of Christians. Even if it receives the light and extraordinary strength of faith, it belongs to every human conscience that aspires to truth and lives attentive and watchful of the destiny of humanity. . . . The 'people of life' rejoice to be able to share their commitment with many others, so that the 'people of life' will be ever more numerous, and the new culture of love and of solidarity can grow for the true good of the city of men."
Evangelium Vitae 101.

Venerable Brothers, speak to the heart of your people, awaken consciences, unite wills in a joint effort against the growing wave of violence and contempt for the human being. The latter, from gift of God received in the loving intimacy of marriage between a man and a woman, is now seen as a mere human product.
"Today, a primary and crucial field of cultural strife between the absolutism of technology and man's moral responsibility is that of bioethics, where the possibility of integral human development is radically at stake. It is a most delicate and decisive realm, where the fundamental question of knowing whether man produces himself or depends on God bursts with dramatic intensity. The scientific discoveries in this field and the possibilities of technical intervention seem so advanced that they impose a choice between these two conceptions: that of reason open to transcendence or that of reason enclosed in immanence."
(Caritas in Veritate 74).

In a provocative way, Job calls irrational beings to give their own testimony: "But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:7-10).

The conviction of right reason and the certainty of faith that the life of the human being, from conception until natural death, belongs to God and not to men, confers on it that sacred character and that personal dignity that arouses only one correct legal and moral attitude, that is, one of profound respect. Because the Lord of life said: "For your life-blood I will surely require a reckoning . . . for God made man in his own image" (Gen 9:5.6).

My dear and venerable brothers, we must never be discouraged in our appeal to conscience. We would not be faithful followers of our Divine Master, if we did not know in all situations, also in the most arduous, how to carry our hope "against all hope" (Romans 4:18). Continue to work for the triumph of God's cause, not with the sad spirit of one who only sees want and dangers, but with the firm confidence of one who knows he can count on Christ's victory.

United to the Lord in an ineffable way is Mary, fully conformed to her Son, conqueror of sin and death. Through the intercession of Our Lady Aparecida, I implore from God the light, consolation, strength, intensity of resolutions and achievements for you and your most direct collaborators, while at the same time I grant you from my heart -- and extend to all the faithful of every diocesan community -- my particular Apostolic Blessing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Word of God is Eternal

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Sunday Angelus, November 15, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

We thank the Lord who has enabled us to carry out, yet again, this journey of faith -- old and always new -- in the great spiritual family of the Church! It is an inestimable gift, which allows us to live in history the mystery of Christ, receiving in the furrows of our personal and community existence the seed of the Word of God, seed of eternity that transforms this world from within and opens it to the Heavenly Kingdom.

Accompanying us in the itinerary of Sunday biblical readings was St. Mark's Gospel, which today presents a part of Jesus' discourse on the end times. In this discourse, there is a phrase that is striking for its synthetic clarity: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mark 13:31).

Let us reflect, for a moment, on this prophecy of Christ.

The expression "heaven and earth" is frequent in the Bible to indicate the whole universe, the entire cosmos. Jesus says that all this is destined to "pass." Not only the earth, but also heaven, understood, in fact, in the cosmic sense, not as a synonym of God. Sacred Scripture knows no ambiguity: The whole of creation is marked by finiteness, including the elements divinized by ancient mythologies: There is no confusion between creation and the Creator, but rather a clear difference. With such a clear distinction, Jesus affirms that His words "will not pass," that is, they are part of God and because of this are eternal.

However, pronounced in the concreteness of His earthly existence, they are prophetic words par excellence, as Jesus affirms in another place, addressing the celestial Father: "for I have given them the words which thou gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee and they have believed that thou didst send me" (John 17:8).

In a well-known parable, Christ compares Himself to the sower and explains that the seed is the Word (cfr Mark 4:14): Those who hear it, receive it and bear fruit (cfr Mark 4:20) are part of the Kingdom of God, that is, they live under His lordship; they remain in the world, but are no longer of the world; therefore, in them is a seed of eternity, a principle of transformation that already now is manifested in a good life, animated by charity, and in the end will produce the resurrection of the flesh. Behold the power of the Word of Christ.

Dear friends, the Virgin Mary is the living sign of this truth. Her heart was "good earth" that received with full disposition the Word of God, so that all her existence, transformed according to the image of the Son, was introduced into eternity, soul and body, anticipating the eternal vocation of every human being. Now, in prayer, let us make our own her response to the Angel: "let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38), so that, following Christ on the way of the Cross, we might also be able to come to the glory of the Resurrection.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Love and Truth – the Nature and Attributes of God

Seventh Grade CCD
Class Two Outline

A. Knowledge of the Nature of God

Although we can come to know the existence of a Creator-God by observation and reason, such observation and reason are necessarily limited by what we already know or can imagine. However, reason can be enlightened by revelation – someone simply revealing truth to us. It is only by Divine Revelation (the Bible and Sacred Tradition) that we can have a greater and proper understanding of the mystery of the nature of God.

B. Divine Revelation – God reveals to mankind who and what He is

(1) The Fullness of Being – Truth itself – “I am” – God is

Ex. 3:13-15 – Moses said to God, "When I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is His name?' what am I to tell them?" God replied, "I am who am." Then He added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. "This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.”

(2) The Word – Logos – Creative Reason

John 1:1-4 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.

(3) Deus Caritas Est – God is Love

1 Jn. 4:7-9 – Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.

(4) Creator – source of all that exists

Gen. 1:1-3 – In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

(5) Beginning and end of all

Rev. 21:5-6 – The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Then He said, "Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true." He said to me, "They are accomplished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

C. The Nature of God

(1) One and Complete in Himself – noncontingent, dependent upon nothing, in need of nothing beyond Himself

(2) Necessary Being – the creator, source and sustainer of all that exists
(a) God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing)
(b) Divine Providence – God continues to sustain and interact with His creation
(c) God is Life itself – we are not the accidental products of an impersonal universe, rather, we are each created by the thought of God as an act of love, and we have life because He has breathed His Spirit into us.
(3) God has a Name – He is not merely a what, but is a who, that is, God is a conscious, intelligent, and personal being; He is not a mere cosmic force.
(4) Transcendent Spirit

(a) noncorporeal, nonmaterial
(b) God exists in and beyond space (the physical universe) and time

(5) God is Truth – God is

(a) His name reveals Him to be Being itself, existence itself – Ultimate Reality
(b) The Word – Logos, a Greek term meaning “reason” (from which we get “logic”)
(c) As truth, God embodies justice and order

(6) God is Total Perfect Love in Person

(a) The Love of God is total and perfect love in its truest and fullest sense, a “spousal” type of love that is unitive and fruitful, encompassing both the unconditional, gratuitous, and sacrificial love of agape (caritas), and the joyous wanting love of a purified and ennobled eros.
(b) The Love of God is unitive - love is by its very nature relational, and total perfect love in its truest and fullest sense involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons, whereby many become one.
(c) The Love of God is fruitful (procreative) – love in its fullest sense is naturally fruitful, it is not stagnant or sterile, but instead seeks to spread outward and grow and generate new love and life.
(d) Divine Mercy – God is ever merciful

(7) The Trinity – one God in three persons

(a) God is a loving communion of three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one undivided nature, substance, and essence – each possesses the fullness of the other and each has always existed
(b) The Trinity is a mystery, but we can begin to grasp some understanding of the mystery by understanding that God is Truth and Love – Because God is Truth and Complete, He is One, but because He is also Love, and love is by its very nature relational – it requires an “other” – He exists as one person (Father) who loves and is loved by a second person (Son), with the love that proceeds from and to each of them being not merely a sentiment, but is a third person (the Holy Spirit).

D. The Perfections of God

(1) Holy and All Good

(2) Omnipotent (almighty, all powerful)

(3) Omniscient (all knowing)

(4) Omnipresent (present everywhere)

(5) Infinite – God is without limit

(a) The only “limit” to God is that He cannot be contrary to Himself – He is not and cannot be or act contrary to truth or love because He is Truth and Love. Thus, He cannot be unreasonable or irrational or unjust or the source or cause of evil.

(6) Eternal – God transcends and is not bounded by time

(a) God exists both in and outside of time. He is simultaneously the beginning and the end. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality. All moments are for Him in the present. For Him, all things exist simultaneously, and each moment exists in perpetuity.


Christ and His Kingdom, a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass at the Closing of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops

October 25, 2009

[There is a] message that the Lord of history does not tire of repeating to the oppressed and overwhelmed humanity of every age and land, from the time that he revealed to Moses his will for the Israelite slaves of Egypt: "I have witnessed the affliction of my people … I have heard their cry … I know their suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them … and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey."

What is this land? Is it not perhaps the kingdom of reconciliation, of justice and peace, to which the whole of mankind is called?

God's plan does not change. It is the same one that was prophesied by Jeremiah, in the magnificent oracles called "The Book of Consolation," from which the first reading is taken today. It is an announcement of hope for the people of Israel, laid low by the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar's army, by the devastation of Jerusalem and the Temple and by the deportation in Babylon. It is a message of joy for the remnant of the sons of Jacob that announces a future for them, because the Lord will bring them back to their land by way of a straight and smooth road. Persons in need of support, like the blind man and the cripple, the pregnant woman and the one giving birth, will experience the power of the Lord's tenderness: He is a father for Israel, ready to take care of Israel as the firstborn (cf. Jeremiah 31:7-9).

God's plan does not change. Through the centuries and the upheavals of history, he always points to the same goal: the Kingdom of freedom and of peace for all. And this implies his predilection for those who are deprived of freedom and peace, for those whose dignity as human persons is violated. . . .

These favored children of the heavenly Father are like the blind man of the Gospel, Bartimaeus, who "sat begging by the road" (Mark 10:46) at the gates of Jericho. It is just along this road that Jesus the Nazarene passes. It is the road that leads to Jerusalem, where the Passover will be celebrated, his Passover sacrifice, to which the Messiah goes for us. It is the road of his exodus, which is also ours: it is the only road that leads to the land of reconciliation, of justice and of peace.

The Lord meets Bartimaeus, who has lost his sight, on that road. There paths meet and they become the one path. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" the blind man confidently says. Jesus answers: "Call him!" and adds: "What do you want me to do for you?" God is light and the creator of light. Man is son of the light, made to see the light, but he has lost his sight, and he finds himself forced to beg. The Lord, who has made himself a beggar for our sake, passes by him: hungry for our faith and our love. "What do you want me to do for you?" God knows but asks; it wants that it be man who speaks.

He wants man to stand up on his feet, to rediscover the courage to ask for what belongs to his dignity. The Father wants to hear from the living voice of the son the free decision to see the light again, that light for which he created him. "Master, that I can see again!" And Jesus says to him: "'Go your way; your faith has saved you.' And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way" (Mark 10:51-52). . . .

Yes, the faith in Jesus Christ -- when it is well understood and practiced -- guides men and nations to freedom in truth, or, to use the three words of the theme [of the African bishops' Synod], to reconciliation, to justice and to peace.

Bartimaeus who, after he is healed, follows Jesus along the road, is the image of humanity that, enlightened by faith, sets out on the journey to the promised land. Bartimaeus, in turn, becomes a witness of the light, recounting and showing in the first person that he has been healed, renewed, reborn. This is the Church in the world: the community of reconciled persons, workers for peace and justice; "salt and light" in the midst of the society of men and the nations. . . .

The Church is the Family of God, in which there cannot be ethnic, linguistic or cultural divisions. Moving testimonies have shown us that, even in the darkest moments of human history, the Holy Spirit is at work and transforms hearts of the victims and persecutors so that they recognize each other as brothers. . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Truth and Freedom in the Czech Republic

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
En Route to the Apostolic Visit to the Czech Republic

26 September 2009

The countries of Eastern Europe really suffered under dictatorships, but in the suffering, concepts of freedom developed that are current and that must now be further elaborated and realized.

I have in mind, for example, a text of Vaclav Havel that says: “Dictatorships are based on lies and if the lie is overcome, if no one lies any more and if the truth comes to light, there will also be freedom.” And this was how he explained the connection between truth and freedom, where freedom is not libertinism, arbitrariness, but is connected to and conditioned by the great values of truth and love and solidarity and the good in general.

Thus, I think that these concepts, these ideas that matured under the dictatorship, must not be lost: Now we must return to them!

And, in the freedom that is often a little empty and without values, again recognize that freedom and values, freedom and good, freedom and truth go together: Otherwise freedom too is destroyed.

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with Members of the Czech Academic Community

Vladislav Hall in the Prague Castle
27 September 2009

. . . The great changes which swept Czech society twenty years ago were precipitated not least by movements of reform which originated in university and student circles. That quest for freedom has continued to guide the work of scholars whose diakonia of truth is indispensable to any nation’s well-being.

I address you as one who has been a professor, solicitous of the right to academic freedom and the responsibility for the authentic use of reason, and is now the Pope who, in his role as Shepherd, is recognized as a voice for the ethical reasoning of humanity. While some argue that the questions raised by religion, faith and ethics have no place within the purview of collective reason, that view is by no means axiomatic. The freedom that underlies the exercise of reason – be it in a university or in the Church – has a purpose: it is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university. Indeed, man’s thirst for knowledge prompts every generation to broaden the concept of reason and to drink at the wellsprings of faith. . . .

The proper autonomy of a university, or indeed any educational institution, finds meaning in its accountability to the authority of truth. Nevertheless, that autonomy can be thwarted in a variety of ways. The great formative tradition, open to the transcendent, which stands at the base of universities across Europe, was in this land, and others, systematically subverted by the reductive ideology of materialism, the repression of religion and the suppression of the human spirit. In 1989, however, the world witnessed in dramatic ways the overthrow of a failed totalitarian ideology and the triumph of the human spirit. The yearning for freedom and truth is inalienably part of our common humanity. It can never be eliminated; and, as history has shown, it is denied at humanity’s own peril. It is to this yearning that religious faith, the various arts, philosophy, theology and other scientific disciplines, each with its own method, seek to respond, both on the level of disciplined reflection and on the level of a sound praxis. . . .

Once young people’s understanding of the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, they relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of how they ought to be and what they ought to do.

The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, towards a fragmentation of knowledge. With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation towards truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything. The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk. While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good. . . .

I would like briefly to mention the mending of the breach between science and religion which was a central concern of my predecessor, Pope John Paul II. He, as you know, promoted a fuller understanding of the relationship between faith and reason as the two wings by which the human spirit is lifted to the contemplation of truth (cf. Fides et Ratio, Proemium). Each supports the other and each has its own scope of action (cf. ibid., 17), yet still there are those who would detach one from the other. Not only do the proponents of this positivistic exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason negate what is one of the most profound convictions of religious believers, they also thwart the very dialogue of cultures which they themselves propose. An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs. In the end, “fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom” (Caritas in Veritate, 9). This confidence in the human ability to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth led to the foundation of the great European universities. Surely we must reaffirm this today in order to bring courage to the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing, a future truly worthy of man. . . .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Truth Sets Us Free:
True Freedom is Not the Ability to Merely do as One Pleases, but is the Ability to Conform Oneself to the Truth

Pope Benedict speaks of, and writes on, freedom and truth quite often, as he recently did in the Mass he celebrated with his former students. Over at the Archdiocese of Washington's blog, referenced frequently here lately, Msgr. Charles Pope has recently written on The Paradoxes of True Freedom. In his post, Msgr. Pope raises the point that true freedom is not the ability to do whatever one wants or as one pleases without restraint, rather, true freedom is the ability to what one ought to do, that is, the ability to do good, to do the right thing.

In our age freedom is a distorted and detached concept, a kind of abstraction. There is little connection of freedom to responsibility , to the common good or to truth. To the modern world freedom is essentially understood as “the ability to do whatever I please.” . . .
For a Christian however freedom is the capacity or ability to obey God. Now this is paradoxical to be sure, especially for the modern world where obedience and freedom aren’t usually linked. But for the Christian, sin is slavery and the truth which God reveals sets us free. . . .
Insisting on freedom without any connection to what is good and true does not free, it enslaves. True freedom exists within boundaries and guard rails. Some things must be held constant and unyielding if there is to be freedom. There must be some rules or freedom breaks down and is crushed by anarchy, chaos and power struggle. In the end, what makes us truly free is to obey the Father. This frees us from the slavery of sin and gives the capacity to obey God. Anything less is the slavery of sin.

Being a strong lover of liberty, I strugged with this idea for a long, long time, that true freedom was the abiity to do what you ought to do, the ability to do the “right” thing, rather than what you might want to do. If I can’t do what I want, if I am restrained from doing as I please, either by outside influences or by self-restraint, then how can I be truly free??

It wasn’t until I understood sin as being a privation of the good, a distortion of truth, rather than, for example, a violation of rules or disobedience against God (not connecting the dots between Him and Truth), that it started to click (See, Augustine, City of God). That, and reflecting on the “self-evident truth” of the “inalienable” nature of liberty (See, Declaration of Independence).

I can be truly free while restrained from doing as I please because true freedom is necessarily restrained. True freedom, by its very nature, is necessarily limited, in that it is inalienable, that is, it cannot be alienated, that is, it cannot be given away. If freedom were able to be given away, if one was free to be unfree and able to choose to be a slave, he obviously would no longer be free or in a state of freedom. The consequence of sin is that, by embracing a false and counterfeit “freedom,” we necessarily become a slave to error, to falsehood and untruth, that is, a slave to sin, as the Monsignor says, even if we erroneously continue to insist that we are still free.

True freedom exists only in order, not disorder. A choice or act is freely made only when it is made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, with an understanding of the nature and consequences of that choice or act. If one cannot, because of external factors or because of a defective internal conscience, recognize what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, then one cannot make an informed and intelligent choice. Error and falsehood does not lead to truth, it leads to further error and ignorance of truth. Consequently, making erroneous choices, choosing to do that which is wrong, which is contrary to truth and order (in other words, to sin), distorts and impairs one’s ability to further recognize truth and good over that which is false and evil. To do that which is inconsistent with truth is not freedom, but is instead being confined and controlled by error.

If you insist on doing as you please, rather than following the road map and the road signs, pretty soon you are going to be on the wrong road going in the wrong direction. Now you are no longer free to get where you had planned to go, you are instead a slave to your own foolishness.

Freedom necessarily is dependent and contingent upon truth. Thus, it is necessarily limited by truth, including moral truth, such that the ability to engage in something contrary to truth, as one might want to do, is not freedom at all. Eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge does not free us, it does not make things clearer, it does not make us like gods, empowered to choose and determine what is right and what is wrong; it only enslaves us to error and sin.

It is, and only can be, by doing what we ought to do, doing what is right and good, that is, acting in conformance with truth (or, put another way, acting in conformance with Truth, i.e. the Logos, i.e. God), acting in a manner consistent with the truth for which we were made, that one can be free.

On the other hand, when one insists on doing as he pleases, without any consideration for truth, and thereby acts contrary to what is right and good, then he strays from the path of truth onto the path of error. And error necessarily leads to more error, until ultimately he is, not merely a slave to error and untruth (sin), but is so removed from Truth and Love, i.e. Life, that he is “doomed to die,” and not merely bodily death, but eternal death (Gen. 2:17).

Freedom does not mean, freedom cannot mean, the freedom to not be free, the freedom to be a slave. Likewise, freedom does not mean and cannot mean the freedom to do that which inevitably leads to death. That counterfeit freedom which acts contrary to God leads only to death. The dead have no rights, they have no freedoms, they are merely dead.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Law and Freedom

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass with Former Students of the "Ratzinger Schülerkreis"

August 30, 2009

Science tells us many things and is useful to us in many aspects, but wisdom is knowledge of the essential -- knowledge of the reason of our existence and of how we must live so that life is lived in the right way.

The reading taken from Deuteronomy (Dt 4:1-2, 6-8) points out the fact that wisdom, in the end, is identical to the Torah -- to the Word of God that reveals to us what is essential, for whose end and in whose way we must live. Hence the Law does not appear as slavery, but is -- similar to what Psalm 119 says -- cause of great joy: We do not grope in darkness, we do not wander in vain in search of what might be right, we are not like sheep without a shepherd that do not know the right way. God has manifested Himself. He, Himself, shows us the way. We know His will and with it, the truth that matters in our life.

God says two things to us: On one hand, that He has manifested Himself and shows us the right way; on the other, that God is a God who listens, who is close to us, who answers us and guides us. With this we also touch the subject of purity: His will purifies us, his closeness guides us. . . .

The Letter of James speaks of the perfect Law of freedom and means by that a new and deeper understanding of the Law that the Lord has given us. For James, the Law is not an exigency that asks too much of us, that is before us from outside and that can never be satisfied. . . . The Law is no longer a prescription for persons who are not free, but is contact with the love of God -- being introduced to form part of the family, act that makes us free and "perfect." . . .

The Law, as word of love, is not a contradiction to freedom, but a renewal from within through friendship with God. Something similar is manifested when Jesus, in His address about the vine, says to His disciples: "You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3). And the same appears again later in the priestly prayer: You are sanctified in the truth (cf. John 17:17-19).

Thus we now find the right structure of the process of purification and of purity: We are not the ones who create what is good -- this would be a simple moralism -- instead, it is Truth that comes to meet us. He Himself is the Truth, the Truth in person. Purity is a dialogic event. It begins with the fact that He comes to meet us -- he, who is Truth and Love -- takes us by the hand, and is fused with our being. In the measure in which we allow ourselves to be touched by Him, in which the encounter becomes friendship and love, we are, stemming from His purity, pure persons and then persons who love with His love, persons who introduce others in His purity and His love.

Augustine summarized all this process in this beautiful expression: "Da quod iubes et iube quod vis" -- grant what you command and then command what you will.

We now wish to take this petition to the Lord and to pray: Yes, purify us in the truth. You be the Truth that purifies us. Through our friendship with you, may we come to be free and thus truly children of God, make us capable of sitting at your table and of spreading in this world the light of your purity and goodness. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tithing and Charity in Truth:
Supporting the Church and Poor, and the Free Market

One answer offered by some Christians (mostly Protestants) to the matter of supporting the Church, including engaging in charity to the poor, is for people to tithe, that is, giving 10 percent of one's income for the benefit of the Church (see Gen. 14:20).

Not to get into a big economics discussion here, including the interplay between specific economic systems (free market, statist, feudal, etc.) and Christian social obligations, but just a couple of thoughts --

It is important to note that the Church does not, in fact, speak of giving a flat one-tenth in support of the Church (tithe), but says, instead, help support the material needs of the institutional Church (CCC 2043) and engage in various corporal acts of mercy, demonstrating charity to the poor, etc. in various ways. In addition, there are the Great Commandments -- love God and love one another. Essentially, that means that we should put all of our resources at His disposal, financial as well as non-financial.

Having a tithe (ten percent) rule does have the benefit of prompting folks to give more if they haven't met the "quota," but it has the very detrimental effect of limiting giving, that is, in real life practical terms, it has the effect of people saying, "hey, I've given my share, I don't need to give anymore." So, maybe that is the reason, maybe it is for some other reason, but the Church does not specify a certain set percentage. Instead, as with God, the Church rightly expects that you devote the entirety of your life, of your being, to God and neighbor.

Now, as for the precept of support of the Church, in a small community, it may very well be that those needs add up to ten percent of parishioners' income. But in a large community, those needs may amount to only two percent. That is, if a parish and diocese need $100,000 a year to operate, the individuals in a small community will need to give a greater percentage to reach that level, whereas those in a large community, because of the added numbers, will require a lower percentage to reach that level. The same principles apply for Catholic schools, hospitals, and various charitable programs.

But we should not make the enormous mistake of thinking that, if we do not write a check or hand over cash to the Church or some charitable organization or even the government in taxation that we are not giving to others or that we are not putting all of our resources at God's disposal.

Consider if we were to pay a homeless guy $20 to rake leaves in our yard rather than simply hand him 20 bucks. In the one case, we are giving him a job, in the other case, we are giving him a hand-out. Either way, it is a corporal act of mercy, it is expressing charity (love of neighbor) and a "preferential option for the poor." And yet, on paper anyway, it might look like that we are not helping the poor by having him work rather than just giving him the cash.

But let's expand on that a bit. Suppose that, instead of paying him $20 to rake leaves, or simply handing him $20, we spend that money on cheeseburgers at McDonalds. Does that help the poor, or is that being selfish?

If we look at the bigger economic picture, it cannot be denied that it is helping the poor. Why? Because McDonalds needs employees to make those cheeseburgers and to sell them to us. Accordingly, it takes those $20 and hires that homeless guy. He now has a job and is on his way out of poverty. But if we don't buy those cheeseburgers, out of some sense that we do not want to be selfish, then the homeless guy is out of a job because we never gave McDonalds the money to hire him.

Let's go even bigger -- super rich fat cats buying and flying on corporate jets. Due to bad publicity, a lot of companies are cutting down on corporate jets. Consequently, the businesses that build and sell and maintain those jets are losing money, causing them to lay people off. What looked to be the selfish thing was actually the more charitable thing, and what looked to be the more socially responsible is actually the more destructive.

In looking at the question of whether we are devoting all of our resources to God, or giving a sufficient percentage, whether that is one-tenth (tithe) or some other amount, it bears noting that, so long as a person does not stick his money under his mattress or bury it in the yard, so long as he spends it or invests it or sticks it in the bank, he is providing the life blood to a system which provides true charity to countless numbers of people in the form of jobs. And when that money does not move through the economy, when people hang on to it, then people lose jobs, as we are seeing happening in the economy today.

We do not live in a feudal system, where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few nobles, as in the time and place when many of the Church's teachings on "social justice" were developed. We in America have historically had, instead, a free market system (even though we are moving increasingly to a statist system).

Now, a "free" market, to be truly free, is not and cannot be wholly unconstrained. A free market does not mean robber barons and greedy monopolies. Authentic freedom is necessarily tied to truth and the good. But a "free" market also means the ability to make decisions about where and when to spend money or invest or appropriate capital. When the various actors in the marketplace are free to do that, knowing best themselves what is best for their business or individual situation, then jobs are created, homes are built, people are fed, people are clothed -- the poor are made not poor. That is not being selfish, that is not greedy self-interest, that is actually helping our neighbor.

But when some outsider comes in and dictates how and where and when that money is spent, as in the case of government (like in a statist system), or in the case of an erroneous conception of free market economics or in an erroneous concept of "economic justice," then the system, being less free, breaks down. People lose jobs or are not hired in the first place. Homes are not built, people are not fed or clothed. The poor remain poor and those who are not poor become poor. To simply give them alms at that point -- which some would see as the only manner of charity -- would not be selfless charity (love) at all, it would be an act of violence and oppression. True charity, true acts of mercy, true love of neighbor means freely choosing how and where and when to act, including spending money, so as to best provide jobs, food, clothes, shelter for those who have none.

We should not make the mistake of thinking that, if we do not give money to some "charitable organization," be it the Church or otherwise, or if we do not pay ever-increasing amounts of taxes to the government, which then redistributes it in welfare payments, that we are not helping the poor, that we are not loving our neighbor.

To be sure, there is some minimal level of funding that the Church, charities, government, etc. need to operate and provide legitimate necessary services. And we absolutely have an obligation to pay that to them, whether it is one-tenth (tithe) or some other amount. But they are not the only providers of assistance to the poor, etc. If someone gives only two percent to the Church, that does not necessarily mean that they have not met their "tithing" or like social obligations. Spending the other eight percent on other things, or spending the other 98 percent on other things, very likely will provide enormous assistance to the would-be poor in the form of employment.

Now, to be sure, how we spend the remainder of our money, the money we do not give to the Church, is an important factor. There is an objective moral dimension to how we spend money. Spending it on strip bars and porn and drugs and abortions and things like that do not contribute to or advance our obligation to show charity toward our neighbors, much less our obligation to love God. Using our money for sinful purposes is not demonstrating love for our neighbors, even if the multi-billion-dollar sex industry does employ tens of thousands of people. But using our money for positive, non-sinful things, even if it does not appear to be directly charitable, even if it is not technically a "tithe," does in fact have a charitable effect by employing the would-be poor in honest labor, providing them with homes, food, clothes, etc.

How ever we might spend our money and apply our accumulated wealth, it should be, as in all that we do, with an eye toward loving God and loving one another. We should indeed give enough directly to the Church so as to meet the needs of the Church. If we can best meet our obligation of loving God and loving neighbor by giving ten percent or twenty percent or fifty percent to the Church, then that is what we should do. But if we can best meet our obligation of loving God and loving neighbor by giving a lesser percentage to the Church and spending the rest on other things, then that is what we should do. Even if we spend the rest of our money on cheeseburgers, so long as it is not done in a spirit of greed or materialism or gluttony or other wrong, if it is done in a spirit of loving our neighbor, even that can be a corporal act of mercy and charity toward others.

The question is: what is the best and most effective way of loving God and neighbor, what is the best and most effective way of engaging in acts of mercy and helping the poor?

That is what the question is. No longer are we bound to the Law, which sets specific rules to guide behavior. Instead, we are to be guided by the law of love and truth written in our hearts, we are to be wise and faithful stewards of the bounty entrusted to us, utilizing reason, not merely fixed rules of conduct. So long as we do that, we are accomplishing our mandate and vocation. If we can best love God and neighbor and most effectively help the poor by giving a certain amount to the Church and spending the rest on cheeseburgers, so as to provide jobs for the poor, even though it is not spent directly on them, and might (falsely) appear to some to be an act of selfishness, if that demonstrates the wisest stewardship, then that is what we should do.

(originally posted 3/23/09 as a comment at Historical Christian)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Social Justice of the Free Market

Msgr. Charles Pope writes on social justice,

We need to uphold the concept of private property which is an efficient way to deploy the goods of this earth and link them to to an enlightened self-interest. But we cannot allow private property to overrule the more basic truth that everything belongs to God and it is his will that his property benefit all. Hence, whatever I have I ought to use to benefit others, beginning with my family but not ending there. Maybe it is raw capital or entrepreneurial opportunities that I can turn into job opportunities for others. Maybe it is savings that I consistently set aside for my kids college one day, maybe it is simply the fact that I have money to spend which then enters the economy and creates markets which create jobs and incomes for others. But the bottom line is that my money is not simply my money. My talents are not simply my talents. My gifts are not simply mine. All these are given to me not only for me but for others. If I have two coats, perhaps one belongs to the poor. If I have excess money perhaps it can benefit others. This need not be in a simplistic sort of way which merely gives it away indiscriminately. Perhaps I can invest in way that helps it grow so that, down the line even more can benefit. But the bottom line is that I should be thinking that this money, or these talents, or these things are not just mine. . . .

If I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor and I ought to generously return it to its owner. . . . No one, especially the government, ought to be able to come and merely take your stuff. It’s yours viz a viz them. (emphasis added)

This latter point, of course, makes all the difference in the world, and a point that is sorely missed all too often. Yes, we have a duty of charity and justice to give to the poor. But that duty to give does not mean that the government has the rightful authority to take, much less to take it and then give it to whom they dictate is to have it, some favored few, rather than who really deserves it (and then only after government takes it’s cut of the goods). The Good Samaritan helped the poor man in the ditch himself, he did not go chase down the other two who had passed by him and, in the manner of a tax collector, seize their money to pay for the poor man's care.

If an individual is wrongfully greedy and materialistic, why should that person all of the sudden be deemed to be virtuous simply because he is a government bureaucrat? The sad experience of government throughout human history is that, however bad individuals might be, governments invariably end up being worse.

We need only look at the last few months, when government took hundreds of billions of dollars out of the hands of employers and businesses and individuals, obstensibly in order for the government to create “or save” jobs, and the whole fiasco has only ended costing jobs, with soaring unemployment. How much better might it be, instead of taking money from employers, to allow them to keep that money so that they might hire people??

Even consider that greedy rich guy — nobody keeps their money buried in the yard anymore. These are not feudal times, we do not have nobles who hide away their gold in treasure rooms in their castles. Rather, people invest their wealth, which provides capital for businesses to grow and hire people. Or they buy things, perhaps totally useless things. But somebody has to make those useless things, and that creates jobs. Jobs which feed and clothe and shelter people. Instead of getting a government check, which robs him of his dignity, the poor guy can go and get one of those jobs, which respects and enhances his dignity as a human person.

And those who cannot work for whatever reason, individuals have the monetary resources to help them. Individuals have the ability to personally do charity and justice to their neighbors, rather than having that charity and justice usurped by government. You actively doing and giving yourself is a virtue. You passively watching government take your money by tax withholding is no virtue at all.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Sacrament of Confirmation
the Outpouring of the Spirit as Granted to the Faithful at Pentecost

Seventh Grade CCD 2009
Class One

I. Generally (CCC 1302-04)

A. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, we receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as was promised by God the Father in the Old Testament and by Jesus (God the Son) in the Gospels, and as happened to the faithful at Pentecost.

(1) In the Sacrament, by the visible outward sign of the laying on of hands, anointing, and the words, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” the recipient receives the invisible reality of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

B. Confirmation completes what began at Baptism – making us complete Christians – uniting us more firmly to Christ and binding us more perfectly to the Church.

(1) Whereas in Baptism, we come from the world into the Church, in Confirmation, we go from the Church out into the world to be a witness for Christ.

(2) By Confirmation, we are not merely members of the Church concerned with our own personal salvation, but are joined in the redemptive mission of the Church and, thus, concerned with the salvation of others.

C. Although received only once, far from being a one-time event, the Sacrament of Confirmation is an everyday Sacrament, in that we can use and benefit from the graces received in our everyday lives.

II. Confirmation and Mission

After He suffered, died, and rose again, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Jesus then ascended to heaven. Ten days later, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and the Church was born.

A. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
In Confirmation, we receive power, that is, certain graces from the Holy Spirit, to help us participate in the mission of the Church to be a witness for Jesus. These graces include:

(1) Sacramental and sanctifying graces, which impress a spiritual seal or mark upon us, fundamentally altering our very being.

(2) The Seven “Gifts” of the Holy Spirit (Is. 11:1-2): wisdom, counsel, knowledge, understanding, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord.
(a) These “gifts” in turn lead to the Twelve “Fruits” of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23): charity, generosity, kindness, gentleness, and patience; goodness, faithfulness, chastity, modesty, and self-control; joy and peace.

(3) Actual graces, which assist us in a given situation and instill and strengthen various virtues within us, including:
(a) The Theological Virtues of faith, hope, and love.
(b) The Cardinal Virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.

B. “You will be my witnesses.”
To be a witness for Jesus means to (i) testify to the truth of the faith and (ii) to share the love of Christ with others.

(1) The meaning of life is to love and be loved in truth. Truth and Love are the foundations of the Faith. The entirety of the Faith invariably comes back to truth and love, which is not surprising since God is Truth, and God is Love, not merely in a philosophical sense, but Truth and Love in person.

(2) Truth – Testifying to the truth of the faith means, first, learning the deposit of faith and, secondly, spreading that Good News of Jesus Christ to the world – being a light of truth and love in a dark world and making disciples of all nations. (Mt. 28:19)

(3) Love – The Two Great Commandments, which are the summation of the entirety of the law, are to (i) love God, and (ii) love one another. (Mt. 22:36-40) Loving God and one another includes:
(a) The Corporal Works of Mercy (Mt. 25:31-46): feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
(b) The Spiritual Works of Mercy: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and the dead.
(c) The Beatitudes, which are words of both promise and spiritual direction, indicating the way of conversion and reform of life. They teach us how to love God and one another and thereby how to be a light of truth to the world: Blessed are the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the meek, they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on Jesus’ account. (Mt. 5:3-12)

(4) The “commandments” to love God and love one another are not dictates from a demanding God, but are instead nothing more than commandments to be true to the person that we were made and meant to be – to love and be loved in truth.

“Charity begins today. Today somebody is suffering, today somebody is in the street, today somebody is hungry. Our work is for today, yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come – today, we have only today to make Jesus known, loved, served, fed, clothed, sheltered, etc. Today – do not to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow might not come. Tomorrow we will not have them, if we do not feed them today.”
– Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

III. Challenges in Preparation for Confirmation

• Learn the material – the “deposit of the faith” – but more important than simply having intellectual knowledge of Jesus is having Him in your heart.
• Understand that grace, including the grace of Confirmation, is a gift and, like any gift, must be actively accepted and used or else it is as if you never received it.
• In the readings at Mass, in your personal reading, and in everyday life, think about how Confirmation might apply.
• Constantly give thought to what you would say to a non-Christian, non-Catholic, or other person who might ask you about the Faith.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Eternal Home is Being Prepared in Heaven

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Mass in remembrance of cardinals and bishops who have died in the past year

November 5, 2009

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!'"

The words of Psalm 122[121]:1 which we have just sung, invite us to lift our heart's gaze towards the "house of the Lord," towards the Heavens. It is there that the host of all the Saints whom, a few days ago, the Liturgy brought us to contemplate is mysteriously gathered in the beatific vision of God. The Solemnity of All Saints is followed by the commemoration of all the faithful departed. These two celebrations, lived in a profound atmosphere of faith and prayer, help to us to understand better the mystery of the Church in its totality and to comprehend ever more that life must be lived in continual, vigilant anticipation. It is a pilgrimage towards eternal life, the ultimate fulfilment that gives meaning and fullness to our earthly journey. Already "our feet have been standing" (v. 2) at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.

By now, the following late Cardinals have reached this definitive destination: Avery Dulles, Pio Laghi, Stéphanos II Ghattas, Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Paul Joseph Pham Ðính Tung, Umberto Betti, Jean Margéot, as have the numerous Archbishops and Bishops who have left us during this past year. We remember them with affection and we give thanks to God for the good that they achieved. We are gathered in this Vatican Basilica, as every year, to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice for their souls. We think of them in the real and mysterious communion that unites us pilgrims on earth and those who have gone before us into the afterlife, certain that death does not break the bonds of spiritual fraternity forged by the Sacraments of Baptism and of Holy Orders. . . .

"The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God" (Wis 3: 1). The First Reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, speaks of the righteous who are persecuted, unjustly put to death. But, the sacred Author emphasizes, even if their deaths occurred in circumstances so humiliating and painful as to seem shocking, in truth, for those who have faith, this is not so, for "they are at peace." And even if they undergo punishment in the eyes of men, "their hope is full of immortality" (vv. 3-4).

The loss of loved ones is painful. The event of death is a disquieting enigma; but for believers, however it occurs, it is always illumined by the "hope of immortality." Faith sustains us in these moments, charged with human sadness and discouragement.

"In your eyes, life is not taken away but transformed," the Liturgy recalls, "and whilst the land of this earthly exile is destroyed, an eternal home is being prepared in Heaven" (Preface, Mass for the Dead).

Dear brothers and sisters, we know well and we experience in our own journeys that there is no lack of difficulties and problems in this life. There are situations of suffering and of pain, difficult moments to understand and accept. All this, however, acquires worth and meaning if it is considered in the perspective of eternity. In fact, every challenge, accepted with persevering patience and offered for the Kingdom of God, already works to our spiritual advantage here on earth and above all in the next life, in Heaven. In this world we are in transit; we are tested in the crucible like gold, as the Sacred Scripture affirms (cf. Wis 3:6). United mysteriously to Christ's passion, we can make of our existence a pleasing offering to the Lord, a voluntary sacrifice of love.

In the Responsorial Psalm and in the Second Reading, taken from the First Letter of Peter, we find something of an echo of the words from the Book of Wisdom. While Psalm 122 -- which takes up the song of the pilgrims who come to the Holy City after a long journey and reach its gates full of joy -- projects a festive feeling of paradise, St. Peter exhorts us to keep the perspective of hope, a "living hope" alive in our hearts during the earthly pilgrimage (1:3). He notes that, in the face of the inevitable dissolution of this world, we are made the promise of "an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading," because God in his great mercy has given us new life "through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1:3-4). This is why we must be "full of joy," even if we are burdened with various afflictions.

If, in fact, we persevere in the good, our faith, purified by many trials, will shine in all its splendour one day and will return to our praise, glory, and honour when Jesus manifests himself in his glory. Herein lies the reason for our hope, that already makes us "rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy" here, while we are journeying towards the purpose of our faith: the salvation of souls (cf. vv. 6-8).

Dear brothers and sisters, it is with these sentiments that we wish to entrust to Divine Mercy these Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, with whom we have worked together in the Lord's vineyard. Once liberated from whatever remains of their human frailty, may the Heavenly Father welcome them into his eternal Kingdom and confer upon them the reward promised to the good and faithful servants of the Gospel.

May the Blessed Virgin, with her maternal care, accompany them and open to them the gates of Paradise. May the Virgin Mary help us too, still travellers upon the earth, to keep our eyes fixed on the homeland that awaits us. May she encourage us to be ready with our "loins... girded and our lamps burning" to welcome the Lord "when he comes and knocks" (Lk 12: 35-36). At any hour and at any moment. Amen!


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Loss of a Loved One

In his ADW blog posting, "Good Grief," Msgr. Charles Pope writes about the feelings of grief associated with the death of someone we love. He writes:

Grief is one of the most painful and terrible emotions we can experience. It can crush us like a ton of bricks or loom over us like a dark cloud. Sometimes in sudden loss we just go numb only to discover that numbness is not a lack of feeling at all.

What Msgr. Pope describes is worse, far worse, than merely feeling bad. Make no mistake, the closest thing that there is to Hell on earth is the sudden loss of a loved one. To have someone near and dear to you suddenly ripped away from you, leaving nothing but a gaping wound and the emptiness of being all alone.

Of course, the fortunate person is the one who has faith and, consequently has hope, the confident assurance that the deceased loved one is not forever lost, but by the grace of Christ, lives in Him still. By the power of transcendent love, communion with such person is still possible even after "death." That understanding does provide some measure of comfort, even though on a more emotional level there is sadness from the person being sorely missed.

On the other hand, there are those who do not have such faith and, consequently, have no hope. For them, the deceased is gone, totally and forever. For them, all that is left is the abyss. And then there are those whose loved ones did not die, but merely rejected and abandoned them. While one is happy they are not dead, the loss of that love from a break-up is just as real; they may not be physically dead, but they are dead to the heart. In both of these cases, what we see is a glimpse of Hell.

The permanent loss of love, eternal abandonment, the resulting feeling of emptiness. All of these have the potential to lead to excruciating mental and emotional pain and angst, as well as spritual suffering. If we feel all of these things from the loss of a loved human person, imagine how much worse it would be if it were the heart-wrenching loss of love that results from separation from God? If you think that the anxiety you feel from the loss of a human loved one is unbearable, and you feel that your insides are all twisted up and feel like they are turning inside out, and you feel nothing but utter despair of the pain ever going away, all that is just a taste of what Hell is like, where we are eternally separated from He who is Love itself.

Whatever you do, don't let that happen. Grab onto God as if your life depended on it. Because it does.

Now, grabbing onto Him might necessarily mean clinging to Him while on the Cross, it might mean having to endure the Passion with Him, but it is by the Passion that suffering is destroyed. It is through the Cross that we reach the Resurrection.

Pain and suffering and hardship in this world cannot be avoided. You cannot run away from them. They will eventually catch up to you. Eventually they will ambush you. The only way you can overcome the ambush is by charging through it with Christ. The only way that pain and suffering and hardship are defeated are by embracing them with Christ, grabbing ahold of them and having them transformed by the power of the Cross. Only by grabbing them and transforming them are they defeated. Only by the transformative power of love on the Cross do they lose their sting and power to hurt.

So, grab onto the Lord as if your life and happiness and well-being depended on it. Because they do.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Election Day 2009

Tuesday, November 2, 2009, is election day in Virginia, New Jersey, and other places. Although we are not of the world, we are in the world, and ours is a living faith, not something merely philosophical or academic that we take out once a week for an hour or so, and then put back in the closet, where the world thinks it belongs, unseen and unheard. Part of living the faith -- everyday, in all aspects of our lives -- is the question of how to apply the truths of the faith -- and the moral obligation to do so -- most especially the truths of the inherent dignity of the human person, in that part of civil society known as the political and electoral process.

The process of electing, of making choices, has been with us from the very beginning, when the man and the woman were put to the choice of (a) rejecting God and seeking power for themselves by eating the fruit or (b) choosing to embrace God, who is Love and Truth, and rejecting the lie of relativism.

Similarly, in elections today, we are faced with a choice -- do we choose (1) that which is most consistent with authentic love and truth or (2) that which we believe will lead to the most power or personal gain?

The bishops of Virginia have provided some guidance in this area:

We must seek the “mind of Christ” in the voting judgments we make, just as we must when contemplating any other moral decision in our lives. The best way to begin the process of forming our consciences is to open our minds and hearts to the Lord in the Eucharist and in our daily prayer lives.

With prayer as our solid foundation, we can then receive the truth of Catholic moral and social teaching, understand the link between that teaching and many issues affecting the lives and dignity of our brothers and sisters in the human family, and seek to learn the positions candidates take on these issues. Then, and only then, can we cast our votes with the assurance that we are doing so with a well-formed conscience.

Neither the bishops, the Church as a whole, have any desire to tell people specifically whom they should vote for (or vote against). The Church does not seek to make automatons or puppets who do whatever they are told without thought or spiritual reflection. Rather, God and His Church seek for people to be personally and actively engaged so as to freely choose the good, that is, to love others in truth. The purpose of the bishops in providing guidance is to help people form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. Such guidance is especially needed in the face of the effective assertion of some that voting is an occasion for moral relativism and equivalence.

We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.

As [Paragraph 7 of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship] makes clear, the Church’s role is to teach the truth that is revealed to us by Christ in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. This teaching is what we endorse, rather than candidates or political parties. And it is this teaching that should serve as the yardstick by which to measure candidates and party platforms.

Equipped with the Church’s timeless truths, it is the responsibility of each individual to make the best voting decisions that he or she can, with the recognition that we live in a culture that does not fully embrace our values and are faced with flawed party platforms and candidates who do not share all of our policy goals . . . . [T]o correctly form our consciences, we must recognize the importance of all issues affecting human rights and dignity — from the moment of conception until natural death and at every stage in between — and appreciate that such issues are not abstractions but rather realities that determine whether families thrive or struggle, whether individuals are respected or exploited, and even whether people live or die. At the same time, the proper formation of conscience also means discerning the differences in moral gravity among various issues. Disregarding the right to life itself — the foundation upon which all other human rights are based and without which no other right could possibly exist — is more serious than any other human rights violation.

Once our consciences are correctly formed within this consistent and comprehensive moral framework, paragraphs 34 and 35 of the U.S. bishops’ statement serve to provide specific guidance on evaluating candidates and weighing their many policy positions, especially when those positions involve intrinsically evil actions — that is, actions that are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor:

"34. . . . A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

"35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil."

This guidance applies precisely to the question we hear most often from members of our two dioceses: "What if I reject a candidate’s stance in favor of legalized abortion but wish to vote for that candidate for other reasons?" In assessing whether such reasons would justify such a decision, we first observe that such reasons would certainly need to be not only morally grave but also proportionately grave — that is, equally serious or even more serious than abortion. In other words, one would need to compare the gravity of abortion against the gravity of the other considerations. And making that comparison would necessarily involve examining just how serious abortion is in terms of its very nature and in terms of its impact on members of the human family. That means we must appreciate the difference in moral gravity between policies which are intrinsically unjust (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, and the deliberate destruction of human embryos) and policies involving prudential judgments about which people of good will may disagree concerning various means of promoting economic justice, public safety, and fair opportunities for every person. As paragraph 37 of the U.S. bishops’ statement explains, "[T]he moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions." Moreover, we must fully understand that so-called "abortion rights" deny the most fundamental human right (and hence all rights) to an entire class of people, and we must confront the almost incomprehensible fact that abortions extinguish the lives of nearly 4,000 children per day (and well over one million per year) in the United States alone.

As this guidance makes clear, preferring one candidate's position on things like environmental issues or taxation policy cannot overcome and justify voting for that candidate if he or she denies the truth of the inherent dignity of all human life and is an advocate of the pretended right to destroy human life in the womb.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

All You Holy Saints of God, Pray for Us

The Litany of Saints
from the Funeral of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II