Benedict's riposte

Perhaps my favorite comment of Benedict took place during the interview with reporters on the flight over to Great Britain. The pope was asked if there was anything that could be done to make the Church more “attractive.” Benedict responded:

A Church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that came always from the presence of Jesus Christ.

This is a constant Christian theme. We did not invent our religion. We received it and are to keep it in the world in the basic form in which it was handed down. If people listen, fine. But if they do not, we can only accept their choice. “The Church is at the service of Another.”
James Schall on Benedict in Britain


Following St. Benedict’s example, “monasteries have, over the course of the centuries, become lively centres of dialogue, of meeting and of beneficial fusion among different peoples, brought together by the evangelical culture of peace. Through work and example, the monks were able to teach the art of peace, giving tangible form to the three elements identified by Benedict as being necessary to conserve the unity of the Spirit among mankind: the cross, which is the very law of Christ; the book, in other words culture; and the plough, which stands for work, mastery over matter and time”. The Pope continued: “Thanks to the work of monasteries, divided into the threefold daily commitment to prayer, study and work, entire peoples on the European continent have known real liberation and beneficial moral, spiritual and cultural development, being educated in a sense of continuity with the past, real activity for the common good, and openness to God and the transcendental. Let us pray that Europe may always appreciate this heritage of Christian principles and ideals which represent such an immense cultural and spiritual resource. “This is possible”, the Pope added in conclusion, “but only if we accept the constant teaching of St. Benedict: … that seeking God is man’s fundamental task. Human beings do not realise themselves fully, they cannot be truly happy, without God. … From this place where his mortal remains lie, the patron saint of Europe still invites everyone to continue his work of evangelisation and human promotion”.
Benedict on Benedict – from Vatican news

Benedict's Homilies

Sunday sets the rhythm of Church time. It is “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1), and therefore the first of the seven days of creation. But it is also the eighth day, the new time that began with the resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, therefore, Ratzinger says, Sunday is “the true measure of time, the unit of measurement of their lives,” because at every Sunday Mass the new creation breaks forth. Each time, the Word of God becomes flesh there.

The Scriptures illustrated by Benedict XVI in each of his homilies are naturally those of the Mass of the day, to which they impart a distinctive character. And this brings up another great expression of Church time, which is the cycle of the liturgical year. On top of the basic rhythm, the weekly rhythm marked by Sunday, a second rhythm has been added since the early Christian centuries, an annual cycle centered upon Easter and with Christmas and Pentecost as two other centers of gravity. This second rhythm highlights the Christian mystery in its distinct aspects and moments, along the entire span of sacred history. It begins with the weeks of Advent and continues with the season of Christmas and the Epiphany, with the forty days of Lent, with Easter, with the fifty days of the Easter season, with Pentecost. The Sundays outside of these special seasons are those of ordinary time, “per annum.” And there are feasts like the Ascension, Holy Trinity, Corpus Domini, Saints Peter and Paul, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption.

But the liturgical year is much more then the serial narration of a single great story and its main characters. Advent, for example, is not only the memory of the anticipation of the Messiah, because He has already come and will come again at the end of time. Lent is indeed preparation for Easter, but it is also preparation for baptism as the source of Christian life for each individual, a sacrament that is administered, by ancient tradition, at the Easter vigil. The human and the divine, time and eternity, Christ and the Church, the experience of all and of each one are surprisingly interwoven at every moment of the liturgical year.

Sandro Magister has collected and introduced a collection of Benedict’s homilies.


Benedict’s Opening Address to the Synod

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away“. Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, a breath. As soon as it is pronounced it disappears. It seems to be nothing. But already the human word has incredible power. Words create history, words form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.

Furthermore, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality.

Sandro Magister on benedict as homilist

We, however, have a different goal

Let us dwell on only two points. The first is the journey towards “the maturity of Christ”, as the Italian text says, simplifying it slightly. More precisely, in accordance with the Greek text, we should speak of the “measure of the fullness of Christ” that we are called to attain if we are to be true adults in the faith. We must not remain children in faith, in the condition of minors. And what does it mean to be children in faith? St Paul answers: it means being “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely!

How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the College of Cardinals 2005

'Living wills'

The Lord Chancellor has warned doctors they risk going on trial for assault if they refuse to allow patients who have made ‘living wills’ to die. Lord Falconer set out the determination of the Government to use draconian penalties to enforce living wills in a guide to Labour’s Mental Capacity Act for doctors, nurses and social workers. The law, which comes into operation next spring, gives full legal force to living wills, or advance decisions, in which patients say, sometimes years in advance, how they wish to be treated if they become incapacitated and lose the ability to speak for themselves. In a living will a patient can demand that life-preserving treatment be withdrawn if they become too ill to communicate or feed themselves.

The guidelines issued by Lord Falconer – with the backing of Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt – say that doctors may declare themselves conscientious objectors if they have religious or moral objections to carrying out the instructions of a living will. But in that case a doctor must pass his or her patient over to another doctor who will follow the instructions to allow the patient to die.

The warning over damages claims raises the prospect that family or friends of a patient who have a financial interest in their death could sue a doctor who fails to kill them. It also opens the bizarre possibility that a patient who recovers could sue a doctor for not letting them die.

Surgeon Dr Peter Saunders, head of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said: ‘Clinical circumstances exist where it is entirely appropriate to withhold food and fluids: for example in a dying patient when their delivery proves both burdensome and ineffective for the patient. ‘But we are concerned that patients will make unwise and hasty advance refusals of food and fluids without being properly informed about the diagnosis. It is too easy for patients to be driven by fears of meddlesome treatment and “being kept alive”, into making advance refusals that later might be used against them.’ He added: ‘Commonly patients change their minds about what care they would like, as their condition changes. ‘This law does not allow real conscientious objection. A doctor who believes it would be clinically wrong to withdraw food and fluids must pass their patient over to another doctor who will do so. That makes them complicit in the death.’

Philosophy Professor David Conway of the Civitas think tank said: ‘This is opening a terrible can of worms and it threatens to cause havoc. ‘The best option would be for a doctor to find out if patients have made living wills and refuse to treat those who have.’

Academic lawyer Dr Jacqueline Laing of London Metropolitan University said: ‘Many people will have filled in advance decision forms in ignorance of their lethal implications and of alternative courses of action. ‘The Act inverts good medical practice by criminalizing medical staff who intervene to save the lives of their patients with simple cures and, in certain cases, even food and fluids. Any conscientious opt-out is nullified by the threat of prosecution.’ She added: ‘The lethal direction of the Act and the cost-saving implications for the NHS should be obvious.’

Doctors face prison for denying the right to die

Romanus the Melodist

Romanus the Melodist is one of these, poet, theologian and composer. He learned the foundations of Greek and Syrian culture in his native city, and then moved to Beritus (now Beirut), to complete his classical education and knowledge of rhetoric. After being ordained permanent deacon — around 515 — he was a preacher in this city for three years. He then moved to Constantinople, until the end of the reign of Anastasius I – around 518 – and from there he settled in at the monastery of the Church of the Theotokos, Mother of God.

A key moment of his life took place there: the Synaxar tells us that Mary appeared to him in his dreams and gave him the gift of poetic charism. Mary, in fact, asked him to swallow a scroll. Upon waking the next day, it was Christmas, Romanus began to recite from the pulpit: “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent” (Hymn On the Nativity, I. Proemium). He became in this way a preacher-cantor until his death (around 555).

Romanus is known in history as one of the most representative authors of liturgical hymns. At the time the homily was for the faithful practically the only opportunity of catechesis. Thus Romanus was not only an eminent witness of the religious sentiment of his day, but also of a lively and original method of catechesis. Through his compositions we can see the creativity of this form of catechesis, of the creativity of the theological thought, of the aesthetic and the sacred hymnography of the era.

The place where Romanus preached was a shrine on the outskirts of Constantinople: he would ascend the pulpit, located in the center of the Church, and he would speak to the community using a rather elaborate setting — he used images on the walls or icons on the pulpit to illustrate his homilies, and even used dialogue. He recited chanted metrical hymns, called kontakia.

Benedict on Romanus the Melodist

Without faith, reason is without roots

If however reason, concerned about its supposed purity, fails to hear the great message that comes from the Christian faith and the understanding it brings, it will dry up like a tree with roots cut off from the water that gives it life. It will lose the courage needed to find the truth and thus become small rather than great.

Applied to our European culture this means that if it wants to constitute itself on the basis of its arguments and whatever appears to it to be convincing, with concerns about its own secular nature, it will cut itself off from its life-sustaining roots, and in doing so will not become more reasonable and pure but will instead become undone and fragmented.

Pope XVI Benedict Speech to La Sapienza – the University of Rome

Benedict in the US

The premier example of this was his Regensburg lecture of September 2006 in Germany, widely criticized at the time as offensive to Islamic sensibilities. That lecture, in fact, has shifted both the course of inter-religious dialogue and the internal dynamics of the intra-Islamic debate, precisely as I believe Benedict XVI intended it to do. It has shifted the course of the dialogue by setting in motion a process that has now led to the formation of a Catholic-Muslim forum that will meet twice a year, once in Amman, Jordan, once in Rome, and that will focus its attention on the issues that Benedict XVI has put on the agenda – namely, religious freedom as the first of human rights and a right that can be known by reason, and secondly, the imperative of separating spiritual and political authority in a justly governed state.

There have been attempts from parts of the Islamic world to deflect the conversation off of these two issues, which Benedict regards as at the very heart of inter-religious dialogue, and indeed the Islamic encounter with the modern world, and he refuses to budge. He very calmly and quietly brings the conversation back to these two points, which obviously have a great resonance here in the United States.

In terms of shifting the dialogue, I would also point to the recent initiative by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who proposes to gather in his country a new forum of dialogue among the monotheistic religions, and the Vatican’s reported negotiations, about which John might have some more to say later, with the Saudi government over the unthinkable, or the hitherto unthinkable, namely the building of a Catholic church in Saudi Arabia.

* * *

On the pope and the church in the United States and on American society and culture, very briefly. As you read the works of Joseph Ratzinger, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years as he has become more and more concerned with the corrosive impacts of an aggressive secularism in Europe, you have to be struck by the fact that he comes on several occasions in his writing to the point that it was in the United States that the problem of church and state was first resolved. And when he says problem of church and state, he doesn’t simply mean institutional relationships, questions of establishment and non-establishment, legal relationships; he means more broadly the problem of religion and modernity.

George Weigel The Pope comes to America

Christ-centered Anthropology and the mystery of man

That Pope John Paul II was profoundly formed by and faithful to the general pastoral purpose and style of Gaudium et Spes throughout his pontificate is easy to show. He not only made constant reference to Gaudium et Spes, 22 and 24, referring to the former as encapsulating the motif of his pontificate, his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, stressed the unity of the two orders of knowledge, natural and supernatural. There is a “unity of truth” assured by the fact that God is Creator and Redeemer and thus the Author of what is revealed through creation and through the economy of salvation.

Carl Olson Pope John Paul II and the Christ-centered Anthropology of “Gaudium et Spes”

Here is Gaudium et Spes 22.

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.

He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15),(21) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled,(22) by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice(23) and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.(24)

The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers,(27) received “the first-fruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love.(28) Through this Spirit, who is “the pledge of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of “the redemption of the body” (Rom. 8:23):

Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation.