Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI@90

The Pope Emeritus continues to leave a remarkable legacy

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI turns 90 years old on April 16, it will likely be with little public fanfare — after all, that is also Easter Sunday this year. But for those of us who appreciate his legacy and massive contributions to the Body of Christ, we will mark the day with joy — and a toast to the man who now likes to be called “Father Benedict.”

Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush cross the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base on April 15, 2008, on the Holy Father’s first visit to the United States

The retired pope, who rarely makes public appearances, may participate in the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, my sources tell me. No public celebrations are planned, but you can be sure that his inner circle of friends will shower him with well-wishes.

I was among the hundreds of media surrounding Benedict’s visit to Washington and New York nine years ago. I was at Andrews Air Force Base when the Holy Father set foot on U.S. soil for the first time as pope. Many Legatus members were on the White House lawn for the remarkable celebration of his 81st birthday. Who can forget the massive cake that President Bush had prepared for him?

Benedict’s birthday this year will mark yet another milestone. He will become only the second pope to live into his nineties. Pope Leo XIII, elected in 1878, lived to the ripe old age of 93 years, 140 days. He reigned on the Chair of Peter for 25 years, 150 days.

Legacy and impact

Although Benedict has been mostly silent since his resignation four years ago, his legacy and impact on the Church are still felt — and will no doubt be felt for many decades to follow. Markedly different in style and personality from his successor, Benedict’s depth and intellect were evident in his teaching.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush lead the celebration of Pope Benedict XVI’s 81st birthday as he’s presented a cake by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses on April 16, 2008, at the White House in Washington.

CruxNow.com reports that due to age and limited vision, Benedict no longer writes, but with the consent of his successor, last year three lengthy interviews were published.

One was a 2015 conversation with Jesuit theologian Jacques Servais, on the doctrine of justification and faith. Then there was the interview with his Italian biographer, Elio Gueriero, published in the book Servant of God and Humanity: The Biography of Benedict XVI, prefaced by Pope Francis.

Last but not least, there was the book-length interview, Last Testament: In His Own Words, with German journalist Peter Seewald, with whom the pontiff had already done two similar projects. The book represented the first time in history that a pope described his own pontificate after it ended.

Listing Benedict’s contributions to the Church likewise would need book-length treatment. Instead, here are 10 pithy and potent quotes from the remarkable heart and mind of Joseph Ratzinger (hat tip to my friend Elizabeth Scalia at Aleteia.com):

1. “Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.” 1st Station, Meditations for Stations of the Cross, Good Friday, 2005

2. “Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness.” Audience, 31 January 2007

3. “Freedom of conscience is the core of all freedom.” Church, Ecumenism and Politics (2008)

4. “One who has hope lives differently.” Spe Salvi, 2 (2007)

5. “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.” Deus Caritas Est, 18 (2005)

6. “God’s love for his people is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” Deus Caritas Est, 10 (2005)

7. “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life but for great things, for goodness.” Speaking to German pilgrims, 25 April 2005

8. “It is true: God disturbs our comfortable day-today existence. Jesus’ kingship goes hand in hand with his passion.” Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (2012)

9. “The proper request of love is that our entire life should be oriented to the imitation of the Beloved. Let us therefore spare no effort to leave a transparent trace of God’s love in our life.” The Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine (2008)

10. “Violence does not build up the kingdom of God, the kingdom of humanity. On the contrary, it is a favorite instrument of the Antichrist, however idealistic its religious motivation may be. It serves not humanity, but inhumanity.” Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (2011)

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Last Testament

Pope Benedict XVI
Bloomsbury Continuum, 2016
Hardcover, 288 pages $24

Subtitled In His Own Words, this book is based on a series of interviews with journalist Peter Seewald. It’s nearest to an autobiography from the Pope Emeritus who has remained “hidden to the world” in a former convent in the Vatican gardens.

He addresses issues like the “Vatileaks” scandal, the presence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican and how he dismantled it, his alleged Nazi upbringing and his attempts at cleaning up clerical sexual abuse. On a more personal level he writes with great warmth of Pope Francis, whom he admits has a popular touch, a star quality which he lacks.

Order:  AmazonBloomsbury

Legates witness history

Double canonization features double themes: Second Vatican Council and the family . . .

cover-june14When the Vatican announced last fall that Pope John Paul II would be raised to the honors of the altar on Mercy Sunday 2014, no one was surprised. In fact, shortly after his death on the eve of Mercy Sunday 2005, the faithful insisted on his canonization.

Italians held signs aloft at his funeral that read “Santo Subito!” or “Sainthood Now!” Nine years later, their demands were met with nearly a million people on hand to witness the largest gathering at the Vatican in history.

Between 800,000 and 1 million people jammed St. Peter’s Square on April 27 spilling out down the Via della Conciliazione all the way to the Tiber River and dozens of squares in Rome, most watching on big screens set up for the canonization of two popes: John Paul and John XXIII.

Witness to history

Don & Michele D’Amour

Don & Michele D’Amour

Dozens of Legatus members were among the pilgrims witnessing history. Not only was it historic in terms of size, but it was the first time the Church has canonized two popes at once — and it was the first canonization with two popes present at the altar, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI concelebrated the Mass with his successor Pope Francis.

Donald and Michele D’Amour, members of Legatus’ Western Massachusetts Chapter, were in St. Peter’s Square, halfway between the altar and the obelisk.

“It was a powerful and humbling moment for me,” Michele said. “It was humbling to be among all the pilgrims, stretching for miles beyond the Vatican, which really was symbolic of the solidarity in Christ that we have in the universal Church.”

Brian & Bernice Follett

Brian & Bernice Follett

“These newly canonized popes,” Don added, “were great leaders who had the courage to be faithful and make things happen for the good of the Church and the world. In the presence of four popes, you felt the continuity, how they helped each other bring renewal to the Church and bring the gospel to the world. It was inspiring and gave a lot of food for thought.”

Brian and Bernice Follett, members of Legatus’ new chapter in Austin, Texas, watched the canonization ceremony from the roof of a convent adjacent to St. Peter’s Square. The couple attended John Paul’s beatification in 2011, but had a much better view this time around.

“It was a phenomenal experience to have two popes canonized at once and to see Pope Francis and Pope Benedict together,” Brian said. “I remember John Paul’s 1987 visit to Phoenix where I lived after college. I wasn’t practicing my faith much, but I listened to him on the radio. He has meant a lot to me over the years, so this canonization was very special.”

Scott and Lannette Turicchi of Legatus’ Hollywood Chapter brought their three daughters along for the canonization, having a prime spot on the convent roof with the Folletts.

“It was one of those moments in time that you just can’t really describe but you’ll never forget,” said Lannette, who recently wrapped production on her John Paul documentary, The Prophet of Our Time. “For seven years my children watched me make a movie about this pope, so to share the moment with them was very special. They knew they were witnessing something that would never happen again in their lifetime.”

Pope of the family

Scott & Lannette Turicchi

Scott & Lannette Turicchi

In his homily at the canonization Mass, Pope Francis declared John Paul II the “pope of the family” to great applause from the massive congregation. The Holy Father prayed for the new saint’s intercession as the Church prepares for the Synod on the Family in October, saying that “from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains us.”

Speaker and author Jason Evert, who also attended the canonization, told Legatus magazine that John Paul said, in a private conversation many years ago, that if he was remembered by history, he would like to be known as the “pope of the family.”

“When he was called the pope of the family, that was my favorite moment of the whole canonization,” Evert said. “I was thrilled that Pope Francis alluded to that passing conversation that John Paul had. It was how he wanted to be remembered.

“I think it ties in very well with the upcoming synod,” he said, “because John Paul’s writings — in particular the Theology of the Body and his appreciation of human love and his love for families — is really going to play a key role in the synod. The truth is that as the family goes, so goes the whole world.”

Author and theologian Ralph Martin agrees.

“John Paul II actually spent a lot of time with families,” said Martin, a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and member of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter.

“He went on camping trips with young couples and young people, and he encouraged them in the vocation of marriage and family,” Martin said. “He not only taught about it in his post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981), but he modeled it in almost unforgettable images of him loving people, hanging out with lay people, sharing the life of the people.

“Long before Pope Francis ever said, ‘You’ve got to have the smell of the sheep on you,’ John Paul had the smell of the sheep on him,” Martin explained. “He really modeled that in a wonderful way.”

Bookends of Vatican II

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI embraces Pope Francis at the canonization Mass on April 27

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI embraces Pope Francis at the canonization Mass on April 27

The canonization also highlighted the fact that John XXIII, led by the Holy Spirit, called the Second Vatican Council while John Paul II, himself a father of the Council, spent his pontificate explaining and implementing its teachings.

Pope Francis noted in his homily that both new pope saints “lived through the tragic events of the century but were not overwhelmed by them. These were two men of courage, filled with … the Holy Spirit. In [them] there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable joy.”

Evert pointed out that John Paul II — like the first Pope John Paul — took his name from John XXIII and Paul VI, both fathers of the Council.

“These two new saints were bookends of the Second Vatican Council,” he said. “John Paul saw his name as integral to his pontificate, implementing the Council’s directives. Key to that are religious freedom, the role of the Church in the modern world, calling the laity to take part in the New Evangelization, and building a culture of life and civilization of love.”

The confusion that occurred after the Council wasn’t the intended result, Martin observed. “But John Paul got the whole thing back on track and was able to interpret the Council for us. Through his very long pontificate, he was able, issue by issue, to clarify carefully the Council’s teaching and really put us on a solid foundation for its implementation in the future.

“He called the synod of 1985 that was so important in laying down guidelines for how to properly interpret the Council,” he said. “He made a major contribution to safeguarding the fruits of the Council for the Church.”

Lannette Turicchi of Legatus’ Hollywood Chapter expressed hope that the two new saints of Vatican II would inspire the faithful in the years to come.

“I hope it’s a new springtime for the Church,” she said. “Our Church is what we make of it. If we allow apathy, we’ll get apathy. If we promote love, we’ll get love. Whatever our actions are, that’s what’s going to prevail.”

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

A new catechism for business

Legate Andrew Abela creates a valuable resource for Catholic business leaders . . .

Amid the daily demands of running a company, few Catholic business leaders have time to plumb the depths of the Church’s social teaching when they are facing challenging ethical questions in their work.

Andrew Abela, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter and dean of the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America, knows that well.

A former brand manager at Procter & Gamble, he spent seven years researching what the Church has to say about the challenges faced by people in business. His findings and those of co-editor Joseph Capizzi are consolidated in a new book, A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions and Insights from Catholic Teaching.

From concept to reality

Joseph Capizzi (left) and Andrew Abela pose with their new book

Joseph Capizzi (left) and Andrew Abela pose with their new book

Abela and Capizzi developed responses to such questions as: Do people have the right to strike? Is it moral to extend benefits to an employee’s same-sex partner? The duo came to their conclusions through an extensive search of Church documents that, while available online, are not necessarily easy to find.

For example, a question on the moral acceptability of using sexual imagery or innuendo in advertising cites two papal encyclicals, two papal messages from World Communications Day, plus the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Other sources quoted in A Catechism for Business include documents from the Second Vatican Council and various Vatican organizations.

Abela had already begun his research when Philadelphia Legate Jim Longon suggested he put it into a book. After listening to a presentation of Abela’s case studies, Longon told him, “What you’re doing is creating a catechism for business.”

Abela proposed the concept to Catholic University of America Press and engaged Capizzi, director of moral theology in the university’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, to work with him on the project.

After the book was completed, Longon, who has followed and supported the project from its inception, said the book “is something that belongs on every CEO’s credenza and night stand.”

Positive response

Since its March 26 launch at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, the book has garnered positive reviews, and attention in radio interviews and from the National Review Online and The Washington Post. Both venues mentioned the book in the context of Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the HHS mandate, soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Capizzi said the response has been overwhelming and that he has been surprised at the level of need the book has tapped into. Lay people in particular — and not just those in business — have warmed to it, he said, adding that even some non-Catholics have expressed an interest.

“They had no idea the Church does this kind of stuff,” he said.

Among the 114 questions the book addresses are whether the Church recommends a specific economic model, whether it’s morally acceptable to offer employees health care benefits that cover abortion or birth control, and whether it’s moral to contribute to the consumer culture.

Questions are grouped into general concerns and those applying specifically to finance and investing, management, marketing and sales, manufacturing, international business and morally sensitive industries.

Abela and Capizzi present their answers using quotations from magisterial teaching with minimal editorial comment.

“With a lot of books on social doctrine, you get the feeling the author is twisting the teaching to present whatever the view is,” Abela explained. “We wanted to be very clear we were not doing that. We wanted to present all that the Church teaches and only what the Church teaches on each of the questions in the book.”

Among the questions that most intrigued Capizzi were those dealing with wages. “The just wage is one that American readers love sinking their teeth into,” he said. “It’s obviously provocative, and it engages the kind of concerns people have from across the political spectrum about the nature of justice itself.”

In the introduction to A Catechism for Business, Abela and Capizzi recommend that readers use the book by finding the question closest to the moral dilemma they’re facing, and then to read, pray and meditate on the quotations provided. If necessary, they suggest reading further in the documents cited and then applying them.

Valuable resource

John Hunt, Legatus’ executive director, said the book encourages business executives to make decisions in the context of their Catholic faith rather than on feelings or the general tone of the culture.

“It gives the interested and inquiring business person answers to questions, but it also provides a reassurance, a kind of support mechanism, for knowing that what I’m doing and trying to do is right, ethical and moral,” he said.

Hunt said he considers the book valuable for all executives, aspiring executives and business students — whether they are Catholics, faithful Christians or people of good will trying to be just in the marketplace.

Abela said he and Capizzi also hope to see the book used in study groups, possibly with the help of a study guide that may be developed in the future. Although it’s not written as an academic text, the co-editors would also like the book to be employed in educational settings, including Catholic University’s business and economics school.

Catholic University’s approach to teaching business seems to be resonating with students, faculty and supporters.

Abela said the school, which was upgraded from a department last year, is growing dramatically and currently has 560 students and 32 faculty and staff. Applications are up by 40% for the fall term, when four new faculty members will be added. And the school has raised more than $3 million in its first year.

According to CUA’s website, the school seeks to teach ethics by integrating morality, virtue and service into every aspect of its classes and research. This is in step with A Catechism for Business, which says: “Being a good Catholic business person means being a good person and being good at business. The two are not opposed.”

JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.

Excerpt from A Catechism for Business

Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II

Is it morally acceptable to be involved in the production or marketing of toys, video games or movies that have violent or sexual content?

Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II both condemn exaltation of violence and trivialization of sexuality in any form:

“Any trend to produce programs and products — including animated films and video games — which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents. How could one explain this ‘entertainment’ to the countless innocent young people who actually suffer violence, exploitation and abuse?” (Benedict XVI, Message for World Communications Day 2007, #3).

“Do not corrupt society, and in particular youth, by the approving and insistent depiction of evil, of violence, of moral abjection, carrying out a work of ideological manipulation, sowing discord!” (John Paul II, Message for World Communications Day 1984, #4).

“Nor can we fail, in the name of the respect due to the human person, to condemn the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, #5).

##

 

Pope Francis’ Muslim outreach

Paul Kengor gives a nod to the Pope’s remarkable, successful outreach to Muslims . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor

If you listen to the media, you’ll catch takes on Pope Francis on everything from reforming the Curia to analyses of his comments and interviews. Look deeper and you’ll also find a surprising amount of material on his outreach to Muslims.

This openness is something that few expected, but given the pontiff’s past — as well as the papal name he chose — it shouldn’t be a shock. In retrospect, we had some hints to this outreach seven years ago, back in 2006. Recall Pope Benedict XVI’s “controversial” Regensburg address. Benedict quoted a learned 14th century Byzantine emperor: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Benedict was speaking in a scholarly forum and didn’t openly endorse this particular observation. Nonetheless, there was significant worldwide backlash — and not just the Islamic world.

In Argentina, a cardinal named Jorge Mario Bergoglio was notably displeased. “Pope Benedict’s statements don’t reflect my own opinions,” said the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires. “These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last 20 years.”

Upon assuming the reins of the papacy, Bergoglio has sought a decidedly different tone. Pope Francis has consistently and repeatedly reached out to Muslims. Here are just a few examples:

• In one of his first papal speeches, given on March 22, Francis announced he wanted to “intensify dialogue among the various religions. And I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam.” • Just days later, celebrating his first Holy Thursday Mass, Francis broke with tradition, washing the feet of a Serbian Muslim woman — an inmate from a prison in Rome. • In an Aug. 2 message, Francis took the rare step of extending a personal message to Muslims preparing to celebrate Ramadan. In the past, such ecumenical greetings came from the Vatican’s office of interfaith dialogue. This time, the Bishop of Rome took the personal initiative, extending his “esteem and friendship” to Muslims. • Francis again reached out at the end of Ramadan. In an Angelus message, he urged Christians and Muslims to strive together to “promote mutual respect.” • Two weeks later, the Holy Father made another eye-opening move when he bowed to a smiling Queen Rania of Jordan who was visiting the Vatican. Rania, wife of King Abdullah II, presides over the largest Palestinian population of any country. Why Francis chose to bow to her isn’t entirely clear, but it certainly was noticed.

Amid the many such gestures in such a short period, Francis has also been staunch in his calls for peace in the conflict in Syria, which is a matter of Muslims killing Muslims in a terrible civil war. He opposed President Barack Obama’s desire for a military strike against the Assad regime. Then he went further, calling for an international day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria on Sept. 7.

Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, who is the spiritual leader of Syrian Sunni Muslims, was so affected by Francis’ appeal that he publicly expressed his wish to join the pope in St. Peter’s for the vigil. The mufti asked his fellow Muslims to “welcome the appeal to pray for peace.” He invited them to pray on Sept. 7, simultaneously and in communion with Pope Francis, and to do so in mosques throughout Syria. In striking language, speaking of the Pope as a “father,” the mufti said that Syrian Muslims view the Holy Father as a “true spiritual leader … who speaks for the true good of the Syrian people.”

In all, this is quite remarkable. Should we be surprised at this outreach to Muslims by Pope Francis? I don’t think so.

When Cardinal Bergoglio looked to St. Francis for his papal name, it wasn’t to witness to birds and trees. Many forget that the 13th century saint stepped off the battlefield of the crusades to reach out to Muslims. In 1219 AD, a time of terrible religious strife, Francis headed by foot and horse to Egypt where he hoped to win over the world’s most powerful Muslim: Sultan Malik al-Kamil.

For the record, that voyage did not convert the sultan, but it impressed him greatly, giving him a much more positive view of Christians and their faith — and their representative. Pope Francis has thus far done the same. Here’s hoping he has even greater success over the months and years ahead.

PAUL KENGOR is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include “The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand” and “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism.”

Family as the foundation of culture

Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt’s address to this year’s Napa Institute . . .

Archibishop John Nienstedt

Archibishop John Nienstedt

Dear friends in Christ,

Since the beginning of man’s life on earth, the family has served as the cornerstone of society.  The integrity of the family set the standard for society from the beginning of time as the underpinning of our civilization, reflecting the beneficial differences between men and women and the complementarity of their hearts, minds, and bodies.  Aristotle argued that the natural progression of human beings flowed from the family via small communities out to the polis.  The state itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution.  Inspired by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “man is by nature a social being since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort.  Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well.  He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”[1]  And Pope Leo XIII develops Aquinas’ thought further, recognizing that “man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties.”[2]  Indeed, just as our communities and the state itself imitate the structure of the family, our economy is also modeled after oikonomia—the Greek word for household management.

I. The Biblical Basis

In the Book of Genesis, we read the story of creation through God’s direct intervention. God breathed life into Adam and then removed one of his ribs to create a woman, Eve.  God did not take a piece of the man’s head so that woman would dominate him, nor did God take a bone from the man’s foot so that he should dominate her.  Rather He took a rib from man’s side, signifying that man would be an equal to woman and she to him.  “And Adam said: ‘This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.  Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.’”  Two become one: male and female God created them[3] together in His image and likeness, a reflection of the goodness of their Creator who blessed them with a command to increase and to multiply, filling every corner of the earth.[4]

II. The Sacramental Reality

Jesus Christ elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament and thereby reaffirmed the moral law, reminding us why he came into this world: to perfect that which was imperfect; to loosen our hardened hearts.

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.  For amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished.”[5]

The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum, which itself is a translation of the Greek word mysterion, a word which signifies one of the seven central liturgical rites of the Church through which participants experience the Paschal Mystery of Christ and grow in the life of grace.  The Church herself is the mysterion, or sacrament of salvation, as she communicates God’s love, which, in turn, draws believers into greater levels of holiness.

The Second Vatican Council called for a renewal in the understanding, approach and practice of the celebration of sacraments within the total life of the Church.  The sacrament of marriage has benefited from this renewal by receiving a greater emphasis on the interpersonal life shared between a husband and wife, on how the spiritual life of the spouses grows from this interpersonal dynamic, and how these two factors both contribute in existential quality to the ongoing development of the marital relationship in a continual process of becoming.[6]  As the result of a sacramental marriage, a couple is truly married “in the Lord” and his redeeming grace penetrates their love and deepens their union.

The family, comprised of one man and one woman, is bound by their love in a lifelong commitment that is mutual, exclusive and open to new life.  Marital love between spouses transcends even each other as they enter into a triune relationship with God.  The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Love is triune or it dies… [w]hat binds lover and beloved together on earth is an ideal outside both. As it is impossible to have rain without the clouds, so it is impossible to understand love without God. ”[7]  As the author of marriage and love itself, God expresses love in the giving of self, never reserved only to the spouse and the home.  Certainly, it begins and ends there, but it is meant to be shared for the benefit of the common good,[8] making good use of the three theological virtues of hope, faith and charity, and holding an exclusive and preeminent fidelity modeled in Christ and His Church.

The modern world, however, speaks to us about self-fulfillment and self-gratification.  From its perspective, when other people enter into our lives they are said to give our lives meaning. Instead of looking to Christ as our true source of adoration and perfection, our neighbor becomes the source of meaning for our existence.  Yet no mere human being can be substituted for God’s magnificence or His undying love.  Only in Christ can we quench the longing found deep within our hearts.  When we try to find perfection in another person we are quickly disappointed.  Disappointment turns into divorce and divorce shatters families, leaving behind vulnerable children forced to survive the tragic circumstances of their parents’ separation.

Years ago, Fr. Patrick Peyton sounded the mantra that “the couple who prays together, stays together.”[9]  This is true because, if husband and wife are addressing God together in heartfelt adoration or petition, then the presence of the marital grace that rests in each spouse will be stimulated to new growth.  The married couple should together attend Sunday Mass and other Holy Days of obligation, so as to be nourished by the Word of God and the Holy Eucharist for the sake of their own marriage and in order to be a leaven in the world.

The love that Christ has for His Church provides the model for the complementary love of husband and wife.  As spouses and as parents, they are called to seek “first the kingdom of God and His justice,”[10] pledging to raise their children in the Catholic faith.  This permanent union between one man and one woman with its unitive and procreative properties, shares the joy of heaven with their offspring, their greatest treasures on the earth, gifts entrusted to parents by the love of God.

III. Two Views of Marriage

While our perspective on marriage and family life are radically influenced by our belief in God, his revelation in Jesus Christ as well as the natural moral law, nevertheless the proper use of reason can of itself teach us about the true meaning of marriage.

In a wonderful, recently published book entitled, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson and Robert George carefully delineate and evaluate two distinct views of marriage that are prominent in our nation’s ongoing marriage debate.

The first they define is the conjugal view of marriage understood as a comprehensive union, that is to say, the joining of spouses in body as well as in mind, in an act that begins by consent and is then sealed by sexual intercourse.

Being consummated in an act of bodily union, it is especially apt for and deepened by procreation, which calls for the broad sharing of a domestic life uniquely fit for family life.  This all-encompassing act calls for the equally all-encompassing commitment of permanence and exclusivity.  Valuable as it is in itself, its link to the welfare of children make marriage a public good that the state ought to recognize and support.

The second view proposed is what the authors call a revisionist view of marriage.  Here the union is between two people who commit to a romantic partnership and a shared domestic life.  It is essentially an emotional union, merely enhanced by whatever sexual activity the partners find agreeable.  Such unions are seen as valuable as long as the emotion lasts.  The state should recognize them, it is said, because it has an interest in their stability as well as the well-being of any children they may choose to rear.[11]

The authors argue in favor of the conjugal view of marriage, admitting that like friendship, marriage is a type of bond between two persons.  But, they point out, marriage is a special kind of bond because it unites the spouses in body as well as in mind and heart in a way that is apt for and enriched by procreation and family life.  The spouses vow their whole selves for the whole of their lives.  Thus, its comprehensiveness puts the value of marriage in a class apart from the value of other relationships.[12]

The authors are also quite clear about what they see are the dangers of the revisionist view:

“If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage.  They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life—but as essentially an emotional union . . . they will therefore tend not to understand or respect the objective norms of permanence or sexual exclusivity that shape it.  Nor, in the end, will they see why the terms of marriage should not depend altogether on the will of the parties, be they two or ten in number, as the terms of friendships and contracts do.  That is, to the extent that marriage is misunderstood, it will be harder to see the point of its norms, to live by them, and to urge them on others.  And this besides making any remaining restrictions on marriage arbitrary, will damage the many cultural and political goods that get the state involved in marriage in the first place.”[13]

One might assert here: As the understanding of marriage goes, so goes the way of the family and the culture it shapes and fosters.

If indeed marriage is the foundation of the family and the family is the cornerstone of society, then it is essential to the progress of any civilization that the consequences of choosing between a conjugal view or a revisionist view of marriage be weighed carefully and thoughtfully, especially in regard to the other negative forces that are impinging on the social reality of family life.

IV. The family under attack

Today, many evil forces have set their sights on the dissolution of marriage and the debasing of family life.  Sodomy, abortion, contraception, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, and the denial of objective truth are just some of the forces threatening the stability of our civilization.  The source of these machinations is none other than the Father of Lies.  Satan knows all too well the value that the family contributes to the fabric of a good solid society, as well as the future of God’s work on earth.

A. Contraception as a primary factor

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, issued in 1968, reaffirmed the Church’s teaching regarding marital love and the rejection of most forms of birth control.  Promulgated just three years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, the encyclical rapidly became the most intensely debated Church document in centuries, perhaps more than any other solemn teaching of the Church in the entire history of Christendom.  Public dissent followed. Various scholars and proud public adversaries, then and many still today,[14] view fertility as a hindrance rather than a blessing, falsely arguing in favor of the “right” to enjoy unrestrained sex, within and outside the confines of Holy Matrimony, with no regard for the rights of God or the common good.[15]  

But Humanae Vitae proved itself a prophetic witness, by warning of what would happen should contraception gain widespread acceptance, namely:

1. Artificial methods of birth control would become the leading vehicle towards the lowering of moral standards for the young and a catalyst for marital infidelity.

2. The use of contraception would objectify and disrespect women, and wives in particular.

3. That in the hands of governments, contraception would become a powerful tool in forcing the use of contraceptives on individuals, as well as institutions.

With regard to the first point, statistics reveal that today only 3% of Catholic married women rely on natural family planning.  At the same time, 70% of unmarried Catholic women are sexually active by their early 20s.[16]

Secondly, few are aware of the World Health Organization’s listing of contraceptives as “group one carcinogens” for breast, liver, and cervical cancers.[17]  Mounting evidence also shows the link between birth control pills and women’s susceptibility to immune disorders such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Thirdly, Pope Paul VI’s prediction about government overreach has also found vindication in our current struggle over the Health and Human Services Mandate.  As you know, HHS will require employers to provide insurance coverage of prescription contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including sterilization procedures and abortion-causing drugs.  The mandate imposes contraception as a matter of public policy without any recourse to public debate, denying employers the right to follow the dictates of their own consciences and refusing public access to dispute the moral implications of contraceptive use.  Although the purpose of health care is to diagnose, prevent and cure illnesses, and health insurance is meant to lower the cost of treatment, contraception’s raison d’être is to prevent pregnancy, to separate reproduction from the sexual act solely for the private interest of sexual recreation.  Birth control, as G.K. Chesterton warned, “…does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control.”[18]

B. Other challenges to marriage

Besides contraception, there are other forces at work today that challenge the intended reality of marriage as a lifelong, committed and procreative union between one man and one woman, such as:

1. Five of every ten marriages end in divorce[19]

2. Nearly one of every three Americans over the age of 15 has never been married, the highest level in a decade.[20]

3. The rate of cohabitation has accelerated from 450,000 couples in 1965 to well over 5 million couples today.[21]

4. The number of children under the age of 18 living with a single parent has risen from 6 million in 1960 to nearly 21 million in the year 2010.[22]

Between 1950 and 2011, according to calculations by the University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, the marriage rate fell from 90 marriages a year per 1,000 unmarried women to just 31, a stunning 66 percent decline.  Equally disturbing, 43% of American children grow up in fatherless homes and the percentage of children born out of wedlock is now at a staggering 40.8%.[23]

A marginal—yet growing— opinion also suggests that parental differences are merely imaginary byproducts of social gender constructs.  Academic proponents supporting this thesis claim that men and women are essentially the same and are only different insofar as they are heavily influenced by child rearing, media, school, and other forms of cultural transmission.  According to their theory, child development is purposely directed by the social constructs of compulsory heterosexuality—that is to say, “the social reproduction of male power.”  What we need, they say, is to lift ourselves out of the “stone age” surrounding the male/female distinction.[24]  Proper child-rearing, from this perspective, does not depend on the contributions of both masculine and feminine influences, because their healthy development will occur regardless of gender.

A recent study conducted by New York University, however, claims fathers do play a decisive role in teenage sexual behavior.[25]  Teens whose fathers approved of adolescent sexual activity tended to start having sex earlier than teens whose fathers did not approve, affirming that “fathers may distinctly influence the sexual behavior of their adolescent children,” and fathers may indeed “parent in ways that differ from mothers.”[26]  A 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that consistent with the absence of fathers in the home, 47% of their high school sons or daughters have had intercourse, “leading to unwanted transmission of sexual disease and pregnancy.[27]

The fact remains that family structure works better for children because fathers and mothers do parent differently, in ways that complement one another and boost a child’s well-being and gender identity.  This understanding of the family structure gets to the heart of the same-sex “marriage” debate that many of us have engaged in recent years.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has the intention of altering the historical, traditional and natural concept of marriage between one man and one woman.  Five states retain a statuary ban on same-sex “marriage,” while twenty-eight have a ban en force.  However, the tide is shifting. 70% of Americans born after 1980 believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally, which is 20% higher than the population born between 1965 and 1979, and approximately 30% higher than the Baby Boomer generation.[28]

Unlike friendships or other close relationships, the public purpose of marriage is to unite men and women and the children they create.  Because the environment our children are raised in does play a significant role in their future contribution to and the overall welfare of society, government reasonably recognizes what studies have concluded: the best chance that children have for their future lives is to be raised in stable homes by their biological married parents.

Marriage is clearly a social justice issue as families are dependent upon it for their flourishing.  The differences between children who grow up in intact homes as opposed to those who grow up in broken homes are not inconsequential.  Children separated from their biological parents fare less well, on average, than children who grow up with both natural parents.

Studies suggest that children reared in intact homes do best on the following indices:

– Educational achievement: higher literacy and graduation rates.

– Emotional health: lower rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

– Familial and sexual development: stronger sense of identity, normal timing of onset of puberty, lower rates of teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy and lower rates of sexual abuse.

– Child and adult behavior: lower rates of aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency and incarceration.[29]

Even a left-leaning research institution called Child Trends concurs with this assessment:

“[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.  Children in single parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in step-families or cohabitating relationships face higher risk of poor outcomes . . ..  There is this value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents . . ..  [I]t is not simply the presence of two parents . . . but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.”[30]

Recent literature reviews conducted by the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Institute for American Values all corroborate the critical importance of intact households for children.[31]

Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, argues that, all things being equal, good marriages provide strong benefits for the common good of society, while the fragmentation of the home is a leading indicator of what has happened since we’ve institutionalized broken homes through no-fault divorce and other legislation.  She states:

“Marriage is more than a private emotional relationship.  It is also a social good.  Not every person can or should marry.  And not every child raised outside of marriage is damaged as a result.  But communities where good-enough marriages are common have better outcomes for children, women and men than do communities that suffer from high rates of divorce, unmarried childbearing, and high-conflict or violent marriages.”[32]

St. John Chrysostom wrote:

“The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together.  When harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result.  Great benefits, both for families and states, result.”[33]  

In the United States, marriage lowers the probability of child poverty by 82%,[34] married women are less likely to experience domestic violence than cohabitating and serially dating women, and marriage increases the likelihood that children enjoy warm, close relationships with parents.

V. Faithful citizenship and the family

As Americans we are abundantly blessed with constitutional freedoms that protect and allow us to participate in public life.  We are grateful to live in a nation that has bequeathed us with the latitude to engage in public discourse and contribute to policy decisions aimed at serving our families and the common welfare.  Catholics have enjoyed a unique relationship that has allowed a rich development and flourishing of our teaching and activities with regard to human life, marriage and family, justice and peace, and good stewardship.  The Church and her institutions, including the family, must be free to fulfill their mission and to collaborate with public authorities without pressure or sacrifice to Her fundamental teachings or moral principles.

Bound by the common destiny we share, obstacles to human flourishing are profoundly challenging for us precisely because they affect our moral being.  The Gospel compels us, as a people who hold fast to faith and reason, to bring the essential truths about human life to the public square and to practice charity for the benefit of those who have less.  There is no realm of worldly affairs that can be withdrawn from the Creator and his dominion.  Our obligation to teach the morals that shape the lives of every man, woman and child has been given to us by Jesus Christ.  The witness of the Church, therefore, is of Her nature public, and Her proposed rational arguments to shape policy decisions is a working model of the right for individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference or discrimination.

VI. The assault on reason

As the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger warned against allowing orthopraxis (right conduct) to command orthodoxy (right belief).  Ratzinger stressed how behavior is dictated by what we believe, and if we ignore first principles, if we avoid the search for the truth, we will exercise poor judgment and thus experience poor behavior.[35]  The family today has inherited a crisis of confidence in our institutions that is filling a void of proper catechesis and education with human intuition, lacking in any genuine appeal to truth or justice.[36]  This subjectivism has soiled the good, the true and the beautiful with a culture bent on incongruous attacks on reason itself.  Its violence lies in denying the reality of objective truths, thereby aiding and promoting the most intrinsic evils which undermine the meaning of relationships and, therefore, the very fabric of good social order.

To illustrate this attack on reason, one need go no further than the judicial intervention in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  In their plurality opinion, Justices Kennedy, O’Connor, and Souter invoked a famous “mystery clause” to uphold the Court’s 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade. One peculiar passage reads as follows:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

If, by right, one may freely define the meaning of existence without hindrance, the provisioning of law carries no weight whatsoever. Indeed, this “mystery clause” appears inspired by the influential Age of Enlightenment which celebrates a highly individualistic and subjective view of “freedom,” and, therefore, of “choice.”  It creates the impression that choice is, in and of itself, a moral act of human freedom and an ultimate expression of life and it rejects any objective criteria or moral participation in the shaping of social situations.  This view, incompatible with rational thought, is surely the work of Satan, in the words of Blessed John Paul, who lusted after this so-called “liberty” above all else.[37]

VII. The loss of a Catholic culture

Assimilation has played a significant part in diminishing our uniquely Catholic identity, which, in turn, contributed to the decline of the rich, past Catholic subculture historically embedded in our society.  The respectable author Russell Shaw documents how this previous subculture protected against the secularization of Catholic citizens and immigrants.  He writes,

“For a long time, the subculture of immigrant Catholicism more or less successfully shielded Catholics (“ghettoized” them, some would say).  But starting in the late 1950s and continuing through the 1960s and 1970s, American Catholics, instead of reforming and updating their subculture, dismantled this network of distinctively Catholic institutions and programs, organizations and movements that had served them well.”[38]

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, concurs.

“Instead of changing the culture around us, we Christians have allowed ourselves to be changed by the culture.  We’ve compromised too cheaply.  We’ve hungered after assimilating and fitting in.  And in the process, we’ve been bleached out and absorbed by the culture we were sent to make holy.”[39]

Shaw’s response to the growing secularization among Catholics is the recovery of a new Catholic subculture to restore the former communities of their immigrant forefathers, embedding themselves into what were once unique, thriving Catholic communities surrounded by parishes and the pastoral care of parishes; an organic community, distinguishable by common traits that differentiate them from society at large, which witnesses to its unique values and ideals through a deliberate way of life.  This also includes living in close proximity together for the sustainment and the proliferation of Catholic identity.

VIII. Conclusion

Politics cannot solve the cultural problems that the family faces today.  Clearly, the fundamental causes of the decline of the family are rooted in an erosion of spiritual development.[40]  Those who have been baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith share in the Church’s mission of salvation and are called to make the Church present and active as salt and light to the world.  We cannot stand by and allow false ideologies to crumble the moral foundations of our civilization and the vital institution of the family.  

Indeed as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in December 2011 to the Pontifical Council for the Family, that the new evangelization will only succeed if the family is seen as a vital component of its exercise.  His words:

“The New Evangelization depends largely on the Domestic Church. …  Just as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked, so the new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family.  The family is indeed the way of the Church because it is the “human space” of our encounter with Christ. …  The family founded on the Sacrament of Marriage is a particular realization of the Church, saved and saving, evangelized and evangelizing community.  Just like the Church, it is called to welcome, radiate, and show the world the love and presence of Christ.”[41]

As Christians, we must renew our commitment to present the truth of the Gospel to all, stepping out onto the public square, articulating a new evangelization for this secular age, submerging ourselves in the vigorous baths of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; always displaying, as St. Paul urges, “the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”[42]

For my conclusion, I ask us prayerfully to call upon the intercession of the Holy Family.

Dear Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

Bless us and grant us the grace of loving the Church as we should,
above every other earthly thing, and whenever duty calls, of ever showing our love by courageous deeds in the defense and propagation of the Faith,
whether by word or by the sacrifice of our possessions or even our very lives.

Bless especially our efforts to build up a culture of family life that models the example of Your Holy Family so that after battling the challenges of this earthly life we may enjoy your everlasting companionship in heaven.

Amen.

MOST REV. JOHN NIENSTEDT is the archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul. He delivered this address at the Napa Institute on Aug. 2. An abridged version of this address appeared in the September issue of Legatus magazine


[1] Thomas Aquinas, In Libros Ethicorum Aristotelis Expositio, Lib. I, lect. 1. “Man is by nature a social animal, since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort (Avicenna). Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well. He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”
[2] Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, § 3 (1885).
[3] Genesis 1:27.
[4] Id. at 1:28.
[5] The Gospel According to Saint Matthew 5:17.
[6] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, § 17 (1994).
[7] Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married. New York: Scepter Publishers, 1996.
[8] John Paul II, Gratissimam Sane, § 25 (1981).
[9] Rev. Patrick Peyton, All For Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., 1967.
[10] The Gospel According to Saint Luke 12: 31.
[11]. Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, Robert George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, (New York, Encounter Books, 2012), 1-4.
[12] Ibid., 37.
[13] Ibid., 7.
[14] Gary Gutting: “The immorality of birth control is no longer a teaching of the Catholic Church… the issue has been settled by the voice of the Catholic people.” opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15 (accessed June 28th).
[15] Leo XIII, Permoti Nos. (1895) “Catholics must urgently wish for and pursue only those goals which are seen quite truly to lead to the common good, in preference to their own personal opinions and interests.”
[16] RK Jones RK and J Dreweke, Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2011.
[17] World Health Organization Statement, Carcinogenicity of combined hormonal contraceptives and combined menopausal treatment (2005).
[18] G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.
[19] Tejada-Vera B, Sutton PD. “Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional data for 2009. National vital statistics reports; vol 58, no 25. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010. National Vital Statistics Reports. Vol. 58 Nm. 25. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_25.pdf  (accessed May 29th, 2013).
[20] Id, at Table MS-1.
[21] Households and Families 2010, U.S. Census Bureau, Table 2. Households by Type: 2000 and 2010. http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf (accessed July 1, 2013) 
[22] Id, at Table 2.
[23]Helen M. Alvaré, “Father-Absence, Social Equality and Social Progress,” Quinnipiac Law Review, vol. 29, No 1, 2011, pp. 123-163.
[24] Sandra Lipsitz Bem, “Dismantling Gender Polarization and Compulsory Heterosexuality: Should We Turn the Volume Down or Up?” The Journal of Sex Research. Vol. 32, No. 4, 1995.
[25] Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, “Paternal Influences on Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Structured Literature Review.” In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Originally published online, October 15, 2012 (accessed June 4th, 2013)
[26] Id.
[27] Key Graphics on Trends Among High School Students from CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 1991-2011. Centers for Diseas Control. http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2012/YRBS-Graphics2012.html (accessed June 24, 2013)
[28] 2013 May Survey, The Pew Poll Forum. 
[29] See Marriage and the Public Good Ten Principles (Princeton, N.J.: The Witherspoon Institute, 2008), 9-19.
[30] Kristin Anderson Moore, Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig, “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do About It?”, Child Trends Research Brief (June 2002) 1-2, 6.
[31] W. Bradford Wilcox, William J. Doherty, Helen Fisher, et al., Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences, 2nd ed. (New York: Institute for American Values, 2005), 6.
[32] Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Does Marriage Protect Child Well-Being?” 197-212, 199, in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals eds. Robert P. George & Jean Bethke Elshtain (2006).
[33] The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. ed. Rev. J. B. Morris. London: James Park and Co., 1879.
[34] Robert Rector, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty” http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty. (accessed May 29, 2013)
[35] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986.
[36] Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. “This remains the mandate of the Church: she does not preach what the powerful want to hear. Her criterion is truth and justice, even if that garners no applause and collides with human power.” (Homily delivered in Frascati, Italy, on July 15, 2012).
[37] Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimum, § 14 (1888).
[38] Russell Shaw, “Tending the New Catholic Subculture,” Catholicity.com. http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/rshaw/08871.html. (accessed June 22, 2013) Shaw also writes, “22 million ex-Catholics make up the third largest group in the United States identifiable in religious terms, after Catholics and Southern Baptists.”
[39] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, “Young People Today Have Lost ‘Moral Vocabulary,” Catholic News Agency, October 16, 2010.
[40] Leo XIII, Inscrutabili Dei Consilio. (1871) ( “A religious error is the main root of all social and political evils.”
[41]Benedict XVI, Address to Participants at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, December 1, 2011.
[42] 1 Thessalonians 5:8

Lumen Fidei: A light to the nations

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes that Pope Francis’ first encyclical is a must-read …

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez

To read Pope Francis’ new encyclical is to understand the relevance of the Catholic faith in the lives of men and women in our day. Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) resonates. It’s a magnetic light. It illuminates even as it talks about illumination.

Faith “is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim,” he wrote in the encyclical, which was begun by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI and officially released on June 29. “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.”

“In the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere” (#4), Lumen Fidei explains.

“Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world,” but Christians “profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection” (#17), he writes.

This comes back to a theme that both Benedict and Francis have been almost incessant about: sacramental encounter with Christ. “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives” (#4).

The light of faith is the vision by which all makes more sense, by which we love more because we become in love with “the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets,” Francis writes. “Transformed by this love,” we have “new eyes” with which to see.

We see the “great promise” of everlasting fulfillment: “Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion” (#4).

It would be truly hard to read Lumen Fidei and not be both humbled and grateful. This loving letter to the Church — really the world — makes it so easy to see how the millennial trend toward unchurched spirituality is an impoverished one. It’s too important and too consequential to live one’s life without the spiritual treasures of the Church, without the grace of the sacraments, without supernaturally inspired direction. “It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus” (#38), Lumen Fidei explains.

As with World Youth Day in Rio this summer, we are reminded that faith is never for us alone, individually, without community, without sharing. (Click here for related story.) Our mandate is to bring people to Jesus. That’s what all the current New Evangelization church-talk is about. This is not just for the kids, needless to say.

Those 3.7 million pilgrims who gathered to pray in Brazil have a tremendous energy, and they can set fire to the world, spiritually speaking, in the most revolutionary ways. But they need adults in the room: in the secular halls of power, in business and law and entertainment — wherever they find themselves. They need practical spiritual mentors, encouragement, and models.

This New Evangelization calls lay people to a deeper and bolder trailblazing. We’re going to build a culture where faith and marriage flourish, where they are irresistible and understood to be the very foundation of a society that works. We cannot wait for or get too bogged down in devising a brilliant pastoral plan. As Pope Benedict said to Catholic leaders from the Americas last December, all the plans in the world mean very little if they aren’t conceived in and renewed by life in union with the Trinity.

And thanks be to God we don’t do it alone! “Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history,” Lumen Fidei teaches. It’s “by constantly turning towards the Lord,” that we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols” (#13).

There is no time for idling. We hold a lamp that can give our brothers and sisters the hope they desire! How could we ever hide it?

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ is a nationally syndicated columnist and editor-at-large at National Review. She is a director at Catholic Voices USA.

Lectio Divina Bible Study (four books)

Author Stephen Binz’s series leads readers on a journey of enlightenment . . .

binzLectio Divina Bible Study (four books)
Stephen J. Binz
Our Sunday Visitor, 2012
128 pages, $9.95 paperback

In his 2010 exhortation Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the practice of lectio divina, an ancient form of meditation involving prayer, study and action. In an exceptional combination of scripture study with historical, theological, and biblical perspectives on the creed, Binz leads readers on a journey of enlightenment and appreciation.

Binz explores complex topics with sequential steps of study, meditation, and internalization. Specifically, every chapter leads readers through a sequence of license, understanding, reflecting, praying and acting. This remarkable four-book bible study is suitable for parish, small group, or individual use.

Order: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

21st century pontiff

Pope Francis electrifies the faithful around the world with his charm and faith . . .

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To say that the world has embraced Pope Francis may be a bit of an understatement. Liberal Catholics have lauded his focus on the poor and underprivileged, while conservatives appreciate the pontiff’s love of Mary and the liturgy.

Protestants and non-Christians alike appreciate the new Pope’s warmth and charm, while the mainstream media have found little to gripe about yet. It may be just a “honeymoon” period, but for now Pope Francis is feeling the love.

Before he could even celebrate his first month as the Roman pontiff, several major publishers already had biographies of the former Argentinian cardinal on the shelves.  And before his election to the Throne of Peter was even 24 hours old, I noticed that shops outside the Vatican were already pedaling Pope Francis buttons, key chains and T-shirts.

Keeping it simple

pope-mug3The son of Italian immigrants, Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Dec. 17, 1936. After serving as archbishop of his country’s capital city since 1998, he was created a cardinal in 2001, and elected to the papacy on March 13. He is the first pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit pope and the first to take the name Francis.

If there is one immediate impression this new pope has made during his first weeks in Rome, it’s his emphasis on the poor and dispossessed. Just a few days after his election, he held a special audience at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the more than 5,000 journalists from around the world who were in Rome to cover the conclave, and I was among them.

In his address, Pope Francis explained his reason for choosing the humble saint from Assisi as his papal patron “For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards creation. In this moment when our relationship with creation is not so good — right? — he is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

The Holy Father has certainly been a man of his word. He was known to ride the bus to work in Buenos Aires, he lived in a simple apartment with a retired bishop, did his own cooking, and frequently ministered to the poor himself.

As the bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has continued in the same vein by simplifying papal customs. He wears a simple pectoral cross and has done away with the tradition of wearing red shoes and white slacks under his white cassock. And he put the ornate papal thrones in storage. The Pope has preferred to sit on a regular white chair at ground level. Previous popes have had their perch elevated.

More noticeably, he has not moved into the spacious papal apartments. The Pope is living at Domus Santa Marta, the residence behind St. Peter’s Basilica where he and the voting cardinals stayed during the conclave.

Winning hearts

pope-mug1Matthew Bunson, who penned the best-selling biography Pope Francis (Our Sunday Visitor), told me that the Holy Father’s charm, simplicity and charisma have already won the hearts of millions around the world.

“His pontificate so far has been full of powerful gestures of humility and service,” he explained. “I expect that they will be matched by his teachings on mercy, forgiveness and the embrace of the authentic Christian life — something he has been talking about for years in his homilies and writings.”

The image of Francis’ pontificate, Bunson said, was set on his inauguration day — March 19 — when he told his driver to stop the popemobile. The Holy Father got out and kissed and embraced a severely handicapped man. Similarly, on Easter Sunday, he instructed his security detail to bring him eight-year-old Dominic Gondreau, a Rhode Island boy with severe cerebral palsy. The Pope embraced the child, bringing tears to the eyes of his parents and millions who saw the incident on television and the Internet.

Even though his changes in papal protocol have raised eyebrows in some quarters, he has at the same time earned tremendous respect. For example, the Holy Father opted to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at a youth detention center in Rome, rather than the traditional location — the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Pope washed the feet of 12 youth — girls and boys from diverse nationalities and religious confessions.

“He is teaching us that it has to be more than just a gesture,” Bunson said. “It has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from his love for Jesus Christ. Like Pope Benedict before him, Pope Francis is teaching us and showing us that everything has to flow from caritas, from charity, from love — otherwise we are nothing more than NGOs [non-governmental organizations].”

Francis the reformer

pope-mug2The buzz throughout Rome during the conclave was that the new pope, whoever he happened to be, would need to be a dynamic personality who could teach and explain the faith to a generation virtually swallowed up by a secular culture. The new pope’s second — and concurrent task — would be to reform the governance of the Church: Vatican City State and the Roman curia, which has for years been plagued by mismanagement and scandal.

The fact that the former Cardinal Bergoglio chose Francis of Assisi as his patron is not lost on those anxious for curial reform. The great saint, who died in 1226, once entered the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. As Francis prayed, he heard a voice coming from the cross telling him three times: “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”

While the Vatican’s government isn’t ready to collapse, it is certainly in need of renovation. The Pope’s first move in this regard came three days after his election when he provisionally renewed Roman curia leaders’ appointments. All top curia officials’ authority lapses when the Seat of Peter becomes vacant. Ordinarily a new pontiff quickly renews their appointments. But Pope Francis waited a few days before announcing that all Vatican officials should remain at their posts donec aliter provideatur — until other provisions are made.

“The task of reforming the curia and the governance of the Vatican City State is one of the big tasks given to him by the College of Cardinals,” Bunson said. “Structure-wide reform is coming. I think we could see some consolidating of Vatican departments to make things more efficient, but the Pope’s most important and telling task will be the appointment of his Secretary of State.”

In mid-April, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had established a group of eight cardinals from around the world — including Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley — to advise him in the government of the universal Church. The cardinals will also study a plan for revising the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus, promulgated by Blessed John Paul II in 1988.

Even thought the tasks before him seem monumental, Vatican watchers say they’re confident that Pope Francis is the right man for the job. After all, he has shown that much is accomplished by relying on God rather than men.

His method of sticking to the simple gospel message has already drawn many inactive Catholics back to the Church. I’ve even heard Protestant Christians refer to him as “our pope.” It’s rather ironic that in a culture of rampant materialism, Pope Francis has found a winning formula by drawing on the saint of poverty and simplicity. It will serve him well in the years ahead.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Pope Francis’ heart for the poor

Patrick Novecosky writes that the new Holy Father know the poor from experience . . .

Patrick Novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

There is little doubt that the 115 cardinal-electors made the right decision on March 13 when they selected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 265th successor of St. Peter.

While I was in Rome during the conclave, the consensus among my colleagues and the clergy I spoke to was that we didn’t need another philosopher pope. Blessed Pope John Paul II gave us enough material for decades. We didn’t need another theologian pope. It will take a few generations to unpack Pope Benedict XVI’s work. What we needed was a dynamic, energetic, joyful pope who could be a magnet for the truths of the faith — someone whose words and deeds would show how attractive Catholicism really is.

After all the speculation on whether Benedict was forced to resign by outside interests, if we would have a “transitional” pope, and if we’d get a pope from the USA, the Holy Spirit didn’t let us down. Pope Francis is just what the Church needs. (Click here for a related story.)

The new Pope has made it clear from the beginning that he has a heart for the poor. The Church has always emphasized a special option for the downtrodden because Jesus taught that on Judgment Day, God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). This teaching is also reflected in Canon law: “The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor.”

The Holy Father knows the poor, not just from scripture and Canon law, but from first-hand experience. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he regularly visited the city’s 20 or so slums, many just blocks away from luxury condos and modern high-rise office buildings. His ministry to the poor included hand-picking a group of especially faithful, dedicated priests to live and work among them, sharing the lives of the people down to the last detail.

As their cardinal archbishop, the future Pope not only established ministries especially for those who lived in the slums, but he regularly visited in person. He did this while also defending the unborn and denouncing the redefinition of marriage. Pope Francis has won the hearts and minds of people of good will around the word because he is making the Gospel tangible for us. By wrapping his arms around those the world has discarded, he has helped many Christians experience Christ for the first time. Let’s pray that the result is deep conversion.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.