Friday, March 22, 2013

Pope Francis speaks of poverty

From the address to the diplomatic corps on Friday, 3/22:

As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith. One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure! After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.

But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.

In other words, moral relativism is itself an assault on human dignity (see, e.g. CCC 1716 ff), because it always in practice leads to the conclusion that one's own wants ought to be served in preference to others' needs; and therefore that the dignity of others is always less than one's own.  This is of course the opposite of charity ("the good of the other in preference to one's own good")It is this diminution of the dignity of others that in turn justifies every vicious form of greed, envy, contempt, infidelity, disobedience, and violence.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Holy Mass of Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis (first of the name)

Courtesy of Vatican Radio, full video of this morning's inaugural Mass for Pope Francis:

And from the same source, full text (in English translation) of his homily:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.

I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.

In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.

To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papa Francesco - Pope Francis I

Pope Francis I - CNA photo

What's in a name?

In the 12th and 13th centuries, there were a great many new things in the Church: new wealth, new merchantile middle class, new forms of social organization and interaction (communes, Italian city-states, international banking), new technologies (mills, clocks, farming), a wave of urbanization, the whole phenomenon of the Crusades, and also new forms of poverty.  The Church, in the midst of one of its most vital and flourishing periods, certainly developed responses to these new social realities.  One of the most effective and enduring was the university.  Others included the monastic reforms of the 12th century (Cluny, Bec, Citeaux), and (very "Vatican II"-ish) much greater lay participation in the sacraments and the divine office.

Most of these responses, reasonably enough, were an extension of the existing institutional church structures - parishes, monasteries, cathedral schools, systems of patronage, etc.  These things worked, and they were brought to bear on the new challenges facing the Church because they could still work well in new ways.  They were largely successful in this, and the Church continued to flourish.

But one of the radical, unexpected responses of the 13th century was Saint Francis, with his radical devotion to poverty and the poor, his  insistence that the Gospel was itself the fundamental rule of Faith, and his refusal to let social and institutional norms and prerogatives limit the ministry of the Church.  In particular, Saint Francis made the love of poverty apostolic again, in an age when it had largely been taken over by heretical, anti-clerical and anti-sacramental dualists.  "Rebuild my Church" was a command with a much greater spiritual than institutional meaning, as St. Francis learned and then taught.

The parallels to the present day are suggestive, albeit inexact.  As in his day, the Church today faces many new things, especially of economic significance (globalization), which have already caused huge dislocations in traditional social mores all around the world, including the appearance of new forms of poverty. 

I think that, in choosing the name Francis, our new Holy Father is (at least in part) indicating his great desire to put all the resources of the Church to bear on these challenges - especially the spiritual ones, and the unexpected ones that flow directly from the Gospel itself, not just what is canalized in the institutions of the Church (potent and necessary though these can be).  This is a continuation of the clear teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who stressed repeatedly the importance of strong spiritual foundations, and how to build them up in the life of the Church.  The explosion of Catholicism in the southern hemisphere, especially among the young, which we also see here to a lesser degree, is a demonstration of what happens when we get the foundations right.

Here in the Midwest, we have to continue to rebuild the foundations - good liturgy, Adoration, the Rosary, a culture of marriage and pro-life vision, priestly and religious vocations.  For us, radical witness to the Gospel is not poverty and the rejection of wealth, as in the 13th century, but evangelical hospitality and charity, a rejection of the selfish egotism and statist indifference that destroys marriages, parish life, and the lives of the unborn and the elderly. 

We have to reclaim caring for the spiritually lost as apostolic practice by Christians.  May God bless and guide our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I, and make fruitful all his ministry for Christ!  Viva il Papa!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

St. Anselm, Beauty, and Evangelization

In our fourth-year Christology class, we're up to Anselm, one of my favorite Scholastic thinkers.  A couple of years ago, I gave this talk on the way Anselm consistently uses the aesthetic argument ("it is fitting") to connect his theological arguments to wider (liturgical, devotional, mystical) aspects of the life of faith.

(If it doesn't play, click the "Tindeck" box at left to open a separate download page.)

Fr. Barron has a recent video on using beauty to evangelize, as a more attractive or less confrontational starting point than goodness or truth.  This overlaps conceptually with Anselm's method, although he's not specifically talking about beauty as a theological method:

I think Fr. Barron is quite correct about the impact of beauty, and its potential for evangelization.  But I think he's overlooking (probably due to the limits of the short video medium) the possible complications.  In brief, while beauty evokes goodness and truth, and calls forth from us a suitable response; and while in general  this response ultimately leads to worship of God; it's not true that beauty speaks for itself or leads directly to God.  That's precisely why the "it is fitting" argument works as Anselm uses it.  Anselm's aesthetic argument always operates in a particular context, and leads to or supports the larger conclusions evoked by concrete connections in that context (as I show in the three examples in the talk).  What we lack today, even within the Church, is a sufficiently shared context to ground the aesthetic argument.  A certain amount of work therefore needs to go into the effort to evangelize (or to catechize) from beauty, to establish a shared context and referents.  Otherwise, there's simply too much disagreement already, about what is beautiful (e.g., in the liturgy), much less about what is beauty (i.e., ultimately revealing God) to imagine that the argument from beauty by itself is going to lead to the same end for any two given people.