Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

25 June: Shared Table VII, Lunch with Pope Benedict.

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Pope Emeritus Benedict has contrasted his style with that of Pope Francis,suggesting that he should have got among the people more. Yet Benedict did something radical in this direction when he came out of the Vatican and shared a Christmas meal with homeless people at the Sant’Egidio Community. (Amazingly, protocol demanded that the Pope should not be seen eating!)

He told the gathering:

It is a moving experience for me to be with you, to be with Jesus’ friends, because Jesus especially loves people who are suffering, people in difficulty, and wants them to become his brothers and sisters. Thank you for this possibility! I am very glad and I thank all those who prepared the meal, lovingly and competently I was truly aware of the good cooking, congratulations! and I also thank those who served the food.

At lunch I heard of sorrowful events full of humanity and also stories of love rediscovered here at Sant’Egidio: the experiences of elderly, homeless or disabled people, emigrants, gypsies, individuals with financial problems or other difficulties who are all, in one way or another, sorely tried by life. I am here with you to tell you that I am close to you and love you, and that you and your affairs are not far from my thoughts but rather at the centre and in the heart of the Community of believers, hence also in my heart.

With the words of St John Chrysostom I would like to remind each one: “Consider you have become a priest of Christ, giving with your own hand not flesh but bread, and not Blood, but a cup of water” (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, 42,3). What riches are offered to life by God’s love expressed in real service to our brothers and sisters who are in need! Like St Lawrence, a Deacon of the Church of Rome, when the Roman magistrates of the time sought to intimidate him, to make him handover the Church’s treasure, he pointed to the poor of Rome as the true treasure of the Church. We can make St Lawrence’s gesture our own and say that you poor people really are the Church’s treasure.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2009/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20091227_pranzo-poveri.pdf

Pope Benedict XVI visits the Community of Sant’Egidio.

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23 January: Putting Laudato Si’ into practice.

 

Dear Friends,

All the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Ps 98.

I had been hoping to look into Laudato Si’  in some depth and detail over the coming months: the care of our common home is important! And then I received an important and interesting reflection from Fr James Kurzynski on the Vatican Observatory web site. He recounts:

A person asked what new technologies we should be embracing as Catholics to take the first steps toward caring for our common home in light of Laudato Si’? I could tell I shocked the room a little when I simply said, “None of them.”

I urge you to read the whole article through this link –  changing hearts or changing habits? – and Laudato Si’  – and also to write to us through the comments box  at the bottom of this page. I  welcome contributions from followers and readers as well as our established writers. Please share your insights. 

If we receive comments I may collate them and use them in further posts about Laudato Si’. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Will.

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21 January: Saint Agnes

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Pope Benedict XVI wearing a pallium, and a mitre  with the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

Catholics will be familiar with Agnes’ name since she is mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer as one of the great early martyrs. She suffered death in her early teens. It seems unlikely that we would respect a modern teenager the way the Church has celebrated Agnes for 1700 years; perhaps we have something to learn from our ancestors!

 Agnes was from a noble family who were too prominent to avoid attention in the early fourth century persecutions. When she was arrested, she was steadfast in saying that she was a Christian. It is said that she was desired as a wife or mistress by one of the magistrates. No doubt this would have enabled her to escape execution, but she did not yield.

She was to be burned alive but the wood would not light; instead, Saint Ambrose tells us, she was decapitated with a sword.

There is a special tradition linked to Saint Agnes. On her feast day two lambs are brought from the Abbey of Tre Fontane to be blessed by the pope. When they are shorn later in Spring, the wool is woven by the Benedictine nuns of Saint Caecilia’s Abbey to make Palliums. These special collars are given to new Archbishops by the pope on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Carrying lambs’ wool on the shoulder reminds the Archbishop that he is to be a good shepherd to his flock.

MMB

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October 15: CONSCIENCE VIII: Should we Beware of all Authority?

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CD.

Religious extremism, dictatorships, totalitarian systems, or simply capitulation to the moral values promulgated by the powerful voice of the mass media can desensitise our conscience.  Our conscience needs to be alive and well, and able to evaluate and resist such voices.

In saying that we need to be on our guard against dictatorships of all kinds, am I not saying that we need to be wary of all authority, even that of the Church?  How do I know whether or not the teaching authority of the Church isn’t just another form of dictatorship?  Joseph Ratzinger’s paper, ‘Conscience and Truth’ [reference, part VI], to which we have already referred in these posts, shows that our conscience holds the key to the answer.

Joseph Ratzinger.jpg

Let us return to what The Catechism says: in our conscience we ‘are alone with God whose voice echoes in [our] depths.’   Cardinal Ratzinger says that in our depths we have a mysterious “memory” of divine love.  This “memory” makes us alive to the fact that behind the commandments, behind the law of God, behind the moral truths enjoined on us by the Church, lies a truth that exists for us not as an imposition from without but as an expression, even a liberation, of what is deepest within the soul.

He says that this “memory” is not like the memory one might have of, say, one’s phone number, or the vocabulary of a foreign language.  It is ‘not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents.’  It is something much more profound.  It is more like the knowledge of oneself that is awakened by a very deep human love.  Human love can awaken the lover to a new depth of self-knowledge that both comes from the loved one and yet is experienced as a true aspect of oneself.  In a similar but even more profound way, the ‘god-like constitution of our being’, as Joseph Ratzinger expresses it, gives us a capacity to “hear” on the level of our conscience the voice of God – a voice which is at once other and yet is experienced as one’s deepest, truest self.  We say, “That’s it!  That is what my nature points to and seeks.”      There is a very real sense in which the truths that the Church proposes for belief liberate our true self and give us our deepest identity.

But – and this is why the authority of the Church is not a dictatorship – we cannot discover this true self and deepest identity in isolation.   Cardinal Ratzinger says that ‘The “memory” instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself.’  This assistance is what the authority of the Church gives.  It is in no way set in opposition to our deepest identity.  Rather, it awakens it and affirms it.

To grasp this is to grasp what the conscience is and is for.

SJC

Joseph Ratzinger By Manfredo Ferrari

 

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14 October: CONSCIENCE VII: THE GUILTY CONSCIENCE

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Earlier in these reflections I said that conscience shouldn’t be seen merely as an irritating little guilt generator.  I was implying that guilt often shakes an admonitory finger at us for doing things that aren’t really bad at all.  Granted, neurotic guilt is crippling and needs to be healed.  It originates in our emotions and not in our true conscience.  But not all guilt is neurotic.  The ability to experience guilt when guilt is appropriate does come from our conscience and it is vitally important.  In his paper, “Conscience and Truth”*, delivered in 1991 , the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger affirmed that guilt safeguards the health of our conscience, indeed, of our very existence.

Let us turn to St. Thomas Aquinas for a few moments.  His teaching can help us to understand Cardinal Ratzinger’s ideas.

St. Thomas Aquinas says [Summa Theologiae I, 79, 13] that our conscience is what enables us to apply our knowledge of the truth to a given situation.  It does this in several different ways.  Our conscience is what “binds” or “incites” us, says St. Thomas, when we are considering a course of action.  When our conscience judges that something should be done it “incites” us to do it; when it judges that something should not be done, it “binds” us – or keeps us from doing that thing.

Further, says Aquinas, our conscience is the part of us that “witnesses” our deeds, sees us as we live our life and attempt to negotiate all kinds of challenging situations.  If we have lied, for example, our conscience witnesses this.  After seeing us lie, our conscience doesn’t turn around and go away, it judges us, telling us that it was wrong of us to do so.  In that sense, its judgment “accuses” us, and may well “torment” us, he says, until we have made amends.

Let’s consider another, very different, situation.  Perhaps, for example, we were misinformed about something and the on the basis of the wrong information, said something that was untrue without realising it.  Fortunately, as St. Thomas teaches, under those kinds of circumstances, our conscience is the very thing that tells us not to worry.  It “excuses” the deed.  Although others may blame us for saying that untrue thing, our conscience knows that we were not lying; we were merely misinformed.  It excuses us.  But our conscience, if it is functioning properly, will surely incite us to apologize and explain to anyone we might have unknowingly misled that in fact we were misinformed.

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Something is wrong when wildflowers, like these cowslips, no longer surface. MMB

In eight words, then, St. Thomas’s teaching can be summarised: conscience binds, incites, witnesses, judges, accuses, torments, accuses and excuses.   Not every word is a word that is comfortable to consider.  We do not really want to be judged, tormented or accused.  Yet, these are words that St. Thomas uses in a positive way and in conjunction with other words that are easier to accept. They all work together to help us, if we will be open to this process of growth.

Guilt can help us to grow, then.  Paradoxically, guilt can affirm my deepest self.  It can tell me that I am alive inside, that I am there, and that I am – or can be – better, greater than one might think from looking at the wrongs I have committed.  When guilt no longer surfaces within me when I do something wrong, then something else, very basic, is very wrong.

SJC.

* [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth, presented at the tenth Workshop for Bishops, February, 1991, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., published in On Conscience, Two Essays by Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2007].

 

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October 13: CONSCIENCE VI: Personal Conscience and External Authority

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If our conscience needs to be formed by truths propounded by the teaching authority of the Church, how, therefore, can our conscience be said to have within it “a law inscribed by God”?  That would suggest that we don’t need anyone to tell us what the truth requires of us.  External authority shouldn’t be needed.

This is one of the points that the then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed in a paper entitled “Conscience and Truth”, delivered in 1991.*  In the paper he asks, isn’t ‘conscience the highest moral norm which man is to follow, even in opposition to authority?  Authority, in this case, the Magisterium, may well speak of matters moral, but only in the sense of presenting conscience with material for its own deliberation.  Conscience would retain … the final word.’

With a profound penetration of the subject, Cardinal Ratzinger’s paper explored the question of whether conscience exists in opposition to authority.  We need to ask ourselves, he says, what faith is for the human person?  What is truth for us?  What does it do for us?  There are those, said Joseph Ratzinger, who seem to feel that faith is a very heavy burden that makes their life difficult.  There are those who feel that people who are weak perhaps shouldn’t be asked to shoulder the burden of faith, with all its moral obligations.  For such people, he points out, it is not really the truth that sets them free; rather they somehow feel that they need to be set free from the truth in order to be happy.  However, these are the attitudes that Cardinal Ratzinger’s paper challenges.  These attitudes, he maintains, come from a misunderstanding that exists on a deeper level – in a concept of conscience that is false.  To those who feel that faith and truth are burdens, he explains the misunderstanding they have about the nature of conscience.  He says, for such people conscience

…does not appear here as a window through which one can see outward to the common truth which builds and sustains us all.  Conscience does not mean man’s openness to the ground of his being, the power of perception for what is highest and most essential.  Rather, it appears as subjectivity’s protective shell into which man can escape and there hide from reality.

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Conscience does not open the way to the redemptive road to truth – which either does not exist or, if it does, is too demanding.  It is the faculty that dispenses from truth.  It thereby becomes the justification for subjectivity, which would not like to have itself called into question.

These deep and penetrating lines perhaps need to be unpacked.  We can do this by simply reversing the negatives.  Then one begins to see the beauty of Cardinal Ratzinger’s understanding of the human conscience.  Conscience is a window onto the truth that builds and sustains all people; conscience is access to the ground of one’s being – one’s very heart; conscience is the capacity to perceive what is noblest and most vital in life; conscience is the redemptive road to truth.  Surely our conscience, rightly understood, is a part of ourselves that we cannot do without, that we should never wish to suppress.

SJC.

  • [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth, presented at the tenth Workshop for Bishops, February, 1991, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., published in On Conscience, Two Essays by Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2007].

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October 12: CONSCIENCE V: Erroneous Conscience.

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Zakopane, Poland; MMB.

Although the Church teaches that we have an innate affinity to goodness on the level of our conscience, she also allows that our conscience can be in error.  Let us look more closely at the concept of the erroneous conscience.  Our conscience can be mistaken because of an ignorance of which we are unaware, and which we have had no means of overcoming.  In such cases, our mistake is not culpable and the conscience does not forfeit its dignity.  But, it is still wrong.

One of the chief requirements for the maintenance of a good conscience is love of truth, and the awareness of truth’s objectivity.

…It is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives.  In the case of the correct conscience, it is a question of the objective truth received by man; in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily of 18 April 2005.

The mere fact that I might have thought something was right and good to do does not make that thing right and good to do.  It is vital, therefore, actively to seek the truth, to seek knowledge of God and of his law and to allow our conscience to be formed by it.  Moreover, there is a deeper requirement:

What is essential is a sort of connaturality between man and the true good.  Such a connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself: prudence and the other cardinal virtues, and even before these the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.                                                                    [Ibid].

There is no getting around it.  Our conscience must be properly informed.  We have an affinity to goodness on the level of our conscience, but we need help in order to understand what is good.  Here, the wisdom of the Christian tradition and the teaching authority of the Church can help us.  It is also true that knowledge of what is good must be strengthened by actions that are good.  To live life fully as a human being and as a Christian, we must love the virtues, seek to understand them, and try to exercise them.  Our conscience must be the object of a conversion that goes on throughout our life.

SJC.

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October 11: CONSCIENCE IV: Under the Microscope, Continued

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William Blake, the Ghost of a Flea

There is such a thing as a true conscience and a false conscience.  Our true conscience is the one that is in touch with God’s law.  But it can be submerged beneath a false conscience that is formed not by God’s law, but by all sorts of other influences.  Today, it can be difficult to get away from the influence of our culture’s easy-going morality and its message that if something seems good to me, then it is good.    It is important to realise that this kind of thinking usually comes from ‘doctrines that have lost the sense of the transcendent or are explicitly atheist,’ as Pope Saint John Paul II said in his remarkable Encycylical Letter, Veritatis Splendor [no. 32].

In his last homily before he was elected to the papacy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said,

“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognise anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”                                                                                  [Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on 18 April 2005].

Strong words.  But what is this “relativism”?  It is the popular teaching whereby the individual conscience is held up as the ultimate moral authority answerable to nothing but itself.  It refers to no objective criteria by which to evaluate its decisions; the only requirement is that of personal sincerity.  It does not refer to anyone else to discover what is right.  Personal sincerity is considered sufficient to justify any action.

In relativism, there is no awareness that if personal sincerely is the only yardstick by which I measure the moral content of my actions, moral chaos soon results.  What if, for example, I sincerely believe that causing harm to my next door neighbour is good because I sincerely believe him to be wicked?  Or, what if I sincerely do not believe that the foetus of a human being is human?  To call such exaltation of personal opinion a “dictatorship” is not too strong.  We try to tell ourselves that this way of thinking is tolerant of different points of view.  But what of the point of view of the one who is weaker than myself, and whose human existence and potential I “sincerely” do not acknowledge?

If you are even reading this post, you probably would not go to the lengths I have just described, but it is not necessary to ascribe consciously to such relativist or individualist doctrines in order to be susceptible in a lesser sense to the kind of thinking that goes with them.  The selfish tendencies that we all have as a result of our fallen nature can make it hard, at least at times, to realise that conscience is not about personal sincerity.

Then what is conscience about?

Conscience is directed beyond ourselves toward God and true goodness in a manner similar to the way a compass directs a traveller toward her destination.  The difference is that the traveller knows before she sets out that she doesn’t want to go round in circles, stay in the same spot, or end up further away from the place of her destination.  We expect a compass to direct us to a place that is different from the place where we began.  We do not necessarily have the same expectation with regard to our conscience.  We might prefer it if our conscience would kindly sanction what we are doing, or planning to do. We don’t want it to challenge us or deprive us of our fantasy.

SJC

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8 October: Our Inward Mirror or Conscience.

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By calling this blog a Mirror we set out to be reflective.

Recently Sister Johanna wrote to the editor offering some reflections on conscience, that human attribute by which we can perceive, if through a glass darkly, the soiled image and likeness of God in our hearts (1 Corinthians, 13:14).

Allow her wisdom, distilled from Aquinas, John Paul II and Benedict XV, to percolate through your brain and heart. I’m sure you’ll agree that I was right to accept her offer.

WT.

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July 18: John Cassian, II. Can my Heart Really Contain God?

 

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “…the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of ones’ being, [is] where the person decides for or against God” [no. 368].  This decision exists in the human person as a dynamic and constant impulse toward God.  In John Cassian, whose writings we are considering for a few days, the decision issues in the willingness to labour unceasingly to make the vessel of our heart able to bear the indwelling of Christ.

For Cassian, in order for this to happen, the person needs to gain insight into what he already has within the vessel of the heart.  And, recall, according to Cassian, we can’t say, “Oh, I’m not a vessel, so I don’t have to worry about this.”  For Cassian, the acknowledgement that we are vessels must be our starting point.  It’s how we’re made.  So, what’s in us, then?

Although the human person responds naturally to love, beauty, truth and goodness, and we achieve our human fulfilment through augmenting these qualities within ourselves, there is another, less sanguine aspect of our interiority to consider.  Cassian maintains that the vessel of the heart can be a place of conflict and temptation.  The decision for God must be made again and again, on ever deeper levels.  Purity of heart, therefore, is our goal, not our starting point.  This is what he says,

For the sake of [purity of heart] then, everything is to be done or desired.  This should be our principal effort, then; this should be constantly pursued as the fixed goal of our  heart, so that our mind may always be attached to divine things and to God [Conf. 1, VII: 1].

 

So, it is a given that we are vessels, but it is not a given that we are automatically pure of heart.  To become so: that is our longing; and everything we do should be done not just with this goal vaguely in the picture.  Cassian puts it more strongly.  It should be our “fixed goal”, our “principal effort”.  How do we undertake such a project?  Tomorrow we will look at one way to proceed.

SJC.

 

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