January 30, 2008

Pope Benedict MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
BENEDICT XVI
FOR LENT 2008

Christ made Himself poor for you” (2 Cor 8,9)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16,13). Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor’s needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favor of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church. In his Letters, Saint Paul speaks of this in regard to the collection for the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27).

2. According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. n. 2404)

In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who, lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the tone of a ringing rebuke: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (1 Jn 3,17). In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity.

3. The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus asserts, “so that your alms may be done in secret” (Mt 6,3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one’s own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6,1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God’s greater glory. Jesus warns: “In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5,16). Everything, then, must be done for God’s glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God “sees in secret” and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.

4. In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20,35). When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: “Charity,” he writes, “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4,8). As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and, precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.

5. Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo forthrightly recommends: “Never keep an account of the coins you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand, too, should not know what it does itself” (Detti e pensieri, Edilibri, n. 201). In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury “all she had to live on” (Mk 12,44). Her tiny and insignificant coin becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.

We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days that immediately precede Jesus’ passion and death, who, as Saint Paul writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8,9); He gave His entire self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to “train ourselves” spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk” (Acts 3,6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the “spiritual battle” of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting and the practice of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts, renewed in spirit. With these wishes, I willingly impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 30 October 2007

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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The Saints: An Adult Faith

January 29, 2008

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament“Our final criterion for knowing what the Gospel does and does not mean,” writes Fr. Dubay, “is the pattern provided by those who not only live the revealed message faithfully but who live it heroically.”

Fr. Dubay points out that sainthood and dissent never coincide: “We have noted that in a genuine contradiction one party must be wrong — which of course means that one must be out of touch with the reality at issue. The saints, however, do not contradict one another in their living of evangelical values … if we wonder whether publicly taught dissent from clear magisterial teachings is a value, we find no example of it in any of the saints. On the contrary, like Teresa of Avila, they are ready to die for the least of these teachings. So also when it comes to evangelical poverty. With no exception the saints lived a sparing-sharing lifestyle” (p. 33, HAYP).

Cardinal Ratzinger, just prior to his election as Pope Benedict XVI, gave a homily which rocked the world and set the stage for his papacy that never tires in calling us to that mature, adult faith of the saints:

“We must not remain children in faith, in the condition of minors. And what does it mean to be children in faith? St Paul answers: it means being ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely!

How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceipt from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love” (Cardinal Ratzinger, Vatican Basillica, April 18, 2005).


From Their Fruits You Will Know Them

January 29, 2008

Please excuse my little 10 day hiatus. A combination of my annual Winter cold and a bit of a reality check with my schedule. This pace with these teachings from Fr. Dubay’s book has led me to see that reflecting on the simple life and spiritual freedom will not only be a part of our preparation for Lent, but we will continue this discussion through Lent as well. I pray you, Mary’s Anawim, are enjoying this series of epiphanies as much as I am.

Recall that we were in the midst of unfolding Fr. Dubay’s five root (or primary) criteria for openness to Gospel truth. This fourth root criterion simply asks us to live in the honest world of what actually is, rather than the contrived world of rationalizations (spinning truth) which is so widespread in an age dominated by the dictatorship of relativism. Fr. Dubay relates Christ’s very straightforward, no-nonsense criterion: “From their fruits you will know them” (Mt. 7:20). 

“This criterion is itself revealed. The authenticity or inauthenticity of a given concept of poverty can be seen from the consequences that follow in those who live according to it. For example, if one says that Gospel poverty does not imply a sparing-sharing use of material goods but rather refers to our being available to others, the usual consequences show clearly enough that the concept is merely a rationalization, a cover for living a comfortable life … their definition leads to a diminution of credibility in apostolate. And it does not bring about the inner detachment which is a condition of being a disciple of Jesus (Lk 14:33). It fires no one to undertake heroic enterprises for the kingdom. It implies little or no leadership in sharing with the destitute of the world. From its fruits we know it to be empty of real significance as an evangelical counsel” (p. 33, HAYP).


Consistency with the Rest of Revelation

January 19, 2008

Calling of Saint MatthewFr. Dubay writes, “The divine disclosure is a closely knit whole. One doctrine cannot be rejected without the rejection affecting other doctrines. It is both interesting and significant that they who reject a single teaching usually go on eventually to reject others and, sometimes, the whole. It is doubly significant that they never succeed in presenting to their listeners or readers a substitute and consistent whole to replace what they have mutilated. Each of the interlinking parts of our theology strengthens the others, and each multiplies the probative power of the others. In his ‘Essay on Development’ Newman noted that a person may easily object to one doctrine by itself and seem  to have something of a case when the related doctrines are not considered (and this is common in merely popular articles and conversations), but for any thinking, informed person this objecter is demolished by the weight of the whole” (p. 31-32, HAYP).

This morning’s Gospel is a great example of how we miss the teaching when we do not consider the whole. In countless counseling sessions, in spite of Jesus’ consistent teaching against sin, and repeated call for immediate repentance, this Gospel reading is referred to as a way to somehow make the case that Jesus condones or approves of sin because – “see?” – even though they are sinners, he dines with them.

Of course this completely misses the point of this reading. The real point is that there is no sin greater than God’s mercy. In other words, while the religious elites of Matthew’s day had long since disposed of them as not deserving mercy, Jesus breaks through to infuse repentance, forgiveness, and healing into their lives … Jesus was not condoning, but offering a way out, when the world would not.

We can see how easy it is to slip into moral relativism when we pick and choose certain truths, while rejecting or disregarding others. For us Anawim, we must resist the temptation to inflate ourselves to such a state that we consider ourselves more intellectually and spiritually imbued than Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition itself.


The Teaching Church

January 18, 2008

Peter Preaching

The second of Fr. Dubay’s five root criteria necessary for openness to such truths as Gospel poverty, is “The Teaching Church.”

In the Second Vatican Council’s document on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (Latin: “The Word of God”), the relationship between Tradition and Scripture is explained: “Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit. To the successors of the apostles, sacred Tradition hands on in its full purity God’s word, which was entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit … Thus, by the light of the Spirit of truth, these successors can in their preaching preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence.”

Fr. Dubay writes: “Jesus did not commit his message to private persons but to a community, the ekklesia (Church). They who listen to his representatives listen to him; they who reject these representatives reject him (Lk 10:16). Together with the rest of Christic revelation, his teaching about poverty has been committed to the care and proclamation of this Church. Just as a nation’s fundamental constitution needs to be interpreted by a living judicial system, so our fundamental Gospel documents must be authoratatively interpreted by a living teacher. Happily this living teacher enjoys divinely originated authenticity that merely human judicial systems do not” (p. 31, HAYP).


New Testament Revelation

January 17, 2008

Jesus and the Four EvangelistsLet us recall, once again, that this journey towards Lent is one of looking at the obstacles and entryways to a greater sensitivity and receptivity to the mind and heart of God. “Supposing then that we are careful in defining our terms,” writes Fr. Dubay, “assiduous in our study of relevant sources, and converted at least in the sense that God is our consuming desire and love, we ask next what the norms may be that will guide us to valid answers … Norms there must be, of course. Otherwise we flounder in emotionalism and/or voluntarism, both of which are forms of anti-intellectualism” (p. 30, HAYP).

Fr. Dubay points out that we all have basic premises from which we draw our conclusions.  The premises Fr. Dubay will present later are all based on the following root criteria, each of which are necessary to hold if there is to be agreement on such biblical principles as evangelical poverty.

The five root criteria proposed by Fr. Dubay are: 1) New Testament revelation, 2) The teaching Church, 3) Consistency with the rest of revelation, 4) “From their fruits you will know them,” 5) The saints. I will spend the next few posts looking at these one at a time.

First, Fr. Duday views “New Testament Revelation” this way: “The meaning of evangelical poverty is learned from the lips of the Lord, or it is not learned at all. We are not dealing with mere humanism, nor are we engaged in a sociological study. We are looking into a divinely revealed plan for the equitable use of material goods in this world. We intend that they lead us and our brothers and sisters to the bosom of trinitarian life in our final fulfillment” (p. 31, HAYP).


God Gives Light to the Humble

January 15, 2008

Raphael's Madonna Della SeggiolaAs Mary’s Anawim, we draw inspiration from her. As such, we engage the world through the portal of humility (I am the maidservant of the Lord …). One of the great minds of all human history was Socrates who, in his wisdom, put it this way: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”

This wisdom in humility brings teachability. Fr. Dubay emphasizes the point this way: “Scripture itself tells us, ‘Before you speak, learn’ (Sirach 18:19, RSV). Not everyone of course can be a scholar; lack of time and/or talent prevents it. But the conclusion we draw is not that no one may speak, but rather that one should not assert a position unless he knows from an unerring teacher or he has mastered the subject himself” (p. 29, HAYP).

How true it is that many of the struggles to bring sound catechesis and moral teaching to the world revolve around the fact that many are willing to make their stand on certain beliefs and moral issues based on their presuppositions formulated by the latest news report from the infamous liberal media or Dr. Phil or Rosie O’Donnell, rather than from their own research and study, or from true experts who have spent years formulating their stance based on in-depth research, study and prayerful discernment. I know that, personally, in the face of such spiritual and intellectual giants, I’m with Socrates: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”

Prayerful discernment … this leads to Fr. Dubay’s next emphasis necessary for openness to truth: “Attaining ultimate truth requires conversion of mind and heart. People imbibe correct and valid basic principles when they honestly and selflessly pursue absolute truth, goodness, beauty. God gives light to the humble, the pure, the loving. And we are not such until we are converted from the distortions flowing from our original fall and our personal sins. A serious attempt to live a God-centered life is an indispensible condition for doing theology — and indeed for understanding evangelical poverty in the context of the Christic economy. This is one reason the saints are so important later on in this study: they are converted, wonderfully converted, heroically converted” (p. 29-30, HAYP).