Wednesday, April 23, 2008
After recieving a stern talking to by a number of my readers for not posting my homilies regularly I have finally gotten around to posting a few. You can see them below.
Also, please keep me in your prayers as I will be doing a fair amount of traveling around in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow I am taking four high school students to visit the Seminary in Fargo. On Sunday night I will be at our Diocesan Retreat Center for a newer clergy gathering. On Monday I leave for Denver to pay a visit to our seminarians studying there, and then on May 11th, I leave for a the first week in a series of nine weeks of study in giving Spiritual Direction. So please pray for my sanity (which is always a concern), for my parish as I will be away from it alot in the next couple of weeks, for the men discerning a vocation, and for safe travel.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. This has been a significant week for us as Catholics in the United States. Our Shepherd, Pope Benedict XVI, has come to our country to bring to us the message of Christ, who as today’s Gospel says, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the only way for us to reach the Father and His kingdom in Heaven. Truly, as the Holy Father has repeated over and over this week, Christ is our Hope, it is He who can give us the hope of eternal life.
2. The Holy Father has also, on a number of occasions during his time in the United States, called upon all Catholics, and especially the laity, to be a “leaven in society.” In speaking to the Bishops of the United States the Holy Father called upon the Bishops to work toward “the gradual opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truth.” He went on to say that “Crucial in this regard is the role of the lay faithful to act as a ‘leaven’ in society.” This call is based in part upon the fact that all members of the Church are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.” Because of this status we are called to “announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Flowing from our status as God’s Children, as His people, as sharers in His Holy Priesthood we are given the mission and the mandate of “announcing the praises” of Jesus among our fellow people; to be a “leaven in society.”
3. Many of us have had the experience of making bread from scratch and so we naturally understand what leaven, or yeast, does to the dough. It causes it to rise, it causes it to grow and spread. This is what we are called to do in society, we are called to spread the faith among those around us so that faith and hope in Jesus will cause society to rise toward heaven, it will cause the faith to spread and grow throughout the world. As the Second Vatican Council pointed out, it is the duty of all of the faithful, not just priests or religious, to carry this out. In fact, the spreading of the gospel throughout society is primarily the duty of the laity, because you can do it in a way that I as a priest could never do. The fact of the matter is that when a priest walks into a room it gets quiet, when a priest sits down at a table it puts a damper on the conversation – something that probably wouldn’t happen when most of you do these same things. You, as laity, are in a better position to evangelize your friends and coworkers than I am. As Pope John Paul said when he visited our country in 1987 “Primarily through her laity, the Church is in a position to exercise great influence upon American Culture.”
4. In the mind of the Church, it is the duty of priests to form the faithful, to teach the people entrusted to his care the truths of the faith so that they in turn can share it with those around them – to evangelize their family, their friends, their co-workers, and thus be a “leaven in society.” For too long society has been changing the Church, when if fact it should be the other way around. The Church is called to change society, to be a leaven within it, causing it to rise heavenward.
5. But lets be honest, the fact of the matter is that most Catholics are hesitant to speak up and share their faith, even with some of their closest friends. As Bishop Robert Carlson, the Bishop of Saginaw and our former Bishop, recently said in his Pastoral Letter on Evangelization “When we find a good restaurant we want to share it with our friends, and we do. When we hear a good song we want to share it with our friends, and we do. When we see a good movie or read a good book or find a good recipe we want to share it with our friends, and we do. The good diffuses itself. The good wants to be shared, and anyone who resists the desire to share it is rightly called selfish.” He goes on to say “It’s a curious fact about many Catholics, however, that there is one good thing what we are reluctant to share: the good news of faith in Jesus Christ. For one reason or another, our culture tells us that it is selfish to keep good things to ourselves, but rude to share the good news of Jesus Christ. And, for one reason or another, we have grown comfortable with this double standard. We have believed what our culture has told us.”
6. My dear parish family, it is time for us to step up to the plate and begin to play ball. It’s time for us to be a “leaven in society.” It is time for us to change society instead of it changing us.
7. But how? That is a good question. The first and most important step is for us to become friends with Christ our hope. We, if we want to change society, must begin by changing ourselves. We cannot share a faith that we do not have. So we must begin by deepening our relationship with Jesus. We do this primarily through prayer. Prayer, especially prayer in the presence of Jesus present in the tabernacle, is where we meet the risen Lord and grow in our friendship with Him. “Oh, but Father, I don’t have time to pray,” you might be thinking. Horse feathers! Every Catholic has time to pray. We have time to watch sports on TV, we have time to drive all over the country side to go hunting or fishing, we have time to go to sporting events and to go shopping, we have time to sit at the bar and shoot the breeze, but we don’t have time to pray? Yes, we have a lot of very good things to do, but we have nothing better to do than to spend time with Jesus in prayer.
8. I think a great way to move closer to our Lord would be to commit ourselves to a few things, that even with our busy schedules, we should be able to fit into our day. First, we need to come to Mass every Sunday without fail, and maybe even try to get to daily Mass once in a while too. Daily Mass can be a great help in our growth in holiness because the more we feed on the body and blood of Jesus the more strength we will have to fight against sin. Second, we should frequent the Sacrament of Penance. When people ask me how often they should confess I tell them that if they are serious about growing in holiness, and I assume all of us are, that they should go to confession at least once a month. The more frequently we are able to receive the forgiveness and strength that comes from the Sacrament the easier it will be to grow. As Pope Benedict said in his homily on Thursday “to a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America and throughout the world depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.” Third, we should spend a few minutes every day slowly reading the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. This will help us to know Jesus through reading and interiorizing what he did and said. Fourth, we should pray the Holy Rosary or at least part of it every day. Our Blessed Mother always leads us to her Divine Son, and spending time with her will certainly help us to grow in friendship with Jesus. A perfect time for this devotion is while we are driving. I know that many of us commute to work every day and that can be a perfect opportunity to pray the rosary.
9. These few things, if we make the effort to do them consistently can change our lives and help us to know Jesus, to become so close to Him that we could honestly say that He is our best friend. By knowing Christ, by being His best friend, by possessing this great good we will want to share it with others, we will want to share the good we have with those around us. When we do this we will truly be living out our vocation to “announce the praises” of God; to be a “leaven in society” and thus change it from within into a civilization of love and peace where all people live in hope, for all will know and love Christ who is our only hope.
Jesus, risen from the tomb, have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, star of the new evangelization, pray for us.
St. Rose, pray for us.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
1. On my recent trip to the Holy Land one of the things that was a common sight as we were traveling through the rolling hills surrounding Jerusalem was the sight of shepherds and their sheep. To a large extent the shepherds of Israel that live in the hill country still lead the same life they did at the time of Jesus. They literally live with the sheep, they lead them through the hills to verdant pastures, they lead them to water, they protect them from predators, and they lead them to shelter when night falls.
2. I find it amazing that in today’s Gospel reading our Blessed Lord was able to draw on something so familiar and so common with those who were listening to Him in order to explain them His relationship with the Church He would found, and the role of the leaders of that Church in relation to the members of the Church.
3. There is one particular image that Jesus uses in this Gospel that I would like to expound on and relate to our current situation in the Church and in the world.
4. During the time of Jesus, and indeed still today, when night falls in the fields the shepherds gather their individual flocks in to one large sheepfold and then the shepherds take turns keeping guard while the rest would sleep. In the morning all the shepherds return and enter the sheepfold and call out to their sheep, and the sheep recognize the voice of their particular shepherd and they follow him out to green pastures. Jesus draws upon this image in order to teach us the importance of being able to recognize the voice of the Shepherd, the voice of Christ among all the various voices that we hear every day.
Mary 5. We all know from experience that there are so many voices out there telling us what to do and how to think. All we have to do is turn on the TV and the talking heads and spin doctors are blabbering on about this and that. Interspersed with them there are an endless stream of commercials trying to convince us to buy this or go to that or to vote for this person. When we turn on the radio, we hear even more voices. We drive down the highway and there are billboards inviting us to visit various places of business or to go to some event. Everywhere we turn there are voices, all trying to lead us somewhere, but not all are the voice of the Good Shepherd, not all are the voice of Christ, and sometime it is hard to tell which one is which.
6. Even within the Christian community there are many voices all claiming to be the voice of Christ. Take for instance the issue of Abortion. There are many church communities that will say abortion is morally acceptable, there are some who will say it acceptable is certain situations, there are some who even actively promote its use, and then there are those who say it is wrong in each and every circumstance no matter what. Now lets be honest; they can’t all be right. Either it is Christian to be apposed to abortion, or it is not…it can’t be both. So, which one is the voice of Christ? How do we distinguish His voice from all the others? It’s a tough question, but believe it or not, it has an easy answer.
7. Jesus, being reasonable and realistic, knew that at times it would be hard for us to know His voice and so He provided for us sure guides. He provided us with living, breathing shepherds to guide His flock on His behalf. He also provided that those shepherds would be given the constant and never failing guidance of the Holy Spirit so that they would always speak the voice of Christ to us in matters of faith and morals. Who are these shepherds? Who are these people who have the gift of speaking with the very voice and words of the Good Shepherd? They are the Pope and the Bishops who are united to him. The Pope and Bishops, and only the Pope and Bishops have been entrusted with the unique gift of speaking with the very words and authority of Christ. The buck stops with them. They have the final word on all matters of faith and morals, and we know from Sacred Scripture that the final word spoken by the Pope and the Bishops in union with Him are inspired by the Holy Spirit and because of that, their final word on matters of faith and morals cannot be wrong.
8. So there you have it, a sure guide for distinguishing one voice from another. We know that the voices that speak words that match the voice of our Shepherd, the Pope, are from the Lord, and those that do not, are from the evil one. As Jesus Himself said, they are “thieves and robbers.” As St. Josemaria Escriva said “Christ has given His Church sureness in doctrine and a fountain of grace in the sacraments. He has arranged things so that there will always be people to guide and lead us, to remind us constantly of our way.”
9. You know, some will say that this sort of belief is oppressive, and that it is a way that the Church uses to keep tight control over people, a way that keeps Catholics from thinking for themselves, but if we look at it honestly, we see that it is a great act of Love from Christ. He loved us so much that He didn’t want to leave us without a guide; He didn’t want to leave us without someone to keep us on the straight and narrow way that leads to life.
10. The other evening I was watching a little TV and I came across a program about a man who is dying of cancer. This man has three small children, and as became abundantly clear, are the apple of his eye. He said that his greatest suffering is not the pain of the cancer or the knowledge that he is going to die, but rather, that he will not be around to keep his children on the straight and narrow, that he won’t be able to be a guide for them. I think that would be on the mind of any father who has young children and is nearing death.
11. Wouldn’t it be great if this father could somehow give someone his thoughts and his voice to speak to his children, to guide them, to keep them on the straight and narrow? Well Jesus, in his love for us actually provided for this in the person of the Pope and the Bishops united to Him. They, as the shepherds of the Church guide us and keeps us on the straight and narrow way that leads to life.
12. We, as citizens of the United States are being given a great gift this coming week. Our Shepherd, the man who speaks with the voice and authority of Jesus the Good Shepherd, is coming to speak to us, to teach us, to guide us on the path of life. Our Shepherd is coming. I hope we are listening. I hope we have ears to hear His message, a message in which he will bring us “Christ our Hope.” The Holy Father, in a video message to the United States earlier this week, said that he “…shall come to United States of America as Pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition. Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through him, our lives reach fullness, and together, both as individuals and peoples, we can become a family united by fraternal love, according to the eternal plan of God the Father.”
13. I encourage all of us to watch as much coverage of his visit as we can. But beware… there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. We all know the media is rather anti-Catholic, and many will take every opportunity to distort the words of the Holy Father. I recommend watching EWTN’s coverage which certainly will provide good coverage and commentary that is faithful to the Holy Father and the message he seeks to bring us.
14. I encourage all of us to listen to his homilies and speeches as well as watch his actions. Pope Benedict, in a particular way, has a great gift for teaching not only with his words, but also with his actions, by how he celebrates the Holy Mass, by what kind of vestments he wears, by his very demeanor. So we need to open our eyes as well as our ears so that we can learn from our shepherd the way that Christ marks out for us. With our shepherd, Pope Benedict in the lead, let us all turn toward the Lord and make our way to heaven our eternal destiny: the eternal verdant pasture where there are restful waters and joy beyond compare.
Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
1. Our gospel today is one that we have certainly heard many times and almost always we associate it with the Holy Eucharist, and certainly that is very fitting. As the gospel relates, they were not able to see that this stranger was Jesus until they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, in the Holy Eucharist. This gospel is a clear reminder for us of our belief that Jesus is truly and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist. He lives, day and night, in the tabernacle waiting for us to share our time with Him, the very time that He has given to us as a gift.
2. But today, I am not going to give my homily on the Eucharist. Instead, we will focus on how important it is for us to encounter Christ, to meet this Man and come to know Him, and to grow in friendship with Him so that we can truly be people of hope.
3. In our gospel we see two disciples of Jesus leaving Jerusalem on the evening of Easter Sunday totally disillusioned by what has happened. As the scriptures say they were “downcast.” These two men had nearly lost all hope, they were beginning to feel as though their life has no meaning anymore, and that all they had hoped for had not happened. In many ways, I think we could say that these two men were us; the emotions they felt at that moment are feelings that we have felt at times during our lives.
4. As they are walking along in this sad condition a stranger joins them, someone they did not recognize, and this man asks them what they are discussing along the way. When they heard this question, the men stop in their tracks, look at this stranger and say “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” The disciples are bewildered that there is anyone who doesn’t know what’s going on in the world. Their very posture shows their absolute bewilderment – how many times have we done the same thing while walking and talking with someone when the person we are with says something that doesn’t make sense. We stop in our track, look at them, and say “What are you talking about.” This is exactly the experience that these men had on that road.
5. Then Jesus, in His compassion and love says to them “What sort of things? He invites them to open their hearts to Him. He invites them to express what is in their hearts; all the raw emotions, all the anger, all the pain and sorrow, and all the confusion. The disciples respond in kind…they open up their hearts and let it all out… “…..”
6. After these men honestly and openly reveal their hearts to Jesus He begins the process of bringing them healing; He begins to explain everything that had happened and why it had to be this way. He brings them peace and He brings them hope.
7. So many of us struggle, we struggle with the bad things that happen in our lives. At one time or another in our lives we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have had our hopes dashed. The words they say we could say ourselves. How many times have we said “I had hoped it would have been different…I had hoped that my children would have been faithful to the church, I had hoped my kids would have stayed out of trouble, I had hoped my spouse would not have cheated, I had hoped I wouldn’t have gotten sick, I had hoped he wouldn’t have died…I had hoped…I had hoped…I had hoped…
8. In the midst of those hurts and pains Jesus says to us, like He said the disciples, tell me what’s going on in your lives. And if we open up as did the disciples, if we lay it all out on the table, Jesus will begin to heal us. He will, in deep prayer, begin to help us to deal with the pain in our lives, and like the disciples soon our hearts will begin to burn within us, they will begin to burn with love for our friend, Jesus Christ. All friendship requires that we open ourselves up to the other, and the same is true of Jesus. He wants us to open our hearts to Him, to share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and our fears. Only when we allow ourselves to do this, when we open our hearts and whatever is in there, both good and bad, will we be able to grow in friendship with Christ.
9. Many times people come to priests to talk about their sorrows, about how their hopes have been dashed, and I always try to ask them if they have shared these things with our Lord in prayer. Many times they then say they are angry with the Lord, and they are surprised to hear me tell them that they should tell the Lord they are angry. I think so many of us have been taught that we shouldn’t be angry with God, and we certainly shouldn’t express that anger to God, but you know what. We should. The disciples on the road to Emmaus did, and they found hope and peace through that sort of prayerful honesty with God.
10. Jesus doesn’t want us to pretend things are just hunky dory when they are not. He wants us to open our heart to Him with all the anger and fear and pain that might be there…so don’t be afraid to let Him have it if that’s what’s on your mind. Jesus is a true friend who wants you to express your true feelings to Him in prayer, He wants you to cry on his shoulder. He is like the little boy whose friend, Tommy, died in a horrible tragedy. A few days after the funeral the little boy decided to visit his Tommy’s house and say hello to Tommy’s mom. The little boy came home a long time later and his mother asked him where he had been all this time and what he had been doing. The little boy responded “All afternoon I sat on Tommy’s moms lap and helped her cry.” Jesus, our friend, can help us cry, He can help us deal with all the tough things that happen in our lives, but we have to open our hearts to him in prayer… so go for it…tell Him what’s on your mind…I promise He will respond with healing and peace.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us.
St. Rose, pray for us. Amen.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
"In this moment, I can end with saying grace (We can assume he meant “thanks”) for your love of the Church, for the love of our Lord and such a gift, your love also to the poor successor of St. Peter. I will do it possible to be a real successor of the great St. Peter, who also was a man with his faults and sins. But, he remains, finally, the Rock for the Church, and so also, I, with all my poorness spiritual, can be, with the grace of the Lord, in this time, the successor of Peter. And say our prayers, your love, for give me the certainties that the Lord will help me in this my ministry. And so I am so deeply thankful for your love, for your prayer, and my answer to this moment for all that you have given to me at this moment, in this visit, is my blessing at the end of the Holy Mass.”
Friday, April 18, 2008
Even though, in my opinion (which in matters Papal really has no bearing), the music for the Mass left something to be desired, there were some very good things that happened at the Mass. First was the Altar arrangement. Those who are members of my parish will, no doubt, recognize the Altar arrangement of the candles and crucifix.
This has been a hallmark of Pope Benedict's Liturgical reforms highlighting the Church's belief in the centrality of the Cross and our Liturgical orientation toward Christ. When the crucifix is placed on the altar between the priest and people it allows all of us, both the priest and the people to be able to focus on Christ, who is our Hope and to whom our prayer is addressed to the Father.
UPDATE: Fr. Rob Johansen has a very well thought out and balanced post on the Papal Mass on His blog entitled Thrown Back. To read it click here.
National's Stadium Mass Homily
Meeting with Catholic Educators
Meeting with Non-Christian Religiouis Leaders
Meeting with Jewish Leaders
Thursday, April 17, 2008
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Dear Brother Bishops,
It gives me great joy to greet you today, at the start of my visit to this country, and I thank Cardinal George for the gracious words he has addressed to me on your behalf. I want to thank all of you, especially the Officers of the Episcopal Conference, for the hard work that has gone into the preparation of this visit. My grateful appreciation goes also to the staff and volunteers of the National Shrine, who have welcomed us here this evening. American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the see of Peter. My pastoral visit here is an opportunity to strengthen further the bonds of communion that unite us. We began by celebrating Evening Prayer in this Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city. Gathered in prayer with Mary, Mother of Jesus, we lovingly commend to our heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States.
For the Catholic communities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Louisville, this is a year of particular celebration, as it marks the bicentenary of the establishment of these local Churches as Dioceses. I join you in giving thanks for the many graces granted to the Church there during these two centuries. As this year also marks the bicentenary of the elevation of the founding see of Baltimore to an Archdiocese, it gives me an opportunity to recall with admiration and gratitude the life and ministry of John Carroll, the first Bishop of Baltimore – a worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation. His tireless efforts to spread the Gospel in the vast territory under his care laid the foundations for the ecclesial life of your country and enabled the Church in America to grow to maturity. Today the Catholic community you serve is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. How important it is, then, to let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
Many of the people to whom John Carroll and his fellow Bishops were ministering two centuries ago had travelled from distant lands. The diversity of their origins is reflected in the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America. Brother Bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.
Of those who came to build a new life here, many were able to make good use of the resources and opportunities that they found, and to attain a high level of prosperity. Indeed, the people of this country are known for their great vitality and creativity. They are also known for their generosity. After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, and again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Americans displayed their readiness to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in need. On the international level, the contribution made by the people of America to relief and rescue operations after the tsunami of December 2004 is a further illustration of this compassion. Let me express my particular appreciation for the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics through Catholic Charities and other agencies. Their generosity has borne fruit in the care shown to the poor and needy, and in the energy that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities. All of this gives great cause for thanksgiving.
America is also a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse. Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness – a fact which has contributed to this country’s attraction for generations of immigrants, seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs.
In this connection, I happily acknowledge the presence among you of Bishops from all the venerable Eastern Churches in communion with the Successor of Peter, whom I greet with special joy. Dear Brothers, I ask you to assure your communities of my deep affection and my continued prayers, both for them and for the many brothers and sisters who remain in their land of origin. Your presence here is a reminder of the courageous witness to Christ of so many members of your communities, often amid suffering, in their respective homelands. It is also a great enrichment of the ecclesial life of America, giving vivid expression to the Church’s catholicity and the variety of her liturgical and spiritual traditions.
It is in this fertile soil, nourished from so many different sources, that all of you, Brother Bishops, are called to sow the seeds of the Gospel today. This leads me to ask how, in the twenty-first century, a bishop can best fulfill the call to “make all things new in Christ, our hope”? How can he lead his people to “an encounter with the living God”, the source of that life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks (cf. Spe Salvi, 4)? Perhaps he needs to begin by clearing away some of the barriers to such an encounter. While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior. Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death? Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.
For an affluent society, a further obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come (cf. Mk 10:30). People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with “Christ Jesus, our hope” (1 Tim 1:1).
In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. This emphasis on individualism has even affected the Church (cf. Spe Salvi, 13-15), giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community. Yet from the beginning, God saw that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love – for God and for our neighbor. If we are truly to gaze upon him who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God (cf. Spe Salvi, 14). If this seems counter-cultural, that is simply further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture.
Here in America, you are blessed with a Catholic laity of considerable cultural diversity, who place their wide-ranging gifts at the service of the Church and of society at large. They look to you to offer them encouragement, leadership and direction. In an age that is saturated with information, the importance of providing sound formation in the faith cannot be overstated. American Catholics have traditionally placed a high value on religious education, both in schools and in the context of adult formation programs. These need to be maintained and expanded. The many generous men and women who devote themselves to charitable activity need to be helped to renew their dedication through a “formation of the heart”: an “encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others” (Deus Caritas Est, 31). At a time when advances in medical science bring new hope to many, they also give rise to previously unimagined ethical challenges. This makes it more important than ever to offer thorough formation in the Church’s moral teaching to Catholics engaged in health care. Wise guidance is needed in all these apostolates, so that they may bear abundant fruit; if they are truly to promote the integral good of the human person, they too need to be made new in Christ our hope.
As preachers of the Gospel and leaders of the Catholic community, you are also called to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square, helping to shape cultural attitudes. In a context where free speech is valued, and where vigorous and honest debate is encouraged, yours is a respected voice that has much to offer to the discussion of the pressing social and moral questions of the day. By ensuring that the Gospel is clearly heard, you not only form the people of your own community, but in view of the global reach of mass communication, you help to spread the message of Christian hope throughout the world.
Clearly, the Church’s influence on public debate takes place on many different levels. In the United States, as elsewhere, there is much current and proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of view of morality, and the Catholic community, under your guidance, needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters. Even more important, though, is the gradual opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truth. Here much remains to be done. Crucial in this regard is the role of the lay faithful to act as a “leaven” in society. Yet it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church’s teaching on today’s key ethical questions. Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.
In this regard, a matter of deep concern to us all is the state of the family within society. Indeed, Cardinal George mentioned earlier that you have included the strengthening of marriage and family life among the priorities for your attention over the next few years. In this year’s World Day of Peace Message I spoke of the essential contribution that healthy family life makes to peace within and between nations. In the family home we experience “some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them” (no. 3). The family is also the primary place for evangelization, for passing on the faith, for helping young people to appreciate the importance of religious practice and Sunday observance. How can we not be dismayed as we observe the sharp decline of the family as a basic element of Church and society? Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether. To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person. Hence we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent. In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.
As my predecessor, Pope John Paul II taught, “The person principally responsible in the Diocese for the pastoral care of the family is the Bishop ... he must devote to it personal interest, care, time, personnel and resources, but above all personal support for the families and for all those who … assist him in the pastoral care of the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 73). It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved “yes” to life, a “yes” to love, and a “yes” to the aspirations at the heart of our common humanity, as we strive to fulfill our deep yearning for intimacy with others and with the Lord.
Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life found in America and elsewhere is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors. Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior. As you strive to eliminate this evil wherever it occurs, you may be assured of the prayerful support of God’s people throughout the world. Rightly, you attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims. It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.
Responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was “sometimes very badly handled”. Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people. While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm. In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society.
If they are to achieve their full purpose, however, the policies and programs you have adopted need to be placed in a wider context. Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. All have a part to play in this task – not only parents, religious leaders, teachers and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it. Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish. It falls to you, as pastors modelled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores. Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response.
Priests, too, need your guidance and closeness during this difficult time. They have experienced shame over what has occurred, and there are those who feel they have lost some of the trust and esteem they once enjoyed. Not a few are experiencing a closeness to Christ in his Passion as they struggle to come to terms with the consequences of the crisis. The Bishop, as father, brother and friend of his priests, can help them to draw spiritual fruit from this union with Christ by making them aware of the Lord’s consoling presence in the midst of their suffering, and by encouraging them to walk with the Lord along the path of hope (cf. Spe Salvi, 39). As Pope John Paul II observed six years ago, “we must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community”, leading to “a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church” (Address to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002, 4). There are many signs that, during the intervening period, such purification has indeed been taking place. Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light: all things are indeed being made new in Christ Jesus our hope.
At this stage a vital part of your task is to strengthen relationships with your clergy, especially in those cases where tension has arisen between priests and their bishops in the wake of the crisis. It is important that you continue to show them your concern, to support them, and to lead by example. In this way you will surely help them to encounter the living God, and point them towards the life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks. If you yourselves live in a manner closely configured to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, you will inspire your brother priests to rededicate themselves to the service of their flocks with Christ-like generosity. Indeed a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues, and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community.
Time spent in prayer is never wasted, however urgent the duties that press upon us from every side. Adoration of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament prolongs and intensifies the union with him that is established through the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 66). Contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary releases all their saving power and it conforms, unites and consecrates us to Jesus Christ (cf. Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11, 15). Fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours ensures that the whole of our day is sanctified and it continually reminds us of the need to remain focused on doing God’s work, however many pressures and distractions may arise from the task at hand. Thus our devotion helps us to speak and act in persona Christi, to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful in the name of Jesus, to bring his reconciliation, his healing and his love to all his beloved brothers and sisters. This radical configuration to Christ, the Good Shepherd, lies at the heart of our pastoral ministry, and if we open ourselves through prayer to the power of the Spirit, he will give us the gifts we need to carry out our daunting task, so that we need never “be anxious how to speak or what to say” (Mt 10:19).
As I conclude my words to you this evening, I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all the nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son. My dear Brother Bishops, I assure each of you here present of my deep friendship and my participation in your pastoral concerns. To all of you, and to your clergy, religious and lay faithful, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Lord.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The Holy Father is travelling on an Alitalia Boing 777 (let’s hope they don’t lose his luggage) together with 101 other people, including journalists, who have the honor of paying 3200 Euros to travel on the plane (this is one reason why I have never even applied to go on the plane). The plane, like Gaul, is divided in three parts. Forward, there are compartments for the Pope and his immediate helpers. After are the journalists. The Holy Father has an office with a table and six chairs, and a bedroom with a kneeler and crucifix.The Pope has a boarding pass, by the way. He didn’t pay for his own ticket but he does have a boarding pass. The first name lists "Papa" and for a last name "Benedetto XVI".The plane has a small podium for the Pope to give a press conference. With him are 3 cardinals, 2 bishops, 7 priests and 18 laypeople.
Lombardi: In the name of all those present, thank you for your kind willingness to be with us this morning, to greet us and also to give us some ideas about this trip. It’s your second inter-continental trip, and your first as Holy Father to the United States and the United Nations. It’s a very important trip, much anticipated. Can you say something to us about your sentiments and your hopes with which your approach this trip, and what your fundamental objectives are?
Benedict XVI:My trip has basically two objectives. The first is a visit to the church in America, in the United States, and naturally also the entire country. There’s a particular motive, which is that 200 years ago the Archdiocese of Baltimore was elevated as a metropolitan archdiocese, and at the same moment two or three other dioceses were created … Philadelphia, Boston, Louisville. It’s a great jubilee for the church in the United States. It’s a moment of reflection on the past, but also on the future, on how to respond to the great challenges of our time that will present themselves in the future.
Naturally, the inter-religious and ecumenical encounters are an important part of this trip, as is the encounter in the synagogue with our Jewish friends on the vigil of their Passover festival. That’s the religious and pastoral aspect … the church in the United States in this moment of our history, and the encounter with all the others in this common humanity which leads to a common sense of responsibility.At this point, I want to thank President Bush who is coming to the airport and has devoted considerable time to our meeting, and who is also receiving me on the occasion of my birthday.
The second objective is the visit to the United Nations, and also here there’s a particular motive. This is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s an expression of the founding philosophy of the United Nations and the human and spiritual basis upon which it’s constructed. Thus it’s a moment of reflection and to refresh awareness of this important moment in history, that in this declaration of human rights diverse cultures came together. There’s an anthropology that recognizes the human being as a subject of rights prior to all institutions, with a value that must be respected by everyone. This trip, given a moment of a crisis of values, gives us the opportunity to build upon what was begun in this moment and to exploit it for the future.
Lombardi:: Now we’ll turn to the questions that you yourselves presented in recent days and that some of us will present to the Holy Father. We’ll start a question from John Allen, who I don’t think needs an introduction. He’s a well-known commentator on Vatican affairs in the United States.
Allen: Holy Father, I’ll ask my question in English. I know you will speak principally in Italian, but we would be grateful for at least a few words in English. The Catholic church in the United States is large and dynamic, but also suffering, above all because of the recent sexual abuse crisis. The American people are waiting to hear what you have to say on this subject. What will your message be?
Benedict XVI:It is a great suffering for the church in the United States, for the church in general, and for me personally that this could happen. If I read the histories of these victims, it’s difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing and to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future.I think we have to act on three levels.The first is the level of justice, the juridical level. We now have also norms to react in a just way. I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia, [which] is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry, this is absolutely incompatible. And who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So the first level is, as we can do justice and help clearly the victims, because they are deeply touched. So [there are] two sides of justice, on the one hand that pedophiles cannot be priests; on the other hand, to help in all the possible ways to the victims.
The second level is the pastoral level, the level of healing and help of assistance and of reconciliation. This is a big pastoral engagement, and I know that the bishops and the priests and all the Catholic people in the United States will do all possible to help assist and to heal, and to help that in the future these things cannot happen.
The third point [is that] we have made a visitation in the seminaries to also do what is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep, spiritual, human and intellectual formation –with discernment so that only sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood, only persons with a deep personal love for Christ and a deep sacramental love, to exclude that this can happen [again]. I know that the bishops and the rectors of seminarians will do all that is possible so that we have a strong discernment, because it’s more important to have good priests than to have many priests. This is also our third level, and we hope that we can do, and we have done, and we will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound.
Lombardi:: Thank you, Your Holiness. Another theme upon which we had many questions from our colleagues was that of immigration, reflecting the growing presence of Hispanics in the society of the United States. We’ll have a question from our colleague Andres Beltramo, from the Notimex agency in Mexico.
Beltramo: I’ll ask the question in Italian, but we would love to have just a greeting in Spanish. With the enormous growth in the Hispanic presence, the Catholic church in the United States is becoming steadily more bilingual and bicultural. Yet there’s also a growing “anti-immigrant” movement in America. Do you intend to invite the United States to welcome immigrants well, many of whom are Catholic?
Benedict XVI:Unfortunately I’m not ready to speak in Spanish, but I offer a greeting and blessing for all the Spanish-speakers! Certainly I’ll
talk about this subject. I recent had the ad limina visit from the bishops of Central America, also South America. I saw the scope of this problem, above all the grave problem of the separation of families. This is truly dangerous for the social, human and moral fabric of these countries.It seems to me that we have to distinguish between measures to be taken immediately, and longer-term solutions. The fundamental solution [would be] that there is no longer any need to immigrate, that there are sufficient opportunities for work and a sufficient social fabric that no one any longer feels the need to immigrate. We all have to work for this objective, that social development is sufficient so that citizens are able to contribute to their own future.On this point, I want to speak with
the President, because above all the United States must help countries develop themselves. Doing so is in the interests of everyone, not just this country but the whole world, including the United States.In the short term, it’s very important above all to help the families. This is the primary objective, to ensure that families are protected, not destroyed. Whatever can be done, must be done. Naturally, we have to do whatever’s possible against economic insecurity, against all the forms of violence, so that they can have a worthy life.
I’d like also to say that although there are many problems, so much suffering, there’s also much hospitality [in America.] I know that the bishops’ conference in America collaborates a great deal with the Latin American bishops’ conference. Together they work to help priests, laity and so on. With so many painful things, it’s also important not to forget much good and many positive actions.
Lombardi:: Thank you, Your Holiness. Now we’ll have a question that refers to American society, the place of religious values in American society, from our colleague Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican writer of the newspaper Il Giornale.
Tornielli: Holy Father, in receiving the new ambassador of the United States of America, you cast in a positive light the public value of religion in the United States. I’d like to ask if you consider this a possible model also for secularized Europe? Also, is there also a risk that religion and the name of God can be abused for supporting a certain political stance, including war?
Benedict XVI:Certainly we can’t simply copy the United States. We have our own history, and we must learn from each other.What I find
fascinating about the United States is that they began with a positive concept of secularism. This new people was composed of communities and people who had separated from state churches, and they wanted to have a secular state which would open possibilities for all the confessions and all the forms of religious expression. It was an expressly secular state, and it was directlyopposed to a state-church. It was secular precisely out of love of religion, for the authenticity of religion, which could be lived only in freedom. Thus we find a state that’s expressly secular, but favorable to religion in order to give it authenticity.
We know that the public institutions in America, albeit secular, draw on a de facto moral consensus that exists among the citizens. This seems to
me fundamental and positive to consider, also in Europe. But in the meantime, more than 200 years of history have passed with so many developments. Also in the United States, they’ve had a new form of secularization, a new secularism, which is entirely different. They also have new problems, such as immigration, the “Wasp” ideology, and all these problems. The situation has become complicated and differentiated in the course of history, but the fundamental idea seems to me even today worthy of being observed.
Lombardi:: Thank you, Your Holiness. Now we’ll have the last question, dealing with the theme of the visit to the United Nations. It will be asked by John Thavis, the bureau chief in Rome of the Catholic News Service.
Thavis: Holy Father, the pope is often considered the conscience of humanity, and this is one of the reasons your address at the United Nations is highly anticipated. Do you think a multi-lateral institution such as the UN can protect the non-negotiable principles defended by the Catholic church, meaning those rooted in natural law?
Benedict XVI:This is precisely the fundamental objective of the United Nations, to protect the common values of humanity upon which the peaceful coexistence of nations is based, the pursuit of justice and development against injustice. There’s an idea I’ve already touched upon which seems to me to be fundamental for the United Nations, and that’s the idea of human rights, the rights expressed by them as non-negotiable in all situations, are the fundamental principles of the institution. It’s important that there be this convergence among the cultures, which found a consensus that these values are fundamental and are written in the being of the human person. To renew this
awareness, that the United Nations and its peacekeeping mission can work only if it’s based on fundamental rights held in common by all. To confirm this fundamental conception and to reinforce it as much as possible is an objective of my mission.At the beginning, Fr. Lombardi asked about my sentiments. I’d like to say that I’m going with joy. I’ve been in the United States several times, I know this great country, and I also know the great life of the church despite all the problems. I’m happy to be able to meet in this historical moment, both through the church and my visit to the United Nations, this great country.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
His plane touched down precisely on time (how fitting for a German Pope), and in case you were wondering, the bells were vigorously rung by the pastor at St. Rose of Lima Parish upon the Holy Father's arrival.
Let us continue to pray for His Holiness that he will be kept safe on this pastoral journey and that his flock will be open to hear his words of hope.
Friday, April 11, 2008
The event’s organizer, university chaplain Father Andrzej Batorski, SJ, described the show-- which attracted the Jesuit, Capuchin, and Divine Word Fathers as well as Poor Clare nuns-- as a “little provocation” meant to draw young people closer to consecrated life.
During the event, organizers explained symbolic aspects of religious apparel."