Tag Archives: Benedict XVI

What am I going to do for Lent?

Someone was asking that question at our supper table the other night. Lent begins  Ash Wednesday. The supper table is a good place to ask the question, because Lent is about renewing ourselves as we are and where we live. The supper table stands for life here and now.

The supper table is the place where we face those closest to us. Doing something for Lent has to mean doing something for them, first of all, the people across the table–or maybe those who have left our table. One of our scripture readings early on in Lent says: “Don’t turn your back on your own.”   Renewing our relationship with those closest  to us is one of the most important steps to renewing ourselves.

Besides the supper table, I guess we should also ask that question “What am I going to do for Lent?” in the place where I work, or where I go to school. Don’t turn your back on them either.

Lent is for renewing ourselves as we are, in real life and real time. It isn’t about changing us into different people or changing the world we live in or leaving for Mars.

The scriptures read on Ash Wednesday tell us to pray, to fast and give alms. What am I going to do for Lent? How about praying everyday? How about fasting from my own hard opinions of others? How about thinking about others and not just myself?

What am I going to do for Lent? I hope I can get closer to God, and that means for me to get closer to Jesus Christ. He says in this Sunday’s gospel that it’s possible to think we know him, but don’t know him. Where should I begin? Let me look in the scriptures, especially the scriptures we read during Lent.

Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” part 2 where he looks long and hard at the story of the Passion of Jesus is due out this week. I’m going to read it. Maybe that will help.

One thing we shouldn’t forget when we ask that question “What am I going to do for Lent?” is  another question: “What is God going to do for us during Lent?” It’s a time of God’s grace, more than we can hope for, beyond what we could possibly earn. The great sign of God’s limitless giving is the Passion of his Son, a wondrous gift.


4th Sunday of Advent

The readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent would have us look at small, insignificant things– a little town in Judea, Bethlehem, and a visit of two women, Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.

Faith sees meaning here. A mystery, a great mystery,  hidden in this place and in these people.

Bethlehem, some say, means “House of Bread,” and with eyes of faith, we believe that the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, was born in that humble town. The women, visiting together, were holy women who brought Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into the world and were among the first to recognize him.

With eyes of faith we look back and see.

But eyes of faith are not just for looking back; they help us see life today and discover God’s presence and call now.

Along with our scriptures, the signs and prayers of the Mass  help us see. Like our readings they point to great meaning in small things.

Look at the bread and the wine. Jesus took these small signs into his hands the night before he died and made them  bearers of important mysteries. As we bring them to the altar after our Creed and take them into our hands and ourselves, we ask:  What do they mean?

They’re food and drink, we say, and so they are. Real food and real drink, Jesus said, giving life beyond what we hope for and joys we cannot imagine. God feeds us, as a mother feeds a child, as a father giving daily bread to his children. The bread and wine reveal God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

They point, though, to other realities too. They tell us of our relationship to God, but they also point to our relationship to the universe made by  God our Creator.

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. it will become for us the bread of life.”

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this wine  we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands, let it become our spiritual drink.” (Offertory prayers)

Bread and wine are symbols of creation, our prayers say. We don’t live apart from the created world.  We receive God’s gifts through it. God comes to us through it. Creation’s story is our story too.

Both the bible and science tell that story, but in different ways, the Book of Genesis in poetic language;  scientists in the language of science.

As scientists tell it, after probing into space with instruments like the Hubble telescope and sifting through the earth’s crust,  our universe began 15 billion years ago. Then, about 3.5 billion years ago primitive life began on our planet. 200,000 years ago human life emerged. We humans come lately into the story of creation.

However, we late-comers have an important role in the well being and development of our universe. The Book of Genesis describes Adam and Eve, the first of our human family, as cultivators and leaders of the earth community. God made them stewards of the earth and its gifts.

Today the human role as stewards of  the universe has become critical. The recent meeting on climate control in Copenhagen, Denmark, called the human family from all  parts of the earth, to come together and decide what changes must be made in the way we humans live, so that the environment of our world does not deteriorate further.

Sadly, the meeting ended with its goals unmet.

Pope Benedict XVI was one of those who sent a message to the leaders of the conference:

“Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?”

“It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view,” the pope said.

“Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all,”

“If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”

As we take the bread and wine at Mass, let’s remember God who blesses us in Jesus Christ, but let’s also remember the earth they represent. These small signs point to a universe we are called by God to protect.

Peter Damian


Last Wednesday the pope spoke of St. Peter Damian, the 11th century saint  from Ravenna, Italy, who was later named cardinal bishop of Ostia, the port of Rome.

Though Peter was drawn to the silence of the monastic life, he was called to work for the reform of the church, which suffered then from abuses resulting from lay investiture. In many places, bishops, abbots, pastors appointed by lay patrons weren’t fit for the job, and the church suffered from the immorality and lack of leadership the practice brought on.

Pope Benedict stressed Peter Damian’s dedication to the mystery of the cross. The hermitage that he loved was dedicated to Holy Cross. He wrote, “He does not love Christ who does not love the cross of Christ,” and he called himself: ” Peter servant of the servants of the cross of Christ.”

He saw the cosmic dimensions of this mystery in the  history of salvation.  “O blessed cross, you are venerated in the faith of patriarchs, the predictions of prophets, the assembly of the apostles, the victorious army of the martyrs and the multitudes of all the saints.”

Peter Damian also saw the cosmic dimensions of the cross in the struggles of his own time, it seems. He wanted a quiet, contemplative life. But he couldn’t just  lose himself in the beauty of contemplation, the pope says. He had “to assist in the work of renewal of the Church,” and the mystery of the cross gave him strength to do it.

I was noticing the cross on top of the church across the way, looking down on the crowded streets below. The mystery’s here too.

One Thing Leads To Another

I read Ross Douthout’s  op-ed column this morning in the New York Times about the Pope’s new encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

He welcomes the way the encyclical joins many areas of social life. “It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos.”

It contains a “left-right fusionism with little traction in American politics.”

The article caused a lot of comments in the online edition of The Times, many of them critical of the Church as an outmoded, discredited institution that should keep its mouth shut about what to do today. A song we’ve heard before.

“These questions, and many others like them, are the kind that a healthy political system would allow voters and politicians to explore.” Douthout says,

“But for now, at least, you’re more likely to find them being raised in Benedict XVI’s Vatican than in Barack Obama’s Washington.”

Douthout’s mother is Patricia Snow, who wrote a piece about  Anne Rice in a February’s First Things. It seems to me that Anne Rice and artists like her may be “on to something,” to use a phrase from Walker Percy.  She uses imagination, guided by the best of biblical scholarship to portray in a series of novels the life of Jesus Christ, from birth to death.

Meditating on the life of Christ has always been a way of prayer for Christians, but I’m afraid it’s less practiced today. One of the reasons may be that we’ve become intimidated by biblical scholarship and all the “findings” of archeologists and historians we see periodically on The History Channel and National Geographic.  We distrust our own imagination.

But think about it. Those stories we read in the scriptures are real, about real people, in real places. They are about a world like ours (but without computers and  internet). And they only tell us some things. Can we fill in some more? Let’s get the best scholarship and take a look. I like the advice from the medieval Meditations on the Life of Christ. “Go in there and look around, stand with the holy people there, especially Mary the Mother of Jesus, and let your imagination speak God’s wisdom to you. What’s it saying?”

Maybe Anne Rice can “revert” us to meditation.

The pope ends his encyclical with a reminder that social thinking has to be joined to prayer. Another “left-right fusionism” we shouldn’t neglect.

Caritas in Veritate

I’m reading Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” –Charity in Truth. Not easy going, because he’s trying to address something that’s not easy going–the situation of our world today.

The pope begins with love, not intimate, confined love, but love engaged with truth. A love found in Jesus, God’s gift made flesh, who engaged his world and gave his life to raise it up.

Jesus calls us to love our world and work for its development.

“Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.

It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth…To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” (1)

So love calls us to more than an intimate relationship with friends, family or small groups, the pope says; it must be part  of our personal relationship with God, and the “macro-relationships” of society, the economy and politics.

By its nature, love desires someone’s good and takes effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of individuals, “there is the good that is linked to living in society: the common good.

We must desire the good of “the earthly city,” not just through respect for rights and duties, but also by offering it gifts of “gratuitousness, mercy and communion.” We must love the world we live in.

Tight reasoning, long sentences, much content. The subject is large, like the world itself. Yet, as the pope says,  love’s “exacting” task is to take it on.