Wednesday, February 17, 2010
REMEMBER YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN!
Below my two paragraphs is an editorial by Sandra Magistro appearing on his blog, "Chiesa" today. I find it fascinating. It is long but worth reading. I believe that Pope Benedict XVI will go down in history as one of the most "captivating personalities" to ever pontificate from the See of Peter. What the Holy Father has done in his nearly five years as the Successor of St. Peter is to shift the attention away from the "personality of the pope" and "his celebrity" to the teachings of the Catholic Church, her liturgy and her spirituality, not to mention her morality and good works. In doing so, Pope Benedict reveals in the most beautiful way the face of Jesus Christ who alone contains all personality and celebrity for believers. He is the Savior not only of the Church but of the world. No one or nothing else can match Him! It is wise for all bishops, priests, deacons and religious and the faithful, to realize that their work is to point to Christ not themselves and to allow themselves to diminish so that Christ may flourish.
As we begin our Lent pilgrimage to Easter and the resurrection, let the ashes on our forehead this day remind us of the brevity of life during our sojourn in this "desert" and let us realize the possibility of eternal life through the passion, death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. May our ascetic practices of fasting, prayer and alms giving lead to the strengthening of our personal faith and good works and thus the purifying of the Church collective.
Lent 2010. Pope Benedict's Ash Wednesday
His torment is the disappearance of faith. His program is to lead men to God. His preferred instrument is teaching. But the Vatican curia doesn't help him much. And sometimes it harms him
by Sandro Magister From his blog, "Chiesa"
ROME, February 17, 2010 – Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent according to the Roman rite. And the bishop of Rome is entering it, as he does every year, with ashes on his head, with a penitential procession, and with a Mass celebrated in the ancient basilica of Saint Sabina.
Today Lent has mostly faded from the general mindset of the West, where the Muslim Ramadan makes more of an impact. But Benedict XVI is visibly driven to restore meaning and vigor to this season of preparation for Easter.
This year, in addition to the message to the faithful reproduced further below with the homily for Ash Wednesday, pope Joseph Ratzinger is also opening Lent with a double "lectio divina." He held the first of them a few days ago with seminarians of Rome, and will hold the second tomorrow with the priests of the diocese.
"Lectio divina" is a reflection on the meaning of the Sacred Scriptures, done by selecting a biblical passage and commenting on it. Pope Benedict usually improvises them, in the style of the ancient Church Fathers and of the great theological masters of the Middle Ages, but always with an attentive eye on today's culture.
Last Friday, February 12, commenting on a passage from chapter 15 of the Gospel of John for the seminarians of Rome, the pope referred to a letter written to him by a professor at the University of Regensburg, contesting the Christian view of God.
Benedict XVI said that he had recognized in the professor's objections "the eternal temptation of dualism, meaning that there is not only a good principle, but also a bad principle, a principle of evil, and that the good God is only a part of reality."
And he added:
"Even in theology, including Catholic theology, this idea is currently being spread: that God is not omnipotent. This is an attempt to find a justification for God, who in this way would not be responsible for the evil that we find so widely throughout the world. But what a poor justification! A God who is not omnipotent! Evil does not lie in his hands! And how could we trust ourselves to this God? How could we be sure of his love if this love ends where the power of evil begins?"
There is a striking similarity between these words of the pope and statements by Robert Spaemann, a German philosopher he greatly admires, at the international conference on God organized in Rome last December by the Italian bishops' conference:
"Those who believe in God believe that absolute power and absolute goodness have the same reference point: the sanctity of God. The Gnostics of the first Christian centuries denied this equivalence. They attributed the two predicates to two divinities, an evil power, the 'deus universi', god and creator of this world, and a god who is light, who appears from far away in the obscurity of this world. [...] It is important to emphasize this today, when even the priests, instead of invoking the blessing of almighty God upon us, speak only of the 'good God'. Talking about the goodness of God, about God who is love, obscures his disquieting side, if it goes unmentioned who it is of whom it is said that He is love, that is, if it goes unmentioned that He is the power that guides our existence and the world. [...] If goodness did not belong to being, being would not be everything, it would not be the totality. [...] But the opposite also holds true: if goodness were powerlessness, then it would not be goodness tout court. Because the powerlessness of the good is not good. Faith in the power of goodness is what allows us to abandon ourselves actively to reality, without needing to fear that in an absurd world, all good intentions would also be judged as an absurdity."
From the intense attention focused on this question, it is increasingly evident that Benedict XVI truly has taken on as a "priority" of his pontificate "to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God" (from his letter to the bishops dated March 10, 2009). A priority he recently reiterated in the proposal to "open a court of the gentiles" for all seekers of God.
What this means is that Ratzinger is increasingly manifesting the desire to concentrate his mission as pope on preaching. A preaching of great doctrinal vigor, aimed at strengthening the foundations of doctrine and of "confirming" in the faith a Church strongly tempted by spiritualized and reductive visions of God, Jesus, and the Christian dogmas.
In this daring enterprise, however, it is astonishing that pope Ratzinger has not been given adequate support by his curia.
The statement from the secretariat of state last February 9 is the latest sign of this imbalance between the magisterium of the pope and the operation of the Vatican machine.
Using the pope as a shield to deny the sending of documents from the Vatican to a newspaper, using a pontifical gendarme as a courrier, and the curial origin of an article with a fake signature, against the background of an affair that still remains intact in its substantial outlines of conflict between the secretariat of state and the Italian bishops' conference – a conflict which the pope has always remained above, implicated by no one – seemed to many an outrageous act. Not only disconnected from, but in strident contrast with the quality and content of the magisterium of Pope Benedict, in spite of his formal approval of the publication of the statement and his renewal of trust in his colleagues.
This affair was reported by www.chiesa a few days ago in this article:
> Italy, United States, Brazil. From the Vatican to the Conquest of the World
But to return to the "things that are above," the following is the message with which pope Ratzinger wanted to introduce Lent this year.
“The justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ”
by Benedict XVI
Dear brothers and sisters, each year, on the occasion of Lent, the Church invites us to a sincere review of our life in light of the teachings of the Gospel. This year, I would like to offer you some reflections on the great theme of justice, beginning from the Pauline affirmation: “The justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ” (cf. Rm 3, 21-22).
Justice: “dare cuique suum”
First of all, I want to consider the meaning of the term “justice,” which in common usage implies “to render to every man his due,” according to the famous expression of Ulpian, a Roman jurist of the third century. In reality, however, this classical definition does not specify what “due” is to be rendered to each person. What man needs most cannot be guaranteed to him by law. In order to live life to the full, something more intimate is necessary that can be granted only as a gift: we could say that man lives by that love which only God can communicate since He created the human person in His image and likeness. Material goods are certainly useful and required – indeed Jesus Himself was concerned to heal the sick, feed the crowds that followed Him and surely condemns the indifference that even today forces hundreds of millions into death through lack of food, water and medicine – yet “distributive” justice does not render to the human being the totality of his “due.” Just as man needs bread, so does man have even more need of God. Saint Augustine notes: if “justice is that virtue which gives every one his due ... where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God?” (De civitate Dei, XIX, 21).
What is the cause of injustice?
The Evangelist Mark reports the following words of Jesus, which are inserted within the debate at that time regarding what is pure and impure: “There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him… What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts” (Mk 7, 14-15, 20-21). Beyond the immediate question concerning food, we can detect in the reaction of the Pharisees a permanent temptation within man: to situate the origin of evil in an exterior cause. Many modern ideologies deep down have this presupposition: since injustice comes “from outside,” in order for justice to reign, it is sufficient to remove the exterior causes that prevent it being achieved. This way of thinking – Jesus warns – is ingenuous and shortsighted. Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external roots; its origin lies in the human heart, where the seeds are found of a mysterious cooperation with evil. With bitterness the Psalmist recognises this: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51,7). Indeed, man is weakened by an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into communion with the other. By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others: this is egoism, the result of original sin. Adam and Eve, seduced by Satan’s lie, snatching the mysterious fruit against the divine command, replaced the logic of trusting in Love with that of suspicion and competition; the logic of receiving and trustfully expecting from the Other with anxiously seizing and doing on one’s own (cf. Gn 3, 1-6), experiencing, as a consequence, a sense of disquiet and uncertainty. How can man free himself from this selfish influence and open himself to love?
Justice and "sedaqah"
At the heart of the wisdom of Israel, we find a profound link between faith in God who “lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Ps 113,7) and justice towards one’s neighbor. The Hebrew word itself that indicates the virtue of justice, "sedaqah," expresses this well. "Sedaqah," in fact, signifies on the one hand full acceptance of the will of the God of Israel; on the other hand, equity in relation to one’s neighbour (cf. Ex 20, 12-17), especially the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Dt 10, 18-19). But the two meanings are linked because giving to the poor for the Israelite is none other than restoring what is owed to God, who had pity on the misery of His people. It was not by chance that the gift to Moses of the tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai took place after the crossing of the Red Sea. Listening to the Law presupposes faith in God who first “heard the cry” of His people and “came down to deliver them out of hand of the Egyptians” (cf. Ex 3,8). God is attentive to the cry of the poor and in return asks to be listened to: He asks for justice towards the poor (cf. Sir 4,4-5, 8-9), the stranger (cf. Ex 22,20), the slave (cf. Dt 15, 12-18). In order to enter into justice, it is thus necessary to leave that illusion of self-sufficiency, the profound state of closure, which is the very origin of injustice. In other words, what is needed is an even deeper “exodus” than that accomplished by God with Moses, a liberation of the heart, which the Law on its own is powerless to realize. Does man have any hope of justice then?
Christ, the justice of God
The Christian Good News responds positively to man’s thirst for justice, as Saint Paul affirms in the Letter to the Romans: “But now the justice of God has been manifested apart from law … the justice of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3, 21-25).
What then is the justice of Christ? Above all, it is the justice that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals himself and others. The fact that “expiation” flows from the “blood” of Christ signifies that it is not man’s sacrifices that free him from the weight of his faults, but the loving act of God who opens Himself in the extreme, even to the point of bearing in Himself the “curse” due to man so as to give in return the “blessing” due to God (cf. Gal 3, 13-14). But this raises an immediate objection: what kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one? Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his “due”? In reality, here we discover divine justice, which is so profoundly different from its human counterpart. God has paid for us the price of the exchange in His Son, a price that is truly exorbitant. Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of Another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.
So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me gratuitously “what is His.” This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the “greatest” justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognises itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected.
Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.
Dear brothers and sisters, Lent culminates in the Paschal Triduum, in which this year, too, we shall celebrate divine justice – the fullness of charity, gift, salvation. May this penitential season be for every Christian a time of authentic conversion and intense knowledge of the mystery of Christ, who came to fulfill every justice. With these sentiments, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.
The complete transcription of the "lectio divina" given by Benedict XVI to the seminarians of Rome, on February 12, 2010:
> "Cari amici..."
The pope's homily at Mass on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010:
. . .
And the "lectio divina" for the clergy of Rome, on February 18, 2010:
. . .
The March 10, 2009 letter from Benedict XVI to the bishops, with the denunciation of conflicts within the Church and the identification of the question of God as a "priority" of his pontificate:
> "If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another"
The international conference organized by the Italian bishops' conference on "God today. With him or without him, that changes everything":
> All the Evidence for God. An Inquiry
Benedict XVI's speech to the Vatican curia on December 21, 2009, with the proposal for a "court of the gentiles" for all seekers of God:
> "I think that the Church should also open today a court of the gentiles"
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.