Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Love and Truth of the Word Become Flesh

Christmas Message of Pope Benedict XVI
Urbi et Orbi (to the city of Rome and the world)
December 25, 2010

"Verbum caro factum est" – "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14).

Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; He came to dwell among us. God is not distant: He is "Emmanuel," God-with-us. He is no stranger: He has a face, the face of Jesus.

This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in His presence, observing His works and hearing His words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing Him risen, after His crucifixion, they were certain that He was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14).

"The Word became flesh." Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man?

There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for His people which culminated in Jesus Christ.

God in fact does not change: He is faithful to Himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed His name to Moses: "I am who I am . . . the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . . . a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (cf. Ex 3:14-15; 34:6).

God does not change; He is Love, ever and always. In Himself He is communion, unity in Trinity, and all His words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.

"The Word became flesh." The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today.

The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Saviour. If the truth were a mere mathematical formula, in some sense it would impose itself by its own power. But if Truth is Love, it calls for faith, for the "yes" of our hearts.

And what do our hearts, in effect, seek, if not a Truth which is also Love? Children seek it with their questions, so disarming and stimulating; young people seek it in their eagerness to discover the deepest meaning of their life; adults seek it in order to guide and sustain their commitments in the family and the workplace; the elderly seek it in order to grant completion to their earthly existence.

"The Word became flesh." The proclamation of Christmas is also a light for all peoples, for the collective journey of humanity. "Emmanuel," God-with-us, has come as King of justice and peace. We know that His Kingdom is not of this world, and yet it is more important than all the kingdoms of this world. It is like the leaven of humanity: were it lacking, the energy to work for true development would flag: the impulse to work together for the common good, in the disinterested service of our neighbour, in the peaceful struggle for justice. Belief in the God who desired to share in our history constantly encourages us in our own commitment to that history, for all its contradictions. It is a source of hope for everyone whose dignity is offended and violated, since the one born in Bethlehem came to set every man and woman free from the source of all enslavement.

May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence. May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; may it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity. May it also be so for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic. May the same hold true not only for those in Colombia and Venezuela, but also in Guatemala and Costa Rica, who recently suffered natural disasters.

May the birth of the Savior open horizons of lasting peace and authentic progress for the peoples of Somalia, Darfur and Côte d’Ivoire; may it promote political and social stability in Madagascar; may it bring security and respect for human rights in Afghanistan and in Pakistan; may it encourage dialogue between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and may it advance reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

May the birth of the Savior strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and His Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of "God-with-us" grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all.

Dear brothers and sisters, "the Word became flesh"; He came to dwell among us; He is Emmanuel, the God who became close to us. Together let us contemplate this great mystery of love; let our hearts be filled with the light which shines in the stable of Bethlehem!

To everyone, a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas and the Cross

On December 25, the world celebrates the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ -- Christmas Day.

Why is Christmas on December 25? Do we really know that that is the day when Jesus was born?

It turns out that the fixing of Christmas Day on December 25 is not an arbitrary decision, nor is it based on the widespread modern belief that the date was picked in order to displace the celebration of a pagan festival on that date. Rather, the date of Jesus' birth was determined by reference to Jesus' conception which, in turn, was calculated by determining His crucifixion and death.

Now, if you subtract nine months from December 25, you get March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. On that day, the Church reflects upon Mary's fiat, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me acccording to your word," and upon the Incarnation, the mystery of God coming down from heaven and merging Himself with Man, making Himself small and becoming flesh in the temple and virgin womb of Mary the Immaculate.

So, the question presents itself --
Why do we celebrate the Annunciation on March 25?

Well, that date was fixed in ancient tradition and it is based upon a widespread belief in Judaism at the time of Christ that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception. By the time of Tertullian, scholars researching the various dates of Passover had concluded that Jesus died on the Cross on March 25. Wrote St. Augustine,
"He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since." (On the Trinity, Book IV, Chapter 5).
Additionally, some Jewish scholars had calculated that the date of Creation was March 25, and it made sense to believe that, since a new creation began upon the Incarnation, Jesus was conceived on the same day as the first creation.

Hence, the tradition arose that, because He was crucified on March 25 and the universe was created on that date, Jesus was conceived on March 25. The day that Mary took her Son's Body into her arms beneath the Cross is the same day that she had taken His Body into her womb at the Annunciation.

And if you add nine months to the date of conception, March 25, you get . . . December 25, Christmas Day.


See also: Andrew McGowan, How December 25 Became Christmas
William J. Tighe, Calculating Christmas

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa Claus and Children

Over at Conversion Diary, the always great Jennifer Fulwiler asks the Santa Clause question.

Guilty confession: We do Santa at our house, but I have misgivings about it. In theory, I think it’s a great tradition. . . . I’m trying to like Santa here. But in practice it just feels kind of weird. On the one hand, I don’t want to associate Santa too closely with Jesus, since, well, one is more real than the other. On the other hand, it’s a constant battle not to let the guy with the shiny gifts overshadow the humble baby in the manger. As much as I try to emphasize Santa as Jesus’ helper, a Christian saint, etc. the pop culture images of him as THE AWESOME DUDE WITH THE INFINITE GIFT-GIVING POWER seem to trump in my children’s collective subconscious.

There are many good comments regarding children and Santa Claus. One mother pointed out a danger about Santa, when her daughter told her, "you told us the Tooth Fairy and Santa were real, and they’re not. So, it’s hard for me to believe God is real.” I responded,

Santa is real, just as God is real. But one is metaphor and the other is the real deal.

Properly understood, “Santa” is not the commercialized guy of the materialistic modern world, but is instead an icon of the Son of God Himself and, hence, a model for us.

Another comment said, "My husband said yesterday, 'This whole debate is crazy. No one is LYING. Santa IS real. He’s a mythical character who represents the spirit of anonymous giving.' Pretty wise, I thought." In response, I wrote,

This is largely right. A better word would be metaphorical or symbolic, rather than mythical.

“Santa Claus” is indeed real — he is representative of the giving and joy that we are each called to, and which originates in God giving Himself to us on Christmas morning.

The only problem is in not locking yourself in by presenting Santa in such a fashion that one cannot then later explain exactly who “Santa” is. Yes, he was an actual real historical person by the name of Nicholas. And the clothes that he wears (red suit, white lining) are the real historical clothes worn by bishops. But the “Santa” of today is you and me. Santa is us, who are called to give to others.

Thus, it is probably wise, when kids see all the various “Santas” at the mall, to explain that that is not really Santa, but “Santa’s helper.” That can bridge the gap to later telling the children that “Santa” is symbolic, that the real Santa is each of us and, more importantly, that they are Santa too, they are called to self-giving.

Maybe this is where the Easter Bunny can play an invaluable service.

Like Santa, the Easter Bunny is filled with Christian symbolism. But, generally, it is rather transparent that the "Easter Bunny" is mom and dad, what with him leaving the very same eggs that the kids were painting a couple of days before. Nevertheless, there is, in the Easter Bunny, that symbolism and message of giving (even if it is the giving of eggs and candy). And if kids can "believe" in the Easter Bunny without having a crisis of faith, knowing that it is really just fun and games, that he is really mom and dad, perhaps the example of the Easter Bunny can be used to later explain how Santa is really representative of Jesus and us.

If done right, parents can avoid the two extremes of teaching fantasy and lies to children on the one hand and being a grumpy wet-blanket Grinch on the other. Fostering a belief in "Santa Claus" can be a teaching tool if carefully done, a tool that leads children to Christ and His call to love one another.


See also The Real Saint Nicholas

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Immaculate Mary, Virgin Mother of God, Daughter of Her Son

Here is a piece that I wrote as a guest contributor for the blog Runs With Angels . . . Lives With Saints --

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

The question immediately arises -- What is the "Immaculate Conception"?
Very simply, the doctrine states that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the “New Eve,” who was redeemed and given the life of the fullness of grace from the first moment of her existence, such that she was preserved from Original Sin at her conception. And, as noted in the prior posting on the Assumption of Mary, each of the four Marian doctrines are interrelated.

Why should Mary have been immaculately conceived?
When he appears to Mary, the angel calls her "Full of Grace," as if that were her name. "Full of grace" describes not only who she is, but what she is. It was the fullness of grace that gave Mary the total freedom, unimpaired by the errors of sin, to say “yes” to God, in the fullness of her being, at the Annunciation and throughout her life. In this way, Mary could be a proper and pure “living temple” for the Son of God in her womb. “She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man,” says Pope Benedict XVI. Moreover, in Jesus, God literally merged into mankind, becoming small, defenseless, and vulnerable while dwelling within the Virgin Mary’s womb, in the most intimate of relationships. Just as the first Eve was formed out of the first Adam, so Jesus, Son of God and the new Adam, was formed out of the new Eve, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone. So, Jesus being the Lord, like us in all ways except sin, it was necessary that His flesh be pure and without the stain of sin.

An objection is raised by some Protestants that this somehow equates Mary to God and is a denial of the truth that we can be saved only by and through Jesus Christ. However, such objections do not understand the doctrine, which states that the grace won by Christ on the Cross was applied to Mary in anticipation of this saving event.

But how could Mary be saved by Jesus if He wasn't even born yet when she was conceived and the Crucifixion and Resurrection did not happen until about 45-50 years after that?

Although it would be impossible to gain the benefit of something before it existed in time from a human perspective, we must remember that God is eternal.

For us humans, time is linear, with a before, present, and future. But time is not linear for Jesus Christ, rather, He is eternal, all moments in time exist simultaneously, and each moment endures in perpetuity. Thus, at Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus that we celebrate is not something that happened 2000 years ago, but is happening right now, in the present. He is forever on the Cross, forever rising from the dead. And, just as that saving event extends "forward in time" for us, so too does it extend "backward in time" for Mary. Jesus is eternal, so when Mary was conceived, the Crucifixion and Resurrection were happening for Him.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, like all of the Marian doctrines, really says more about Jesus than it does about Mary herself. That is because, in all things, just as when she said at Cana, "do whatever He says," Mary always points us toward her Son.

But, at the same time, Mary also points towards ourselves. Or, more accurately, she points us to the people that God intended and intends for us to be. She is the "new Eve," the new mother of all of those who are truly living, that is, those who have eternal life. Just as her bodily assumption into heaven anticipates the resurrection of the body of all of the faithful, even if we ourselves will not be bodily assumed into heaven, so too does her immaculate conception anticipate our own "conception" into eternal life, a life full of grace in communion with He who is Love and Truth.

Although the faithful have professed a belief in the Immaculate Conception since the earliest days of the Church, and it has long been a feast day on the Church calendar, still it was not until 1854 that the doctrine was "formally" stated. That the dogma was not declared until that late date does not mean that it is a new teaching, to the contrary, it is because it has been the understanding and belief of the Church throughout the millenia that it could be formally ratified as doctrine.

Ineffabilis Deus
Apostolic Constitution on the Immaculate Conception

His Holiness Pope Pius IX, December 8, 1854

From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son, a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully. . . .

The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin -- a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God. . . .

Accordingly, the Fathers have never ceased to call the Mother of God the lily among thorns, the land entirely intact, the Virgin undefiled, immaculate, ever blessed, and free from all contagion of sin, she from whom was formed the new Adam, the flawless, brightest, and most beautiful paradise of innocence, immortality and delights planted by God himself and protected against all the snares of the poisonous serpent, the incorruptible wood that the worm of sin had never corrupted, the fountain ever clear and sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the most holy temple, the treasure of immortality, the one and only daughter of life -- not of death -- the plant not of anger but of grace, through the singular providence of God growing ever green contrary to the common law, coming as it does from a corrupted and tainted root. . . .

To these praises they have added very noble words. Speaking of the conception of the Virgin, they testified that nature yielded to grace and, unable to go on, stood trembling. The Virgin Mother of God would not be conceived by Anna before grace would bear its fruits; it was proper that she be conceived as the first-born, by whom "the first-born of every creature" would be conceived. They testified, too, that the flesh of the Virgin, although derived from Adam, did not contract the stains of Adam, and that on this account, the most Blessed Virgin was the tabernacle created by God himself and formed by the Holy Spirit, truly a work in royal purple, adorned and woven with gold, which that new Beseleel made. They affirmed that the same Virgin is, and is deservedly, the first and especial work of God, escaping the fiery arrows of the evil one; that she is beautiful by nature and entirely free from all stain; that at her Immaculate Conception she came into the world all radiant like the dawn. For it was certainly not fitting that this vessel of election should be wounded by the common injuries, since she, differing so much from the others, had only nature in common with them, not sin. In fact, it was quite fitting that, as the Only-Begotten has a Father in heaven, whom the Seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a Mother on earth who would never be without the splendor of holiness.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Hanukkah and the Light of Christ
The Rededication of the Temple and the Festival of Lights

Hanukkah begins this evening, December 1, 2010, at sundown (remembering that the Jewish day begins at sundown).

The Jewish Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was instituted in the year 165 B.C. It is celebrated annually as a memorial of the rededication of the Temple with a new altar and purification of the sanctuary. Three years earlier, Antiochus Epiphanes had caused a pagan altar to be set up at the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple and sacrifices to be offered to his idol, called "Zeus Olympius."

The Maccabean revolt followed, led by Judas Maccabeus (Yehuda HaMakabi, "Judah the Hammer"). After many battles, the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple were recovered.

1 Maccabees 4:36-59
Judas Maccabeus and his brothers said, "Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it." So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion. They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts as in a forest or on some mountain, and the priests' chambers demolished.

Then they tore their clothes and made great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes and fell with their faces to the ground. And when the signal was given with trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Judas appointed men to attack those in the citadel, while he purified the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests, devoted to the law; these purified the sanctuary and carried away the stones of the Abomination to an unclean place.

They deliberated what ought to be done with the altar of holocausts that had been desecrated. The happy thought came to them to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar. They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple hill, until a prophet should come and decide what to do with them.

Then they took uncut stones, according to the law, and built a new altar like the former one. They also repaired the sanctuary and the interior of the temple and purified the courts. They made new sacred vessels and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these illuminated the temple. They also put loaves on the table and hung up curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts that they had made. On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals. All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests' chambers and furnished them with doors. There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev. (see also 2 Macc 1:18-2:19; 10:1-8)
Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration", is also known as the Festival of Lights due to a miracle that allowed the Eternal Light of the Temple to burn for eight days, even though there was only enough oil to last one day.

This miracle is recounted in the Talmud (Shabbat 2),
The rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, Hanukkah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting (in commemoration of the dead) and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Asmoneans prevailed and conquered them, oil was sought (to feed the holy lamp in the sanctuary) and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and it fed the holy lamp eight days in succession. These eight days were the following year established as days of good cheer, on which psalms of praise and acknowledgment (of God's wonders) were to be recited.
The Eternal Light of the Temple represented God's everlasting presence, just as the sanctuary lamp placed before the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament in Catholic churches is kept lit to indicate and honor the presence of Christ. In the synagogue, a perpetual lamp signifies the Lord's presence in the Torah, the Word of God.

Although a Jewish holiday -- one celebrated by Jesus -- Hanukkah can also be a time for Christians to remember that it is God Himself who is a Light that is everlasting and can never be extinguished. These days of rededication and the manifestation of God's eternal light remind us that evil will be defeated and, even if the evil has defiled the good, in the meantime, God cannot be defeated. His light is everlasting. More than light from oil, which runs out, His is the Eternal Light which cannot be extinguished. Thus, this is a time of hope.

It is fitting, then, that we observe this celebration of the Light as we await in Advent the birth and revelation to the world of the Light Incarnate -- God from God, Light from Light.
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; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Condoms and Moral Truth

Never underestimate the ability and capacity for people to make the simple so complex as to confound, to bring confusion where clarity is obvious. All too often, especially in the area of morality, people get bogged down in minutiae, overthink the problem, and/or get sidetracked on some tangential point. Recently, we have witnessed that very phenomenon unfold with the controversy over Pope Benedict's remarks in Light of the World on condom usage.

With respect to the usage of condoms, even in cases to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS or other disease, people are making this much more complex and confusing than it needs to be. The Pope doesn't think it is overly complex, the African bishops do not think that. It is all rather straight-forward, at least it is if you are not purposely looking for loopholes and wink-and-nod exceptions (including, sadly, some within the Church, including not a few "progressive" theologians and priests). And, make no mistake, some people are, in fact, using the relatively rare case of infected spouses as a "gotcha" argument in order to justify condom usage in the other 99.99 percent of cases where it is not used in marriage to prevent the spread of disease.

Moreover, many people are being overly narrow in their analysis, saying that the morality of condom usage has to do with contraceptive intent, or that it is about "double effect," or whether a male prostitute is involved, etc. Sadly, this overly narrow focus prevails throughout much of people's understanding of the Church's teachings on human sexuality, such that too often they end up missing the forest for the trees. Or, to use another metaphor, too many people seem to think that the Church reinvents the wheel with every new moral question, that with each moral situation, in this case, human sexuality, the Church applies a unique set of rules and principles. Not only do moral relativists seem to believe this, so too do some who sincerely seek to be faithful to Church teaching. As such, they misread and misunderstand Church teaching on, for example, sexuality, and end up scratching their heads when some supposedly new moral question presents itself, for example, embryonic stem cell research.

Likewise, they end up thinking -- and telling other people -- that teachings like the Theology of the Body is all about sexuality or that the foundational teaching in Humanae Vitae is about contraception. In neither case is that so. Rather, John Paul II merely applied Theology of the Body to the context of human sexuality. Similarly, Pope Paul VI merely applied the primary teaching of Humanae Vitae to human sexuality in general and contraception in particular.

In fact, all of the Church's teachings on human sexuality are the same. There is not a different teaching for contraception, a different teaching for abortion, a different teaching for extra-marital sex, a different teaching for homosexuality, a different teaching for those with an illness or infectious disease, a different teaching for young people and older people, a different teaching for embryonic/fetal research. No, the teaching in each case is the same.

What is that teaching? What is the primary teaching of Humanae Vitae if not contraception? And more specifically to this inquiry, what is the teaching regarding the usage of condoms?

Love and Truth.

Love and Truth are the two pillars upon which the entirety of the faith can be understood. We are a faith that seeks understanding, both for ourselves and to better explain it to non-believers. It is crucial for understanding to see that Love and Truth really are the answer to every question. And it is not surprising that Love and Truth should be the answer to every question because God is Love and God is Truth. (CCC 214-221)

All of Catholic moral teaching, including the teachings on human sexuality, 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.” Or, as Jesus said to the Apostles, "love one another. As I have loved you, so too should you love one another." And who and what is God, that we should love Him? God being the "I am" and Logos, is reality itself, is reason itself - He is Truth itself. So to love God means, among other things, to love Truth. And to go against reason and truth, to think or act contrary to genuine love for God and neighbor, is what is called "sin" (CCC 1849); and where there is a distortion or corruption or privation of truth and love (that is, "good"), that is what is called "evil."

All Catholic moral teaching is grounded in and must comply with these two pillars of Love and Truth. When Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae, or Pope John Paul II taught the Theology of the Body, they were not teaching anything new -- they were teaching love and truth, caritas et veritas. The teachings on contraception, the unitive/fruitful components, the spousal meaning of the body -- all of these are mid-point teachings that are grounded in love and truth. Human beings are made to love and be loved in truth. (CCC 355-84) And, as Pope Benedict has stated repeatedly, it is only in love and truth that there can be a "humanization of sexuality," a sexuality that is authentically human, rather than mechanistic or utilitarian.

As stated above, with respect to condoms, many people are being overly narrow in their analysis, saying that the morality of condom usage has to do with contraceptive intent, etc.

However, the question is not whether a condom is contraceptive, etc., but like EVERY moral question, whether is it consistent or inconsistent with love and/or truth.

Let's walk through it. What are the possible cases of condom usage?

Nonsexual uses -- This might include usage as a water balloon, or as a tourniquet if one is bleeding, or by a soldier to keep the muzzle of his rifle dry if going through water. None of these are morally wrong.

Sexual uses --
(1) By married people to prevent pregnancy.
(2) By unmarried people, straight or gay, to prevent pregnancy or disease or some other reason.
(3) By married people to prevent disease -- and note that this is relevant in probably only 0.01 percent of the cases -- and this could be broken down further into cases where (a) the healthy spouse knows of the other's disease, (b) the healthy spouse does not know of the other's disease, (c) both spouses know and want to use a condom, (d) the infected spouse wants to use a condom, but the healthy one does not want to risk sex at all, (e) the healthy spouse wants to use one, but the infected one does not want to risk sex at all.

(1) By married people as a contraceptive. The use of a condom to prevent having babies in marriage gravely sinful because such use is contrary to love and/or contrary to the truth of the human person and sexuality. That is, it is contrary to the unitive and fruitful aspects of sex within marriage. See Humanae Vitae. (The teaching here has been extensively covered elsewhere and this aspect of the question of condom use really is not the point of this posting, so further discussion is unnecessary.)

However, condom usage is not always so limited to contraceptive purpose and effect. The moral error of using condoms does not always and everywhere have to do with contraception. Rather, it is wrong for other reasons.

(2) By unmarried people. Even outside of sex within marriage, condom usage can be and usually is, if not always is, contrary to love and contrary to truth and, therefore, by definition, a sin. The use of a condom, even by unmarried persons, straight or gay, prostitute or non-prostitute, facilitates certain sinful acts, e.g. fornication and/or sodomy.

And in addition to aiding and abetting other sins, it also promotes the lie that this is somehow "safe sex." (See Card. Alfonso López Trujillo, Family Values Versus Safe Sex (2003)) First, as a medical matter, there is a high failure rate with condoms and, second, as a moral matter, there is no such this as "safe mortal sin." Usage promotes the lie that it is somehow an act in mitigation of sin, that it is somehow "better," i.e. morally good, to use them when engaging in some other sin. It also promotes and facilitates the treatment of another human person as an object of use. Condom usage, by its very nature, is utilitarian -- sex no longer is a purely human act, but is mechanistic and nonhuman.

The wrongfulness with respect to condoms is that usage is contary to love and/or truth, period. However they are used, whenever they are used, they are contary to the truth of the human person and human sexuality.

(3) By married people to prevent disease. Even in the marital context for non-contraceptive purposes, e.g. the relatively rare case of one spouse having a communicable disease -- where the "pro condom argument" is that there is not a sinful contraceptive intent, but a morally good intent of protecting health -- condom usage is likely to promote a sexuality of use, rather than a sexuality of love.

Moreover, the contraceptive effect is still present, it is still a rupture of the unitive and fruitful components.

And beyond being contrary to love, beyond being an act that objectifies the other person into a sex object, it promotes the lie that is so prevelant in our hypersexualized society, that sex is the be all and end all of human existence, that sexual pleasure is a person's absolute fundamental right and the denial of that is the worst kind of hell imaginable. It is part of this falsehood that we must give into our passions, let our appetites control us. Which again encourages one to look at his or her spouse as an object of sexual use, rather than a person we should love.

Consider just how this would play out in real life --
"Honey, I have a communicable disease. A deadly disease in fact. Let's have sex."
"I have this disease that could kill you if you get it, and it is transmitted by sexual contact. And to show you just how much I love you, I want to have sex with you."
"Come baby, so what if it is a risk of getting a deadly disease? If you loved me, you would."

Just exactly how is use of a condom between one infected spouse and a healthy one supposed to be an expression of love? Love, by its very nature, includes a sacrifice of self, a renunciation of one's selfish desires, and a desire for the good of the other, to not put the other person at risk of harm.

Perhaps in the case of one spouse having a disease, the couple is being called to marital chastity?

There are plenty of other cases where one spouse does not have a communicable disease, but nevertheless is unable to have sex -- does that mean that the other can morally go to a prostitute? that he can go get sexual satisfaction looking at Internet porn and pleasuring himself? No, in these cases, the couple is called to marital chastity. And if it was good enough for Mary and Joseph, it is good enough for the rest of us.

In any event, even if one could posit a moral case for condom usage within marriage solely for disease prevention, still that would be a matter for such couples and those couples alone. It would not be a justification for other sexual uses, it is not and cannot be used as the "camel's nose under the tent" that disingenuous condom partisans would like it to be.

Sex is a good thing, being made by God, it is a very good thing, but it is not the only thing, it is not the supreme thing. And it is good only insofar as it is consistent with love and consistent with truth.

Contraception in marriage is NOT the only reason that condoms are morally wrong. It is ONE reason they are wrong. And to focus solely on that in the analysis is to twist one's self up in knots. Even when used within marriage with non-contraceptive intent (the contraceptive effect still remaining), condoms are likely to promote some other wrongful intent, namely a utilitarian sexuality of use, of seeing the "big O" as the most important thing in life.

It would probably be going to far to say that there can NEVER be a case where sexual condom usage would be morally right -- there might be one case in 500 zillion where it might be OK, but such a good reason has yet to be submitted. In every usage, it is either contrary to love and/or contrary to truth. Thus, by definition, it is morally wrong, it is a sin, it is a journey down the wrong path. To use Pope Benedict's words, it is contrary to a "humanization of sexuality."
The Church wants to keep man human. . . . we cannot resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry, but must solve them morally, with a life-style. It is, I think — independently now of contraception — one of our great perils that we want to master even the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible of technological solutions but that demand a certain life-style and certain life decisions.
--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth (1997)


For more on Church teaching on love, truth, and human sexuality see these prior posts --
The Positive Good News of Humanae Vitae and the Church's Other Teachings on Human Sexuality and Life Issues
Respect for Human Life and Contraception: An Application of Theology of the Body
The Teaching Fruits of Humanae Vitae
Pope Paul Explains that Humanae Vitae is a Positive Teaching of Love and Truth
other posts on human sexuality and chastity

Light of the World - The Controversy

What follows is a description of the controversy that has arisen following the release of certain remarks about condom usage by Pope Benedict. We will confine this posting to explaining that controversy. In a succeeding post, we will examine the underlying question regarding the morality of condom usage.

Light of the World is the title of the soon-to-be released book-length interview of Pope Benedict XVI. It is also what we, as Catholics, are each called to be, a light of love and truth to a dark world. It is truth and only truth which will set one free, and few people have been so skillful in demonstrating how simple and clear truth is than has Pope Benedict.

But there has not been much truth regarding this book, specifically, with certain excerpts of the Pope's remarks concerning condoms. Now, to set the background, certain segments of society have long advocated and actively pushed condom usage for a variety of reasons. And they have not only been promoted for married persons, but even for children, including distribution in schools. And, of course, this advocacy has been accompanied by malicious attacks on the Church, which is said to be harsh and uncaring in her teachings.

As a supposed example of when usage should be morally permissible, if not obligatory, the condom pushers raise the issue of spouses who are infected with HIV-AIDS, insisting that condom usage is necessary to prevent the spread of the disease, as in Africa. The vast majority of African bishops have opposed the distribution of condoms as an answer in cases of HIV-AIDS infection. It is with that background that Pope Benedict was asked about condom usage in Light of the World.

And this is how Pope Benedict's answer was distorted and twisted by the mainstream media in its reporting --

"Pope says condoms acceptable 'in certain cases': book"

Pope Benedict XVI says that condom use is acceptable "in certain cases", notably to reduce the risk of HIV infection, in a book due out Tuesday, apparently softening his once hardline stance. In a series of interviews published in his native German, the 83-year-old Benedict is asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms." . . . "In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics. The new volume, entitled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," is based on 20 hours of interviews conducted by German journalist Peter Seewald. Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception -- other than abstinence -- even as a guard against sexually transmitted disease. . . .

This report provoked an outcry in various Catholic circles, including those people who should know better than to trust anything that the mainstream media reports about Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church.

Here is what Pope Benedict actually said in Light of the World in response to this particular question --

Seewald: On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on AIDs once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all AIDs victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

Pope Benedict: The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on AIDs. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDs victims, especially children with AIDs.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Pope Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Now, in reading Pope Benedict, it is important to understand that he often thinks out-loud, so to speak, that he goes step by step, first stating the problem, then considering various objections to Church teaching, then explaining why Church teaching must necessarily be true and correct. The Pope is ever the Professor, and we plainly see that this is yet another case of Pope Benedict looking at a given problem from every angle, not merely rejecting out of hand the pro-condom argument, but giving thoughtful consideration to it. Far from being the mean and harsh ogre that his detractors say he is, he displays a great deal of sympathy and understanding of the problem, he recognizes that people might at least have enough moral awareness to be concerned with another's physical health, before then coming to the ultimate conclusion — “But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.” (emphasis added)

Also, in seeking to understand what Pope Benedict means whenever he speaks, we should also, not merely consider the immediate context of his remarks, but read them in the entirety of the Pope's teachings, as well as the teachings of the entire Church as a whole.

Thus, we should note that these remarks follow those made by Pope Benedict at a press interview during his apostolic journey to Africa --

Philippe Visseyrias of France 2: Among the many ills that afflict Africa there is, in particular, the widespread prevalence of AIDS. The Church's position on how to fight the disease is often considered unrealistic and ineffectual. Will you confront this issue during this trip?

Pope Benedict: I would say the contrary. I think that the most efficient reality, the most present at the front of the struggle against AIDS, is precisely the Catholic Church, with her movements, with her various organizations. I am thinking of the Sant'Egidio Community that does so much, visibly and also invisibly, for the struggle against AIDS, of the Camilliani, of all the sisters who are at the disposition of the sick.

I would say that this problem of AIDS can't be overcome only with publicity slogans. If there is not the soul, if the Africans are not helped. The scourge can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem. The solution can only be found in a double commitment: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual and human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; and second, a true friendship, also and above all for those who suffer, the willingness -- even with sacrifice and self-denial -- to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that lead to visible progress.

Because of this, I would say that this, our double effort to renew man interiorly, to give spiritual and human strength for correct behavior with regard to one's body and that of another, and this capacity to suffer with those who suffer, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the correct answer, and the Church does this and thus offers a very great and important contribution. We thank all those who do this. (emphasis added)

If we consider Pope Benedict's Light of the World remarks in full context, it is very clear what he said and what he meant. And if we consider those remarks together with his prior remarks on the subject, including the prior press interview, and homilies and other magisterial teachings, as well as what he said and wrote as Cardinal Ratzinger, including authoritative documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and also including the teachings of the Church as a whole, including the magisterial documents of past popes, then we see that what he has said here is entirely consistent with the lost-standing teaching of the Church on moral questions, including the usage of condoms.

Next: What is the morality of condom usage?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Election Day 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010, is election day. 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?

As they have in years past, the bishops of Virginia have written a letter, Faithful Citizenship: On Election Day and the Other 364 Days, providing guidance and teaching in this area --

“Love God and love your neighbor.” That is what the Gospels and our own baptism call us to do in every situation. Whether at home, the office, the grocery store, the mall, or the movie theater, we make choices every day about how we live our faith.

Another arena where each of us is faced with the challenge of loving God and one another to the best of our ability is the public square. Participating in the political process is an integral part of who we are as people called to be faithful citizens – that is, Americans who practice civic virtue guided by their Catholic faith. But before engaging in such an important venture, we must first form our consciences thoughtfully, prayerfully, and correctly – just as an athlete practices thoroughly before entering an event. And the “venture” or “event” for which we are called to prepare ourselves is not merely the day of an election, although elections are certainly critical. Rather, exercising faithful citizenship means bringing our principles, guided by Gospel values, to bear on decisions that are shaped and made every day of every year.

Election Day

As bishops, we do not tell Catholics for whom to vote. Our role is to teach, and the upcoming Election Day (November 2) provides a “teaching moment” for us to reflect on timeless truths in a timely way. It is the duty of each individual voter to receive the Church’s moral and social teachings with an open mind and heart and to make decisions by applying those teachings.

Unfortunately, the decisions we all must make are in the context of a culture that does not fully embrace our values. Party platforms are far from perfect; most candidates do not agree with the Church on every issue; and a candidate may support some aspects of the Catholic moral framework but not others. There are so many issues that require our attention:

  • How can we build a culture of life when others propose abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies, euthanasia to address illness, embryo-destructive research to seek cures, and capital punishment to combat crime?
  • How can our economy create more jobs?
  • What assistance can be provided to people who cannot afford housing or health care?
  • How can we protect the institution of marriage against efforts to redefine it?
  • Can our nation’s broken immigration system be repaired?
  • What can governments do to help parents, as primary educators, offer their children the best educational options?
  • What are the best ways to achieve greater security and lasting peace in our region and our world?

Faced with these questions and so many more, it is essential to remember that not all issues have equal moral weight; we must be able to discern differences in moral gravity among them before we vote. While most issues debated in the public square are matters of prudential judgment about which people of goodwill can legitimately disagree (e.g., deciding on the best way to ensure access to health care), some practices permitted by government (and sometimes even funded with taxpayers’ money) are intrinsically evil – that is, always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. As the U.S. bishops’ statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship ( makes clear, “[T]he moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.”

Among acts that are intrinsically evil, those that directly attack life itself are the foremost threats to human dignity. The right to life is the foundation upon which all other human rights are based and without which no other right could possibly exist. Therefore, violations of this right are more serious than any other human rights violation. And sometimes these violations occur with almost unimaginable frequency. Such is the case with abortion, which extinguishes the lives of nearly 4,000 children per day (and well over one million per year) in the United States alone.

It follows, then, that protecting life to the maximum degree possible should be our highest consideration when we vote. Many issues deserve our careful attention. When the issue is whether to protect or deny the fundamental right to life, however, it outweighs other matters.

The other 364 days

Once we vote, we are not free to “leave the scene” until the following November. When it comes to exercising civic responsibility, voting is just the tip of the iceberg. No matter who gets into office, he or she will be making decisions that determine whether families thrive or struggle, whether individuals are respected or exploited, and even whether people live or die. We must take an active role in influencing these debates throughout the year, especially by letting those who represent us know how we want them to vote on legislation they are considering.

To highlight the baptismal responsibility we all share to advocate for just policies throughout the year, we have instituted a statewide “Advocacy Sunday” campaign to boost enrollment in the Virginia Catholic Conference Email Advocacy Network. In an August 30th letter we sent to all parishes in our two dioceses, we encouraged every parish to conduct a sign-up drive for the Conference’s network during the weekend of November 13-14.

This network provides alerts about key respect-life, social-justice, and education bills being considered by the Virginia General Assembly and the U.S. Congress and provides an easy way (in under a minute) for participants to email their legislators before they vote for or against these bills. The staff of our Conference has repeatedly found that these very simple constituent messages to their representatives’ offices play a decisive role in outcomes, especially on close votes. Over the last several years, contacts to elected officials made by users of the Conference’s network have restricted state abortion funding, excluded embryonic stem-cell research from new state biotechnology programs, thwarted death-penalty expansions, and preserved policies to protect the mission and values of religious institutions that serve those most in need.

These communications – from constituents to those who represent them – have truly saved lives and improved the quality of life for the poorest and most vulnerable. But imagine just how much could be accomplished if many more of the hundreds of thousands of registered parishioners in our two dioceses participated in the Conference’s network. Surely, we could much better build a culture of life in our Commonwealth, much better assist the poorest and most vulnerable in our midst, and much better enhance family life and educational opportunities for our state’s children.

We renew our appeal to every Virginia parish to conduct a sign-up drive to expand the Virginia Catholic Conference Email Advocacy Network the weekend of November 13-14. Many parishes have ordered postcards provided by the Conference for use in this “Advocacy Sunday” campaign. If your parish has not ordered these postcards (designed to make the sign-up process as easy and effective as possible), the Conference’s website ( contains an order form, as well as other materials that were previously mailed to parishes to facilitate these campaigns. These resources can all be accessed via the “Materials for Sign-Up Campaign” link, and we highly encourage their use. During the Conference’s Catholic Advocacy Day on January 27 (see Events link at, we will personally present awards to representatives of the parishes whose sign-up drives yielded the best outcomes.

We also encourage individuals to volunteer at their parishes to help make these drives successful. And if you are not currently enrolled in the Conference’s network, we invite you to sign up, either during an “Advocacy Sunday” drive at your parish or in advance by visiting the Conference’s website, clicking the “Join the Network!” icon, and completing the short electronic form. In addition, please consider inviting others to join. Are there family members, friends, or coworkers who would be interested in advocating for just policies to protect human life, enhance human dignity, and advance the common good?

Importance of Prayer

We conclude by emphasizing the importance of prayer in forming our consciences as we prepare to vote whenever elections are held and to advocate for just policies on all 365 days of the year. Prayer should be our solid foundation in these activities, just as it should be in all of our endeavors. By opening our minds and our hearts to the Lord in the Eucharist and in our daily prayer lives, we enable Him to mold and fashion us into the faithful citizens He calls us to be.

As together we seek to participate faithfully in the political process as voters, advocates, and followers of Christ, let us pray for each other, for our Commonwealth, and for our country.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington
Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo, Bishop of Richmond


Friday, October 22, 2010

The World Needs Priests, Pastors - Today, Tomorrow and Always, Until the End of Time

Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to Seminarians
October 18, 2010

Dear Seminarians,

When, in December 1944, I was drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: “Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany, priests are no longer needed.” I knew that this “new Germany” was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever.

Today, the situation is completely changed. In different ways, though, many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a “job” for the future, but one that belongs more to the past.

You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing. Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity. Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people.

God is alive. He has created every one of us and he knows us all. He is so great that he has time for the little things in our lives: “Every hair of your head is numbered.” God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors -- today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.

The seminary is a community journeying towards priestly ministry. I have said something very important here: one does not become a priest on one’s own. The “community of disciples” is essential, the fellowship of those who desire to serve the greater Church. In this letter, I would like to point out – thinking back to my own time in the seminary – several elements which I consider important for these years of your journeying.

1. Anyone who wishes to become a priest must be first and foremost a “man of God,” to use the expression of Saint Paul (1 Tim 6:11). For us, God is not some abstract hypothesis; he is not some stranger who left the scene after the “big bang.” God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. In the face of Jesus Christ we see the face of God. In his words, we hear God himself speaking to us. It follows that the most important thing in our path towards priesthood and during the whole of our priestly lives is our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

The priest is not the leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and expand. He is God’s messenger to his people. He wants to lead them to God and in this way to foster authentic communion between all men and women.

That is why it is so important, dear friends, that you learn to live in constant intimacy with God. When the Lord tells us to “pray constantly,” he is obviously not asking us to recite endless prayers, but urging us never to lose our inner closeness to God. Praying means growing in this intimacy. So it is important that our day should begin and end with prayer; that we listen to God as the Scriptures are read; that we share with him our desires and our hopes, our joys and our troubles, our failures and our thanks for all his blessings, and thus keep him ever before us as the point of reference for our lives. In this way, we grow aware of our failings and learn to improve, but we also come to appreciate all the beauty and goodness which we daily take for granted and so we grow in gratitude. With gratitude comes joy for the fact that God is close to us and that we can serve him.

2. For us, God is not simply Word. In the sacraments, he gives himself to us in person, through physical realities. At the heart of our relationship with God and our way of life is the Eucharist. Celebrating it devoutly, and thus encountering Christ personally, should be the centre of all our days.

In Saint Cyprian’s interpretation of the Gospel prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” he says among other things that “our” bread – the bread which we receive as Christians in the Church – is the Eucharistic Lord himself. In this petition of the Our Father, then, we pray that he may daily give us “our” bread; and that it may always nourish our lives; that the Risen Christ, who gives himself to us in the Eucharist, may truly shape the whole of our lives by the radiance of his divine love.

The proper celebration of the Eucharist involves knowing, understanding and loving the Church’s liturgy in its concrete form. In the liturgy, we pray with the faithful of every age – the past, the present and the future are joined in one great chorus of prayer. As I can state from personal experience, it is inspiring to learn how it all developed, what a great experience of faith is reflected in the structure of the Mass, and how it has been shaped by the prayer of many generations.

3. The sacrament of Penance is also important. It teaches me to see myself as God sees me, and it forces me to be honest with myself. It leads me to humility.

The Curé of Ars once said: “You think it makes no sense to be absolved today, because you know that tomorrow you will commit the same sins over again. Yet,” he continues, “God instantly forgets tomorrow’s sins in order to give you his grace today.” Even when we have to struggle continually with the same failings, it is important to resist the coarsening of our souls and the indifference which would simply accept that this is the way we are. It is important to keep pressing forward, without scrupulosity, in the grateful awareness that God forgives us ever anew – yet also without the indifference that might lead us to abandon altogether the struggle for holiness and self-improvement.

Moreover, by letting myself be forgiven, I learn to forgive others. In recognizing my own weakness, I grow more tolerant and understanding of the failings of my neighbour.

4. I urge you to retain an appreciation for popular piety, which is different in every culture yet always remains very similar, for the human heart is ultimately one and the same. Certainly, popular piety tends towards the irrational, and can at times be somewhat superficial. Yet it would be quite wrong to dismiss it. Through that piety, the faith has entered human hearts and become part of the common patrimony of sentiments and customs, shaping the life and emotions of the community. Popular piety is thus one of the Church’s great treasures. The faith has taken on flesh and blood. Certainly popular piety always needs to be purified and refocused, yet it is worthy of our love and it truly makes us into the “People of God.”

5. Above all, your time in the seminary is also a time of study. The Christian faith has an essentially rational and intellectual dimension. Were it to lack that dimension, it would not be itself.

Paul speaks of a “standard of teaching” to which we were entrusted in Baptism (Rom 6:17). All of you know the words of Saint Peter which the medieval theologians saw as the justification for a rational and scientific theology: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an ‘accounting’ (logos) for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). Learning how to make such a defence is one of the primary responsibilities of your years in the seminary.

I can only plead with you: Be committed to your studies! Take advantage of your years of study! You will not regret it.

Certainly, the subjects which you are studying can often seem far removed from the practice of the Christian life and the pastoral ministry. Yet it is completely mistaken to start questioning their practical value by asking: Will this be helpful to me in the future? Will it be practically or pastorally useful? The point is not simply to learn evidently useful things, but to understand and appreciate the internal structure of the faith as a whole, so that it can become a response to people’s questions, which on the surface change from one generation to another yet ultimately remain the same.

For this reason, it is important to move beyond the changing questions of the moment in order to grasp the real questions, and so to understand how the answers are real answers. It is important to have a thorough knowledge of sacred Scripture as a whole, in its unity as the Old and the New Testaments: the shaping of texts, their literary characteristics, the process by which they came to form the canon of sacred books, their dynamic inner unity, a unity which may not be immediately apparent but which in fact gives the individual texts their full meaning. It is important to be familiar with the Fathers and the great Councils in which the Church appropriated, through faith-filled reflection, the essential statements of Scripture. I could easily go on.

What we call dogmatic theology is the understanding of the individual contents of the faith in their unity, indeed, in their ultimate simplicity: each single element is, in the end, only an unfolding of our faith in the one God who has revealed himself to us and continues to do so. I do not need to point out the importance of knowing the essential issues of moral theology and Catholic social teaching. The importance nowadays of ecumenical theology, and of a knowledge of the different Christian communities, is obvious; as is the need for a basic introduction to the great religions, to say nothing of philosophy: the understanding of that human process of questioning and searching to which faith seeks to respond.

But you should also learn to understand and – dare I say it – to love canon law, appreciating how necessary it is and valuing its practical applications: a society without law would be a society without rights. Law is the condition of love.

I will not go on with this list, but I simply say once more: love the study of theology and carry it out in the clear realization that theology is anchored in the living community of the Church, which, with her authority, is not the antithesis of theological science but its presupposition. Cut off from the believing Church, theology would cease to be itself and instead it would become a medley of different disciplines lacking inner unity.

6. Your years in the seminary should also be a time of growth towards human maturity. It is important for the priest, who is called to accompany others through the journey of life up to the threshold of death, to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated.

To the theological virtues, the Christian tradition has always joined the cardinal virtues derived from human experience and philosophy, and, more generally, from the sound ethical tradition of humanity. Paul makes this point this very clearly to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8).

This also involves the integration of sexuality into the whole personality. Sexuality is a gift of the Creator yet it is also a task which relates to a person’s growth towards human maturity. When it is not integrated within the person, sexuality becomes banal and destructive.

Today we can see many examples of this in our society. Recently we have seen with great dismay that some priests disfigured their ministry by sexually abusing children and young people. Instead of guiding people to greater human maturity and setting them an example, their abusive behaviour caused great damage for which we feel profound shame and regret.

As a result of all this, many people, perhaps even some of you, might ask whether it is good to become a priest; whether the choice of celibacy makes any sense as a truly human way of life. Yet even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure. Thank God, all of us know exemplary priests, men shaped by their faith, who bear witness that one can attain to an authentic, pure and mature humanity in this state and specifically in the life of celibacy.

Admittedly, what has happened should make us all the more watchful and attentive, precisely in order to examine ourselves earnestly, before God, as we make our way towards priesthood, so as to understand whether this is his will for me. It is the responsibility of your confessor and your superiors to accompany you and help you along this path of discernment. It is an essential part of your journey to practise the fundamental human virtues, with your gaze fixed on the God who has revealed himself in Christ, and to let yourselves be purified by him ever anew.

7. The origins of a priestly vocation are nowadays more varied and disparate than in the past. Today the decision to become a priest often takes shape after one has already entered upon a secular profession. Often it grows within the Communities, particularly within the Movements, which favour a communal encounter with Christ and his Church, spiritual experiences and joy in the service of the faith. It also matures in very personal encounters with the nobility and the wretchedness of human existence.

As a result, candidates for the priesthood often live on very different spiritual continents. It can be difficult to recognize the common elements of one’s future mandate and its spiritual path. For this very reason, the seminary is important as a community which advances above and beyond differences of spirituality. The Movements are a magnificent thing. You know how much I esteem them and love them as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Yet they must be evaluated by their openness to what is truly Catholic, to the life of the whole Church of Christ, which for all her variety still remains one.

The seminary is a time when you learn with one another and from one another. In community life, which can at times be difficult, you should learn generosity and tolerance, not only bearing with, but also enriching one another, so that each of you will be able to contribute his own gifts to the whole, even as all serve the same Church, the same Lord. This school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ’s Body, is an important part of your years in the seminary.

Dear seminarians, with these few lines I have wanted to let you know how often I think of you, especially in these difficult times, and how close I am to you in prayer. Please pray for me, that I may exercise my ministry well, as long as the Lord may wish. I entrust your journey of preparation for priesthood to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, whose home was a school of goodness and of grace. May Almighty God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

From the Vatican, 18 October 2010, the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist.

Yours devotedly in the Lord,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Holy Mary, Clothed with the Sun:
Mother of God, Mother of the Church

Reflection of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Opening of the First General Congregation of
the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops

October 11, 2010

On October 11 1962, 48 years ago, Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. At the time, on October 11, the feast day of the Divine Motherhood of Mary was celebrated and, with this gesture, with this date, Pope John wished to entrust the whole Council into the motherly hands and maternal heart of the Madonna. We too begin on October 11th, we too wish to entrust this Synod, with all its problems, with all its challenges, with all its hopes, to the maternal heart of the Madonna, the Mother of God.

Pius XI, in 1930, introduced this feast day, 1600 years after the Council of Ephesus, which had legitimated, for Mary, the title of Theotókos, Dei Genitrix. With this great word Dei Genitrix, Theotókos, the Council of Ephesus had summarized the entire doctrine of Christ, of Mary, the whole of the doctrine of redemption. So it would be worthwhile to reflect briefly, for a moment, on what was said during the Council of Ephesus, on what this day means.

In reality, Theotókos is a courageous title. A woman is the Mother of God. One could say: how is this possible? God is eternal, He is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human being be the Mother of God, of the Eternal, since we are all in time, we are all creatures?

Therefore one can understand that there was some strong opposition, in part, to this term. The Nestorians used to say: one can speak about Christotókos, yes, but Theotókos no: Theos, God, is beyond, beyond the events of history. But the Council decided this, and thus it enlightened the adventure of God, the greatness of what He has done for us.

God did not remain in Himself: He went out, He united in such a way, so radically to this man, Jesus, that this man Jesus is God, and if we speak about Him, we can also speak about God. Not only was a man born that had something to do with God, but in Him was born God on earth. God came from Himself. But we could also say the opposite: God drew us to Himself, so that we are not outside of God, but we are within the intimate, the intimacy of God Himself.

Aristotelian philosophy, as we well know, tells us that between God and man there is only an unreciprocated relationship. Man refers to God, but God, the Eternal, is in Himself, He does not change: He cannot have this relation today and another relationship tomorrow. He is within Himself, He does not have ad extra relations. It is a very logical term, but it is also a word that makes us despair: so God has no relationship with me.

With the incarnation, with the event of the Theotókos, this has been radically changed, because God drew us into Himself and God in Himself is the relationship and allows us to participate in His interior relationship. Thus, we are in His being, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are within His being in relationship, we are in relationship with Him and He truly created the relationship with us. At that moment, God wished to be born from woman and remain Himself: this is the great event. And thus we can understand the depth of the act by Pope John, who entrusted the Council, Synodal Assembly to the central mystery, to the Mother of God who is drawn by the Lord into Himself, and thus all of us with her.

The Council began with the icon of the Theotókos. At the end, Pope Paul VI recognized the same title of Mater Ecclesiae to the Madonna. And these two icons, which begin and end the Council, are intrinsically linked, and are, in the end, one single icon. Because Christ was not born like any other individual. He was born to create a body for Himself: He was born - as John says in Chapter 12 of his Gospel - to attract all to Him and in Him. He was born - as it says in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians - to summarize the whole world, He was born as the firstborn of many brothers, He was born to unite the cosmos in Him, so that He is the Head of a great Body. Where Christ is born, the movement of summation begins, the moment of the calling begins, of construction of His Body, of the Holy Church. The Mother of Theos, the Mother of God, is the Mother of the Church, because she is the Mother of He who came to unite all in His resurrected Body.

Saint Luke leads us to understand this in the parallel between the first chapter of his book and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which repeat the same mystery on two different levels. In the first chapter of the Gospel the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and thus she gives birth to and gives us the Son of God. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is at the center of Jesus' disciples who are praying all together, pleading with the cloud of the Holy Spirit. And thus from the believing Church, with Mary at its heart, is born the Church, the Body of Christ. This dual birth is the only birth of the Christus totus, of the Christ who embraces the world and all of us.

Birth in Bethlehem, birth at the Last Supper. Birth of the Infant Jesus, birth of the Body of Christ, of the Church. These are two events or just one event. But between the two lie truly the Cross and the Resurrection. And only through the Cross comes the path towards the totality of Christ, towards His resurrected Body, towards the universalization of His being in the unity of the Church. And thus, bearing in mind that only from the wheat fallen to earth can a great harvest be reaped, from the Lord pierced on the Cross comes the universality of His disciples reunited in this His Body, dead and risen.

Keeping this connection between Theotókos and Mater Ecclesiae in mind, we turn our attention to the last book of the Holy Scripture, Revelation, where, in chapter 12, we can find this synthesis. The woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars over her head and the moon at her feet, gives birth. And gives birth with a cry of pain, gives birth with great suffering. Here the Marian mystery is the mystery of Bethlehem extended to the cosmic mystery. Christ is always reborn in all generations and thus takes on, gathers humanity within Himself. And this cosmic birth is achieved in the cry of the Cross, in the suffering of the Passion. And the blood of martyrs belongs to this cry of the Cross.

So, at this moment, we can look at the second psalm of this Hour [of the Divine Office], Psalm 81, where we can see part of this process. God is among gods - they are still considered as gods in Israel. In this Psalm, in a great concentration, in a prophetic vision, we can see the power taken from the gods. Those who seemed to be gods are not gods, and they lose their divine characteristics and fall to earth. Dii estis et moriemini sicut nomine (cf. Ps 81:6-7): the wresting of power, the fall of the divinities.

This process that is achieved along the path of faith of Israel, and which here is summarized in one vision, is the true process of the history of religion: the fall of the gods. And thus the transformation of the world, the knowledge of the true God, the loss of power by the forces that dominate the world, is a process of suffering.

In the history of Israel, we can see how this liberation from polytheism, this recognition - "Only He is God" - is achieved with great pain, beginning with the path of Abraham, the exile, the Maccabeans, up to Christ. And this process of loss of power continues throughout history, spoken of in Revelation chapter 12; it mentions the fall of the angels, which are not truly angels, they are not divinities on earth. And is achieved truly, right at the time of the rising Church, where we can see how the blood of the martyrs takes the power away from the divinities, starting with the divine emperor, from all these divinities. It is the blood of the martyrs, the suffering, the cry of the Mother Church that makes them fall and thus transforms the world.

This fall is not only the knowledge that they are not God; it is the process of transformation of the world, which costs blood, costs the suffering of the witnesses of Christ.

And, if we look closely, we can see that this process never ends. It is achieved in various periods of history in ever new ways; even today, at this moment, in which Christ, the only Son of God, must be born for the world with the fall of the gods, with pain, the martyrdom of witnesses.

Let us remember all the great powers of today's history, let us remember the anonymous capital that enslaves man, which is no longer in man's possession, but is an anonymous power served by men, by which men are tormented and even killed. It is a destructive power, that threatens the world. And then the power of the terroristic ideologies. Violent acts are apparently made in the name of God, but this is not God: they are false divinities that must be unmasked; they are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a voracious beast, extends its claws to all parts of the world and destroys it: it is a divinity, but it is a false divinity that must fall. Or even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion: today we must do things like this, marriage no longer counts, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

These ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully, are divinities. And in the pain of the saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church which we are a part of, these divinities must fall, what is said in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians must be done: the dominations, the powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ.

On this battle we find ourselves in, of this taking power away from God, of this fall of false gods, that fall because they are not deities, but powers that can destroy the world, chapter 12 of Revelations mentions these, even if with a mysterious image, for which, I believe, there are many different and beautiful interpretations. It has been said that the dragon places a large river of water before the fleeing woman to overcome her. And it would seem inevitable that the woman will drown in this river. But the good earth absorbs this river and it cannot be harmful.

I think that the river is easily interpreted: these are the currents that dominate all and wish to make faith in the Church disappear, the Church that is supposed to not have a place anymore in the face of these currents which impose themselves as the only rationality, as the only way to live. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple at heart, that does not allow itself to be overcome by these rivers and saves the Mother and saves the Son. This is why the Psalm says - the first psalm of the Hour - the faith of the simple at heart is the true wisdom (cf Ps 118:130). This true wisdom of simple faith, which does not allow itself to be swamped by the waters, is the force of the Church. And we have returned to the Marian mystery.

And there is also a final word in Psalm 81, "movebuntur omnia fundamenta terrae" (Ps 81:5), the foundations of earth are shaken. We see this today, with the climatic problems, how the foundations of the earth are shaken, how they are threatened by our behavior. The external foundations are shaken because the internal foundations are shaken, the moral and religious foundations, the faith that follows the right way of living. And we know that faith is the foundation, and, undoubtedly, the foundations of the earth cannot be shaken if they remain close to the faith, to true wisdom.

And then the Psalm says: "Arise, God, judge the world" (Ps 81:8). Thus we also say to the Lord: "Arise at this moment, take the world in your hands, protect your Church, protect humanity, protect the earth." And we once again entrust ourselves to the Mother of God, to Mary, and pray:

You, the great believer, you who have opened the earth to the heavens, help us, open the doors today as well, that truth might win, the will of God, which is the true good, the true salvation of the world. Amen.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Beatification Mass of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman

Cofton Park of Rednal, Birmingham
Apostolic Journey to the United Kingdom
September 19, 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This day that has brought us together here in Birmingham is a most auspicious one. In the first place, it is the Lord’s day, Sunday, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead and changed the course of human history for ever, offering new life and hope to all who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. That is why Christians all over the world come together on this day to give praise and thanks to God for the great marvels he has worked for us.

This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940.

Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms. Yet there is another, more joyful reason why this is an auspicious day for Great Britain, for the Midlands, for Birmingham. It is the day that sees Cardinal John Henry Newman formally raised to the altars and declared Blessed.

I thank Archbishop Bernard Longley for his gracious welcome at the start of Mass this morning. I pay tribute to all who have worked so hard over many years to promote the cause of Cardinal Newman, including the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory and the members of the Spiritual Family Das Werk. And I greet everyone here from Great Britain, Ireland, and further afield; I thank you for your presence at this celebration, in which we give glory and praise to God for the heroic virtue of a saintly Englishman.

England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognize today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing. He is worthy to take his place in a long line of saints and scholars from these islands, Saint Bede, Saint Hilda, Saint Aelred, Blessed Duns Scotus, to name but a few. In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or “Heart speaks unto heart”, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons,

“a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231).

Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (cf. Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (cf. Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a “definite service”, committed uniquely to every single person: “I have my mission”, he wrote,

“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2).

The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing “subjects of the day.” His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.

I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity:

“I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it” (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390).

On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons:

“Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel,” Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3).

He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Recitation of the Angelus Domini After Mass

Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

I am pleased to send my greetings to the people of Seville where, just yesterday, Madre María de la Purísima de la Cruz was beatified. May Blessed María be an inspiration to young women to follow her example of single-minded love of God and neighbour.

When Blessed John Henry Newman came to live in Birmingham, he gave the name “Maryvale” to his first home here. The Oratory that he founded is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And the Catholic University of Ireland he placed under the patronage of Mary, Sedes Sapientiae. In so many ways, he lived his priestly ministry in a spirit of filial devotion to the Mother of God. Meditating upon her role in the unfolding of God’s plan for our salvation, he was moved to exclaim:
“Who can estimate the holiness and perfection of her, who was chosen to be the Mother of Christ? What must have been her gifts, who was chosen to be the only near earthly relative of the Son of God, the only one whom He was bound by nature to revere and look up to; the one appointed to train and educate Him, to instruct Him day by day, as He grew in wisdom and in stature?” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, ii, 131-2).
It is on account of those abundant gifts of grace that we honour her, and it is on account of that intimacy with her divine Son that we naturally seek her intercession for our own needs and the needs of the whole world. In the words of the Angelus, we turn now to our Blessed Mother and commend to her the intentions that we hold in our hearts.