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. The ancient Romans remembered their dead this day and so today we remember the Apostle Peter.

His chair’s a teacher’s chair, not a royal throne, symbolically placed 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.

Is the Church Dying?

Pope Benedict’s talk to German Lay Catholics at the end of his visit to that country this September addressed the decline in church membership and structures. Providence is at work the pope said. God is cleansing the church from worldliness for the next step in its mission.

“ One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church here through the various periods of secularization, which have contributed significantly to her purification and inner reform.

“Secularizing trends – whether by expropriation of Church goods, or elimination of privileges or the like – have always meant a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness, for in the process she has set aside her worldly wealth and has once again completely embraced her worldly poverty. In this the Church has shared the destiny of the tribe of Levi, which according to the Old Testament account was the only tribe in Israel with no ancestral land of its own, taking as its portion only God himself, his word and his signs. At those moments in history, the Church shared with that tribe the demands of a poverty that was open to the world, in order to be released from her material ties: and in this way her missionary activity regained credibility.

“History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly. Once liberated from her material and political burdens, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world. She can live more freely her vocation to the ministry of divine worship and service of neighbour.

“The missionary task, which is linked to Christian worship and should determine its structure, becomes more clearly visible. The Church opens herself to the world not in order to win men for an institution with its own claims to power, but in order to lead them to themselves by leading them to him of whom each person can say with Saint Augustine: he is closer to me than I am to myself (cf. Confessions, III, 6, 11).”

We need wisdom like this to face decline in the Church and its institutions today.

Peter and Paul

Today, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Vatican began a new website on the internet that combines a number of their websites under one portal: www.news.va

Good idea, nice and simple. Begun on the Feast of the two apostles who are considered the founders of the church of Rome it’s a website addressed to the world. And on its opening page there’s the pope playing with what’s surely an iPad. May others do likewise. I’m not quite sure about Peter, but I’m sure Paul would have loved one of those things.

One story on the new site is about a new discovery archeologists made of a 6th century portrait of St. Paul, the Apostle, from a catacomb near Naples. Paul, is described in the story as looking like a Roman philosopher. He peers out from the side of an arcosolium, a burial place, at the mourners who come to honor their dead. He who saw the Risen Christ carries news of new life.

His portrait looks like other early portraits of him, just a Peter’s portrait is pretty much established early on. Peter looks like a rough and ready fisherman–which I’m sure he was. I think he would be uncomfortable to hear himself described as “the prince of the apostles.”

Not that he was a shrinking violet. In today’s readings, St. Augustine claims that the three affirmations of love Jesus called him to make, according to the Gospel of John, were to conquer Peter’s “self-assurance.”

“Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. It is not, you see, that he alone among the disciples was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep; but when Christ speaks to one, unity is being commended to us. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles.

“Do not be sad, Apostle. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.”

“There is one day for the passion of two apostles. But these two also were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day, consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labours, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.”

Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week

I’m reading Pope Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week,” which treats of his journey into Jerusalem to his resurrection. The pope introduces the book by saying he’s   not going to overwhelm us with the historical questions that so many of the studies about Jesus concentrate on today. By reducing Jesus to his history, we can miss his presence with us today, he says.

Still,  Benedict is obviously trying to incorporate into his study the work of recent scriptural scholars which give us renewed appreciation of Jesus Christ.

He begins with the different approaches to his journey to Jerusalem found in the gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke describe one journey. John’s gospel describes three journeys to the Holy City, beginning with the ominous one where he overturns the tables in the temple, which creates a growing suspicion among the Jewish leaders that he’s a danger to Judaism and its temple.

Jesus “ascends” to Jerusalem. His ascent is concrete, first of all. From the Sea of Galilee, 690 feet below sea level, to Jerusalem almost 2,500 feet above sea level. But he “goes up” to Jerusalem in a spiritual sense as well. He makes his way to the Jerusalem which is above, the “new Jerusalem,” and he brings his followers with him, beginning with the twelve but then with others who join him on the way.

As he goes through Jericho, also a symbolic city of  journeys, he meets the blind man, Bartimaeus, who shouts out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” When Jesus calls him over and gives him his sight, he says to Bartimaeus, “Go on your way;  your faith has made you well.” And the man begins to “follow him on the way.”

The pope doesn’t overwhelm us either with obvious conclusions from the scriptural sources. They tell us that others joined Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, in great numbers, including this poor blind man, who follows him on the way.

And what about us, as well? The crowd around him try to shout him down, but the blind man keeps calling. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Surely, we are among those who call and follow.

I downloaded the pope’s book from Amazon and I’m  reading it on my iTouch. I’m trying to discover the limits and possibilities of ebooks these days of Lent. So far, so good.