Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Class Song - Men of Ten

Jubilate Deo

Omnisterra sevite domino

In laetitia allelulia, alleluia

In laetitia allelulia, alleluia

In laetitia

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Peace Requires Development, Affirms Pontiff

Says War Is Never Inevitable

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 14, 2008 ( Peace is unimaginable without the development of each person and all peoples, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this in a message made public Saturday, which he addressed to Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The message was sent on the occasion of an April 11-12 conference in Rome titled: "Disarmament, Development and Peace: Prospects for Integral Disarmament."

"Tension and war exist in various parts of the world," the Holy Father wrote, "and even where the tragedy of war is not present, feelings of fear and insecurity are nonetheless widespread. Furthermore, such phenomena as global terrorism blur the distinction between peace an! d war, seriously compromising the future hopes of humankind.

"How can we respond to these challenges? How can we recognize the 'signs of the times'? Certainly, joint action on a political, economic and juridical level is needed, but, even before that, it is necessary to reflect together on a moral and spiritual level. What is ever more vital is to promote a 'new humanism.'"

Integral humanism

Benedict XVI highlighted how "development cannot be reduced to simple economic growth; it must include the moral and spiritual dimension. A truly integral humanism must, at the same time, also express solidarity."

"True and lasting peace is unimaginable without the development of each person and of all peoples," he contended. "Nor is it conceivable to think of reducing arms if first we do not eliminate violence at its roots, if man does not first turn decisively to searching for peace and for what is good and just.

"As long as a risk of hostility exists, the arming of states will remain necessary for reasons of legitimate defense. [...] Nonetheless, not all levels of armament are permissible. [...] The vast material and human resources used for military expenditure and armaments are, in fact, taken from projects for the development of peoples, especially the poorest and those most in need of help."

In this context, the Pope made an appeal "for states to reduce military expenditure on arms and to give serious consideration to the idea of creating a global fund for peaceful development projects."

He affirmed the need to do everything possible to ensure that "the economy is directed to serving human beings and solidarity, and not just to profit. On a legal plane, states are called to a renewed commitment, especially as regards international agreements on disarmament and arms control, as well as the ratification and subsequent implementation of previously adopted instruments such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. [...] Finally, every effort must also be made to combat the proliferation of small-caliber arms."

Conversion to good

"Nonetheless," Benedict XVI acknowledged, "it will be difficult to find a solution to the various technical problems without man's conversion to good on a cultural, moral and spiritual level."

He emphasized the "ever greater need for a choral invocation of the culture of peace and for a joint education in peace, especially among the new generations. [...] The human right to peace is fundamental and inalienable," and upon it "the exercise of all other rights depends."

Although the current situation in the world could give rise "to a justified sense of discomfort and resignation," the Holy Father said, also pointing out that "war is never inevitable and peace is always possible. Even more so, it is a duty! The time has come to change the course of history, to rediscover trust, to cultivate dialogue and to nourish solidarity."

"The future of humanity depends upon a commitment on everyone's part," he concluded. "Only by pursuing an integral and solidary humanism, in which disarmament assumes an ethical and spiritual dimension, can humanity progress toward the true and lasting peace for which it longs."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pope Speaks to U.S. Bishops

Pope Speaks to U.S. Bishops


USCC Office of Media Relations

"In Christianity, there can be no room for purely private religion: Christ is the Savior of the world. To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair, it loses its very soul."

WASHINGTON, D.C. (USCC)- Dear Brother Bishops,

It gives me great joy to greet you today, at the start of my visit to this country, and I thank Cardinal George for the gracious words he has addressed to me on your behalf. I want to thank all of you, especially the Officers of the Episcopal Conference, for the hard work that has gone into the preparation of this visit.

My grateful appreciation goes also to the staff and volunteers of the National Shrine, who have welcomed us here this evening. American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the see of Peter. My pastoral visit here is an opportunity to strengthen further the bonds of communion that unite us.

We began by celebrating Evening Prayer in this Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city. Gathered in prayer with Mary, Mother of Jesus, we lovingly commend to our heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States.

For the Catholic communities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Louisville, this is a year of particular celebration, as it marks the bicentenary of the establishment of these local Churches as Dioceses. I join you in giving thanks for the many graces granted to the Church there during these two centuries.

As this year also marks the bicentenary of the elevation of the founding see of Baltimore to an Archdiocese, it gives me an opportunity to recall with admiration and gratitude the life and ministry of John Carroll, the first Bishop of Baltimore - a worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation. His tireless efforts to spread the Gospel in the vast territory under his care laid the foundations for the ecclesial life of your country and enabled the Church in America to grow to maturity.

Today the Catholic community you serve is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. How important it is, then, to let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, "that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16).

Many of the people to whom John Carroll and his fellow Bishops were ministering two centuries ago had travelled from distant lands. The diversity of their origins is reflected in the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America.

Brother Bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home.

This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.

Of those who came to build a new life here, many were able to make good use of the resources and opportunities that they found, and to attain a high level of prosperity. Indeed, the people of this country are known for their great vitality and creativity. They are also known for their generosity.

After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, and again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Americans displayed their readiness to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in need. On the international level, the contribution made by the people of America to relief and rescue operations after the tsunami of December 2004 is a further illustration of this compassion.

Let me express my particular appreciation for the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics through Catholic Charities and other agencies. Their generosity has borne fruit in the care shown to the poor and needy, and in the energy that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities. All of this gives great cause for thanksgiving.

America is also a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse.

Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness - a fact which has contributed to this country's attraction for generations of immigrants, seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs.

In this connection, I happily acknowledge the presence among you of Bishops from all the venerable Eastern Churches in communion with the Successor of Peter, whom I greet with special joy. Dear Brothers, I ask you to assure your communities of my deep affection and my continued prayers, both for them and for the many brothers and sisters who remain in their land of origin.

Your presence here is a reminder of the courageous witness to Christ of so many members of your communities, often amid suffering, in their respective homelands. It is also a great enrichment of the ecclesial life of America, giving vivid expression to the Church's catholicity and the variety of her liturgical and spiritual traditions.

It is in this fertile soil, nourished from so many different sources, that all of you, Brother Bishops, are called to sow the seeds of the Gospel today. This leads me to ask how, in the twenty-first century, a bishop can best fulfill the call to "make all things new in Christ, our hope"? How can he lead his people to "an encounter with the living God", the source of that life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks (cf. Spe Salvi, 4)?

Perhaps he needs to begin by clearing away some of the barriers to such an encounter. While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior.
Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?

Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death? Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.

For an affluent society, a further obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come (cf. Mk 10:30). People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love.

It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).

The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with "Christ Jesus, our hope" (1 Tim 1:1).

In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. This emphasis on individualism has even affected the Church (cf. Spe Salvi, 13-15), giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community. Yet from the beginning, God saw that "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen 2:18). We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love - for God and for our neighbor.

If we are truly to gaze upon him who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God (cf. Spe Salvi, 14). If this seems counter-cultural, that is simply further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture.

Here in America, you are blessed with a Catholic laity of considerable cultural diversity, who place their wide-ranging gifts at the service of the Church and of society at large. They look to you to offer them encouragement, leadership and direction. In an age that is saturated with information, the importance of providing sound formation in the faith cannot be overstated.

American Catholics have traditionally placed a high value on religious education, both in schools and in the context of adult formation programs. These need to be maintained and expanded. The many generous men and women who devote themselves to charitable activity need to be helped to renew their dedication through a "formation of the heart": an "encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others" (Deus Caritas Est, 31).

At a time when advances in medical science bring new hope to many, they also give rise to previously unimagined ethical challenges. This makes it more important than ever to offer thorough formation in the Church's moral teaching to Catholics engaged in health care. Wise guidance is needed in all these apostolates, so that they may bear abundant fruit; if they are truly to promote the integral good of the human person, they too need to be made new in Christ our hope.

As preachers of the Gospel and leaders of the Catholic community, you are also called to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square, helping to shape cultural attitudes. In a context where free speech is valued, and where vigorous and honest debate is encouraged, yours is a respected voice that has much to offer to the discussion of the pressing social and moral questions of the day.

By ensuring that the Gospel is clearly heard, you not only form the people of your own community, but in view of the global reach of mass communication, you help to spread the message of Christian hope throughout the world.

Clearly, the Church's influence on public debate takes place on many different levels. In the United States, as elsewhere, there is much current and proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of view of morality, and the Catholic community, under your guidance, needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters.

Even more important, though, is the gradual opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truth. Here much remains to be done. Crucial in this regard is the role of the lay faithful to act as a "leaven" in society. Yet it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church's teaching on today's key ethical questions. Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.

In this regard, a matter of deep concern to us all is the state of the family within society. Indeed, Cardinal George mentioned earlier that you have included the strengthening of marriage and family life among the priorities for your attention over the next few years. In this year's World Day of Peace Message I spoke of the essential contribution that healthy family life makes to peace within and between nations.

In the family home we experience "some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them" (no. 3).

The family is also the primary place for evangelization, for passing on the faith, for helping young people to appreciate the importance of religious practice and Sunday observance. How can we not be dismayed as we observe the sharp decline of the family as a basic element of Church and society?

Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether. To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person.

Hence we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent.

In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.

As my predecessor, Pope John Paul II taught, "The person principally responsible in the Diocese for the pastoral care of the family is the Bishop ... he must devote to it personal interest, care, time, personnel and resources, but above all personal support for the families and for all those who … assist him in the pastoral care of the family" (Familiaris Consortio, 73).

It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved "yes" to life, a "yes" to love, and a "yes" to the aspirations at the heart of our common humanity, as we strive to fulfill our deep yearning for intimacy with others and with the Lord.

Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life found in America and elsewhere is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors. Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior. As you strive to eliminate this evil wherever it occurs, you may be assured of the prayerful support of God's people throughout the world. Rightly, you attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims.

It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.

Responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was "sometimes very badly handled". Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people.

While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm. In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society.

If they are to achieve their full purpose, however, the policies and programs you have adopted need to be placed in a wider context.

Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person.

This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life.

What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike.

All have a part to play in this task - not only parents, religious leaders, teachers and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it.

Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish. It falls to you, as pastors modelled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores.

Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response.

Priests, too, need your guidance and closeness during this difficult time. They have experienced shame over what has occurred, and there are those who feel they have lost some of the trust and esteem they once enjoyed. Not a few are experiencing a closeness to Christ in his Passion as they struggle to come to terms with the consequences of the crisis.

The Bishop, as father, brother and friend of his priests, can help them to draw spiritual fruit from this union with Christ by making them aware of the Lord's consoling presence in the midst of their suffering, and by encouraging them to walk with the Lord along the path of hope (cf. Spe Salvi, 39).

As Pope John Paul II observed six years ago, "we must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community", leading to "a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church" (Address to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002, 4).

There are many signs that, during the intervening period, such purification has indeed been taking place. Christ's abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light: all things are indeed being made new in Christ Jesus our hope.

At this stage a vital part of your task is to strengthen relationships with your clergy, especially in those cases where tension has arisen between priests and their bishops in the wake of the crisis. It is important that you continue to show them your concern, to support them, and to lead by example. In this way you will surely help them to encounter the living God, and point them towards the life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks.

If you yourselves live in a manner closely configured to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, you will inspire your brother priests to rededicate themselves to the service of their flocks with Christ-like generosity. Indeed a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward.

We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues, and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community.

Time spent in prayer is never wasted, however urgent the duties that press upon us from every side. Adoration of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament prolongs and intensifies the union with him that is established through the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 66). Contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary releases all their saving power and it conforms, unites and consecrates us to Jesus Christ (cf. Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11, 15).

Fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours ensures that the whole of our day is sanctified and it continually reminds us of the need to remain focused on doing God's work, however many pressures and distractions may arise from the task at hand.

Thus our devotion helps us to speak and act in persona Christi, to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful in the name of Jesus, to bring his reconciliation, his healing and his love to all his beloved brothers and sisters. This radical configuration to Christ, the Good Shepherd, lies at the heart of our pastoral ministry, and if we open ourselves through prayer to the power of the Spirit, he will give us the gifts we need to carry out our daunting task, so that we need never "be anxious how to speak or what to say" (Mt 10:19).

As I conclude my words to you this evening, I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all the nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son.

My dear Brother Bishops, I assure each of you here present of my deep friendship and my participation in your pastoral concerns. To all of you, and to your clergy, religious and lay faithful, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Lord.

* * *
1. The Holy Father is asked to give his assessment of the challenge of increasing secularism in public life and relativism in intellectual life, and his advice on how to confront these challenges pastorally and evangelize more effectively.

I touched upon this theme briefly in my address. It strikes me as significant that here in America, unlike many places in Europe, the secular mentality has not been intrinsically opposed to religion. Within the context of the separation of Church and State, American society has always been marked by a fundamental respect for religion and its public role, and, if polls are to be believed, the American people are deeply religious.

But it is not enough to count on this traditional religiosity and go about business as usual, even as its foundations are being slowly undermined. A serious commitment to evangelization cannot prescind from a profound diagnosis of the real challenges the Gospel encounters in contemporary American culture.

Of course, what is essential is a correct understanding of the just autonomy of the secular order, an autonomy which cannot be divorced from God the Creator and his saving plan (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 36). Perhaps America's brand of secularism poses a particular problem: it allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the Churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator.

Faith becomes a passive acceptance that certain things "out there" are true, but without practical relevance for everyday life. The result is a growing separation of faith from life: living "as if God did not exist".

This is aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion: far from a Catholic approach to "thinking with the Church", each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose, maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ.

Consequently, rather than being transformed and renewed in mind, Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the ‘spirit of this age’ (cf. Rom 12:3). We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion.

On a deeper level, secularism challenges the Church to reaffirm and to pursue more actively her mission in and to the world. As the Council made clear, the lay faithful have a particular responsibility in this regard. What is needed, I am convinced, is a greater sense of the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and the natural law on the one hand, and, on the other, the pursuit of authentic human good, as embodied in civil law and in personal moral decisions.

In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching - in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction - an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life.

In a word, the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems. The "dictatorship of relativism", in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth.

Much more, of course, could be said on this subject: let me conclude, though, by saying that I believe that the Church in America, at this point in her history, is faced with the challenge of recapturing the Catholic vision of reality and presenting it, in an engaging and imaginative way, to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfillment.

I think in particular of our need to speak to the hearts of young people, who, despite their constant exposure to messages contrary to the Gospel, continue to thirst for authenticity, goodness and truth. Much remains to be done, particularly on the level of preaching and catechesis in parishes and schools, if the new evangelization is to bear fruit for the renewal of ecclesial life in America.

2. The Holy Father is asked about "a certain quiet attrition" by which Catholics are abandoning the practice of the faith, sometimes by an explicit decision, but often by distancing themselves quietly and gradually from attendance at Mass and identification with the Church.

Certainly, much of this has to do with the passing away of a religious culture, sometimes disparagingly referred to as a "ghetto", which reinforced participation and identification with the Church. As I just mentioned, one of the great challenges facing the Church in this country is that of cultivating a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church's living tradition.

The issue clearly involves factors such as religious individualism and scandal. Let us go to the heart of the matter: faith cannot survive unless it is nourished, unless it is "formed by charity" (cf. Gal 5:6). Do people today find it difficult to encounter God in our Churches? Has our preaching lost its salt? Might it be that many people have forgotten, or never really learned, how to pray in and with the Church?

Here I am not speaking of people who leave the Church in search of subjective religious "experiences"; this is a pastoral issue which must be addressed on its own terms. I think we are speaking about people who have fallen by the wayside without consciously having rejected their faith in Christ, but, for whatever reason, have not drawn life from the liturgy, the sacraments, preaching.

Yet Christian faith, as we know, is essentially ecclesial, and without a living bond to the community, the individual's faith will never grow to maturity. Indeed, to return to the question I just discussed, the result can be a quiet apostasy.

So let me make two brief observations on the problem of "attrition", which I hope will stimulate further reflection.

First, as you know, it is becoming more and more difficult, in our Western societies, to speak in a meaningful way of "salvation". Yet salvation - deliverance from the reality of evil, and the gift of new life and freedom in Christ - is at the heart of the Gospel. We need to discover, as I have suggested, new and engaging ways of proclaiming this message and awakening a thirst for the fulfillment which only Christ can bring.

It is in the Church's liturgy, and above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that these realities are most powerfully expressed and lived in the life of believers; perhaps we still have much to do in realizing the Council's vision of the liturgy as the exercise of the common priesthood and the impetus for a fruitful apostolate in the world.

Second, we need to acknowledge with concern the almost complete eclipse of an eschatological sense in many of our traditionally Christian societies. As you know, I have pointed to this problem in the Encyclical Spe Salvi.

Suffice it to say that faith and hope are not limited to this world: as theological virtues, they unite us with the Lord and draw us toward the fulfillment not only of our personal destiny but also that of all creation. Faith and hope are the inspiration and basis of our efforts to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In Christianity, there can be no room for purely private religion: Christ is the Savior of the world, and, as members of his Body and sharers in his prophetic, priestly and royal munera, we cannot separate our love for him from our commitment to the building up of the Church and the extension of his Kingdom.

To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair, it loses its very soul.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious. The fields are still ripe for harvesting (cf. Jn 4:35); God continues to give the growth (cf. 1 Cor 3:6). We can and must believe, with the late Pope John Paul II, that God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 86).

What is needed above all, at this time in the history of the Church in America, is a renewal of that apostolic zeal which inspires her shepherds actively to seek out the lost, to bind up those who have been wounded, and to bring strength to those who are languishing (cf. Ez 34:16). And this, as I have said, calls for new ways of thinking based on a sound diagnosis of today's challenges and a commitment to unity in the service of the Church's mission to the present generation.

3. The Holy Father is asked to comment on the decline in vocations despite the growing numbers of the Catholic population, and on the reasons for hope offered by the personal qualities and the thirst for holiness which characterize the candidates who do come forward.
Let us be quite frank: the ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local Church.

There is no room for complacency in this regard. God continues to call young people; it is up to all of us to to encourage a generous and free response to that call. On the other hand, none of us can take this grace for granted.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers. He even admits that the workers are few in comparison with the abundance of the harvest (cf. Mt 9:37-38). Strange to say, I often think that prayer - the unum necessarium - is the one aspect of vocations work which we tend to forget or to undervalue!

Nor am I speaking only of prayer for vocations. Prayer itself, born in Catholic families, nurtured by programs of Christian formation, strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, is the first means by which we come to know the Lord's will for our lives. To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God's call.

Programs, plans and projects have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God's call.

It has been noted that there is a growing thirst for holiness in many young people today, and that, although fewer in number, those who come forward show great idealism and much promise. It is important to listen to them, to understand their experiences, and to encourage them to help their peers to see the need for committed priests and religious, as well as the beauty of a life of sacrificial service to the Lord and his Church.

To my mind, much is demanded of vocation directors and formators: candidates today, as much as ever, need to be given a sound intellectual and human formation which will enable them not only to respond to the real questions and needs of their contemporaries, but also to mature in their own conversion and to persevere in life-long commitment to their vocation.

As Bishops, you are conscious of the sacrifice demanded when you are asked to release one of your finest priests for seminary work. I urge you to respond with generosity, for the good of the whole Church.

Finally, I think you know from experience that most of your brother priests are happy in their vocation. What I said in my address about the importance of unity and cooperation within the presbyterate applies here too.

There is a need for all of us to move beyond sterile divisions, disagreements and preconceptions, and to listen together to the voice of the Spirit who is guiding the Church into a future of hope. Each of us knows how important priestly fraternity has been in our lives. That fraternity is not only a precious possession, but also an immense resource for the renewal of the priesthood and the raising up of new vocations.

I would close by encouraging you to foster opportunities for ever greater dialogue and fraternal encounter among your priests, and especially the younger priests. I am convinced that this will bear great fruit for their own enrichment, for the increase of their love for the priesthood and the Church, and for the effectiveness of their apostolate.

Dear Brother Bishops. with these few observations, I once more encourage all of you in your ministry to the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, and I commend you to the loving intercession of Mary Immaculate, Mother of the Church.

* * *
Before leaving, I would like to pause to acknowledge the immense suffering endured by the people of God in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina, as well as their courage in the challenging work of rebuilding.

I would like to present Archbishop Alfred Hughes with a chalice, which I hope will be accepted as a sign of my prayerful solidarity with the faithful of the Archdiocese, and my personal gratitude for the tireless devotion which he and Archbishops Philip Hannan and Francis Schulte showed toward the flock entrusted to their care.

Text of Pope Benedict Homily, Washington Nationals Stadium Mass

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"Peace be with you!" (Jn 20:19). With these, the first words of the Risen Lord to his disciples, I greet all of you in the joy of this Easter season. Before all else, I thank God for the blessing of being in your midst. I am particularly grateful to Archbishop Wuerl for his kind words of welcome.

Our Mass today brings the Church in the United States back to its roots in nearby Maryland, and commemorates the bicentennial of the first chapter of its remarkable growth — the division by my predecessor, Pope Pius VII, of the original Diocese of Baltimore and the establishment of the Dioceses of Boston, Bardstown (now Louisville), New York and Philadelphia. Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. The Church in the United States is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges — challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears — with the hope born of God's love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5).

In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles (cf. Lk 22:32). I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2:14ff.). I have come to repeat the Apostle's urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country. As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit's gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people (cf. Rev 5:9) the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ.

The readings of today's Mass invite us to consider the growth of the Church in America as one chapter in the greater story of the Church's expansion following the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In those readings we see the inseparable link between the risen Lord, the gift of the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and the mystery of the Church. Christ established his Church on the foundation of the Apostles (cf. Rev 21:14) as a visible, structured community which is at the same time a spiritual communion, a mystical body enlivened by the Spirit's manifold gifts, and the sacrament of salvation for all humanity (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8). In every time and place, the Church is called to grow in unity through constant conversion to Christ, whose saving work is proclaimed by the Successors of the Apostles and celebrated in the sacraments. This unity, in turn, gives rise to an unceasing missionary outreach, as the Spirit spurs believers to proclaim "the great works of God" and to invite all people to enter the community of those saved by the blood of Christ and granted new life in his Spirit.

I pray, then, that this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God's Kingdom.

The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

"Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!" (cf. Ps 104:30). The words of today's Responsorial Psalm are a prayer which rises up from the heart of the Church in every time and place. They remind us that the Holy Spirit has been poured out as the first fruits of a new creation, "new heavens and a new earth" (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), in which God's peace will reign and the human family will be reconciled in justice and love. We have heard Saint Paul tell us that all creation is even now "groaning" in expectation of that true freedom which is God's gift to his children (Rom 8:21-22), a freedom which enables us to live in conformity to his will. Today let us pray fervently that the Church in America will be renewed in that same Spirit, and sustained in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that longs for genuine freedom (cf. Jn 8:32), authentic happiness, and the fulfillment of its deepest aspirations!

Here I wish to offer a special word of gratitude and encouragment to all those who have taken up the challenge of the Second Vatican Council, so often reiterated by Pope John Paul II, and committed their lives to the new evangelization. I thank my brother Bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, parents, teachers and catechists. The fidelity and courage with which the Church in this country will respond to the challenges raised by an increasingly secular and materialistic culture will depend in large part upon your own fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith. Young people need to be helped to discern the path that leads to true freedom: the path of a sincere and generous imitation of Christ, the path of commitment to justice and peace. Much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis, yet so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young in knowledge and love of the Lord. The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith. But they also call for cultivating a mindset, an intellectual "culture", which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith's vision to bear on the urgent issues which affect the future of American society.

Dear friends, my visit to the United States is meant to be a witness to "Christ our Hope". Americans have always been a people of hope: your ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity, while the vastness of the unexplored wilderness inspired in them the hope of being able to start completely anew, building a new nation on new foundations. To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves. Yet hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character. And the Christian virtue of hope — the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord and his saving plan — that hope has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country.

It is in the context of this hope born of God's love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church. Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children — whom our Lord loves so deeply (cf. Mk 10:14), and who are our greatest treasure — can grow up in a safe environment. These efforts to protect children must continue. Yesterday I spoke with your Bishops about this. Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness.

Saint Paul speaks, as we heard in the second reading, of a kind of prayer which arises from the depths of our hearts in sighs too deep for words, in "groanings" (Rom 8:26) inspired by the Spirit. This is a prayer which yearns, in the midst of chastisement, for the fulfillment of God's promises. It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ's own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross. With this prayer, may the Church in America embrace ever more fully the way of conversion and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel. And may all Catholics experience the consolation of hope, and the Spirit's gifts of joy and strength.

In today's Gospel, the risen Lord bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and grants them the authority to forgive sins. Through the surpassing power of Christ's grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the Church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning. Let us trust in the Spirit's power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of Penance! The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God's merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.

"In hope we were saved!" (Rom 8:24)." As the Church in the United States gives thanks for the blessings of the past two hundred years, I invite you, your families, and every parish and religious community, to trust in the power of grace to create a future of promise for God's people in this country. I ask you, in the Lord Jesus, to set aside all division and to work with joy to prepare a way for him, in fidelity to his word and in constant conversion to his will. Above all, I urge you to continue to be a leaven of evangelical hope in American society, striving to bring the light and truth of the Gospel to the task of building an ever more just and free world for generations yet to come.

Those who have hope must live different lives! (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior. To him be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What Will Benedict Tell America?

Ten things I'd love to hear him say.

Father Tim Berg

April 15, 2008

9:35 AM EST

Pope Benedict XVIn the (highly unlikely) event that I get a phone call later today from the Pope's secretary asking me for input on the speeches that Benedict will deliver here this week, here are some talking points I would offer for his consideration. These are the things I would love to hear Benedict say:

First, to Catholics in America:

* Contrary to recent news reports, I have not come to "give you a boost," or a "shot in the arm" or to lead a pep-rally for you. Actually, I've come to challenge you to be more authentically and thoroughly Catholic. Millions of your brothers and sisters throughout the world actually embrace the fullness of Catholic teaching, especially on moral issues, without picking and choosing-as too many of you do, cafeteria style-which doctrines you like and which ones you don't. Those who embrace the fullness of Catholic teaching are not mindless and subservient automatons. Rather, they have considered the reasons behind such teaching and found those reasons thoughtful and convincing.

* I've also come to remind you that the Catholic Church is bigger than the Church in the United States. It's important for you to recognize that the needs of the Church throughout the world are too great, and our shared mission too big, to be lost to self-absorption.

* You presidents of supposedly-Catholic universities: do the human family a favor and please be authentically Catholic in your campus life and academic culture. Such "catholicity" on a Catholic campus does not translate into accommodating-in the name of "tolerance"-customs, behaviors, art forms, student associations or doctrines on campus or in the classroom whose core messages and philosophies are antithetical to the Gospel. (And, yes, I am referring to "The Vagina Monologues" among other things.) Tolerance, by the way, is not the core virtue of Catholicism; and there's much more to being Catholic than working for social justice.

* My brother priests: please recognize, if you haven't already, that the level of religious knowledge and practice in your parishes is often near zero. Treat your parish ministry as a genuine mission field. Far too many Catholics hold to a feel good, design-your-own brand of Christianity which is a hybrid of Catholic faith and modern therapeutic, self-absorbed Emotivism. If you fail to preach the whole Word of God, then the situation will continue to worsen until the actual Catholic faith is only a faint memory in the minds of most of the laity.

Then, to all Americans:

* Don't be afraid of asking the big questions (about God, truth, and ultimate reality). Instead, fear the peril of falling into that existential boredom so characteristic of Europeans these days.

* Be the leaders, culturally and politically, in rejecting the idea that science should be untethered from moral restraints.

* Keep the discussion about world religions honest, and don't let a misguided understanding of "tolerance" lead you to accept anti-Christian bigotry and hatred. And just because I give you reasons for the values that I uphold, it doesn't mean I am trying to "impose" my values on you.

* Remember that the moral principles which sustain a healthy society (sanctity of life, marriage, etc.) are not simply faith-based, but are in fact naturally human and rational.

* Remember that "democracy" is not a magic word. "Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a 'system' and as such is a means and not an end. Its 'moral' value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behaviour, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. But the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes." [Note to his Holiness: you will likely recognize this last paragraph; it's from Evangelium Vitae, n.70.]

* A religiously pluralistic society can co-exist peacefully without asking people of faith to suspend their commitment to the truth of their doctrine. Religious dialogue does not consist in everyone agreeing to abandon their particular truth claims in order to come together and profess that no one's vision of ultimate reality is any better than anyone else's. A mutual commitment to the truth and a healthy respect for our common struggle for it is the sounder basis of inter-religious dialogue and tolerance. Don't allow your religious and creedal beliefs to deteriorate into a tyranny of relativism.


Hmmm. Maybe I should go ahead and send these talking points along just in case. Now, where the heck did I put the Holy Father's fax number?

Hamas Cleric Predicts 'Rome Will Be Conquered by Islam'

Hamas Cleric Predicts 'Rome Will Be Conquered by Islam'

Monday , April 14, 2008


A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that "the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital," would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become "an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe."

"Allah has chosen you for Himself and for His religion," al-Astal preached, "so that you will serve as the engine pulling this nation to the phase of succession, security and consolidation of power, and even to conquests through da'wa and military conquests of the capitals of the entire world.

"Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad," he added.

Al-Astal last June preached how it was the duty of Palestinian women to martyr themselves by becoming homicide bombers.

"The most exalted form of jihad is fighting for the sake of Allah, which means sacrificing one's soul by fighting the enemies head-on, even if it leads to martyrdom," he said in a June 23, 2007 interview.

"When jihad becomes an individual duty, it applies to women too, because women do not differ from men when it comes to individual duties," he said, calling Jews "the brothers of apes and pigs" who should "taste the bitterness of death."

Friday's rant repeated that theme: "Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam.

"I believe that our children, or our grandchildren, will inherit our jihad and our sacrifices, and, Allah willing, the commanders of the conquest will come from among them.

"Today, we instill these good tidings in their souls – and by means of the mosques and the Koran books, and the history of our Prophets, his companions, and the great leaders, we prepare them for the mission of saving humanity from the hellfire at whose brink they stand."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Papal Visit to America

Something Beautiful Has Begun
April 11, 2008; Page W7

Vatican City

At the open-air mass in St. Peter's on April 2, the third anniversary of the death of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI spoke movingly – he brought mist to the eyes of our little group of visiting Americans – of John Paul's life, and the meaning of his suffering. "Among his many human and supernatural qualities he had an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensitivity," said the pontiff, who knew John Paul long and intimately. (Those who hope for swift canonization please note: "supernatural." Benedict the philosopher does not use words lightly.)

He spoke of the distilled message of John Paul's reign: "Be not afraid," the words "of the angel of the Resurrection, addressed to the women before the empty tomb." Which words were themselves a condensed message: Nothing has ended, something beautiful has begun, but you won't understand for a while.

[Something Beautiful Has Begun]
Pope Benedict XVI

Benedict was doing something great leaders usually don't do, which is invite you to dwell on the virtues of his predecessor.

We did. You couldn't hear Benedict without your eyes going to the small white window in the plain-walled Vatican where John Paul's private chambers were, and from which he spoke to the world. Quick memory-images: the windows open, the crowd goes wild, and John Paul is waving, or laughingly shooing away a white bird that repeatedly tried to fly in and join him, or, most movingly, at the end, trying to speak and not able to, and trying again and not able to, and how the crowd roared its encouragement.

Oh, you miss that old man when you are here! You feel the presence of his absence. The souvenir shops know. They sell framed pictures and ceramic plates of the pope: John Paul. Is there no Benedict? There is. A photo of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger being embraced by . . . John Paul. It's now on my desk in New York. They have their hands on each other's shoulders and look in each other's eyes. A joyful image. They loved each other and were comrades.

When I was writing a book about John Paul, I'd ask those who'd met him or saw him go by: What did you think, or say? And they'd be startled and say, "I don't know, I was crying."

John Paul made you burst into tears. Benedict makes you think. It is more pleasurable to weep, but at the moment, perhaps it is more important to think.

A Vatican reporter last week said John Paul was the perfect pope for the television age, "a man of images." Think of the pictures of him storm-tossed, tempest-tossed, standing somewhere and leaning into a heavy wind, his robes whipping behind him, holding on to his crosier, the staff bearing the image of a crucified Christ, with both hands, for dear life, as if consciously giving Christians a picture of what it is to be alive.

Benedict, the reporter noted, is the perfect pope for the Internet age. He is a man of the word. You download the text of what he said, print it, ponder it.

* * *

Now he is the man at the window. What do we see? This is what I saw as his popemobile came close by in the square: tall man, white hair, shy eyes, deep-set. He is waving, trying to act out pleasure at being the focus of all eyes, center stage. He is not a showman but a scholar, an engaged philosopher nostalgic for the days – he has spoken of them – when he was a professor in a university classroom, surrounded by professors operating in a spirit of academic camaraderie and debate. But, his friends tell you, he enjoys being pope. He has become acclimated.

There is a sweetness about him – all in the Vatican who knew him in the old days speak of it – and a certain vagueness, as if he is preoccupied.

He lacks an immediately accessible flair. Popes didn't use to have to have flair, but now perhaps it is expected of them. John Paul was many things – theologian, canny anticommunist – but he was a showman, too. Woo woo, he teased the cheering children of America on his first trip. John Paul II, he loves you! Such a small thing, and yet somehow it broke your heart. The world then needed the liveliness of faith, its joy, its gaiety even. I was told this week his Vatican hadn't quite approved of what they saw as his antics. Well, that's why God didn't make them pope.

* * *

Now Benedict comes to America, his first trip as pope. The highlight in the Vatican's eyes is his address to the United Nations. No one knows what he will say. He will no doubt call for peace, for that is what popes do, and should do. Beyond that? Perhaps some variation on themes from his famous Regensburg address, in September 2006.

There he traced and limned some of the development of Christianity, but he turned first to Islam. Faith in God does not justify violence, he said. "The right use of reason" prompts us to understand that violence is incompatible with the nature of God, and the nature, therefore, of the soul. God, he quotes an ancient Byzantine ruler, "is not pleased by blood," and "not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature." More: "To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm." This is a message for our time, and a courageous one, too. (The speech was followed by riots and by Osama bin Laden's charge that the pope was starting a new "crusade.")

The trip begins in Washington, and the White House has announced that the pope and the president will "continue their dialogue on the interplay of faith and reason." (This prompted a long-suffering Bush supporter to say, "I'm seeing the collision of matter and antimatter.")

Catholics who hope for a successful visit have some anxiety that a distracted Vatican apparatus, working, sort of, with a confused American team waiting on decisions, will fail to allow Benedict to be what he is to best effect, to break through and reveal some of his nature. An American journalist took it upon himself to remind papal representatives that the pope turns 81 while in Washington. Perhaps people could be urged to sing . . . "Happy Birthday"? Benedict some time back wowed a group of schoolchildren when he spoke to them of Antonietta Meo, who may in time become the church's youngest nonmartyred saint. Is he meeting with schoolchildren here?

Another small fear, born of hearing him last week at the mass. Benedict spoke in many languages including English, which he speaks fluidly and with a strong German accent. This is an accent that 60 years of World War II movies have taught Americans to hear as vaguely sinister, or comic. The nicer commentators may say he sounds like Col. Klink in "Hogan's Heroes." I hope he speaks even more than usual about love, for that may remove the sting, as love does.

* * *

I forgot to say that as he went through the crowds last week, after the mass, thousands from all over the world ran toward him, reached for him, applauded. It was festive, sprawling, and as they cheered, for a moment St. Peter's felt like what Benedict said it was in the days after John Paul's death, the beating "heart of the world." It was rousing, but also comforting. Afterward I thought: Nothing is ended, something beautiful has begun, we just won't understand it for a while.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal1.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

When Do We Die?

When Do We Die?
A long-established criterion for determining death is under growing scrutiny.
April 8, 2008
8:30 PM EST

Thirty-six hours after Zack Dunlap had an accident last November with his souped-up ATV, doctors performed a PET scan on Zack and found there was no blood flowing to his brain. After informing his parents, the doctors declared Zack brain-dead. Then followed the call to the organ harvesting team to come and retrieve organs from Zack. As they were being flown in by helicopter to the Wichita Falls, Texas hospital where Zack lay presumably dead, nurses began disconnecting tubes from his inert body. It was only then that one of Zack's relatives who happens to be a nurse tested Zack for reflexes. Not only did Zack respond to pain, he was later able to tell a stunned television audience and Today Show host Natalie Morales that he heard the doctor declare him brain-dead, and how much that ticked him off.

Stories like Zach's seem to be more prevalent of late, and more disturbing. They occasion reasonable doubt about three related issues: the reliability of the brain-death (BD) criterion as a standard for determining death; the degree of rigor with which such determinations are made; and whether the medical establishment is not dangerously biased toward organ harvesting as opposed to long-term, potentially regenerative care for persons who meet the loosest standard for BD.

Until recently, the general consensus had been that BD -- the irreversible and complete cessation of all brain function -- constituted a sufficient criterion for establishing that a human individual has, in fact, died. However, the consensus surrounding BD has been challenged of late. Opponents, most notably Dr. Alan Shewmon, Chief of the Department of Neurology at Olive View Medical Center, UCLA, point to cases of individuals who have been declared brain-dead and have "survived" with the aid of artificial respiration/nutrition for weeks, months, and even years. Shewmon has published a controversial study of such survivors that has posed a diametric challenge to the neurological standard for determining death. In testimony before the President's Council on Bioethics, Shewmon observed:

Contrary to popular belief, brain death is not a settled issue. I've been doing informal Socratic probing of colleagues over the years, and it's very rare that I come across a colleague, including among neurologists, who can give me a coherent reason why brain destruction or total brain non-function is death.

There's always some loose logic hidden in there somewhere, and those who are coherent usually end up with the psychological rationale, that this is no longer a human person even if it may be a human organism.

The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) established a set of Guidelines for the determination of brain death in 1995 which currently remain a point of reference for many hospitals and physicians throughout the country. The AAN guidelines lay out diagnostic criteria for making a clinical diagnosis of BD. The guidelines note that the three "cardinal findings" of brain death are coma or unresponsiveness, absence of brainstem reflexes, and apnea (the cessation of breathing). It further outlines a series of clinical tests or observations for making these findings. The guidelines also note that certain conditions can interfere with clinical diagnosis, and recommends confirmatory tests if such conditions are present. Finally, the guidelines recommend repeated clinical evaluation after a six-hour interval (noting that such time period is arbitrary) using a series of confirmatory tests that are described in the document.

A recent study published in the journal Neurology, noting widespread variations in the application of the AAN Guidelines, drew these conclusions:

Major differences exist in brain death guidelines among the leading neurologic hospitals in the Unites States. Adherence to the American Academy of Neurology guidelines is variable. If the guidelines reflect actual practice at each institution, there are substantial differences in practice which may have consequences for the determination of death and initiation of transplant procedures.

Such variability in applying a uniform criterion of BD, in addition to the growing number of survivors of BD, must give us pause. And so must the growing societal pressure to donate organs -- notwithstanding the genuine hopes that organ transplants holds for millions of people.

That pressure arises from the fact that the numeric gap between available organ donors and patients who need organ transplants continues to grow every year. A recent survey indicated that in 2006 over 98,000 organs were needed for patients on US transplant waiting lists.

Complicating matters, the number of available organs through donation from brain dead patients has remained stable for a number of years. And while organ donor cards and growing use of advance medical directives have occasioned a slight increase in the numbers of cadavaric transplants, more organs are needed than are currently available.

Consequently, transplantation services are pressed to find new and ethically acceptable ways to increase the number of available organ donors. Some advocates of a less rigorous application of BD have gone so far as to openly consider the moral licitness of removing organs from anencephalic newborns, and from persons diagnosed as being permanently comatose or in a permanent vegetative state (PVS). And some members of the medical profession believe the solution lies in redefining BD so as to make it less restrictive.

One such approach would define BD (and consequently death itself) as cessation of all higher level (cortical) brain functioning -- even if there were activity in other areas of the brain. Such was the proposal suggested by Dr. Robert Veatch of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in his testimony before the President's Council on Bioethics two years ago. "We could shift to a new definition of death that would classify some of these permanently comatose persons as dead," affirmed Veatch. "In fact, a large group of scholars now in rejecting a whole brain definition has [endorsed]... a higher brain definition where some of these patients would be legally classified as dead."

"But would the ordinary citizen accept such a definition?" he then asked. In response, he pointed to a study done at Case Western Reserve University looking at the opinions of ordinary citizens in the State of Ohio. The results were startling. Of a population of 1,351 citizens who participated, 57% considered the person in permanent coma to be dead, and 34% considered the person in a permanent vegetative state to be dead. Furthermore-again on Veatch's interpretation of the data -- with regard to the propriety of harvesting organs, in the case of a more rigorous application of the BD criterion, 93% percent thought it acceptable take organs. But in the case of permanent coma, 74% would procure organs, and even in the case of PVS, fully 55% percent would procure organs.

Veatch ended by exhorting those present: "I suggest that it's time to consider the enormous lifesaving potential of opening the question about going to a higher brain definition of death or, alternatively, making exceptions to the dead donor rule."

Food for thought-and potentially for nightmares.

Admittedly, proponents of BD would question, in cases of survival after a BD determination such as that of Zach Dunlap, whether the criterion was applied strictly enough when they were declared brain dead. That's a legitimate question.

But research like Dr. Shewmon's and the growing list of survivors of BD are not only generating uneasiness in the medical field but also among potential organ donors who fear succumbing to some physician's premature diagnosis of death. It seems to me that such uneasiness is warranted, and that the time has come for a much more rigorous moral and medical evaluation of the propriety of the BD criterion.
Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

February 10, 2008

Christology Assignments Class 2010

Deacon Bill McKenzie

Assignments have been made below for each student, from the Raymond E. Brown Christology text books for the remainder of the semester.

In addition, the class as a whole is required to read and prepare for discussion, on the dates indicated, the chapters in Pope Benedict’s XVI’s book: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church.

Grades will be allocated on the quality of the class presentation of each student and participation in the class discussions.


Text Book: Raymond E. Brown – A Crucified Christ in Holy Week

Class Week 1 – Feb 16 (Double Period)

Deacon Bill McKenzie

Class Week 2 – Feb 23

Robert Brunton – The Passion According to Mark

Frank Devereux – The Passion According to Matthew

Class Week 3- Mar 8

Dayle Geroski – The Passion According to Luke

Paul Grutsch – The Passion According to John

Class Discussion: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 1 thru 4


Text Book: Raymond E. Brown - A Risen Christ in Eastertime

Class Week 4- Mar 29

Robert Hauert – The Resurrection in Mark

Robert Klein – The Resurrection in Matthew

Class Discussion: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 5 thru 8

Class Week 5- April 12

Edward Krise – The Resurrection in Luke

Ronald Manning – The Resurrection In John – Ch.20

Class Discussion: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 9 thru 12

Class Week 6 – April 26

Jose “Trini” Merlo-Quintero The Resurrection in John - Ch. 21

Philip Miles – The Church Begins in Jerusalem

Class Discussion: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 13 thru 16

Pentecost Sunday May 11

Text Book: Raymond E. Brown – A Once and Coming Spirit at Pentecost

Class Week 7 – May 10

John Paul McGuire – The Jerusalem Church of one Mind

Wayne Nacey – Diversity in the Jerusalem Church; Expansion to Judea and Samaria.

Class Discussion: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 17 thru 20

Ordinary Time

Text Book: Raymond E. Brown – Christ in the Gospels of the Ordinary Sundays

Class Week 8 – May 31

Francis Przybylek – Pg. 20 – Discourse: Mission Sermon Mt. 10:1-42

Felix Rentas – Pg 20 – Discourse: Sermon in Parables Mt. 13:1-52

Class Discussion: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 21 thru 24

Class Week 9 - Jun 14

John Wojcik – Pg 20 – Discourse: Sermon on the Church Mt. 18:1-35

Gerald Zukauckas – Pg 20 – Eschatological Sermon Mt. 24:1- 25:46

Class Discussion: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 25 thru 28

Class Week 10 – Jun 28

Class Discussion and Review: Jesus, The Apostles and The Early Church

Chapters 29 thru 31. Final.