Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mysterious Disappearances

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16.

The wealth of any country is found primarily in its inhabitants. The country’s future depends on them, individually and collectively, as does its capacity to work for peace. A commitment to peace is possible only in a unified society. Unity, on the other hand, is not the same as uniformity. Social cohesion requires unstinting respect for the dignity of each person and the responsible participation of all in contributing the best of their talents and abilities.

The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable.

A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life!

This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart. The grandeur and the raison d’être of each person are found in God alone. The unconditional acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, of each one of us, and of the sacredness of human life, is linked to the responsibility which we all have before God. We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.

Address to leaders of government and the nation, Sept 15, 2012

Reflection – There is no peace possible without respect for human life and its sacred value. It is easy to point the finger at other countries where war and violence claim the lives of so many. It is easy to point the finger at countries where blatant violations of human rights are the order of the day: North Korea and China are always handy for that purpose.

But in Canada our esteemed parliamentarians just this week soundly defeated a motion that’s only effect would be to establish a committee to discuss when human life begins from a medical point of view. Our current law, based on cutting edge science from the reign of Queen Victoria, I believe, says that a human life begins only when the baby completely exits her mother’s body. A woman cabinet minister, Rona Ambrose, who voted in favour of the motion, is being pressured to resign for ‘betraying her sex.’ And Canada continues to have legal abortion through nine months of pregnancy, and roughly a hundred thousand human beings are legally killed each year in my beloved country as a result.

We Canadians love to vaunt ourselves as a nation of peace and of peacemakers. We especially love to preen our moral superiority to those nasty people living to the immediate south of us.

So I say to my fellow Canadians reading this: we are not morally superior to anyone. We are not a nation of peace. Every ‘Canadian value’ we love to claim for ourselves is utterly belied and nullified by abortion—we really are no better than the Germans in the 1930s who quietly went about their lives while all their Jewish neighbours mysteriously disappeared. An awful lot of my younger brothers and sisters have mysteriously disappeared in the past 40 years – 4 million is the conservative estimate.

There is no peace where human life is disregarded, despised, destroyed. And this is the state of the nation in Canada, and (let’s face it) most Canadians are just fine with it that way.

Lord have mercy on us.
So… who’s going to Lifechain today?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Religion and Politics

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

Like the rest of the world, the Middle East is experiencing two opposing trends: secularization, with its occasionally extreme consequences, and a violent fundamentalism claiming to be based on religion. Some Middle Eastern political and religious leaders, whatever their community, tend to look with suspicion upon secularity (laïcité) as something intrinsically atheistic or immoral.

It is true that secularity sometimes reduces religion to a purely private concern, seeing personal or family worship as unrelated to daily life, ethics or one’s relationships with others. In its extreme and ideological form, secularity becomes a secularism which denies citizens the right openly to express their religion and claims that only the State can legislate on the public form which religion may take. These theories are not new. Nor are they confined to the West or to be confused with Christianity.

A healthy secularity, on the other hand, frees religion from the encumbrance of politics, and allows politics to be enriched by the contribution of religion, while maintaining the necessary distance, clear distinction and indispensable collaboration between the two spheres. No society can develop in a healthy way without embodying a spirit of mutual respect between politics and religion, avoiding the constant temptation either to merge the two or to set them at odds. The basis of a constructive relationship between politics and religion is, first and foremost, human nature – a sound understanding of man – and full respect for inalienable human rights. A sense of this correct relationship should lead to the realization that relations between the spiritual (religious) and the temporal (political) spheres should be marked by a kind of unity in distinction, inasmuch as both are called, while remaining distinct, to cooperate harmoniously in the service of the common good.

This kind of healthy secularity ensures that political activity does not manipulate religion, while the practice of religion remains free from a politics of self-interest which at times is barely compatible with, if not downright contrary to, religious belief. For this reason, a healthy secularity, embodying unity in distinction, is necessary and even vital for both spheres. The challenges raised by the relationship of politics and religion can be met patiently and courageously through a sound human and religious formation. Constant emphasis needs to be put on the place of God in personal, family and civic life, and on the proper place of men and women in God’s plan. Above all, greater prayer is required for this intention.

Post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente 29

Reflection – Benedict the teacher, at his finest here in this passage! I can’t possibly condense or elide this paragraph of the exhortation, so here it is in its fullness—a clear, simple, well-thought-out presentation of the relationship of religion and politics, Church and state.

Since the passage is long, I will write short. The document is aimed at the Middle East, but boy, do we ever need to read it in the rest of the world! There is so much confusion, and so much genuine nonsense, afoot in the land about this subject. So many people, as soon as the Church issues a statement on any public issue, scream ‘Church and State, Church and State!’ as if the mere pointing out of the moral and human implications of abortion, same-sex marriage or health care laws in itself ushers in the Taliban among us.
In our secularized society there is little (in my opinion) of the fusing of religion and politics, but one can see the dangers of this in the Middle East certainly. Anyhow, Pope Benedict has said all that needs saying here, and the post is long enough now, so I’ll leave you with lots of him and very little of me today (great sighs of relief are heaved…).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Peace in Our Time?

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

For the sacred Scriptures, peace is not simply a pact or a treaty which ensures a tranquil life, nor can its definition be reduced to the mere absence of war. According to its Hebrew etymology, peace means being complete and intact, restored to wholeness. It is the state of those who live in harmony with God and with themselves, with others and with nature. Before appearing outwardly, peace is interior. It is blessing. It is the yearning for a reality. Peace is something so desirable that it has become a greeting in the Middle East (cf. Jn 20:19; 1 Pet 5:14). Peace is justice (cf. Is 32:17); Saint James in his Letter adds that “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:18). The struggle of the Prophets and the reflections of the Wisdom authors were inspired by the hope of eschatological peace. It is towards this authentic peace in God that Christ leads us. He alone is its gate (Jn 10:9). This is the sole gate that Christians wish to enter.

Post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente 9

Reflection – There used to be two bumper stickers that were popular among the religious bumper sticker crowd. One of them read, “If you want peace, work for justice,” the other, “If you want peace, pray the rosary.” As it happens, we once had two guests staying at Madonna House who each had one of those bumper stickers on his car, parked alongside each other in our parking lot.

It was actually a good little catechesis on peace, as both messages are quite true. And the Pope shows us here exactly what binds the bumper stickers together in a common truth. Peace is harmony, peace is integrity. We are made for harmony with God and with one another. Harmony with God comes through prayer and the interior surrender of our hearts to Him, a surrender that Our Lady especially helps us to accomplish. Pray the rosary!

Harmony with one another comes from all our relationships being as they should. In this world there is so much that is not what it should be, and we must work as we are able, as we have light to do, to amend that. Work for justice!

So today we have truly dreadful situations brewing all over the world, but especially in the Middle East. Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria’s bloody civil war, the rise to power of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Israel’s perilous position in the midst of all this—where is peace? Is there hope for it in our life time?

Pray the rosary, work for justice. We cannot ‘fix’ Iran or Syria or Egypt. But our own hearts, at least, can be set in integrity and harmony, with God’s help. It really does come down to that old hoary question: are you part of the problem or part of the solution? If I decide that I’m really in favour of killing all the people who (in my view) are causing problems ‘over there’, then I have abandoned the path of justice. If I, surveying the world and all its woes, and my own heart and all its woes, fail to turn to God and beg his help and healing, I have abandoned the path of prayer. I am no longer a man of peace, then.

Peace is, ultimately, an eschatological concept. In this world we all have free will, and some will always choose to abandon peace for its alternative. There will always be the anguish and heartache, violence and tragedy that flow from this choice. And there will always be most difficult decisions that have to be made by governments as to proper responses to war waging and terror dealing. Peace in this world in the broad social sphere is fleeting and frail at best.
But peace in our hearts—this is not a strictly eschatological concept. Today, I can choose to walk the path of harmony with God and with neighbour. Pray the rosary and work for justice, today. It is not an easy path, not without its sacrificial element, but it is a path open to each of us, today. What path will you and I walk, today?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Our Bloody God

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

It is moving for me to recall my journeys to the Middle East. As a land especially chosen by God, it was the home of Patriarchs and Prophets. It was the glorious setting for the Incarnation of the Messiah; it saw the raising of the Saviour’s cross and witnessed the resurrection of the Redeemer and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Traversed by the Apostles, saints and a number of the Fathers of the Church, it was the crucible of the earliest dogmatic formulations. Yet this blessed land and its peoples have tragically experienced human upheavals. How many deaths have there been, how many lives ravaged by human blindness, how many occasions of fear and humiliation! It would seem that there is no end to the crime of Cain (cf. Gen 4:6-10 and 1 Jn 3:8-15) among the sons of Adam and Eve created in God’s image (cf. Gen 1:27). Adam’s transgression, reinforced by the sin of Cain, continues to produce thorns and thistles (cf. Gen 3:18) even today. How sad it is to see this blessed land suffer in its children who relentlessly tear one another to pieces and die! Christians know that only Jesus, who passed through sufferings and death in order to rise again, is capable of bringing salvation and peace to all who dwell in your part of the world (cf. Acts 2:23-24, 32-33). Him alone, Christ, the Son of God, do we proclaim! Let us repent, then, and be converted, “that sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20a).

Post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente 8

Reflection – Ecclesia in Medio Oriente is a lengthy document, and I won’t be able to do more on this blog than touch on a few paragraphs of it. It is worth reading, though, for anyone who wants to really delve into the Pope’s and the Church’s vision and program for this troubled area of the world. With so many loud and bellicose voices calling out for aggressive interventions in these lands, or the cold calculus of Realpolitik and protection of economic interest, or at best a wholly secular vision of tolerance and human rights unlikely to persuade many in this most religious of all regions, it is good to consider this other voice, this other perspective of faith.

The Pope highlights here the tragic irony of this land which is so much the locus of God’s biblical action, so much the cradle of monotheism, the revelation of the God of Israel become the God of all people in Jesus Christ, which has been so torn by violence and hatred, war and death. He points out that this very irony, this terrible clash between light and darkness, love and violence, is only resolved in Jesus Himself and his conquering of violence and death by love.

It seems to me, not called to live in the Middle East, that this same dynamic appears in big and small ways in every human life. There is God and his revelation, there is love and its work in our lives, there is all manner of good and beautiful things given and unfolding in each human life. And then there is the other thread of our being, thickening and thinning in turn, blood red and pitch dark alternately, of violence and hatred and death, selfishness and coldness and alienation.

The two merge together, weave in and out, co-exist against all seeming possibility. The life of God and the death of sin, the victory of love and the persistent negation of that victory by selfish cold hatred. It may appear in our lives with dramatic soul-shaking intensity or more insidiously in the quiet working out of the heart’s intentions, but appear in our lives it does.

We are all the Holy Land. We are all this place of God’s revelation and human darkness, of God’s assent to man and man’s refusal to God. We are all this soil bearing the bloody footprints of God in Christ and the bloody footprints of Cain. And it is Jesus, our bloody God, who is our sole hope in this holy land of the world, this holy land of our hearts. Jesus, the mercy of God who penetrates to the innermost and outermost reaches of human sin, darkness, failure, with the inexhaustible power of divine love and life. Ecclesia in Medio Oriente orients all of us in the midst of life to the hope of the Church, and that hope is Christ.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Here and Now

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

Ecclesia in Medio Oriente makes it possible to rethink the present in order to look to the future with the eyes of Christ. By its biblical and pastoral orientation, its invitation to deeper spiritual and ecclesiological reflection, its call for liturgical and catechetical renewal, and its summons to dialogue, the Exhortation points out a path for rediscovering what is essential: being a follower of Christ even in difficult and sometimes painful situations which may lead to the temptation to ignore or to forget the exaltation of the cross.

It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division. In the light of today’s Feast, and in view of a fruitful application of the Exhortation, I urge all of you to fear not, to stand firm in truth and in purity of faith. This is the language of the cross, exalted and glorious!

This is the “folly” of the cross: a folly capable of changing our sufferings into a declaration of love for God and mercy for our neighbor; a folly capable of transforming those who suffer because of their faith and identity into vessels of clay ready to be filled to overflowing by divine gifts more precious than gold (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-18).

This is more than simply picturesque language: it is a pressing appeal to act concretely in a way which configures us ever more fully to Christ, in a way which helps the different Churches to reflect the beauty of the first community of believers (cf. Acts 2:41-47: Part Two of the Exhortation); in a way like that of the Emperor Constantine, who could bear witness and bring Christians forth from discrimination to enable them openly and freely to live their faith in Christ crucified, dead and risen for the salvation of all.

Address upon signing the post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, St. Paul’s Basilica, Harissa, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – ‘It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division.’ This is the meaning of the triumph of the Cross.

If we do not celebrate thus, we are at best saying that the Cross promises a future triumph—in the eschaton all shall be made well; then and only then can we love and live as we should. Here and now we are stuck in the world of Realpolitik and domination, factions and ambition. Somewhere else, sometime else, in some other place and mode of being, all this nice Cross stuff will prevail, but not here.

Few people consciously think this, but oh so many, I wager, live from it. It is fundamentally a Gnostic understanding of the Cross. Gnosticism identifies salvation with the flight from this world and its evil ways into some other elevated level of being. The world as we know it is inherently and irredeemably corrupt—getting out of it intact is our only hope. If the Cross merely holds out for us a promise that somewhere else we can love as we are loved and live a life of totality for God, then here and now there is no triumph, no victory, no resurrection.

This is not our Christian faith. Here and now Jesus is triumphant over the world. Here and now the grace and light of Jesus is penetrating this world and its darkness, healing this world and its brokenness, transforming the world and its lovelessness. The folly of it is that we only enter this transforming grace by surrendering to its demands, and only learn the deep wisdom of doing so after we have made that surrender. Beforehand, it looks like pure madness.

But this is it: here and now the grace of Christ is operating through the Church to extend his victory—the victory of love—to all corners of the world. The Pope is addressing the Church in the Middle East here, but it is a message that resonates for all of us. Here and now, here and now, here and now—the Cross is triumphant here and now, or it is not triumphant at all. And that is the enduring challenge of faith for Christians at all times and in all places. Do I believe this?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Blood of the Martyrs

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

Providentially, this event takes place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration originating in the East… A month from now we will celebrate the seventeen-hundredth anniversary of the appearance to Constantine of the Chi-Rho, radiant in the symbolic night of his unbelief and accompanied by the words: “In this sign you will conquer!”… It seems to me that the Post-Synodal Exhortation can be read and understood in the light of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and more particularly in the light of the Chi-Rho, the two first letters of the Greek word “Christos”.
Reading it in this way leads to renewed appreciation of the identity of each baptized person and of the Church, and is at the same time a summons to witness in and through communion. Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate.
For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

Address upon signing the post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, St. Paul’s Basilica, Harissa, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – Once again (and I do hate to constantly rave about him like some star-struck fanboy), the Pope does it! In a few short sentences, written in language anyone can understand with relative ease, he sketches out the very essence and sum total of Christian life. Faith, hope, and love, in grounding our life in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, and from that grounding offering our life with him to the Father for the world.

He just puts it so very, very well. And he puts it so very, very well over and over again, and has done so all his life. When Pope Benedict dies, if he ends up being canonized (I vote yes to that!) he will surely be the patron saint of writers—he’s so very, very good at it.

Of course it bears reflecting that the document he is signing and the Christian community he is addressing are being called to live out this faith, hope, and love in the most difficult and extreme circumstances possible. There are many Christian martyrs in the Middle East today. Many others have fled their ancestral homelands in the face of growing violence and hatred against the Christian presence there. So his words about the cross and the resurrection being intrinsically joined resonate with particular intensity.

It is one thing to say this in the relative comfort and plenty of North America or Europe. We may have our problems in life, but being killed by a mob is not (usually, so far) one of them. I have never had to ‘flee’ anywhere, for any reason. We must, we really must pray for our brothers and sisters in places like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan (not in the Middle East, but very real persecution there, too).

And we must, we really must, come to grips with this same call to faith, hope, love, to laying our lives down through, with, and in Christ. Nobody is killing us in North America and Europe for our faith, yet. It could happen, you know. But meanwhile, even if we’re not dying for Christ, the call now is to live for him, to take very seriously the demands of the Gospel and commit our lives to those demands with intensity and purpose.
Otherwise, you know, nobody will believe us, nobody take us seriously. The blood of martyrs is the seedbed of Christians; even without literal martyrdom we can choose to ‘shed our blood’ by total dedication and commitment to the task of love and the path of the Gospel. I would suggest that there is no other way to proclaim Christ to the world, no other way for love to conquer and the Cross of Christ to be triumphant in our day.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Arab Spring

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, when at great risk to his own personal safety, the Pope went to the Middle East and spoke a word there of peace, reconciliation, and the dignity of the human person. I am excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, so as to provide a much needed deeper perspective on this most anguished issue of our day.

In itself, the Arab spring is a positive thing: it is a desire for greater democracy, greater freedom, greater cooperation and a revived Arab identity. This cry for freedom, which comes from a young generation with more cultural and professional formation, who seek greater participation in political and social life, is a mark of progress, a truly positive development that has been hailed by Christians too.

Of course, bearing in mind the history of revolutions, we know that this important and positive cry for freedom is always in danger of overlooking one aspect – one fundamental dimension of freedom – namely tolerance of the other, the fact that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living side by side according to certain rules.
This is always the danger, and it is the danger in this case too. We must do all we can to ensure that the concept of freedom, the desire for freedom, goes in the right direction and does not overlook tolerance, the overall social fabric, and reconciliation, which are essential elements of freedom.

Hence the renewed Arab identity seems to me to imply also a renewal of the centuries-old, millennia-old, coexistence of Christians and Muslims, who side by side, in mutual tolerance of majority and minority, built these lands and cannot do other than live side by side. I therefore think it important to recognize the positive elements in these movements and to do all we can to ensure that freedom is correctly conceived and corresponds to growth in dialogue rather than domination of one group over others.
Interview with reporters on flight to Lebanon, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – Some might argue that the Pope is being a dreamer here. Clearly, within the Arab spring movement are strong elements of intolerance, radical Islamic hegemony, and in fact a net loss of freedom in these nations.

The Pope, it seems to me, is appealing to the consciences, the better angels, the moderate and moderating elements present in all the nations of the Middle East. And he is laying out, with great respect and care, a positive vision of life that can, should, and in fact does appeal to people of good will of all or no religion.
‘Human freedom is always a shared freedom’ – this is the key element, and one which those of us not living in the Arab world must take to heart, too. Once violence becomes the order of the day, no one is really free.

The rioting mob is just as much trapped in its own energy of hate as are the victims it claims. The leaders manipulating the mob end up, almost always, to be either its victims when it turns on them or its slaves, pandering to the demands of the street.

Social reform and transformation sought through violent revolution and the chaos of mob action always yields renewed tyranny. This is true regardless of the religion and culture of the people involved. Human freedom requires tolerance and justice.

People will say, ‘Oh, but Muslims just don’t see it that way, so there’s no use presenting this.’ I don’t agree, and neither does Pope Benedict. And we have to try, and keep trying to build bridges of truth, trust, friendship, respect with all people. If a bridge gets burned down, build another. If that one is blocked by rubble, build another. This is what Christians do. Extra miles, other cheeks, giving of tunics and shirts—all that good stuff. Violence begets violence begets violence. It is love that will heal the world, and love starts nowhere else but with you and me today and the choices we make today.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Falsification of Religion

The Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16 was an extraordinary moment in the current crisis in the Middle East, one almost entirely ignored by the secular media. At great risk to his own personal safety, the Pope went to the Middle East and spoke a word there of peace, reconciliation, and the dignity of the human person. For the next while on the blog, I will be excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, so as to provide a much needed deeper perspective on this most anguished issue of our day.

Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world. Therefore the task of the Church and of religions is to undertake a purification – a lofty purification of religion from such temptations is always necessary. It is our task to illumine and purify consciences and to make it clear that every person is an image of God. We must respect in the other not only his otherness, but also, within that otherness, the essence we truly have in common as the image of God, and we must treat the other as an image of God. So the essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.

Interview with reporters on flight to Lebanon, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – ‘Religion causes violence. Religion causes wars.’ This is the standard answer given for rejecting religion in our day. Aside from its dubious historical basis (yes, some violence and some war has been done in the name of religion… but plenty of violence and war have been done for money, too, and I don’t see too many people renouncing that!), this claim is ably addressed here by Pope Benedict.

He grants its proper legitimacy—violence and hatred can emerge from religion, as they can emerge from anything we care deeply about—but are alien to its essence. They falsify religion, and always and everywhere are to be purged from authentic religious sentiment.

Secular people get nervous about religion and its absolutism. God has an absolute claim on our lives, our wills, our whole being. No human authority is higher than the authority of God. Before I am a Canadian or a Lemieux or any other human affiliation, I am a Roman Catholic Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and this lays a claim on me that supersedes every other claim. All of this I firmly believe.

To the secular person, this is a recipe for fanaticism and sets the stage for all sorts of pathological behaviours: violence, hatred, murder even. But here’s the crucial point: the God to whom I owe absolute allegiance and unhesitating obedience is a loving Father. He loves every creature he has made and bids me, commands me, to love them as well.

This God who has an absolute right to demand everything of me, my very life if He so desires it, tells me in his Word that every human being is made in His image and likeness. Every human being is a precious gift, a work of art, a walking revelation of this same God.

The question is not whether or not we can have too much religion, as if faith and spirituality are good things as long as they are kept in balance with other good things. Rather, the question is, do we have enough religion, and does the religion we have go deep enough, ascend high enough, extend broadly enough, penetrate every atom of creation enough.

When religion does not expand to its fullest realization, it tends towards fundamentalism, which is to say, religion reduced to an ideology, to a program, to some kind of extension of my being, my security, my place in the world. And of course a religion that is an ideology quickly devolves into violence, war, killing—the whole sad history of bad religion in the world.
In the days ahead, Pope Benedict on this blog will lay out over and over his vision of humanity and God and the path to peace and reconciliation in the world. I hope you will all join me and him as we walk this path over the next week or so.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Buried Memory

As in the questions of every day, so too in our relationship with God we can find a path forward only by sharing in the knowledge of others. In our relationship with God, those who see and those who experience are present, and we can rely on them in our own faith. In some way, they bestow their own certainty on us… relying on those who see, we advance gradually toward Him, and the buried memory of God, which is written on the heart of every man, awakens more and more to life in the depths of our own being.
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 115

Reflection – Today is the feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist. This gets me thinking about this whole business of coming to God by sharing in the knowledge of others that Ratzinger writes about here.
It seems to me that this is at the heart of the Christian religion – we come to know about God and about Jesus from others. First from those twelve apostles/four evangelists, but then down through the centuries in an unbroken chain of proclamation and love. You and I are Christians because for 2000 years people have told one another the story, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now God didn’t have to do it that way, right? He is God, after all, present in all places, filling all things, intimately present to each human heart. We know from the long history of mystical prayer that God can speak directly to us when He wishes. Normally, He doesn’t wish.

God could have directly communicated the Gospel to each human being who He knew (being God) was open to it and willing to obey Him. There would have been no need for the Church, or it would have been a very different kind of affair, perhaps something like the Quakers who meet and sit in silence until the Spirit speaks to one of them.

And, looking at what a hash we have made of it so many times over the millennia, the horrible sins and abuses of some of the clergy, the rampant error and outright heresy of others of us, the compromises and mediocrity and so many others—looking at all that, one might reasonably question whether God’s idea was so hot. To entrust his Truth which is the salvation of the human race to a bunch of fallible frail men seems chancy at best.

Why did He do that? Why, when the knowledge of God and of Christ is so vital to our salvation, did He choose to convey that knowledge in such an unreliable medium? It seems to me that the answer to that question lies, as all these answers do, in looking at the big, broad picture. What is God trying to do in its broadest scope? That’s why He does it the way He does.

The purpose of Christianity is the healing of the human person. Christianity offers radical healing to humanity in its deepest wounding. The deepest of all woundings is our estrangement from God; Jesus heals that alienation by his death and resurrection and gift of the Spirit—the Paschal Mystery by which God’s life become ours.

But the other deep wound of humanity is our estrangement from one another. In losing our communion with God, we lose communion with each other. We are at odds, at war, at each others’ throats. We withdraw, isolate, separate. We are apart from one another.

God’s master plan to heal that is the Church. In all its wounds, all its failures, all its human weaknesses and misery, God has chosen that we should receive His Gospel—the Good News of our reunion with Him and the gift of His life—from one another.

This is the healing of our alienation and division, even if it is a healing we will not experience in fullness until heaven. We cannot float in some individualistic bubble, just me and Jesus, me and God. We must come together, come to one another, to receive the life of God and the truth of God. The Church is a vital and necessary part of God’s saving plan for humanity. It is from one another that the buried memory of God, the truth of our inmost being, is relearnt, and in that both estrangements, both wounds are healed.

And so He chose twelve men and called them apostles. He sent them as the Father had sent Him. Two of those men and two other men would write accounts of His life. And so it has gone for 2000 years. And of course, this has a direct and immediate relevance for you and me today, doesn’t it? Jesus chooses us, calls us, and sends us as the Father sent Him. And if this poor bedraggled divided, violence-torn world of ours is to hear about the Gospel, it will be from our lips and our lives or it will not be at all.

So… let’s do that today, eh?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I Am Not a Libertarian

How can the free world do justice to its moral responsibility? Freedom preserves its dignity only as long as it retains the relationship to its ethical foundations and to its ethical task. A freedom that consisted solely in the possibility of satisfying one’s needs would not be human freedom, since it would remain in the animal realm. An individual freedom without substance dissolves into meaninglessness, since the individual’s freedom can only exist in an order of freedoms.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, 48

Reflection – Values in a time of upheaval: well, it certainly has been a time of upheaval in the past week (even more so than usual). Tensions in the Middle East push the world further down the path to war and the chaos and turmoil that would bring. The economic climate remains rocky, and the future is uncertain. These words from Ratzinger are a helpful and necessary reminder to keep our heads and our focus in uncertain and dangerous times.

We have to remember always and never forget who we are and what we are made for, and the standard of charity and justice that this calls us to. When people are afraid, they all too easily devolve into fight or flight responses, into lashing out in anger or withdrawing into a safe cocoon, an illusory soap-bubble-thin façade of protection against the world.

We are Christians, and we can do neither. We are called to the great adventure of love, of openness, of receptivity, of hospitality, of service, of care for the poor, of forgiveness of enemies, of laying down our lives for the world.

This is freedom, you see. Some today, in the discussion about freedom in the world, wish to reduce freedom simply to this animal level: I do whatever I want. I have a measure of sympathy with that view, especially in the context of government controls and the passing of laws that would restrict human choices and actions coercively (thinking here of the Nanny State, or also speech codes, curtailing of religious freedom).

But… there is more to freedom than ‘I do whatever I want.’ And we have to bring this into the discussion. Ratzinger has labored hard to do just that. A freedom that is left at the animal level of doing whatever you want is a freedom doomed to failure. Someone else will come along and ‘do what they want’ to me, and where is my freedom then? Or my doing what I want will lead me to self-destructive choices, and my freedom will pass away quickly.

While I’m all in favor of the government generally leaving people alone to live their lives as they see fit, we have to realize that this kind of free society depends on people living morally responsible lives. The two go together; if people generally act like miserable vile barbarians treating each other like trash, the state has a vested interest in intervening. If people wish to be left alone in peace to live their lives, this has to occur in an ethical framework.

This is why I am not a libertarian, but a conservative. In the current context of out of control governments legislating every aspect of our lives, I have great sympathy with the libertarian perspective (as many of the lawn signs around this part of Ontario say, “This land is our land – BACK OFF, GOVERNMENT!”). But… every action we do on ‘our land’, so to speak, affects not just ourselves but the whole of society. Every choice I make is fashioning a world in which the rest of you have to live. Every choice you make fashions a world in which I have to live.

Libertarianism does not, it seems to me, take this into account. Freedom has to be directed by moral concern, responsibility, deep awareness of the solidarity and inter-connectedness of the human family, or it is doomed to failure. If this direction is not to come from intrusive and coercive government control, it must come from a shared moral vision derived from the traditional wisdom narratives of the human family—in North America and Europe this would be our shared Judeo-Christian ethos.

Without this, freedom is doomed to failure, as society degenerates into a Hobbesian jungle of competing self-interests and unrestrained appetites. We have three choices: anarchy; government tyranny; spiritual-religious-moral renewal. What’s it going to be?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

By Their Fruits

[Credo] means that man does not regard seeing, hearing, touching, as the totality of what concerns him, that he does not see the area of his world as marked off by what he can see and touch, but seeks a second mode of access to reality, a mode which he calls in fact belief, and in such a way that he finds in it the decisive enlargement of his whole view of the world.

Introduction to Christianity, 24

Reflection – Year of Faith, coming right up! Less than a month away! Here we see Ratzinger reflecting on the central meaning of this word ‘belief’. I believe—what does that mean?

The liberation of the world from the senses, or rather from the limitations of the senses, for one thing. That there is something beyond the visible, the tangible, the sensible, and that we have a sort of access to it, a mode of contact with it. To believe means we are not limited by that which we share with all animals—sensory knowledge and the immediate data it delivers to us.

Human beings have always, at all times, and everywhere sought to expand their horizons beyond this. It is the most human of things, this urge to the spiritual, the religious, the super-natural. We see it in every culture, every civilization, and in the vast overwhelming majority of individuals.

Yes, there are individuals who seem to have little to none of this urge. But they are a vanishingly small minority in the vast sweep of human history. There have always been individuals who are blind and deaf, too.

Now, the atheist will counter that it’s not the same, and I agree. The very fact that the vast majority of human beings have an interest in a world bigger than the sensible world, and some sense that such a world surrounds us and is deeply connected to us, does not prove that this world exists.

Someone came to me recently agonizing over the question of faith and how one can know that any of it is true. Now there are intellectual arguments for God that are fairly strong, and I pointed those out. But of course, at most these ‘prove’ (and I think that’s stretching the word) that ‘something’ is behind everything that is. It doesn’t prove that the God of the Bible is true, or the God of Catholicism.

To be honest, the only counsel I could give this person was to see where atheism leads and see where Christianity leads. When someone really lives out their atheist convictions of an ultimately random, meaningless and hence amoral universe, and when someone really lives out the Christian faith in a loving, merciful God who comes to us to call us into fullness of love and life—what does that look like?

By their fruits you shall know them. We cannot know the truth of faith directly from the senses—if we could, it would not be faith, but direct knowledge. When we get to heaven and see God, there will be no faith. But we can surmise the truth of faith by seeing its fruits in the lives of those who believe.

It’s tricky, because all sorts of believers, of course, do all sorts of terrible things all the time. But you can trace those terrible things to a failure of faith, one way or another. I know I will offend here, and I’m sorry to do so, but if an atheist does something terrible, it does not flow from some failure to apply atheism to their life.

Dostoevsky said in The Brothers Karamazov that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” (Pedant alert! It’s really a paraphrase, but it accurately represents the thought of Ivan in the novel.) I don’t really see a credible argument to the contrary. An individual may choose to adopt a personal moral code; a society may choose to have laws for the common good; in an atheistic view of reality there is no underlying truth or validity to any of those codes or laws.

By their fruits you shall know them. Christianity yields a coherent vision of the universe that calls us to live in love and generosity, and assures us of a God who secures our life and our future in his goodness and mercy. Atheism does none of those things.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Unlimited Evil of Fascism

In a rare move for me on this blog, today I'm posting a link to this brilliant post from Mark Shea. It is basically an e-mail from one of his readers, but it nails the whole question of our time right on the head.

He writes:

One critical error people make in contemplating fascism is to believe that fascism is about ideas, dogmas, or programmatic solutions to human problems. Fascism is none of those things. First and above all, fascism is a belief in the state as the supreme human achievement. Or, as the Party recently said, the state is the only thing we all belong to. This gives the fascist state a flexibility unknown to most totalitarian movements, notably socialism, which are bound by dogmatic commitments and the corresponding need to pretend that the dogmas are productive.

Put another way, the magical thinking of socialism is like fan fiction — it’s limited by a background story. So Pope John Paul II, when he was a cardinal in socialist Poland, could upbraid the socialist utopia for failing in its constitutional promise to respect religion. In contrast, the magical thinking of fascism is unlimited, which makes fascism a much more potent and insidious form of evil...

Go and read the rest, and maybe even pass it along - this is precisely what we are up against increasingly in our world.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

We Have To Be Honest

Jesus himself has become bread for us, and this multiplication of the loaves endures to the end of time, without ever being depleted. This gives us the background we need if we are to understand what Jesus means when he cites the Old Testament in order to repel the tempter: ‘Man does not live on bread alone but… by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.’ The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote, “Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration.”
When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 33

Reflection – Strong words from Pope Benedict here. I think they are also precisely true words. When bread is all that matters, quickly all that matters is that I get my share of the bread. When the word of God is despised, ignored, rejected, when there is little if any concern for the truth of things, for the ultimate meanings and purposes of life, when this world and this moment become all that matters, we do not magically become altruistic saints.

We have to be honest with ourselves. We (and by this I mean ‘human beings’) are not all that nice, really. We can be OK, and we are OK most of the time, but put us under pressure, turn up the heat, make things a little rough and tumble for us, and most of us are not going to do that well.

We may not immediately devolve into Hobbesian wolves devouring each other, but let’s be honest. We need help to be good. We don’t just get there automatically.

For example, ‘the earth is our only home.’ This is the great slogan of the green movement – this idea that because all we have is this planet and this place and there is nothing else anywhere awaiting us or for us, we have to take care of it. All very logical, yet I maintain it is precisely this attitude that drives environmental degradation and destruction.

If the earth is our only home, then we have no happiness beyond what we can attain here. If that is true, then we had better twist and bend and break and crush the earth to make it yield what we so desperately seek, the fullness of life and joy and happiness we are made for.

The earth cannot give us that, but by the bitter time we have learned that, we have despoiled it utterly. Meanwhile, if we know that the earth is not our only home, that we have a Home elsewhere, that elsewhere is the fullness of joy and peace and goodness we long for, we can in fact live lightly on the face of the earth and only use what we need from it.

And there are so many examples of this. Sex is for immediate pleasure and (perhaps) an expression of love between persons—this is the basic idea of our modern culture. Children are truly an afterthought in this, and God has nothing whatsoever to do with it. And yet… studies keep showing how little satisfied moderns are with their sexual lives, how difficult it is to achieve that immediate pleasure, how miserable so many are in this area of life.

When God is removed from first place in our lives, it does not place us into first place, but rather leaves us at the mercy of cold fate, cruel circumstance, ruthless men, and our own inconstant hearts. It is only when God—the loving Father, the One who is merciful and gracious to all his children—is in first place that we can order our days and lives in love and in peace.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Church and Inn (or, the Pub-lic Nature of Religion)

The connection between the liturgy and cheerful earthiness (“Church and inn”) has always been regarded as typically Catholic, and so it is still.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 200

Reflection – Well, the past couple days on the blog have been a bit serious, as I’ve been grappling with what all of us paying attention to the world right now have been grappling with—the waves of violent protest sweeping the Middle East and elsewhere, and the very serious threat these pose to peace and security, and what our individual and collective response is to be to this new crisis.

All very serious… so perhaps this more light-hearted quote from Ratzinger is well-timed. Personally, I have always been in favour of the most cordial relationships between Church and inn, Church and pub. The idea that there is something disreputable or shady or scandalous about going out and having a grand good time with friends and family in a respectable drinking establishment is completely foreign to me (those reading this who know me: “Uh, yeah, we know this, Father…”).

Religion is damaged, in my view, by the Puritanical attitude that sees earthly pleasures as somehow outside it and generally opposed to it. At the same time, ‘cheerful earthiness’ (lovely turn of phrase!) is damaged, perhaps even more so, by its divorce in our days, at least in most quarters, from God and religion.

With religion, as long as genuine prayer and a real connection with God is happening, joy has a way of breaking through, even if the person has some degree of Puritanism to contend with. The Church without the inn may be impoverished, but is still the Church.

The inn without the Church doesn’t fare as well, in my opinion. Genuine human celebration, earthy joy, raising a pint or two with the lads or the lasses—all of this is strengthened, secured, undergirded, upheld, and frankly made much more fun by its being grounded in a lively religious faith.

This may seem paradoxical, but that’s only because we are so far removed in our day from a real Christian culture. When we celebrate in any fashion, in any regard, what we are doing really is proclaiming that life is good. To go out with friends and have an enjoyable evening, to laugh and sing and kick up one’s heels, is to say in a most natural and spontaneous way that the world is a good place, in spite of all our troubles, and so we can rejoice even in the midst of them.

Well, if we don’t really believe that, our celebration tends to become a bit frantic, doesn’t it? If cynicism or nihilism or deep unhappiness is the bigger picture in our life, if the little brightly lit inn is surrounded by a vast ocean of inky darkness and despair, then suddenly it’s not such a good time, right?

One or two pints becomes eight or nine… and things get a bit blurry after that. Laughter and song becomes raucous noise and excess… and perhaps we don’t (ahem) feel quite so good the next day. The evening starts out happy and fine… but somehow fights always break out in the small hours.

Our culture in its secularized state is not (hic!) having such a good time any more, despite its increasingly loud and somewhat incoherent protests to the contrary. The road from the inn to the Church and the Church to the inn has been barricaded and blocked off. This is wrong. The fact is, the truth of Christianity, the deep spiritual and mystical revelation of God that opens up the heart of reality to us, the mystery of the Cross and resurrection, of sacrament and salvation, of prayer and devotion—all of this makes the world such a very good place, such a place of light and sunshine and beauty and delight, that the natural and normal attitude of the Christian both can and should be rollicking good humor, a readiness to dance and sing and laugh, conviviality and plain simple joy.

Life is good. The world is blowing up, yes. We have deep problems in our lives, yes. Suffering and death are real, yes.
But please, please, please, may we never lose sight of, never for a moment forget that life is good, that the whole universe is permeated with the love and mercy of God, that in Christ all creation is renewed, reborn, remade continually, that the victory of light and love is secured, and that the Great Inn which is also and utterly the Great Church awaits us on the other side of the veil. So we can laugh, dance, raise a pint or two, and have a grand good time today, in the midst of the battle and sweat of life, as we say our prayers and put all our hope and trust in God to see us through.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stripped of Fine Garments

The last petition [of the Our Father[ brings us back to the first three: in asking to be liberated from the power of evil, we are ultimately asking for God’s Kingdom, for union with his will, and for the sanctification of his name. Throughout the ages, though, men and women of prayer have interpreted this petition in a broader sense. In the midst of the world’s tribulations, they have begged God to set a limit to the evils that ravage the world and our lives.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 167

Reflection – It is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. This feast, celebrated since the fourth century and commemorating the event of the finding of the True Cross by St. Helen, mother of the emperor Constantine, is a sort of counterpart or echo of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Then, we celebrate with utmost solemnity the events of salvation history and their saving power; today we celebrate the enduring victory, the saving power itself of Jesus’ cross and resurrection.

A story that I have always treasured, perhaps legendary, is that at some point in the True Cross’s  journey through history it was brought to Constantinople and was to be carried into the cathedral by the emperor. But when he came to the cathedral doors in all his imperial regalia and finery—satins and silks and bejeweled robes—he found himself blocked by an invisible barrier from entering. It was only when he stripped himself of his fine garments and jewels and crown and was clad in the rough garments of a poor man that he was able to carry Christ’s Cross into the church.

Legend or not, the story is true. The Cross is at the heart of the world, a constant outpouring of love and mercy, saving power and majestic grace, but we can only enter this heart, this center, this love in great humility and poverty of spirit.

I guess I’m thinking this way, not only because of the feast, but because of the great upsurge in violence this week in the Middle East and the crisis this threatens for all of us. ‘Deliver us from evil,’ indeed! There has been and is great powers of evil at work in the world, both the obvious ones of mob violence and rage whipped up and manipulated by unscrupulous men, and hidden evils in high and low places, the choices to use, to exploit, to lie and rob and kill that wreak havoc in our world.

Great powers of evil in the world… and at the heart of the world, the cross of Christ. It is always a temptation in the face of evil and wrong to lash out, to return hatred for hatred, injury for injury. I’m not speaking here of the (perhaps) obligations of governments to defend territory or the lives of its citizens. I’m speaking of the grave temptation to hatred, to vengefulness, to wholesale and large scale identification of ‘the other’ as ‘the enemy’, whether that other is the Muslims or the rich or the liberals or the conservatives or… and the declaration, private or public, of total warfare, total enmity to that other.

Deliver us from evil. Deliver us, Lord, from the evil that comes against us from those who hate us or those who at any rate certainly do not love us. But deliver us even more from the evil that wells up in our own hearts—hatred and revenge, bitterness and judgment, the clenched fist and the closed heart.
It is the Triumph of the Cross. If we wish to enter into that triumph, we must be stripped of our garments, the signs and exercises of our own power, our own will to triumph, our own ideas and plans and sentiments.

If the Cross is to triumph in the world today, it will not be in a holy war, a Crusade that wields the sword against our enemies. It will triumph in and through men and women who choose to love in the face of hate, forgive in the face of injury, and humble themselves in service and compassion in the face of the world and all its mastery, violence, and arrogance.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Fragile Artefact

A people without a common rule of law cannot live. It destroys itself in anarchy, which is a parody of freedom, its exaltation to the point of abolition. When every man lives without law, every man lives without freedom.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 18

Reflection – Well, I guess this is timely. It has been a week of anarchy in the world—mob violence, murder, chaos. While the political way ahead in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Syria is far from clear, and the proper response of US and Canadian governments is far from clear, I hope we can all at least join together in fervent prayer for peace in these and in all parts of the world. Lord have mercy on us.

We do see in this situation, however, the true value and indeed necessity of social order, rule of law, basic structures of police, military, court systems, and the constitutional framework into which all these fit. When this collapses, when law is violated and the structures that enforce the law co-opted to serve the political ends of whoever is exerting power of office today, then anarchy is upon us.

And with anarchy, eventually the violence of the mob. And this is not some far away (yet all too close) Middle Eastern phenomenon. Lawlessness and mob violence are growing in North America, too. When people in power ignore the laws of the land for political expediency, when the rich and the powerful seem to be exempt from the petty rules that govern the rest of us, when the rules and regulations themselves appear to breed like Tribbles, each new set of regulations born pregnant with the next batch, so that it is probable that both you and I are breaking some law or other right now… when the law is broken, in other words, it is only a matter of time before people take to the streets in sheer anarchic revolt.

Underneath the political issues is a moral and spiritual question. Namely, are we as a society concerned with forming people to be good human beings, or merely good units of production? Are we as a society concerned with passing on the virtues of justice, equity, self-sacrifice, concern for the common good… or are we content with reducing people to the level of cattle to be herded, exploited, and kept happy with ample feed?

I know—I’m starting to rant here. Sorry about that. (It’s been a while since I’ve ranted, hasn’t it?) But a society that has no concern for the moral fiber of its citizens is a society on its way out. A nation, a civilization that throws pornography and light entertainment, cheap food and drink at its people, while seeing them fundamentally as ‘human resources,’ sources of capital and labor, is a civilization sowing the wind and about to reap the whirlwind.

Basically, if you treat people as sub-human, don’t be surprised when they behave sub-humanly. And when the music stops, the money starts to run out, the food and drink is a bit scarcer… well, a people who have never heard of, let alone been formed in, an ethos of justice and shared sacrifice and concern for the common good may not take this too easily. Today there are mobs in Egypt and Libya… tomorrow or the day after it could be well be Ottawa, Toronto, New York, Washington.

Civilization is a fragile artefact, only preserved at the cost of unceasing effort, education, vigilance. And rule of law, the deep sense of being a nation of laws and not men, of absolute adherence to the constitutional order of things, and of the absolute principle of equality of persons before the law, and of the absolute rights to life and liberty of all human beings in law and in life—this is the sine qua non of such vigilance. This is why abortion is the greatest destroyer of civilization today - once we deem some human beings to not have a right to live, we have ceded the field to anarchy.

Well, we need to pray. And we need to do all we can to form ourselves and those in our care in the virtues of justice and care for the common good. Without this, the barbarians are not just at the gate; they are within; they are us. Lord have mercy on us, and let us pray for our troubled world and all its needs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Time to Leave the Half-Way House

The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us… The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). For Saint Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life: “We were buried ... with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17).
Porta Fidei 6

Reflection – Well, the Year of Faith is approaching quickly – less than a month away now. What are you going to do about it? What’s happening in your diocese, your parish? Anything? Are you planning to plug into whatever’s going on, maybe even help out with it, or will you leave that for ‘someone else’ to do? It’s amazing to me how often people will ignore the events going on in their local church, but then turn around and complain that the Church does nothing for them…

Or maybe there really is not much going on in your parish or diocese, or you genuinely cannot participate. What are you going to do? The Year of Faith, as Pope Benedict expresses it above, is a call to an authentic and renewed conversion of life, to entering this radical new reality that completely reshapes the whole of human existence, completely purifies and transforms our thoughts, affections, mentality, conduct.

That’s quite an agenda for the year, and for our lives. Any takers? Do we want to have our whole existence reshaped? That’s the question, I think. We can get stuck, you know, in a sort of half-way house, if we’re not careful. Oh, we believe in Jesus… sort of. We believe in God… somewhat. We believe in the Catholic faith… well, let me get back to you about that.

So often we can have formal faith, the ritual assent of our minds to the Creed, say, but our minds and hearts and conduct are filled chock-full with all sorts of things that have no relationship to what we say we believe. This is such a common problem I’m tempted to say it’s universal. Nearly, anyhow.

And we can resist moving against this. We can hold on to the spurious wisdom of the world, to the cheap finery of conformity to the spirit of the age, to the fool’s gold of the false lessons we may have learned from our families and communities of origin. To abandon ourselves to the transformation of the mind and the heart – to truly subject every thought, every desire, every choice to the Spirit of Christ coming to us in faith, which we understand in our Catholic faith to be channelled by the faith, life, and teaching of the Church – this is radical stuff, and we don’t necessarily welcome it.

Well, this is what the Year of Faith is about. Time to examine the ‘truths’ we actually live by, as opposed to the truths we say we believe, and see if anything needs jettisoning. Time to look at our relationship with Christ and see just how vibrant and real it is for us, and do something about it if it has grown cold. Time to examine our conduct and repent of anything we might be doing that is inconsistent with the radical love and hope of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Time to grow in faith—that’s what the year is about. So… what are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No Way Around It

It may indeed be true that within the network of human relationships it is impossible for each individual to know everything that is necessary and useful for life and that, therefore, our possibilities for action are based on the fact that we ourselves participate by faith in the knowledge of others. Nevertheless, we remain all the time within the sphere of human knowledge that is always in principle accessible to all men.

When, however, we speak of faith in revelation, we pass beyond the boundaries of that knowledge which is typical of human life. Even if the hypothesis could be granted that the existence of God could become an object of ‘knowledge’, at least revelation and its contents would remain an object of faith for each one of us, something that surpasses those realities that are accessible to our knowledge.

Consequently, in this field there is no one in whom we could put our trust or to whose specialized knowledge we could refer, since no one could have a direct knowledge of such realities on the basis of his own personal studies.

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 83-4

Reflection – Ratzinger here is referring to the point, undeniable once it is made, that all of us live by faith to some degree, because all of us take the word of others for all sorts of things. None of us has personally proved every scientific hypothesis that we believe to be true, and every time we step foot outside our door we take a leap of faith that all the people driving the roads are neither homicidal or suicidal, and most possess at least minimal driving competence. And so on and so forth—human life really is a tissue of faith, supplemented by direct knowledge.

But there is a difference, and Ratzinger is happy to point it out, between this human species of faith and faith in God and in Christ. All the human data we accept on faith we could indeed find out for ourselves, given enough time and talent. But who God is, what life is about in its essence, whether or not that which has been given us in the Scriptures is true—no amount of human probing and searching can quite get us there, can it? As Ratzinger says, there is no expert, no one with direct knowledge here.

And so in matters religious, in matters pertaining to the essential and absolute questions of life, we are (it seems to me) thrust into radical faith, into a radical choice to take the word of Another—some Word of some Other at any rate—and go with it, live by it. It seems to me that this is unavoidable and undeniable.

To suspend a decision on these matters is to make a decision. To say, I cannot know, and no human being can really know, and so I will hold back from any definite belief, is to say essentially that it doesn’t really matter much anyhow. And to say that is to make every bit as radical a statement about reality as any religious person would ever make.

And so we are confronted by the necessity of faith, not only in the web of human relationships that surround us each day, but in the absolute meaning and value of life. We must commit ourselves to some course of action that by definition we cannot prove to be the right one. To make no commitment is to make a commitment that is every bit as absolute and radical, and every bit as unfounded.

Faith—no way around it! I have chosen, for reasons I have detailed before on this blog, to live by the faith revealed in Catholic Christianity. What’s your choice?