Tag Archives: Benedict XVI

The Chair of Peter

Holy Spirit

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The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated on February 22nd  in the Roman Catholic Church since the 4th century. On this day the ancient Romans remembered their dead, and so today we remember the Apostle Peter.

The chair’s a teacher’s chair, not a royal throne. It has a symbolic place behind the main altar of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica.  A window bearing the symbol of the Holy Spirit casts its light on the chair and those who sit upon it, Peter the Apostle and those who succeed him.

Today’s a good day to look at our present “chairman” Pope Francis ,who became pope on March 13, 2013 and ask God to keep him strong and faithful as a teacher of the church.

Today is a good time to visit that great church built over the tomb of Peter.

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What Does Christmas Mean?

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I was just reading again a piece Pope Benedict XVI did for the Financial Times of London last Christmas, which I think shows the continuity of the church’s teaching from one recent pope to another. Pope Francis’ style may be different, but the message is the same.

“The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life. While Christmas is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection, even an examination of conscience. At the end of a year that has meant economic hardship for many, what can we learn from the humility, the poverty, the simplicity of the crib scene?

“Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the Child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize God made Man. It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the Stock Exchange. Christians shouldn’t shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.

“Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life. Christians work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that, as stewards of God’s creation, we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable.

“Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life.

“Christian belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.

“Because these goals are shared by so many, much fruitful cooperation is possible between Christians and others.

“Yet Christians render to Caesar only what belongs to Caesar, not what belongs to God. Christians have at times throughout history been unable to comply with demands made by Caesar.

“In Italy, many crib scenes feature the ruins of ancient Roman buildings in the background. This shows that the birth of the child Jesus marks the end of the old order, the pagan world, in which Caesar’s claims went virtually unchallenged.

“Now there is a new king, who relies not on the force of arms, but on the power of love. He brings hope to all those who, like himself, live on the margins of society. He brings hope to all who are vulnerable to the changing fortunes of a precarious world. From the manger, Christ calls us to live as citizens of his heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that all people of good will can help to build here on earth.”

Where do we learn about life after death?

I mentioned in a previous blog on the Resurrection of Jesus (Feb 20, 2013) that books about life after death are popular today. The blog for Publishers Weekly lists among recent best sellers: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife Eben Alexander, Author. Does the book tell us we would rather learn about life after death from scientists rather than from people of faith? How much can science tell us anyway?

I was thinking of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in the gospel. The rich man wants someone to come back from the dead to warn his brothers who, like him, aren’t paying any attention to the poor. No one will be sent, says Abraham from the world beyond.

‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’

He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’  Luke 16,19ff.

We have to listen to people of faith. In that same blog there was the encouraging news that sales of  Benedict’s books on Jesus of Nazareth are up since his resignation.

Pope Benedict XVI

The pope gave us a beautiful example of humility in his resignation today, just before we begin the season of Lent.

SONY DSCIt was a conscious decision, “before God” he makes it, not simply on his own.

It was a brave decision. No pope in recent times has resigned. He was not afraid of going out into uncharted waters.

It was not his own good he looked out for, but the good of the church. The office of the papacy is demanding and he saw it beyond his strength.

I think he leaves a powerful legacy that will be more appreciated in time. His books on Jesus of Nazareth are treasures that will last. His homilies and letters will be mined for years to come. He’s a beautiful writer and religious thinker.

God bless him.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

We celebrate a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity every year from the 18th to the 25th of January. Pope Benedict recently said that one of the gravest sins “that disfigure the Church’s face” is the sin “against her visible unity”, and, in particular, “the historical divisions which separated Christians and which have not yet been surmounted”.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “an event much appreciated by believers and communities which reawakens in all the desire for and spiritual commitment to full communion,” the pope added.

The pope mentioned in this regard a prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square on December 19th in which thousands of young people from all over the world gathered with the ecumenical community of Taize to pray. He called it “a moment of grace in which we experienced the beauty of unity  in Christ.”

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” (Decree on Ecumenism n.1). Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity said recently that ecumenical efforts affect the mission of the church, because the division of Christians prevents the preaching of the gospel and “deprives many people of access to the faith” (Ad Gentes, n. 6). Divisions among Christian cause a confusion that hinders people from accepting the gospel today. He added that we are in a “profoundly changed ecumenical situation.”

Passionist Father Ignatius Spencer, an early pioneer in ecumenical activity, strongly urged more prayer together. Might be a good idea to consider . How can we do it?

What Does Christmas Mean?

On Thursday, December 20th, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an article on the meaning of Christmas for the Financial Times of London. So different from the recent article in Newsweek by Bart Ehrman, struggling over what’s historical in the infancy narratives and what isn’tadoration. The pope’s article, summarizing his recent book, is about what the birth of Jesus says to our world today. Here’s his text from Vatican Radio:

A time for Christians to engage with the world

“Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” was the response of Jesus when asked about paying taxes. His questioners, of course, were laying a trap for him. They wanted to force him to take sides in the highly-charged political debate about Roman rule in the land of Israel.

Yet there was more at stake here: if Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah, then surely he would oppose the Roman overlords. So the question was calculated to expose him either as a threat to the regime, or a fraud.

Jesus’ answer deftly moves the argument to a higher plane, gently cautioning against both the politicization of religion and the deification of temporal power, along with the relentless pursuit of wealth. His audience needed to be reminded that the Messiah was not Caesar, and Caesar was not God. The kingdom that Jesus came to establish was of an altogether higher order. As he told Pontius Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world.”

The Christmas stories in the New Testament are intended to convey a similar message. Jesus was born during a “census of the whole world” taken by Caesar Augustus, the Emperor renowned for bringing the Pax Romana to all the lands under Roman rule. Yet this infant, born in an obscure and far-flung corner of the Empire, was to offer the world a far greater peace, truly universal in scope and transcending all limitations of space and time. Jesus is presented to us as King David’s heir, but the liberation he brought to his people was not about holding hostile armies at bay; it was about conquering sin and death forever.

The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life. While Christmas is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection, even an examination of conscience. At the end of a year that has meant economic hardship for many, what can we learn from the humility, the poverty, the simplicity of the crib scene?

Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the Child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize God made Man. It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the Stock Exchange. Christians shouldn’t shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.

Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life. Christians work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that, as stewards of God’s creation, we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable.

Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life.

Christian belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.

Because these goals are shared by so many, much fruitful cooperation is possible between Christians and others.

Yet Christians render to Caesar only what belongs to Caesar, not what belongs to God. Christians have at times throughout history been unable to comply with demands made by Caesar.

From the Emperor cult of ancient Rome to the totalitarian regimes of the last century, Caesar has tried to take the place of God. When Christians refuse to bow down before the false gods proposed today, it is not because of an antiquated world-view. Rather, it is because they are free from the constraints of ideology and inspired by such a noble vision of human destiny that they cannot collude with anything that undermines it.

In Italy, many crib scenes feature the ruins of ancient Roman buildings in the background. This shows that the birth of the child Jesus marks the end of the old order, the pagan world, in which Caesar’s claims went virtually unchallenged.

Now there is a new king, who relies not on the force of arms, but on the power of love. He brings hope to all those who, like himself, live on the margins of society. He brings hope to all who are vulnerable to the changing fortunes of a precarious world. From the manger, Christ calls us to live as citizens of his heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that all people of good will can help to build here on earth.

Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives

You wish they would read it instead of looking for a headline. I mean the pope’s new book “Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives”  Image Books, 2012. From the headlines the last few days you would think all the pope said was that the ox and the donkey weren’t around the manger at Christ’s birth, and he’s joining others who question the historical reliability of this event.

The contrary is true. As in his previous books on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict engages what modern scriptural scholarship says about this section of the gospels. (True, he depends on German and French scholarship for the most part) But if anything, the pope sees a swing from not accepting a history behind the infancy narratives to a recognition of historical facts.

But he does more than affirm history. He sees meaning behind the facts. So the manger of Jesus to him is the Lord’s first throne, the humble temple where he comes to feed the poorest of the world.

“So the manger has in some sense become the Ark of the Covenant, in which God is mysteriously hidden among men, and before which the time has come for ‘ox and ass’–humanity made up of Jews and Gentiles–to acknowledge God.”

I downloaded the book yesterday. A good book to read in Advent. Here’s a theologian and mystic at work. I think his three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth will stand as his lasting contribution to the church.