Monday, June 29, 2009

New Encyclical Introduced With Same Old Issues--Relativism, Abortion, And Gay Marriage

In preview of new encyclical, Benedict reprises 'dictatorship of relativism' speech
by John L Allen Jr on Jun. 29, 2009 NCR

By the time Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical appears in early July, it may well seem largely anti-climactic. Extracts have already appeared in the Italian press, and yesterday the pontiff actually scooped himself by devoting his remarks for the close of his “Pauline Year” to the theme of Caritas in Veritate, “Charity in Truth,” also the title of his long-awaited meditation on the economy.

In effect, what Benedict laid out last night likely amounts to the theological and spiritual substructure of the encyclical, minus the specific economic prescriptions.
The core of what Benedict said, during an ecumenical vespers service at the grand basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, is that building a better world requires forming better people. Structural reform thus presupposes personal moral and spiritual renewal, including a life devoted to prayer and the sacraments. (I agree with this 100%, I also suspect Benedict and I would disagree somewhat as to how this might be accomplished.)

In a passage evocative of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s famous “dictatorship of relativism” homily four years ago, Benedict urged Christians to be “non-conformists,” refusing to accept the values of secular modernity. In particular, Benedict XVI rejected a “do-it-yourself” version of Catholic teaching, insisting upon opposition to abortion and gay marriage as part of what it means to have an “adult faith.” (This is all about Church teaching authority, not secularism.)

Standing just a few feet away from what Christian tradition regards as the tomb of St. Paul, the pope also revealed that carbon-14 testing has confirmed that the fragments of bone contained within the sarcophagus belong to a man of the first or second century – thereby confirming, Benedict said, “the unanimous and uncontested tradition” that the sarcophagus contains “the mortal remains of the apostle Paul.” (It confirms nothing of the sort.)

The vespers service yesterday evening closed a “Pauline Year” opened last June 28 by Benedict XVI to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul, the “apostle to the gentiles.”

The idea that a better world must be built on better people is likely to be a core theme in Caritas in Veritate, and the pope dealt with it at length yesterday.

“Paul tells us [that] the world cannot be renewed without new human beings,” Benedict said. “Only if there are new human beings will there be a new world, a renewed and better world.”

From that premise, Benedict said that personal spiritual renewal requires “non-conformism,” an unwillingness to “submit oneself to the scheme of the current epoch.” Doing so, the pope said, requires a new way of thinking at odds with the values of the world, shaped by encounter with the “new man” of Jesus Christ.

“The way of thinking of the old man, the common way of thinking, is generally directed toward possessions, well-being, influence, success, fame, and so on,” Benedict said. “Thus in the last analysis, the ‘I’ remains the precise center of the world. We have to learn to think in a more profound manner,” the pope said, based on the desires of God rather than the self.
Benedict recalled Paul’s insistence upon an “adult faith,” mocking the use of that phrase to justify dissent from official Catholic doctrine. (Perhaps the Vatican could show us the way by divesting of their private bank and letting go of the pomp and circumstance favored by this Pope.)

“The phrase ‘an adult faith’ in recent decades has become a diffuse slogan,” the pope said. “It’s often used to mean someone who no longer listens to the church and its pastors, but who chooses autonomously what to believe and not to believe – a ‘do-it-yourself’ faith. This is then presented as the ‘courage’ to express oneself against the magisterium of the church.” (Or it may be that people are transcending the need to have every jot and tittle of their lives controlled by the Church. Maybe they are transcending the letter of the teachings in favor of the spirit.)

“In reality, however, courage isn’t needed for that, because one can always be sure of public applause,” the pope said. “What takes courage is adhering to the faith of the church, even if it contradicts the ‘scheme’ of the contemporary world.”

Benedict specifically highlighted opposition to abortion and gay marriage as part of that package.
“Part of an adult faith, for example, is a commitment to the inviolability of human life from its first moment, radically opposing the principle of violence, precisely in the defense of the most defenseless of human creatures,” the pope said.

“Part of an adult faith is also recognizing marriage between a man and a woman for life as part of the design of the Creator, newly reestablished by Christ,” he said.

Those comments came as part of a meditation on chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the same New Testament passage underlying then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily just before the conclave that elected him to the papacy four years ago in which he identified a “dictatorship of relativism” as the central challenge to the faith today. (The central challenge to the faith today is institutional irrelevancy.)

Yet Benedict insisted that what it means to be a “new person” in Christ is not primarily about what someone opposes, but what he or she supports. In that regard, the pope said, the test of one’s commitment to truth, or veritas, is one's love, caritas.

“Love is the test of truth,” the pope said. “Ever more we must be measured by this criterion, that truth becomes love and that love makes us truthful.” (He's got this one right.)

Benedict argued that because Christ’s love extends to the entire universe, Christian concern for the world must likewise have a cosmic dimension. Though the pontiff did not develop the point last night, on previous occasions that insight have provided the basis for a strong environmental message. (This is absolutely true. There is no question about this, just a lack of understanding.)

“The crucified Christ embraces the entire universe in all of its dimensions,” Benedict said.
Benedict closed by urging a life of prayer and participation in the sacraments as a remedy to what he called the “interior emptiness” of modern life, reflected among other things, the pope said, in drug use.


This is another one of those talks by Benedict which gives me heartburn. He says somethings which are so on target and then torpedoes them with abortion, relativism, gay marriage, and Catholic identity issues. He speaks about an adult faith and then defines that faith on sexual issues. Where are my tums?

The world does not need a crusade against gay marriage, it need heterosexuals to take marriage and their children more responsibly. An adult faith recognizes the importance of love and responsibility in all relationships without the need to condemn any. An adult faith recognizes the sanctity of all life and has the courage to be a total pacifist in all situations, denying the concept of self defense and just war theory. This is after all exactly what Jesus taught and Jesus lived.

The New Man that Benedict speaks of is slowly coming forth. It can be seen in the youth of the world who understand globalization and are beginning to transcend nationalism, seeking the common good for all. This also means transcending the need to witness to religious absolutism.

They understand in a much deeper way than older generations that all people and all interactions are by nature inner connected. They understand this inner connectedness is mirrored in our economic systems and technology. Some of them also know this inner connectedness operates on the quantum level and that spirituality can open the doors to experiencing this truth consciously with the potential to transcend the technology.

They can imagine a world in which what Jesus did becomes available to those who live His way. Rather than an isolated exception, His demonstrated ability becomes a normal part of reality. They can see Him not just as a religious figure, or God's Son, but the prototypical New Man who points the way to discovering new human potentials.

Benedict has this much right, the price to access these potentials is rejecting the world centered ego which is focused on personal gratification beyond survival needs. This is the core foundation of any legitimate spiritual endeavor which is capable of manifesting from the quantum level. Take no more than you need, do no harm, recognize the rights of others, and learn to love open to similarities while not condemning differences.

None of this is easy, and most of it is counter intuitive. It is however, the definition of an adult faith. One can choose to express that adult faith through the Catholic Church and find great sustenance for that adult faith. The maturation into that adult faith is not found strictly in religious observance, it is hammered out in living life and making choices. That's why we have free will. It's in the choices we make and the consequences they bring that determine how we relate to God and each other. Living life is an ever changing verb acted out in relationship, not a static noun. When it's done well, living is synonymous with growth.

Pope Benedict seems to be trying to put old wine into new wine skins. This has been a failing strategy for the Church for quite a long while. Pope John XXIII saw this clearly, but what he didn't see, or didn't understand, is that some of his clergy were too vested in the old wine and the old wine skins. Catholicism is not alone. Too many religious traditions are hanging on to old wine in changing world circumstances and a changing world consciousness.
I take hope from the story of the marriage feast at Cana. When the host let the wine run out a woman stepped up and her son, the New Man, transformed ordinary water into incredible wine. I really believe for humanity, the old wine is running out and the best wine is yet to come.

1 comment:

  1. Benedict seems to have a very hard view of human beings and what his expectations are of others, while at the same time not looking inward at himself and the institution of which he is the head and how it might be improved. Does he feel that he has reached a state of perfection and so he must dictate to everyone this presumption of perfection? I have the feeling when he speaks about "forming better people" he's not talking about the Magisterium or his comrades at the Vatican Bank. Everything he says is projected outwards onto others. It is more cantankerous divisiveness in my opinion.