Archive for the ‘Pope’ Tag

The Light of Christ in Rio

There’s a great me992810_659039764107551_348015512_nme making its way across social media—it features a picture of Pope Francis, gesturing as if he is having trouble hearing, with the caption, “Did you say ‘young people think the Church is irrelevant?’  Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the million young people at World Youth Day!”

World Youth Day is, in a word, inspiring.  Hundreds of thousands of young people are in Rio celebrating their Catholic faith—a faith that is one holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The oneness is self-evident in the presence of the tens of thousands of young people from all over the world, waving the flags of their own countries but celebrating their oneness in faith.  Young people at this event gather for speakers, for prayer, for Mass—and on their journey to greater holiness they celebrate that the Church indeed is catholic, universal.  How incredible that this massive group of people from around the world can gather as one to celebrate Mass.  Their native tongues may be different, but each and every moment of the Mass is celebrated in the same way throughout the world.  All will feel at home in the presence of God. That is the beauty of the Catholic faith. And all who are present will celebrate Mass with Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter, the guardian of apostolic tradition.  Pope Francis’ holy joy and genuine love for Christ and His church is contagious.

Yet it is all too easy to lose sight of all of that tradition and inspiration in our increasingly secular world. Oftentimes, believers feel alone in their conviction. That is what makes experiences like World Youth Day so vital.  World Youth Day provides communal and universal experiences of faith, of encounters with Christ. I attended the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis as a teenager, and I can still remember the feeling of awe as I sat in the crowded stadium that usually holds bellowing Colts fans but on that day was filled with young Catholics just like me. We sang together, listened to witness talks together, celebrated the Eucharist together. I left with my faith emboldened and with the knowledge that I belonged to something much bigger than myself.

As Pope Francis wrote in Lumen Fidei, “Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed” (Lumen Fidei, 22).  Just like in the story of Emmaus in Luke 24: Jesus walked side by side with his disciples—though they did not yet recognize him—and they shared stories of faith with one another. When they gathered together in the Eucharist, suddenly their hearts and their minds were opened—“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” When they recognized that Christ was with them, when they had experienced the reality of Christ as a community, they returned at once to Jerusalem to evangelize.

Let us pray for all of these young pilgrims, that they may encounter Christ and set the world aflame with the light of faith.

This post also appears on the Catholic Voices USA blog here.

Non habemus papam…yet!

Black smoke! The results from the first vote of conclave are in, and no pope yet.  The cardinals rarely elect a new pope on the first vote, so the results aren’t all that surprising.  Of course, AP news decided to run the tagline, “Roman Catholic cardinals failed to agree on a new pope during the first day of the papal conclave.”  Who knew that thoughtful discernment could be considered a failure?

I am so fascinated by the press these days. About a week before Pope Benedict’s resignation, I was writing articles about the perceived decline of Catholicism and morality in our world. Today, “Pope” is trending on twitter, “black smoke” is one of the most frequently searched words on Google, and photos of the Vatican are splashed on every newspaper and website.  Every major news outlet featured a live stream of the chimney at the Sistine Chapel, cameras poised to capture the first wisps of smoke wafting from the chapel.

Perhaps my favorite part of this whole experience is the “papal predictions.”  We—as human people— just love to control everything. For this reason we have lists of the “20 cardinals most likely to be Pope,” and we have commentators pre-recording footage about several papal contenders just in case one of them is elected pontiff.  Here in Boston, Fox News 25 (which just over a week ago featured one of its morning personalities cracking distasteful jokes about Cardinal Law) is now recruiting Boston Catholics to talk about their personal experiences with Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who is seen by the media as one of the potential frontrunners in the papal race.

I love the intrigue and speculation that surrounds conclave. But I hope and pray that we remember that the Holy Spirit has always guided the Church and will continue to, especially in this exciting time.  As Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera from Mexico reminds us, “It’s not journalists that vote in the conclave. It’s cardinals.” A part of me hopes that the new pope will be someone that no one expected—though admittedly, I have my favorite papabili—I think it would be a neat reminder that we don’t have it all figured out. Only time (and the color of the smoke!) will tell.

change our hearts

On my way home from work this evening I was listening to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s radio program on Catholic Sirius XM radio, “Conversations with Cardinal Dolan,” and he shared something so profound that I couldn’t wait to get home to write about it!

Cardinal Dolan talked about how during papal elections, we see a frenzy of articles suggesting that great change will come with a new pontiff—perhaps the new pope will allow women to be priests, alter teachings on contraception, allow abortion in some instances, etc.  These articles suggest that many people don’t understand the way that the Church functions (He shared that one reporter asked him, “Do you think the new pope will change any doctrine?” to which he responded “To use doctrine and change in the same sentence is practically an oxymoron!”). 

The Pope’s job is to safeguard the deposit of faith, to preserve Church teachings for future generations.  In fact, in today’s first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses urges the Israelites to do the same thing.

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Passing on the faith is no small task, especially in a world that is rapidly changing.  The message of the Church is, at times, wildly unpopular because it presents a challenge and quite a radical message. Church teaching doesn’t always meet us where we are, or where we want to be, but rather it calls us to be more like God.

Cardinal Dolan continued, “Yes, the next Pope will call for change…change in our hearts, change in our souls.”  We are the ones that need to change, explained Cardinal Dolan, not the doctrine. The Church doesn’t need to change her teaching on abortion or contraception—we need to be a people who are open to life, in all stages, and with all of its challenges.  My prayer today is that we may all join in prayer not only for the cardinals as they gather in conclave, but also for the conversion of hearts—that God may open our minds and our hearts to more humbly accept God’s plan for us.

Called to obedience

Last week, when news of the Pope’s resignation broke, I rearranged the day’s lesson so my classes were able to devote an entire period to discussion. We talked about the Pope’s reasons for resigning, how we felt about the Pope’s legacy, and discussed the play-by-play of what would happen in the next few weeks leading up to conclave.  As the bell rang, I asked the students to pay extra-close attention to the news, radio, and newspapers over the next few weeks. “See if you can find any relevant articles to bring to class for discussion,” I suggested.

Well, I found an article of my own to bring in! Frank Bruni’s article in the New York Times on Monday, “The Pope’s Muffled Voice,” was exactly the kind of article that I was hoping to find.  I teach Catholic Morality, and I am constantly looking for displays of moral/amoral/immoral thinking in today’s world.  Topics such as the HHS mandate, abortion, physician assisted suicide are frequent topics of discussion, but I am always on the lookout for more nuanced issues.  And I stumbled upon a jackpot with this article.  You can read the full text of the article here, but I’d like to focus on the final paragraph of the article:

“Does the pope fully appreciate this drift? Every Sunday, he looks from his window onto St. Peter’s Square and sees adoring, rapt masses…But here in America, the Catholics watching closely are fewer and fewer. They’re Christian. They’re caring. They’re moral. But they have minds and wills of their own, and no conclave will change that.”

I cannot wait to see what my students have to say about this quote. You see, the very first chapter of our morality book addresses subjective and objective truth. Subjective truth is, of course, “subject” to each individual.  Objective truth is exactly that—objective. How I feel about an objective truth does not change matters at all. As Catholics, we believe that Catholic morality and Catholic teaching are revealed, not man-made, and these revelations are objective truths. God himself determines what is good or evil—not me.  This is not a popular idea.  The phrase “cafeteria Catholic” describes this phenomenon—one who picks and chooses which pieces of Church teaching one will obey.  Well, as I wrote in a previous article, a Catholic is a Catholic is a Catholic.  We are called to obedience, we are called to foster understanding, we are called to be Church.

There are times when I find it really difficult to agree with the Church’s teachings. But I am humble enough to admit that I am not the moral authority of the universe.  God, through the Holy Spirit, inspires the Divine Revelation and Tradition on which Church teaching is based, and God identifies objective truth. Not me. Yes, I have a mind and a will of my own, but I try each day to conform my will to God’s.  It is difficult. I often fail. Obedience is difficult and involves humility, a virtue that is seemingly on the decline in our postmodern world.  Our problems with obedience—as individuals, as a Church—change nothing about what is objectively good.  We are still called to obey Church teaching.  In the words of Jimmy Duggan (Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own), “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

The Papacy is not the Presidency

In a nearly unprecedented move, Pope Benedict XVI will retire from the papacy at the end of the month.  He has humbly explained that he no longer has strength enough to perform the duties entrusted to him as leader of the universal Catholic Church.  Yet, rather than celebrate the humility of this selfless act, the majority of articles have become an all-out venting session for people to detail the ways in which the Pope, and the Catholic Church more broadly, has failed them.  With headlines like “Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope,” “The Pope Can Still Right the Wrongs,” and articles that describe Pope Benedict XVI as “a theological conservative with uncompromising views on homosexuality and women priests,” it is clear that we are missing the mark.

These misconceptions are a product of our culture here in the United States. In this country we elect our leader, we suffer through years and months of campaigning, until finally a winner is elected.  We give over our hopes, dreams, and tax dollars to this president. “This will be the time for change,” we think.  We want our government to protect us, to enact policy changes commensurate with our needs.  The President is bound by our Constitution, and we have several branches of government to keep the executive branch in check. We watch and we wait and we eventually write about all of the things that our President is doing, has done, or will do wrong.

The duty of the Pope is not to enact change where the people see fit. We need look no further than the electoral proceedings for a new Pope. The “people” of the Church, by and large, do not have a say in who will be the next leader of the Catholic Church. Rather, a college of a maximum of 120 Cardinals, each under the age of 80, casts a vote. Why the age restriction? Pope John Paul II writes in Universi Dominici Gregis, “The reason for this provision is the desire not to add to the weight of such venerable age the further burden of responsibility for choosing the one who will have to lead Christ’s flock in ways adapted to the needs of the times.”  Several of these cardinals have been appointed by the Pope himself during his papacy (for example, as of January 26, 2013, there are 118 electors; 51 have been created by Pope John Paul II; and 67 by Pope Benedict XVI).  To continue the parallel to the presidency, it is as if the Supreme Court, appointed mostly by the current president, were the sole electorate.

We hear this electoral process and are outraged that “we the people” do not have a say in the next leader of the Church. Acceptance of this process requires humility, a quality that is at best difficult for most of us to grasp and which is so beautifully modeled by Pope Benedict XVI in his decision to resign from the papacy.  But the duties of the Pope and the President differ dramatically in scope. The President is a public servant—he or she is charged with representing the needs of the people, providing security, so that all who live here may pursue life, liberty, and happiness. The Pope, too, is a servant, and  is the guardian of the universal Catholic Church, and must represent equally the needs of all of her members.  The Pope must steer a 2,000 year old institution through an ever changing world.

What many people simply do not understand is that a Pope, by the very nature of his office, can only do so much. The Catholic Church is steeped in a rich Tradition—a deposit of faith that contains truths passed down from Jesus Christ himself. Having a “conservative” Pope or a “liberal” Pope belies our ignorance…the papacy is not a presidency. We cannot describe the Pope as a liberal Catholic or a conservative Catholic. There is no such thing—a Catholic is a Catholic. A Pope cannot easily enact sweeping reforms as a President can.  The Pope must work within the confines of Tradition…seeking to elucidate teachings of Jesus in a world that is hostile to any mention of God.  People have criticized the Pope for not changing the Church’s stance on hot button issues such as women in the priesthood, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality—without realizing that the Pope does not have the authority to alter Church doctrine.  These teachings are immutable, are founded in Sacred Tradition and Divine Revelation, and by their very nature cannot be changed by a Pope.  Other issues—such as whether or not priests can marry, and the question of priestly celibacy—are church disciplines, which are not immutable, and therefore can potentially be changed if a Pontiff is so inspired.  Encourage a dialogue of respect and create an atmosphere of loving warmth where all are welcome? Create a culture of learning to help the faithful truly understand the Church’s moral teachings? Yes, a Pope can do that.  Alter doctrine? Not within the Pope’s office of power.

The argument should not be that the Pope was too conservative and therefore did not respond to the needs of the Church. The Church, as a thousands year old institution, must proceed with caution. Christ himself put these teachings in place because he knew that the Church is human. Christ knew that times would change and people would want the Church to change right along with it. We have the evidence of these changing times right before us. People speak of the Catholic Church’s oppression of women, when truly, the Church fights for the equality and dignity of women.  Anyone who has ever read Pope John Paul II’s letter to women can see that clearly. But such positive teachings of the Church rarely get traction.  Vatican

So rather than focus on Pope Benedict’s alleged failures, let’s hope and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Catholic Church through times of both light and darkness.

Bob Rice

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