The first called
In a Wednesday catechesis from 2006, our Holy Father explains why St. Andrew is called the “protoclete”:
<<He was truly a man of faith and hope; and one day he heard John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as: “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36); so he was stirred, and with another unnamed disciple followed Jesus, the one whom John had called “the Lamb of God”. The Evangelist says that “they saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day…” (Jn 1:37-39).
Thus, Andrew enjoyed precious moments of intimacy with Jesus. The account continues with one important annotation: “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (Jn 1:40-43), straightaway showing an unusual apostolic spirit.
Andrew, then, was the first of the Apostles to be called to follow Jesus. Exactly for this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honours him with the nickname: “Protokletos”, [protoclete] which means, precisely, “the first called.”>>
For Pope Benedict, the example of St. Andrew “especially [teaches us] to cultivate a true familiarity with [Jesus], acutely aware that in him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.
During Advent, the Protoclete reminds us of the great privilege of our Apostolic faith. Indeed, after we recite the Our Father during the Communion Rite of the Mass, we proclaim the joyful hope with which we await our Lord’s coming; then, the priest affirms: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your Apostles, ‘I leave you peace, my peace I give you;’ look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your Kingdom…” This is to say that the peace we receive and offer is the very peace that the Apostles themselves received from Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding and is the fruit of possessing the true faith in love.
When we affirm that our Church is “Apostolic,” we don’t merely refer to the linear continuity that our present shepherds ultimately hold with the Apostles. Moreover, we mean that, through the Church’s Sacraments and Faith, we participate in the very experience of the Apostles. Just recall that great opening of the First Letter of St. John: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the word of life. For the life was manifested: and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you: that you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice and your joy may be full.”
The mystery of nearness
The nearness to Christ that the Apostles experienced is something absolutely unique. They were called by him, fed the Eucharist by him, instructed by him; they saw him both crucified and glorified. Thus did St. Andrew not only live with him but die like him.
Accordingly, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches: “The ultimate consummation of grace was effected by Christ, wherefore the time of His coming is called the “time of fullness [Vulgate: 'fullness of time']” (Galatians 4:4). Hence those who were nearest to Christ, wherefore before, like John the Baptist, or after, like the Apostles, had a fuller knowledge of the mysteries of faith” (STh, II-II, 1.7, ad 4).
Of course, given St. Thomas’s use of Galatians as well as the season in which we find ourselves, we have to ask about Our Lady. Elsewhere Thomas writes: “God gives to each one according to the purpose for which He has chosen him. And since Christ as man was predestinated and chosen to be predestinated the Son of God in power… of sanctification (Rom 1.4), it was proper to Him to have such a fullness of grace that it overflowed from Him unto all, according to Jn 1.16: ‘Of his fullness we have all received.’ Whereas the Blessed Virgin Mary received such a fullness of grace that she was nearest of all to the Author of grace; so that she received within her Him Who is full of all grace; and by bringing Him forth, she, in a manner, dispensed grace to all” (STh, III, 27.5).
The hope for us lies in the fact that this “nearness” is not essentially physical. Our Lady didn’t receive her plenitude of grace as a result of her physical closeness to the one whose flesh she gave. Rather, her fullness of grace is due to her divinely ordained mission to be the God-bearer, to receive for all the world the Creator’s renewing “Let it be” within her own created “let it be done unto me.” It is her providential closeness to the Author of salvation that is so singular!
We too can draw as close to Jesus as is accordant with all the graces of sanctity and charisma that God gives us to be the saints He desires us to be for Him, for the world, and for our happiness.
This Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, let us do so by drawing nearer to those who were nearest: Our Lady and the Apostles. (The Gloria is sung only twice this Advent–on the feasts of St. Andrew and the Immaculate Conception.) By God’s grace and our docile cooperation, let us become more fully the Christians we have been called to be.
For, in the Kingdom of Heaven, even the last will be called first.
O glorious St. Andrew,
you were the first to recognize and follow the Lamb of God.
With your friend, St. John,
you remained with Jesus for that first day, for your entire life, and now throughout eternity. As
you led your brother, St. Peter, to Christ and many others after him,
draw us also to Him.
Teach us to lead others to Christ solely out of love for Him and dedication in His service.
Help us to learn the lesson of the Cross and
to carry our daily crosses without complaint
so that they may carry us to Jesus.
Our Vigil for all Nascent Human Life was beautiful, thanks to all those who joined in the prayer, the Sisters of Life, and Fr. Walter’s inspiring homily. He deftly cast the pro-life challenge in terms of the world’s growing sense that it is “every man for himself,” desperate and empty, but without any room for other persons… even those in the womb. Our call, then, as pro-lifers, is to herald the Marian message that we have space for God in our lives, and room for life in our world.
I can’t do his sermon justice, but we’re having some problems with our recording equipment, which also explains why there have not been audio files of our homilies.
In lieu of the pastor’s homily, how about the pope’s?
With this evening’s celebration, the Lord gives us the grace and joy of opening the new liturgical year beginning with its first stage: Advent, the period that commemorates the coming of God among us. Every beginning brings a special grace, because it is blessed by the Lord. In this Advent period we will once again experience the closeness of the One who created the world, who guides history and cared for us to the point of becoming a man. This great and fascinating mystery of God with us, moreover of God who becomes one of us, is what we celebrate in the coming weeks journeying towards holy Christmas. During the season of Advent we feel the Church that takes us by the hand and – in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary – expresses her motherhood allowing us to experience the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord, who embraces us all in his love that saves and consoles.
While our hearts reach out towards the annual celebration of the birth of Christ, the Church’s liturgy directs our gaze to the final goal: our encounter with the Lord in the splendour of glory. This is why we, in every Eucharist, “announce his death, proclaim his resurrection until he comes again” we hold vigil in prayer. The liturgy does not cease to encourage and support us, putting on our lips, in the days of Advent, the cry with which the whole Bible concludes, the last page of the Revelation of Saint John: “Come, Lord Jesus “(22:20).
Dear brothers and sisters, our coming together this evening to begin the Advent journey is enriched by another important reason: with the entire Church, we want to solemnly celebrate a prayer vigil for unborn life. I wish to express my thanks to all who have taken up this invitation and those who are specifically dedicated to welcoming and safeguarding human life in different situations of fragility, especially in its early days and in its early stages. The beginning of the liturgical year helps us to relive the expectation of God made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, God who makes himself small, He becomes a child, it speaks to us of the coming of a God who is near, who wanted to experience the life of man, from the very beginning, to save it completely, fully. And so the mystery of the Incarnation of the Lord and the beginning of human life are intimately connected and in harmony with each other within the one saving plan of God, the Lord of life of each and every one of us. The Incarnation reveals to us, with intense light and in an amazing way, that every human life has an incomparable, a most elevated dignity.
Man has an unmistakable originality compared to all other living beings that inhabit the earth. He presents himself as a unique and singular entity, endowed with intelligence and free will, as well as being composed of a material reality. He lives simultaneously and inseparably in the spiritual dimension and the corporal dimension. This is also suggested in the text of the First letter to the Thessalonians which was just proclaimed: “May the God of peace himself – St. Paul writes – make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ “(5:23). Therefore, we are spirit, soul and body. We are part of this world, tied to the possibilities and limits of our material condition, at the same time we are open to an infinite horizon, able to converse with God and to welcome Him in us. We operate in earthly realities and through them we can perceive the presence of God and seek Him, truth, goodness and absolute beauty. We savour fragments of life and happiness and we long for total fulfilment.
God loves us so deeply, totally, without distinction, He calls us to friendship with him, He makes us part of a reality beyond all imagination, thought and word; His own divine life. With emotion and gratitude we acknowledge the value of the incomparable dignity of every human person and the great responsibility we have toward all. ” Christ, the final Adam, – says the Second Vatican Council – by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear…. by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. “(Gaudium et Spes, 22).
Believing in Jesus Christ also means having a new outlook on man, a look of trust and hope. Moreover, experience itself and reason show that the human being is a subject capable of discernment, self-conscious and free, unique and irreplaceable, the summit of all earthly things, that must be recognized in his innate value and always accepted with respect and love. He has the right not to be treated as an object of possession or something to manipulate at will, not to be reduced to a mere instrument for the benefit of others and their interests. The human person is a good in and of himself and his integral development should always be sought. Love for all, if it is sincere, naturally tends to become a preferential attention to the weakest and poorest. In this vein we find the Church’s concern for the unborn, the most fragile, the most threatened by the selfishness of adults and the darkening of consciences. The Church continually reiterates what was declared by the Second Vatican Council against abortion and all violations of unborn life: “from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care ” (ibid., n. 51).
There are cultural tendencies that seek to anesthetize consciences with misleading motivations. With regard to the embryo in the womb, science itself highlights its autonomy capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism. This is not an accumulation of biological material, but a new living being, dynamic and wonderfully ordered, a new unique human being. So was Jesus in Mary’s womb, so it was for all of us in our mother’s womb. With the ancient Christian writer Tertullian we can say: ” he who will be a man is already one” (Apologeticum IX, 8), there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception.
Unfortunately, even after birth, the lives of children continue to be exposed to abandonment, hunger, poverty, disease, abuse, violence or exploitation. The many violations of their rights that are committed in the world sorely hurt the conscience of every man of good will. Before the sad landscape of the injustices committed against human life, before and after birth, I make mine Pope John Paul II’s passionate appeal to the responsibility of each and every individual: ” respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!”(Encyclical Evangelium vitae, 5). I urge the protagonists of politics, economic and social communications to do everything in their power to promote a culture which respects human life, to provide favorable conditions and support networks for the reception and development of life.
To the Virgin Mary, who welcomed the Son of God made man with faith, with her maternal womb, with loving care, with nurturing support and vibrant with love, we entrust our commitment and prayer in favour of unborn life . We do in the liturgy – which is the place where we live the truth and where truth lives with us – worshiping the divine Eucharist, we contemplate Christ’s body, that body who took flesh from Mary by the Holy Spirit, and from her was born in Bethlehem for our salvation. Ave, verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine!
A friend of mine took me to see Gatz the other night – a theatrical reading (…verbatim!) of The Great Gatsby, a novel many of us probably read in high school. Having by chance just reread the book a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted at the coincidence of the invitation. So, even though I still find Fitzgerald’s nihilistic sangfroid morally distressing , it’s hard for me not to be enticed by the beauty of his writing.
At the play, however, I found that these major dynamics of moral meaninglessness and lyrical beauty were largely absent from the eight-hour experience.
Most of the recitation came from the lips of one man, whose feat of memorization (like that of the audience’s endurance) is nothing less than a marvel. He arrives at work one day to find the computer broken, and so, picking up a random book, begins to read aloud. Various scenarios and dialogues are performed by other, otherwise office workers. Some of the acting, (especially that of the woman playing Jordan Baker), is unfortunately quite weak. But the effect produced is something of a parallel vision, largely slapstick, as the words and scenarios are dramatically expropriated from the text to engage the audience.
This work of textual expropriation is brilliant in dramatic conception and execution. To read aloud The Great Gatsby word-for-word would exasperate just about any audience. So, the creation of parallel scenarios through new emphases and exaggerated gestures ironically helps to keep the audience engaged through distraction.
However, this expropriation is also inescapably unfaithful to the original work. It cannot but make the play, Gatz, another thing than The Great Gatsby, which is why it’s entirely appropriate to have a different title, (something more like an astounded exclamation: “E-gatz!”) What results is that the enervating side of the inane is flipped over into the mere stupid (save, I grant, for the end). For example, after Daisy Buchanan reconnects with her former love, Jay Gatsby (indeed, formerly, Jay Gatz), she beholds the material riches of the onetime poor man. Among other things, he shows her his wardrobe and all the fine clothes he now possesses.
He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher — shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.
“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such — such beautiful shirts before.”
Now, this passage is not without its wry humor, but it’s also not without a grander perspective about the time period that Fitzgerald’s describing, tragically full of sensuality and despondence. It also artfully conveys the sadness that Daisy, in marrying Tom Buchanan, did not marry for love but for material wealth and status. Daisy is not a serious or even very likeable character. But despite her smallness of mind, and even despite Fitzgerald’s forlornness over the inexorable ebb of human hopes, Daisy’s experience can translate into something much deeper for the reader. In being exclaimed by one of Gatz’s readers, however, she just sounds stupid and pathetic.
In our postmodern world, which prospers playful reconstruction and comedic stupidity in a last stab against the ennui of modern relativism, textual honesty is an important value to protect. The creation and preservation of literature is one of the distinguishing marks of civilization, intelligently and aesthetically articulating cultural memories and intuitions so as to become objective (… with the new danger of becoming objectified). Good words lead to great books. Projects of cultural deconstruction, then, seek to divest authorities of their hold upon privileged texts.
Now, in the case of Gatz, I do not suggest there was any motive at work other than aesthetic. But with the Christmas season soon upon us, there is a different case of the textual expropriation I’m trying to describe that is as insidious as it is barbaric.
The American Humanist Association has another trite but well-monied initiative against traditional religion underway. Their own press release states that they are firing salvos “critical of religious scripture” — (“critical,” here, failing to successfully belie the humanists’ baldly uncritical belligerence). The advertisements pick verses from the West’s three monotheistic religions’ sacred texts, presenting putatively enlightened tenets of humanism in parallel.
Now, I won’t comment on what traditional Jewish or Muslim responses to this matter would be, caught up as it is with the nature of Revelation, scriptural inspiration, and religious instruction. But for the Catholic, (and frankly, in a way not for the protestant), there is no “sacred book” as such apart from the Church that preaches and teaches what it says regarding salvation. Regardless, the intent behind the atheists’ work is to subvert scriptural authority, largely through the commercial work of arousing disgust and repulsion. Consider:
From a purely literary standpoint, this is entirely unfair to the context of Jesus’ words. At the very least, it would be self-contradictory for Jesus to ask us to hate our own lives, which our religion teaches us to save, if we were to take him… I don’t say literally, but stupidly. (One can almost imagine a Monty Python dramatization in the background.) And the idea that this massive campaign is only directed against fundamentalist Christians (say) is patently false, not least because the King James Version is not cited in the ads. At any rate, the only hateful ones here are the so-called “humanists.” How “kind” is it to attack religions during their most holy times of year?
Saint Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing (Rom 10.17); and our Lord tells us that no one comes to the faith unless drawn by God Himself (cf. John 6.44). In other words, to hold the Bible as the scriptural witness to supernatural faith depends on receiving the preaching of Christ’s Apostles and the invitation of God Himself in the heart. Both of these are universally ordered: God wills the salvation of all men (1 Tim 2.4); and Christ commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel to all (Mk 16.15). In addition to the external grace of the Church’s preaching and the internal grace of God’s hidden operations, though, there is needed the personal graciousness to give it all a chance. But the humanists’ hate would contravene all of this.
This postmodern antagonism, which intentionally subverts texts in order to establish an alternate objectivity, is the historical fallout from a modern trend of relativism. In a world that became much more aware of other cultures and contexts, and did so from a worldview that did not admit that transcendent agency or causality was naturally discernible, the relativism that seems to be cultured intelligence is simply the other side of adolescent despair, which, if not healed—and I do mean healed in the biblical sense—leads to barbaric destructiveness.
At the New York Public Library, there is a genuinely beautiful exhibit on display that gives cultural testimony to the sacred scriptures of the world’s three great monotheistic religions: Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In no way do I want the voice of a callow, discontented cleric to obscure the wonder of such an exhibit. Truly. However, in view of the above observations about textual expropriation and atheistic antagonism, the Catholic is called in these dark days to be aware. We cannot rest content with the following description:
Over the millennia, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have each created a rich body of founding texts and interpretive underpinnings for their respective faiths, each of which derives from the teachings of Abraham.
Now, I don’t expect the anthropological perspective to judge otherwise. However, if it were truly astute, it would further acknowledge that, at least according to the traditional theologies of these religions, monotheism was not “an innovation of the patriarch Abraham.” At any rate, such a pronouncement is emblematic of modern relativism, which tends to see that which is culturally distinct (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as ideologically commensurable or even tantamount to each other, and reducible to a particular human genius.
But the doorway is thereby opened to the postmodern trend to subvert what it finds distasteful. For, if religion is given a simply mundane perspective, such that we ourselves “created… [the] interpretive underpinnings” of our faith, we can–nay, must!–un-create them as we see fit.
The interpretive underpinning of our sacred book, the Bible, is ultimately its author, God. To be sure, this is a fantastic claim to the unbeliever. But if these are our terms, we should be criticized accordingly. As our Catechism teaches, we are not a religion of the book but a religion of the word, the living word of God (see CCC 108). The “interpretive underpinning” of the entire Bible is Jesus Christ. And the only way to understand the meaning of the scriptures, as the disciples discovered on the way to Emmaus before they ran back to the Apostles in Jerusalem, is if the incarnate Word Himself breaks it open. The question, then, is where do we encounter both the Spirit and Letter of Christ so as to see his signs and hear his words?
The Church, with her sacraments and doctrine.
The best way for someone to attack what Christians believe—that is, Catholic Christians—the best way for someone to attack what we scripturally hold as true, then, would be to vet the way in which the pope, bishops, priests, and their collaborators use the Bible. To be sure, the media is not beyond taking papal words out of context, as we’ve been reminded yet again. But they would face an impossible task were they to take authoritative speeches and documents and their uses of Scripture as fodder for showing our intolerance.
A couple of weeks ago, our Holy Father released a post-synodal exhortation, Verbum Domini, on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Verbum Domini is about promoting the significance of the Word of God in our lives, promoting “a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as well as a wellspring of constant renewal” (n. 1). Part of that renewal involves testifying to the world the riches of our Scripture (see especially Part III, Verbum Mundo). Therefore, in light of the adversaries cited above, and the methodology they would best adopt, I cite the following (and emphasize in bold):
The “dark” passages of the Bible
42. In discussing the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, the Synod also considered those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day. In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel. So it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery.”
Richard Dawkins asserts, in telling us “What humanists think,” that “There’s all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority, or revelation.” This declaration, (which itself provides no evidence or logic for why it is the better position), is cast against a passage from Proverbs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding” (3.5, NIV). It seems to me that, on his own terms as quoted from the exhortation, our chief shepherd is quite interested in evidence and logic. Moreover, he does not think that scriptural expertise need annihilate the mystery of trusting in the Lord with all one’s heart. Rather, we are called to understand (and therefore lovingly protect and intelligently proclaim) the mystery we believe.
Above all, then, we must live in holy conversation with the Word of God, so that we might know the ever living God and be able to speak of Him. And this is just the time for that preparation. Just as we prepare for Christ’s coming, so too do we ready ourselves to bear him forth into the world. Indeed, it is by the whole Church’s manifestation of that Word’s truth and love that the Bible continues to bear its graceful voice, echoing throughout history.
As our Holy Father says, “we can deepen our relationship with the word of God only within the ‘we’ of the Church, in mutual listening and acceptance.” Let us read that word by listening to God’s voice, such that we might truly be sent and bear His Good News to all the world.
Lo, He comes.
Tonight, Saturday 27th at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate a “Vigil for All Nascent Life” coinciding with first vespers of the First Sunday of Advent. The Holy Father has also requested that “analogous celebrations involving the faithful [take place] in their respective parishes, religious communities, associations and movements.”
This Vigil, which will comprise prayer for human persons in their earliest stages of development, also takes place, the Pope says, in “the period of preparation for Christmas…a fitting occasion to invoke God’s protection on all human beings who have been called into existence, as well as to give thanks to God for the gift that each child is to his parents.”
In league with our friends, the Sisters of Life, St. Vincent Ferrer, at 7 PM will join in this global act of prayer, in union with the Pope. Fr. Walter will give a spiritual conference and preside over the celebration of Solemn Vespers.
Perhaps we’re caving in to the overly anticipated commercialism of Christmas, but our Dominican Sisters in Summit, NJ produce great soaps, and you can be sure to have a unique gift.
[By now, you've probably heard some stories about the Pope commenting on the use of condoms as possibly acceptable. Hopefully, the intelligent Catholic knows that he cannot depend on anything but authoritative teachers of the faith to instruct him in the faith. At any rate, the most helpful thing is to read the pope's own words, in the context of a basic teaching that he in no way undermines: The ordinary, human context for sexual intercourse (whether Christian or not) is marital - i.e., the situation between one man and one woman who have publicly manifested their freely rendered commitment to bind themselves to each other for life, for the sake of the furtherance of life and the life-giving flourishing of their friendship.
Here are the pope's own responses to two questions, excerpted from the interview to be released for publication tomorrow (Light of the World, Ignatius). The most important thing to recognize is that the pope is making a judgment about cultural understanding and practice. He entirely refrains from saying that something that might introduce an improvement in secular cultural values and understanding would be morally good in itself. He also refrains from giving positive encouragement in this regard. He recognizes that sexual meaning in secularity is so thoroughly frustrated that it needs to be directed toward humanization and moralization:]
Peter Seewald: On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on Aids once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all Aids victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.
Pope Benedict: The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim.
Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.
I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering.
In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.
As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work.
This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.
That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
Pope Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
Currents News Magazine, a daily Catholic news program sponsored by the Brooklyn/Queens diocese, covered our St. Albert’s Day Lecture with Dr. Paul Vitz.
Currents is the first ever, daily Catholic news magazine program of its kind and can be seen Monday through Friday at 7:30pm, 11:30pm, and 6:30am (EST) on Cablevision 30, Time Warner 97, and streaming online at www.netny.net. Unfortunately, Currents no longer provides complimentary copies of the program.
For those of you who were unable to attend, we’re working on an audio post. We had about 100-150 people for the evening, and the response was extremely positive to Dr. Vitz’s psychology of hatred and forgiveness. Thank you St. Albert the Great!
Tonight we are hosting our annual St. Albert’s Day lecture (see the post immediately below).
One week from tonight, Dr. Paul Vitz will deliver the annual St. Albert’s Day Lecture. Dr. Vitz has spent most of his career as Professor of Psychology at New York University. He has, in recent years, joined the Institute for the Psychological Sciences as their Senior Research Fellow. Dr. Vitz frequently lectures for priests, seminarians, and religious, in addition to the laity.
His lecture next Monday on the psychology of hatred and forgiveness, drawing from the secular sciences and ordered by Christian wisdom, promises to be insightful and provocative to all. Please bring your friends for this free event!
From Our Holy Father’s Wednesday Catechesis (5 March 2008):
[Pope St. Leo the Great] appears in all his greatness, devoted to the service of truth in charity through an assiduous exercise of the Word which shows him to us as both Theologian and Pastor. Leo the Great, constantly thoughtful of his faithful and of the people of Rome but also of communion between the different Churches and of their needs, was a tireless champion and upholder of the Roman Primacy, presenting himself as the Apostle Peter’s authentic heir: the many Bishops who gathered at the Council of Chalcedon, the majority of whom came from the East, were well aware of this.
This Council, held in 451 and in which 350 Bishops took part, was the most important assembly ever to have been celebrated in the history of the Church. Chalcedon represents the sure goal of the Christology of the three previous Ecumenical Councils: Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381 and Ephesus in 431… The Council of Chalcedon, which rejected the heresy of Eutyches who denied the true human nature of the Son of God, affirmed the union in his one Person, without confusion and without separation, of his two natures, human and divine.
The Pope asserted this faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, in an important doctrinal text addressed to the Bishop of Constantinople, the so-called Tome to Flavian which, read at Chalcedon, was received by the Bishops present with an eloquent acclamation. Information on it has been preserved in the proceedings of the Council: “Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo”, the Council Fathers announced in unison. From this intervention in particular, but also from others made during the Christological controversy in those years, it is clear that the Pope felt with special urgency his responsibilities as Successor of Peter, whose role in the Church is unique since “to one Apostle alone was entrusted what was communicated to all the Apostles”, as Leo said in one of his sermons for the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (83, 2). And the Pontiff was able to exercise these responsibilities, in the West as in the East, intervening in various circumstances with caution, firmness and lucidity through his writings and legates. In this manner he showed how exercising the Roman Primacy was as necessary then as it is today to effectively serve communion, a characteristic of Christ’s one Church….
Thus concludes Milton’s great epic poem, Paradise Lost.
But today, our lessons and feast sing of paradise regained.
The Temple that the visionary prophet Ezekiel saw is the Church, the heavenly Jerusalem, of which we are members. The water flows down, southward, because Zion is a city set on a hill … but its nourishing water bears East, whence we were banished. And now, for all those renewed in the temple’s baptismal water, fruit trees of every kind grow – the Church’s sacraments of faith, and her members’ works of charity: food and medicine for ourselves and the world.
Paradise is regained because the body of Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. His Cross is our Tree of Life, and from his side flow water and blood: Blood for the Temple sacrifice that ended all sacrifices; Water for the river of life that even now extends to us the garden of paradise.
Rightly St. Paul proclaims, Christ alone is the foundation. He is the vine, whose flower forevermore blooms, and we are the branches, the Temple of God. Anyone who would trample through the garden, or corrupt but one of its flowers, will be destroyed by God, says the Apostle. Thus, in anticipation of this Final Judgment, Christ drives out of the Temple all those who would make God’s garden less than a thing of beauty, all those who would make a flower less than an act of heavenly worship. He purifies the Temple and waters the garden, giving us paradise.
Milton’s contemporary, George Herbert, sings with greater glory [from The Flower]:
Ours is not a solitary but humble way, that of a little flower, yet lived in company with all the angels and saints, because in communion with Christ’s personal vicar on earth, the foundation stone’s own rock, the Pontifex Maximus, the great bridge builder between heaven and earth, the servant of servants in the Church’s worship of God. The Anglican poet priest Herbert did not see the ecclesial irony in his poem’s conclusion, posed to the eponymous “flower,” challenging: “Who would be more, swelling through store, / Forfeit their Paradise by pride.” But these chilling last lines on this shivering day encourage us to consider the tranquil warmth of the poet’s… and of the Creator’s beginning:
Tonight there is an organ recital in our church.
Dr. Jennifer Pascual is the Director of Music at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick. She will perform music by Bach, Mendelssohn, Dupré, Yon, and Langlais.
As always, our musical events are free to all! 7 pm, Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer.
The schola at our Dominican House of Studies on the Vigil of All Hallows singing “If Ye Love Me,” by Thomas Tallis.
From the Church’s General Directory for Catechesis (1997):
“26. There is a certain number of baptized Christians who, desiring to promote dialogue with various cultures and other religious confessions, or on account of a certain reticence on their part to live in contemporary society as believers, fail to give explicit and courageous witness in the their lives to the faith of Jesus Christ. These concrete situations of the Christian faith call urgently on the sower to develop a new evangelization, especially in those Churches of long-standing Christian tradition where secularism has made greater inroads.”
And now, from Pope St. Pius X’s encyclical in honor of St. Charles Borromeo, Editae Saepe (1910):
17. The reformers that Borromeo opposed … tried to reform faith and discipline according to their own whims. Venerable Brethren, it is no better understood by those whom We must withstand today. These moderns, forever prattling about culture and civilization, are undermining the Church’s doctrine, laws, and practices. They are not concerned very much about culture and civilization. By using such high-sounding words they think they can conceal the wickedness of their schemes.
29. … The sincere and zealous reformer will, like Charles, avoid extremes and never overstep the bounds of true reform. He will always be united in the closest bonds with the Church and Christ, her Head. There he will find not only strength for his interior life but also the directives he needs in order to carry out his work of healing human society. The function of this divine mission, which has from time immemorial been handed down to the ambassadors of Christ, is to “make disciples of all nations” both the things they are to believe as well as the things they are to do since Christ Himself said, “Observe all that I have commanded you.” He is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” coming into the world that man “may have life, and have it more abundantly.” The fulfillment of these duties, however, far surpasses man’s natural powers. The Church alone possesses together with her Magisterium the power of governing and sanctifying human society. Through her ministers and servants (each in his own station and office), she confers on mankind suitable and necessary means of salvation.
True reformers understand this very clearly. They do not kill the blossom in saving the root. That is to say, they do not divorce faith from holiness. They rather cultivate both of them, enkindleing them with the fire of charity, “which is the bond of perfection.” In obedience to the Apostle, they “keep the deposit.” They neither obscure nor dim its light before the nations, but spread far and wide the most saving waters of truth and life welling up from that spring. They combine theory and practice. By the former they are prepared to withstand the “masquerading of error” and by the latter they apply the commandments to moral activity. In such a way they employ all the suitable and necessary means for attaining the end, namely, the wiping out of sin and the perfecting “the saints for a work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” This is the purpose of every kind of instruction, government, and munificence. In a word, this is the ultimate purpose of every discipline and action of the Church. When the true son of the church sets out to reform himself and others, he fixes his eyes and heart on matters of faith and morals. On just such matters Borromeo based his reformation of ecclesiastical discipline. Thus he often referred to them in his writings, as, for example, when he says, “Following the ancient custom of the holy Fathers and sacred Councils, especially the ecumenical Synod of Trent, we have decreed many regulations on these very matters in our preceding provincial Councils.” In the same way, when providing for the suppression of public scandals, he declares that he is following “both the law and sacred sanctions of the sacred canons, and especially the decrees of the Council of Trent.”
31. Moreover, he seconded every one of [the conciliar] acts with the practical means needed to realize the end in view, namely, the real reform of sacred discipline. In this respect also he proved that in no wise he resembled those false reformers who concealed their obstinate disobedience under the cloak of zeal. He began “the judgment…with the household of God.” He first of all restored discipline among the clergy by making them conform to certain definite laws. With this same end in view he built seminaries, founded a congregation of priests known as the Oblates, unified both the ancient and modern religious families, and convoked Councils. By these and other provisions he assured and developed the work of reform. Then he immediately set a vigorous hand to the work of reforming the morals of the people. He considered the words spoken to the Prophet as addressed to himself; “Lo, I have set thee this day…to root up and to pull down, and to waste and to destroy, and to build and to plant.” Good shepherd that he was, he personally set out on wearisome visitation of the churches of the province. Like the Divine Master “he went about doing good and healing.” He spared no efforts in suppressing and uprooting the abuses he met everywhere either because of ignorance or neglect of the laws. He checked the rampant perversion of ideas and corruption of morals by founding schools for the children and colleges for youth. After seeing their early beginnings in Rome, he promoted the Marian societies. He founded orphanages for the fatherless, shelters for girls in danger, widows, mendicants, and men and women made destitute by sickness or old age. He opened institutions to protect the poor against tyrannical masters, usurers, and the enslavement of children. He accomplished all these things by completely ignoring the methods of those who think human society can be restored only by utter destruction, revolution, and noisy slogans. Such persons have forgotten the divine words: “The Lord is not in the earthquake.”
42. The Catholics of our days, together with their leaders, the Bishops, will deserve the same praise and gratitude as Charles as long as they are faithful to their duties of good citizenship. They must be as faithful in their loyalty and respect to “wicked rulers” when their commands are just, as they are adamant in resisting their commands when unjust. They must remain as far from the impious rebellion of those who advocate sedition and revolt as they are from the subservience of those who accept as sacred the obviously wicked laws of perverse men. These last mentioned wicked men uproot everything in the name of a deceitful liberty, and then oppress their subjects with the most abject tyranny.
43. This is precisely what is happening today in the sight of the whole world and in the broad light of modern civilization. Especially is this the case in some countries where “the powers of darkness” seem to have made their headquarters. This domineering tyranny has suppressed all the rights of the Church’s children. These rulers’ hearts have been closed to all feelings of generosity, courtesy, and faith which their ancestors, who gloried in the name of Christians, manifested for so long a time. It is obvious that everything quickly lapses back into the ancient barbarism of license whenever God and the Church are hated. It would be more correct to say that everything falls under that most cruel yoke from which only the family of Christ and the education it introduced has freed us. Borromeo expressed the same thought in the following words: “It is a certain, well- established fact that no other crime so seriously offends God and provokes His greatest wrath as the vice of heresy. Nothing contributes more to the down fall of provinces and kingdoms than this frightful pest.” Although the enemies of the Church completely disagree among themselves in thought and action (which is a sure indication of error), they are nevertheless united in their obstinate attacks against truth and justice. Since the Church is the guardian and defender of both these virtues, they close their ranks in a unified attack against her. Of course, they loudly proclaim (as is the custom) their impartiality and firmly maintain they are only promoting the cause of peace. In reality, however, their soft words and avowed intentions are only the traps they are laying, thus adding insult to injury, treason to violence. From this it should be evident that a new kind of warfare is now being waged against Christianity. Without a doubt it is far more dangerous than those former conflicts which crowned Borromeo with such glory.
44. His example and teaching will do much to help us wage a valiant battle on behalf of the noble cause which will save the individual and society, faith, religion, and the inviolability of public order. Our combat, it is true, will be spurred on by bitter necessity. At the same time, however, we will be encouraged by the hope that the omnipotent God will hasten the victory for the sake of those who wage so glorious a contest. This hope increases through the fruitfulness of the work of Saint Charles even down to our own times. His work humbles the proud and strengthens us in the holy resolve to restore all things in Christ.
Finally, from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, Ubicumque et semper (2010):
In our own time, [evangelization] has been particularly challenged by an abandonment of the faith—a phenomenon progressively more manifest in societies and cultures which for centuries seemed to be permeated by the Gospel. The social changes we have witnessed in recent decades have a long and complex history, and they have profoundly altered our way of looking at the world. We need only think of the many advances in science and technology, the expanding possibilities with regard to life and individual freedom, the profound changes in the economic sphere, and the mixing of races and cultures caused by global-scale migration and an increasing interdependence of peoples. All of this has not been without consequences on the religious dimension of human life as well. If on the one hand humanity has derived undeniable benefits from these changes, and the Church has drawn from them further incentives for bearing witness to the hope that is within her (cf. 1 Pt 3:15), on the other hand there has been a troubling loss of the sense of the sacred, which has even called into question foundations once deemed unshakable such as faith in a provident creator God, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, and a common understanding of basic human experiences: i.e., birth, death, life in a family, and reference to a natural moral law.
Even though some consider these things a kind of liberation, there soon follows an awareness that an interior desert results whenever the human being, wishing to be the sole architect of his nature and destiny, finds himself deprived of that which is the very foundation of all things.
A future post will deal with the affirming dynamics of the new evangelization, as envisioned by the post conciliar (Vatican II) Magisterium.
We invite you to our next choral concert here at St. Vincent Ferrer Church (Lexington Avenue at 66th St.) on Tuesday, November 2, All Souls’ Day at 7:30 P.M.
Our choir and soloists will present a profoundly beautiful musical gem from the German Romantic period, Rheinberger’s Requiem in D minor, as well as anthems from the English Victorian era, including Bainton’s And I Saw A New Heaven, Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via, Gardiner’s Evening Hymn, and other works.
Admission to the concert is free; no ticket is required; a free will offering will be accepted.