Saturday, March 24, 2012

Overcoming Schizophrenia Between Individual and Public Morality

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Press Conference en route to Mexico
23 March 2012
The Church must always ask herself whether she is doing enough for social justice on this great continent. It is a question of conscience that we must always ask ourselves - what should the Church do, what can she not do, what should she not do?

The Church is not a political power, it is not a party - it is a moral entity, a moral power. In fact, politics should fundamentally be a moral reality. The Church must act along that fundamental track. So I will repeat what I said earlier: the first thought of the Church is to educate consciences and thus create the necessary responsibility. It must educate consciences in individual ethics as well as public ethics.

In this perhaps, there may well be a lack. One sees in Latin America and elsewhere, among not a few Catholics, a certain schizophrenia between individual and public morality... In the private sphere, they are believers, but in their public life, they follow other paths that do not correspond to the great evangelical values that are necessary for the foundation of a just society.

So the Church must educate to overcome this schizophrenia, educate not only towards an individual morality but towards a public morality
, and we must seek to do this with the Social Doctrine of the Church. This public morality must be reasonable, shared and able to be shared even by non-believers, a morality of reason.

Of course, we, in the light of faith, can see many things better with reason. But faith also serves to liberate us from false interests. With the social doctrine, we can create substantial models that will help overcome these social divisions. It is for this that we must work hard. The important thing is a common rationality towards which the Church offers a fundamental contribution, and which must always help in educating consciences for individual responsibility as well as for public life.
Translation courtesy of Benedetto XVI Forum

The New Evangelization: Announcing God Who Responds to Our Reason

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Press Conference en route to Mexico
March 23, 2012
The path of the New Evangelization started with the [Second Vatican] Council - this was a fundamental intention of Pope John XXIII, which was underscored by John Paul II. The need for it in a world that is undergoing great changes has become even more evident.

The Gospel must be expressed in new ways - new words that can cut through the difficulty of orienting oneself today. The common condition in the world today is secularization - the absence of God, the difficulty of finding him, and of putting him in the center, to see him as a reality who affects my life.

On the other hand, there are also specific dangers. . . . We must start with what we have in common: In our modern rationality, we can rediscover God, as a fundamental orientation for our life, the foundation of those values which can truly build a society, and the way we can best consider the specificities of diverse situations.

So first, I think it is important to announce God who responds to our reason - we see the rationality of the cosmos, we see that there must be something behind it all, and we also see how near God is, the synthesis of greatness and majesty who is close to us and orients us to the values of truth. He is the nucleus of evangelization, the fundamental nucleus we need in order to live with all the problems of our time.

On the other hand, we must consider concrete realities. In Latin America, generally, I would say that it is very important that Christianity was never so much a matter of reason but of the heart. The Virgin of Guadalupe is known and loved by everyone because they understand that she is the Mother of all. She has been present almost from the very beginning in this new America shortly after the arrival of the Spaniards. They know intuitively that she exists to love us and to help us.

But this, let us say, intuition of the heart, must be linked to the rationality of faith and to the profundity of faith that goes beyond reason. We must seek not to lose this intuition of the heart but to link heart and reason, so that man may be whole, and as a whole man, promote the new evangelization.
Translation courtesy of Benedetto XVI Forum

Be a Pilgrim of Faith, Hope, and Love

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Welcoming Ceremony at Leon/Guajuanato International Airport
Apostolic Journey to Mexico
23 March 2012
I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love. I wish to confirm those who believe in Christ in their faith, by strengthening and encouraging them to revitalize their faith by listening to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and living coherently. In this way, they will be able to share their faith with others as missionaries to their brothers and sisters and to act as a leaven in society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence based on the incomparable dignity of every human being, created by God, which no one has the right to forget or disregard. This dignity is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, in its full meaning and integrity.

As a pilgrim of hope, I speak to them in the words of Saint Paul: "But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Th. 4:13).

Confidence in God offers the certainty of meeting him, of receiving his grace; the believer’s hope is based on this. And, aware of this, we strive to transform the present structures and events which are less than satisfactory and seem immovable or insurmountable, while also helping those who do not see meaning or a future in life.

Yes, hope changes the practical existence of each man and woman in a real way (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). Hope points to "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev. 21:1), that is already making visible some of its reflections. Moreover, when it takes root in a people, when it is shared, it shines as light that dispels the darkness which blinds and takes hold of us.

This country and the entire continent are called to live their hope in God as a profound conviction, transforming it into an attitude of the heart and a practical commitment to walk together in the building of a better world. As I said in Rome, "continue progressing untiringly in the building of a society founded upon the development of the good, the triumph of love and the spread of justice" (Homily, 12 December 2011).

Together with faith and hope, the believer in Christ – indeed the whole Church – lives and practises charity as an essential element of mission. In its primary meaning, charity "is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations" (Deus Caritas Est, 31a), as we help those who suffer from hunger, lack shelter, or are in need in some way in their life. Nobody is excluded on account of their origin or belief from this mission of the Church, which does not compete with other private or public initiatives. In fact, the Church willingly works with those who pursue the same ends. Nor does she have any aim other than doing good in an unselfish and respectful way to those in need, who often lack signs of authentic love.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Saints Perpetua and Felicity,
Pray for Us

"Stand fast in the faith and love one another, all of you, and be not offended at my sufferings."
Saints Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs

Feast Day March 7

In these days of a coming persecution because the Church refuses to bend to the contraceptive mandate and other assaults on the inherent dignity of woman, and on marriage and family, we do well to turn to two young mothers who were witnesses (martyrs) for Christ.

Perpetua and Felicity were martyred in Carthage in about the year A.D. 203, together with three others. The five martyrs were catechumens when they were arrested during the persecution of Emperor Septimus Severus, but they were baptized before they were led away to prison. Vivia Perpetua (whose name means "life everlasting") was a young married woman from a noble family and with an infant son, while Felicity was a slave and eight months pregnant. Perpetua’s mother and two brothers were Christian, but her father was pagan. When she was arrested, her father tried to get her to deny that she was a Christian in order to save her from execution, but Perpetua refused to deny her Lord.

By law, a pregnant woman could not be executed, but Felicity soon gave birth in prison, and she was happy that she could suffer death for Christ with the others.
Three days later, the women and others were led into amphitheatre and severely scourged. Then they were tossed about by an exceptionally wild cow, gored, and thrown to the ground. Perpetua encouraged the others and astounded the crowd. Finally, they were put to the sword.

The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicity
Attributed to Tertullian, c. 203
1.1. The young catechumens, Revocatus and his fellow-servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, were apprehended. And among them also was Vivia Perpetua, respectably born, liberally educated, a married matron, having a father and mother and two brothers, one of whom, like herself, was a catechumen, and a son an infant at the breast. She herself was about twenty-two years of age. From this point onward she shall herself narrate the whole course of her martyrdom, as she left it described by her own hand and with her own mind.
1.2. While we were still with the persecutors, and my father, for the sake of his affection for me, was persisting in seeking to turn me away, and to cast me down from the faith — “Father,” said I, “do you see, let us say, this vessel lying here to be a little pitcher, or something else?” And he said, “I see it to be so.” And I replied to him, “Can it be called by any other name than what it is?” And he said, “No.” “Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am, a Christian.” Then my father, provoked at this saying, threw himself upon me, as if he would tear my eyes out. But he only distressed me, and went away overcome by the devil's arguments. . . . After a few days we are taken into the dungeon, and I was very much afraid, because I had never felt such darkness. O terrible day! O the fierce heat of the shock of the soldiery, because of the crowds! I was very unusually distressed by my anxiety for my infant. . . . I suckled my child, which was now enfeebled with hunger. In my anxiety for it, I addressed my mother and comforted my brother, and commended to their care my son. I was languishing because I had seen them languishing on my account. Such solicitude I suffered for many days, and I obtained for my infant to remain in the dungeon with me; and forthwith I grew strong and was relieved from distress and anxiety about my infant; and the dungeon became to me as it were a palace, so that I preferred being there to being elsewhere.

2.1. After a few days there prevailed a report that we should be heard. And then my father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety. He came up to me, that he might cast me down, saying, “Have pity my daughter, on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called a father by you. . . . Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction; for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything.” These things said my father in his affection, kissing my hands, and throwing himself at my feet; and with tears he called me not Daughter, but Lady. And I grieved over the grey hairs of my father, that he alone of all my family would not rejoice over my passion. And I comforted him, saying, “On that scaffold whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power, but in that of God.” And he departed from me in sorrow.

2.2. Another day, while we were at dinner, we were suddenly taken away to be heard, and we arrived at the town-hall. . . . We mount the platform. The rest were interrogated, and confessed. Then they came to me, and [Hilarianus the procurator], said, “Spare the grey hairs of your father, spare the infancy of your boy, offer sacrifice for the well-being of the emperors.” And I replied, “I will not do so.” Hilarianus said, “Are you a Christian?” And I replied, “I am a Christian.”And as my father stood there to cast me down from the faith, he was ordered by Hilarianus to be thrown down himself, and he was beaten with rods. And my father's misfortune grieved me as if I myself had been beaten, I so grieved for his wretched old age. The procurator then delivers judgment on all of us, and condemns us to the wild beasts, and we went down cheerfully to the dungeon. . . . .
5.2. But respecting Felicitas (for to her also the Lord's favor approached in the same way), when she had already gone eight months with child (for she had been pregnant when she was apprehended), as the day of the exhibition was drawing near, she was in great grief lest on account of her pregnancy she should be delayed — because pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished — and lest she should shed her sacred and guiltless blood among some who had been wicked subsequently. . . . Soon thereafter, she brought forth a little girl, which a certain sister brought up as her daughter. . . .

6.1. The day of their victory shone forth, and they proceeded from the prison into the amphitheatre, as if to an assembly, joyous and of brilliant countenances; if perchance shrinking, it was with joy, and not with fear. Perpetua followed with placid look, and with step and gait as a matron of Christ, beloved of God; casting down the luster of her eyes from the gaze of all. Moreover, Felicitas, rejoicing that she had safely brought forth, so that she might fight with the wild beasts; from the blood and from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after childbirth with a second baptism. . . . And they indeed rejoiced that they should have incurred any one of their Lord's passions. . . .

6.3. Moreover, for the young women, the devil prepared a very fierce cow, provided especially for that purpose contrary to custom, rivaling their sex also in that of the beasts. And so, stripped and clothed with nets, they were led forth. The populace shuddered as they saw one young woman of delicate frame, and another with breasts still dropping from her recent childbirth. So, being recalled, they are unbound. Perpetua is first led in. She was tossed, and fell on her loins; and when she saw her tunic torn from her side, she drew it over her as a veil for her middle, rather mindful of her modesty than her suffering. Then she was called for again, and bound up her disheveled hair; for it was not becoming for a martyr to suffer with disheveled hair, lest she should appear to be mourning in her glory. So she rose up; and when she saw Felicitas crushed, she approached and gave her her hand, and lifted her up. And both of them stood together; and the brutality of the populace being appeased, they were recalled to the Sanavivarian gate. Then Perpetua was received by a certain one who was still a catechumen, Rusticus by name, who kept close to her. . . . Afterwards, causing that catechumen and the brother to approach, she addressed them, saying, "Stand fast in the faith, and love one another, all of you, and be not offended at my sufferings." . . .

6.4 Immediately at the conclusion of the exhibition, [Saturus] was thrown to the leopard; and with one bite of his he was bathed with such a quantity of blood, that the people shouted out to him as he was returning, the testimony of his second baptism, "Saved and washed, saved and washed." Manifestly he was assuredly saved who had been glorified in such a spectacle. . . . And then lifeless he is cast down with the rest, to be slaughtered in the usual place.

And when the populace called for them into the midst, that as the sword penetrated into their body they might make their eyes partners in the murder, they rose up of their own accord, and transferred themselves whither the people wished; but they first kissed one another, that they might consummate their martyrdom with the kiss of peace. The rest indeed, immoveable and in silence, received the sword-thrust; much more Saturus, who also had first ascended the ladder, and first gave up his spirit, for he also was waiting for Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might taste some pain, being pierced between the ribs, cried out loudly, and she herself placed the wavering right hand of the youthful gladiator to her throat. Possibly such a woman could not have been slain unless she herself had willed it, because she was feared by the impure spirit.

O most brave and blessed martyrs! O truly called and chosen unto the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! whom whoever magnifies, and honors, and adores, assuredly ought to read these examples for the edification of the Church, not less than the ancient ones, so that new virtues also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit is always operating even until now, and God the Father Omnipotent, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, whose is the glory and infinite power for ever and ever. Amen.

This contemporary account of the martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity forms one of the finest pages of the history of the early Church. It shows us clearly the wonderful sentiments of these two women when they heard that they had been condemned to the wild beasts. Knowing their own weakness but given the strength of the Holy Spirit, they went to their martyrdom as to a triumphant celebration, to which they were invited by Christ.

Site of the Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
Amphitheater at Carthage (present-day Tunis, Tunisia)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

God of Love and Human Sacrifice, Abraham and Isaac

At Mass this Sunday, we heard one of the more troubling passages of scripture, that concerning God asking Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Many people are troubled by this, asking how could God ask this if He is supposedly so loving and good?

There are some basic principles one needs to keep in mind if one wants to properly understand a given passage from scripture. You cannot read the passage in isolation, but must read it in the context of the entirety of the Bible, especially in light of Jesus Christ (indeed, this is one of the lessons of the Transfiguration, which was the Gospel reading, where Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, appear with Jesus, the Word), as well as in the context of the historical context of the time and place in which the passage was written, including extra-biblical history.

The book of Genesis informs us that, in opposing God, who is Life, man necessarily brings death upon himself. The result of Original Sin is that a wide gulf of separation between God and humanity was created, a separation between man and love, truth, and life. And not only are proper relationships between mankind and God severed, but, as we see with Adam turning against Eve, and Cain killing Abel, proper relationships between human beings themselves are estranged, so that, instead of living a life of love and truth toward others, mankind has lived a life of selfish self-gratification and exploitation of others; instead of harmony, there is discord.

Now God, who is Divine Mercy, knew this rupture would happen. God knew that His covenant of love with Adam would be broken, and He already had a plan for reconciliation. This process of God calling humanity back to Himself is called “salvation history,” and this plan of redemption was to establish a relationship with a specific people and develop them so that they could learn to know God and live according to His will of love and truth.

Salvation History was necessarily a gradual process, given that humanity had lost almost all understanding of God after the Fall, such that mankind believed all sorts of false ideas about God and had adopted all sorts of evil ways. Thus, we see the text of the Old Testament moving from the more vague and ambiguous (as viewed from a modern perspective) to the more specific as it draws closer to the time of Jesus.

Also, and most importantly in interpreting and understanding those "hard" passages in scripture, we must understand that, in leading mankind back to the truth of Himself, God necessarily dealt with mankind as it was at that particular time, that is, in the fallen, ignorant, and evil state of that era, using terms and images and concepts that such a harsh and blood-thirsty humanity would understand.

As part of this process, God established the great covenant with Abraham to set apart a people to be His own. (Gen. 12, 17) To show that He was not merely the god of a particular place, as was believed to be the case by the polytheists of the time, but that He is the One God who is Lord everywhere, God told Abraham (then called Abram) to leave his home in Ur (present day southern Iraq) and go to a far land, Canaan (present day Israel), which would be given to him and his descendents. To demonstrate this covenant with Abraham and his descendents, the sign of the covenant, circumcision, was made on the instrument of procreation. Through these chosen people, God would bring salvation to all mankind.

At this time in human history, not only was polytheism widely practiced, but human sacrifice was a part of some of those religions.

In order for Abraham (and we) to fully understand the gravity of the situation, and so that he could demonstrate and prove (to himself) that he had total faith in the Lord, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, God followed the expectations of the times and told Abraham to offer him in sacrifice, which Abraham dutifully prepared to do. (Gen. 22)

God did not test Abraham in order for God to know the extent of his fidelity, the omniscient God already knew. Rather, God tested Abraham so that Abraham would know that he was so faithful that he was willing to sacrifice his own son, whom he loved. God does ask us to put our love for Him before our love for others. However, God does not, in fact, desire human sacrifice; He desires mercy and a loving heart (Hos. 6:6). And in loving God before loving others, even our own family, we actually end up providing even more love, and even more perfect love, to others.

In order to graphically demonstrate that He does not desire human sacrifice (and wanted the widespread practice to end), God had Abraham proceed to the brink of sacrificing Isaac only so that He could then stop him. Neither Abraham nor any other member of mankind would be asked for such a sacrifice. Instead, as Abraham told Isaac, God Himself would provide for the sacrifice, as He also did in providing Himself as the Lamb of God -- the same Lamb of God whose Immaculate Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, would appear to the lowly Juan Diego many years later to end the culture of human sacrifice by the Aztecs.

So, what we should take away from the story of the testing of Abraham, of God asking him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice is NOT that God is cruel, but quite the opposite -- God is Love -- He does not desire human sacrifice; He desires mercy and a loving heart (Hos. 6:6). As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) writes --
A misunderstood theology has left many people with a completely false image, the image of a cruel God who demands the blood of His own Son. They have read out of the Cross the image of Job's friends and have turned their backs on this God in horror. But the opposite is true! The biblical God demands no human sacrifices. When He appears in the course of the history of religion, human sacrifice ceases. Before Abraham can slaughter Isaac, God speaks and stops him; the ram takes the place of the child. The cult of Yahweh begins when the sacrifice of the firstborn, which was demanded by the ancestral religion of Abraham, is replaced by his obedience and his faith -- the external substitute, the ram, is only the expression of this deeper reality, which is not a replacement, but rather looks ahead to the future fulfillment. For the God of Israel, human sacrifice is an abomination; Moloch, the god of human sacrifices, is the embodiment of the false god who is opposed by faith in Yahweh. For the God of Israel, it is, not the death of a man, but his life that is the act of worship. Irenaeus of Lyons expressed this in the wonderful formula: "Gloria Dei homo vivens" (The living man in the glorification of God.) And this is the kind of "human sacrifice," of worship, that God demands. (The God of Jesus Christ, pp. 54-55 (1976)
God does not delight in holocausts. He neither needs nor wants animal sacrifices, He neither needs nor wants grain (cereal) sacrifices, even though He had provided certain regulations for both types of sacrifice. What use has God for burnt animal flesh or grain?

So why the long history of animal and grain sacrifice, as recounted in the Old Testament?

It would appear that it was merely preparatory for the real sacrifice that is desired by God -- He who is Love. What the God of Love desires is love -- we were made by love, out of love, for love. And love, true and complete love, is necessarily sacrificial -- one sacrifices himself for the sake of the other, one gives of himself and puts the other before himself and his wants; he does not use the lives of others or otherwise sacrifice them for his own gain.

This sacrifice of self in love is the sacrifice that God desires. The sacrifice He desires is not that of an animal's life, not that of our children, but of our own; the blood sacrifice He desires is not the blood of an animal, but our "blood," that is, our own life, that is, our spirit -- a sacrifice of love. Just as He sacrificed His own Precious Blood and poured out His Spirit upon us, so too does He ask this of us. God desires it, but does not command it, because love, by it's very nature, is something that must be freely given.

The sacrifice that is desired by God and is acceptable to Him is the sacrifice of self, the sacrifice of a pure and contrite heart, renouncing prior infidelities and giving one's life back to Him who made it, placing one's self at the service of God. That is, loving the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength, and loving one another as He has loved us.