Monthly Archives: April 2008

Pope Day in Washington

Excitement filled the air at Nationals Park on Thursday as 46,000 people turned out to see Pope Benedict XVI celebrate Mass. The cardinals, dozens of bishops, hundreds of priests and VIPs filled the field while the grandstands were packed with exuberant Catholics from all across the United States. The weather was perfectly warm and sunny as Benedict emerged from the tunnel in the Pope-mobile. And as the procession for Mass made its way through the crowd, you could pick out the pontiff by the sun’s glint off his pastoral staff.

Like most of the participants, I woke up at 4:15 in the morning to get on the metro train and get to my seat. But what amazed me the most was not the massive turnout or the swarm of reporters, the music or the decorations—it was the atmosphere of faith that filled the stadium. Though the smell of hot dogs wafted through this homegrown American ballpark, the crowd’s excitement rose to fever pitch not because of a fly ball or stolen base, but because their Holy Father was with them reminding them of what they knew all along, but so often forget, that it is all true: the fact that God exists and sent his Son and that he loves me and you individually. Somehow that reality, that truth came to life for us people in the crowd. For once, we Americans were not reduced to a number to be checked off on a spreadsheet or a company budget. We did not even pay for our tickets. They were a gift.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC connected the Pope’s visit to the arrival of the first Catholics in the colonies in 1634. And in his homily, the Pope reminded us that he came at this particular time because it is the 200th anniversary of the creation of the first American dioceses. He told us that the “remarkable growth” of the Church in the United States was but “one chapter in the greater story” of the Church’s growth. Our story is intimately connected with the story of the whole Church and our life with the life of the whole Church. Benedict told us that he has come to America to confirm our faith, to repeat the message that Jesus Christ is Lord, to call us to conversion and to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the American Church.

He repeated over and over that we are called to constant conversion. To take on this task, we are to rediscover Confession, pray ardently and live out the new evangelization. These themes seemed especially appropriate as the Pope lowered his voice to slowly and painfully discuss the clergy sexual abuse scandal. His sincere sadness was deeply moving. Yet he reminded us Americans that we are people of hope. Hope is part of our civic identity and that uniquely American sense of hope parallels the hope we have in Christ. He emphasized that the sacrament of Penance is a key to the renewal of the American Church. The Pope concluded his homily with a few words in Spanish.

In the silence after the homily, a lone female voice could be heard shouting “Viva la Papa!” With this shout, a great wave of cheers and spontaneous shouts followed, many in Spanish. This moment somehow captured the deeply felt love that the gathered congregation had for the Pope. It was like we were children, telling our father how much we loved him. His smiles, waves and expressions gave us the assurance that the love was mutual. After Placido Domingo finished his exquisite rendition of Panis Angelicus, the Pope embraced him. But it was as if he wanted to embrace each of us and we could each visualize ourselves receiving that embrace.
The Mass concluded with fanfare and music, but the real treasure was deep within our hearts. We each had an encounter and would somehow never be the same.

I had the privilege of seeing the Pope later in the day at the Catholic University of America. He spoke to Catholic educators—university presidents and school-district superintendents. He spoke about the contemporary crisis of truth which is rooted in a crisis of faith. He emphasized that a Catholic educational institution ought to be a place thriving with the life of faith. When he spoke of this he raised his voice to say that “faith and reason never contradict.” He warned that without the Church, the individual can become lost as if on an “ideological chess-board” of endless amoral calculations. He exhorted educators to have “intellectual charity” for their students, to hope, to pray and to live the truth. After his speech, the Pope greeted the students gathered on the lawn outside the building to thunderous applause and exuberant cheers. The students even organized themselves to sing “Regina Caeli,” one of Benedict’s purported favorites.

The Pope’s day in Washington was a wonderful experience of faith, a celebration of Christ our Hope. His encouraging and well-meditated words will serve as food for thought for the American Church in the days and weeks to come. His witness encourages us to become more fully the “leaven of evangelical hope” and to bring the Good News to all the ends of America. ?

Freedom, Responsibility and the Pope

This morning, the pope gave a great address at the White House. His comments on the moral responsibility underlying American freedom and democracy struck me. He is perhaps the only person who could masterfully quote John Paul II and George Washington in the same breath. Here’s the excerpt:

  • Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honouring those who sacrificed their lives in defence of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation,” and a democracy without values can lose its very soul. Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.

The full text of the Pope’s speech is here at the Globe and Mail and will be here at the Vatican.

And kudos to President Bush for quoting the Pope’s pre-papacy line about the “dictatorship of relativism.” (from this homily) Bush said, “In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth.” (full text here)

The George Washington quote comes from this line in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” (full text here)

The John Paul II quote comes from Centessimus Annus sec. 46. “But freedom attains its full development only by accepting the truth. In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and man is exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden. “

Has anything really changed?

Global Climate Change is the new Apocalypse.
Health is the new salvation.
Doctors are the new healers.
Government is the new Savior.
News is the new Gospel.
Abortion is the new sacrament.
Professors are the new theologians.
Teachers are the new priests.
Activists are the new evangelists.
Chemical imbalances are the new demons.
Psychologists are the new exorcists.

All this progress is not really new at all, is it?

Dei Verbum, the Minor Prophets and a Catholic Textbook: A Case Study

The Vatican II document on Scripture, Dei Verbum, has some very specific language about how to read the Bible. The document states, “Since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out.” (sec. 21) Also it states, “the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament and in turn shed light on it and explain it.” (sec. 16, footnotes removed)

So, as Catholics, we are supposed to read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old. They go hand-in-hand. We are supposed to pay attention to the “content and unity of the whole of Scripture.” So let’s put these ideas to the test in a miniature case study:

1. The New Testament says, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 2:20-21 ESV)

2. A common Catholic textbook on the Old Testament commenting on Haggai says, “Haggai’s enthusiastic nationalism and hope for independence led him to extol Zerubbabel as the person God would use to bring blessing to the land.” (Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament. New York: Paulist Press, 1984. p. 439)

The textbook’s explanation of Haggai certainly sounds as if the author believes that Haggai’s prophecy about Zerubbabel was produced by Haggai’s will because of his nationalism and hope for political independence and not by the Holy Spirit. The oracle is a result of Haggai’s personal thoughts, struggles, weaknesses and dreams. That is, it was produced by “the will of man.” But this understanding is directly in opposition to the understanding laid out in 2 Peter 2:20-21. There, the author emphasizes thoroughly that the prophecies of Scripture are not the product of human thinking or striving, but of the Holy Spirit’s leading and inspiration.

It seems it would be quite difficult to reconcile 2 Peter 2:20-21 and the statement of the textbook. Oh wait, Dei Verbum just makes the problem worse. It says we are supposed to read Scripture as a unity, Old and New Testaments together interpreting one another. Here, 2 Peter is telling us how to read the prophets. So, if we accept Dei Verbum, then we should follow 2 Peter’s guidance.

The point is simple, the prophets spoke “under the influence of God”(2 Pet 2:21 NAB). They did not make up their prophecies because of their pet political issues or their psychological problems. God spoke through them. And to read the Bible in a Catholic way, we must accept this simple teaching of the Bible and the Church.

(Photo: Siena, Cathedral of S. Maria, west facade, head of prophet Haggai: ca. 1280-1300 from


Fr. Francis Martin points out in a homily how our world’s contemporary view of knowledge sees knowledge as “access to power”: building bridges, making money, having influence in the company, etc. But he says, “that’s the lowest form of knowledge. Knowledge is contact with the truth and rejoicing in the truth! But we can only do that by the mercy of God.”

Amen. It is good to remember that knowledge is not for the amassing of power or the oppression of others–though it is often used that way. Knowledge is for access to God, admiring the beauty and wonder of the truth. Rejoice with the truth!

And check out Fr. Francis Martin’s website here.