Friday, November 30, 2007

Spe Salvi various thoughts

One passage of the encyclical that really grabbed my attention was this:

"Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened."

That's quite a powerful statement! I think it speaks to the modern tendency to somehow whitewash moral evil, as if what we do with our lives doesn't really matter in the end. But it does. What we do now will have consequences for all eternity.

That's a consoling thought for people who suffer injustices here on earth. While we rightfully act to right those wrongs, on earth, justice often is not done. When you see evil seemingly triumph, it can sorely test the faith of believers. But evil will not have the last word.

Spe Salvi Summary

I'll be doing this in several posts

1. Introduction

The Pope reminds us that we can have hope because we have a great goal: our salvation. That goal is “not simply a given,” he says. We can hope for something for two reasons: because it’s possible to attain, but also difficult. If it was a sure thing, we wouldn’t have to hope for it, we would just take it for granted. But we can’t take our salvation for granted because it depends on our cooperation with grace.

2. Faith is hope

Here Benedict reflects on the relationship between faith and hope. In a sense, he says, they are interchangeable. The solid basis for our hope is our faith in God. Because we know God, we can have hope and rest secure in the knowledge that as Christians, we “have a future.” While we don’t know the details, we do know that eternal life with God awaits us after death.
In this context, Benedict mentions the example of St. Josephine Bakhita. Born in Sudan, at the age of nine she was captured and sold into slavery. He recounts the story of her extreme sufferings, and of how she was rescued and found faith and hope in God.

3. The concept of faith-based hope in the New Testament and the early Church

In this section, the Pope speaks like a professor—wouldn’t it be great to be in one of his classes? He talks about the concept of faith in the New Testament. First he mentions how the encounter with Christ is not something abstract, but can change our lives. That is what attracted people to it in the beginning of the Church. By Baptism we meet this loving God who personally cares about us and our destiny.
Benedict mentions how in ancient Rome both poor people and those from upper classes found hope in Christianity. In ancient Christian tombs, Christ was often presented in one of two ways: as a philosopher, and as a shepherd. As a philosopher he teaches us the meaning of life and death. The shepherd leads us through the path of death to life.
Then Benedict goes on to give an extended exegesis of the famous text from Hebrews on faith (11:1): “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Eternal life—what is it?

Benedict probes the idea of eternal life. First he recalls the classical rite of Baptism. In presenting their child, the priest says, “What do you ask of the Church?” Answer: “Faith.”
“And what does faith give you?”
“Eternal life.”
This is the ultimate goal, what gives sense to our whole life. Yet Benedict discusses how we often feel conflicted about eternal life. On the one hand, we want to keep on living and the idea of death frightens us. On the other hand, the prospect of endless living on earth is frightening also. Who would want to live forever on earth, with all its pain, trials, and sufferings? This is the paradox we face.

Quoting a letter of St Augustine to the Roman widow Proba, Pope Benedict says that we are seeking “the blessed life,” which is equated with happiness. The Pope then says that we sometimes have a problem with the idea of eternal life because we can’t help but think of it in earthly terms. Yet it is completely different. It is not an endless succession of time, one thing after another. Instead, he compares it to “plunging into the ocean of infinite, a moment in which time—before and after—no longer exists.”

It will be like we are completely enveloped in love, and in that moment we will be overwhelmed with endless joy.

The Pope recommends this book!

The Pope recommends Prayers of Hope.

"When I have been plunged into complete solitude…; if I pray I am never totally alone. The late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, a prisoner for thirteen years, nine of them spent in solitary confinement, has left us a precious little book: Prayers of Hope. During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude."
Spe Salvi, n. 32

Spe Salvi

The Vatican has posted the new encyclical online.

Here are some impressions I had in my first reading.
Pope Benedict shows the many facets of his personality. In some places the encyclical reads like he is teaching a class--wouldn't it be great to have taken one of his courses! For example, he gives an extended exegesis of the famous definition of faith from Hebrews: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

In other places he appears as a pastor, citing remarkable examples from the lives of the saints. He mentions St Josephine Bakhita as an outstanding example of hope. She went from slavery in Africa to being a religious sister in Italy. The Pope speaks of the great Cardinal Van Thuan, and specifically recommends Prayers of Hope, a book which we published! He also has a long quote from one of the Vietnamese martyrs.

In more posts I'll talk a little more in detail about my impressions, but please do read the encyclical for yourself. All comments on it are most welcome!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Henry Hyde, RIP

Henry Hyde served in Congress for 32 years as a representative from Illinois, and he was one of the greatest pro-life politicians. The Hyde Amendment, which he sponsored, prohibited federal funds from being used to pay for abortions. The American Right to Life Committee estimates that this amendment has been responsible for saving the lives of at least 1 million babies who would otherwise have been aborted.
Hyde had great integrity and he showed how a Catholic politician can be an effective leader without renouncing the Church's position on life issues. In a speech at Notre Dame in 1984, he said, "It is clearly insufficient for a Catholic public official to hold that his or her personal, conscientious objection to abortion as a matter of personal choice for himself or herself ends the matter"

May he rest in peace and enjoy his well-earned eternal reward.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spe Salvi Saved by Hope

Friday, Nov 30, is the official release date of the Pope's new encyclical. It will be his second encyclical, following Deus Caritas Est. It looks like he is writing on the theological virtues. Perhaps his third encyclical will be on faith?
Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all who visit this blog!
One of the great reasons to give thanks this year is the breakthrough that was just announced about stem-cell research. In a remarkable advance, scientists have found a way to take ordinary human skin cells and send them back to a state where they act like embryonic stem cells. That is, they have the ability to develop into different kinds of tissue cells that could be cultivated to replace failing organs.

And it can all be done without destroying human embryos. This is a great victory for the pro-life movement. These scientists have proved what pro-lifers have been saying all along, that we can get better benefits from stem cell research without destroying embryos. This is truly a win-win situation for all sides. This article has more details.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The pursuit of holiness

Following up yesterday's post, here are a few more thoughts on the pursuit of holiness.

A desire will grow stronger with more motivation. Although our baptism committed us to pursuing holiness, it still needs to become a personal desire. Why desire it? One compelling reason is that life on earth is short and will soon come to an end, even if a person lives to be 100. What is that in comparison with eternal life?

Here's a little exercise to bring that home. Take your present age and double it. Do you realistically expect to live that long? If not, you've already lived more than half your life on earth. It will be fewer years from now until your death than from your birth until now. And that's assuming that no accident or sudden illness cuts it prematurely short.

St. Francis Borgia was the Duke of Gandia in Spain. He served the Queen Isabella of Portugal, who was very beautiful. She died while still rather young and beautiful. When Francis saw her in the coffin, he was shocked at how the ravages of death had already stolen her beauty. This incident helped him take a turn in his spiritual life and he later became a Jesuit priest.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What does it take...

To become a saint?

What’s your goal in life? What do you want to be? What do you want to become—not so much in terms of doing a particular thing, but of the kind of person you want to be?

As baptized Christians, we have a life goal set out for us: holiness. At Vatican II the bishops wrote a whole chapter about the universal call to holiness (it’s found in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).

Today and for the next few days I’ll put up a few posts on how to become a saint in five (not so easy) steps. Please feel free to add your own thoughts about it.

1. Desire it
I read somewhere that when someone asked St Thomas Aquinas how to become a saint, he simply replied, “Will it.” It’s true, of course, that we absolutely need God’s grace. But God can’t help us if we don’t want him to. So the very first step in becoming holy is to want it, to want it more than anything else. Blessed James Alberione once said to the sisters, “Desire holiness and will it constantly.”
Francis Bernardone started out by wanting to simply repair a broken-down church. Little by little, he gave up all his material goods, every worldly possession, to live in complete poverty so that he could love God more. That single-hearted desire changed him from Francis the town clown to St. Francis of Assisi.
At bottom, the desire for holiness is a desire to be in a love relationship with God.It means realizing that we can't live without God.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

St. Albert the Great

St. Albert was a Dominican and a teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. Besides his interest in theology, Albert was also a great student of the natural world. He studied biology and observed bees and other animals to understand nature better.

Albert was destined to be overshadowed by his student, but he probably didn't mind. Some people have the role of being a precursor for someone else who will surpass them in some way. But that doesn't detract from Albert's own greatness. He is a Doctor of the Church, especially known for his philosophical writings. He studied Aristotle extensively and helped the young Thomas assimilate Greek philosophy. Thomas then went on to become an outstanding commentator on Aristotle's writings.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pope's visit in the spring

It looks like the Pope's schedule has been finalized for his visit to the US next spring. He won't be coming to Boston but he'll be celebrating a Mass at Yankee stadium on April 20. I hope I'll be able to go! I haven't been to Yankee stadium since October 1979 when Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there. It was a great event. We got to get fairly close as he drove by in the Popemobile.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Success for water heater campaign!

I've had the appeal for a new water heater on my blog for a while now, and this is an update. Through your generosity and that of other generous benefactors, we reached our goal! The work is beginning now and the target date for completion is Thanksgiving.
When it is finished I hope to get some pictures to post.

We pray for our benefactors and every month offer a Mass especially for them and their special intentions. I want to thank everyone who has visited this blog and made a donation for this project. The old water heater, almost 40 years old, was on its last legs. The new one will be much more energy efficient, so we can save in that way as well.

Thank you all and God bless you!

All Souls Day

Today is the day the Church remembers and prays for all the souls of the deceased who are still undergoing purification.
Catholic teaching is that those who die without being fully purified of sin receive that purification in the next life. Purgatory is not a physical place but a state. It's a sign of God's mercy, for he gives us the opportunity to grow in love and cast off the remnants of sin.

The best way to avoid purgatory, of course, is to avoid its cause: sin. Our age seems to have a diminished sense of sin, which may be why teachings like purgatory have fallen out of the popular awareness. In some traditionally Catholic countries, like Italy, however, devotion to the holy souls is very strong. The Italian sisters in my community are very devoted to their souls!

When I saw the movie Gladiator, I noticed that the hero (played by Russell Crowe but I forget the character's name) was a pagan. But he had a great devotion to his deceased ancestors, even to the point of having little statues of them and burning incense and candles. So it must have been a part of the pre-Roman Etruscan culture of Italy, which the Romans also had. When Christianity came, this element of the culture was like a "seed of the gospel" that must have made it easier for the people to understand Christian teachings about the afterlife.